Experiential Learning #MTBoSBlaugust

hated history class growing up. HATED. I’m pretty sure this probably broke my dad’s heart on more than one occasion; a long-time English teacher who had struggles in math and science, I know that my dad had (has!) a passion for history. By the time I got to high school it was pretty much the only subject he could help me out with, and I needed it a lot. But all I remember is learning about the explorers, the American Revolution, the Civil War, and more over and over and over again. Why, by the time I got to my junior year of high school, did I still need to be spending time in class learning about The Boston Tea Party??? To me it was so incredibly pointless. I spent a lot of time agonizing over readings from my textbook and complaining about all of the people and events in there.

Fast forward to now, and I still don’t like history class. But I do enjoy learning about history. I love living in “America’s Historic Triangle” and getting to touch and see and do things like the Native Americans, early settlers, and soldiers in the American Revolution did. Two years ago I spent part of spring break at Independence Hall in Philly and walking the Freedom Trail in Boston, and last year I did historic walking tours and visited plantations in both Charleston and Savannah. Sunday morning I did an audio tour of Alcatraz. All of those experiences were awesome.

Being able to interact with history through artifacts and storytellers is what makes me enjoy learning about it still to this day. Is it possible to bring some of these things in the school environment? Yes. Is it possible to do the same in a math classroom? I’m not sure.

There have been a lot of amazing #MTBoS teachers doing awesome things involving the history of math; I’ve seen mathematicians of the day, research papers, poster projects, and more. And there are even more teachers doing amazing work within the classroom to help make math accessible to students. But again, how much are those practices helping students connect with and experience the math? I’m not sure. I’m not sure what the best way is for students to experience math. I’m not even really sure what that means. It probably means something different for everyone and there are almost assuredly different ways to do it.

But this is one of my goals for the year: to have my students experience math in a way they haven’t before. I know that this will happen in the Physics by Design class I’m co-teaching (which I’m super excited about and will blog about later this month) so really the focus will be on Algebra, Functions, and Data Analysis. Last year we did exclusively alternative assessments for each unit’s summative assessment but I was unhappy with them as a whole. So here we go. Year 3. Time to pull out those old assessments and get to work.

P.S. I also learned a lot about water this summer through my awesome time in Sarasota with DukeTIP, way more than I ever thought I’d be interested in learning. I can boil it down to: nature is pretty awesomely resilient, but we’re working pretty hard to ruin that.


End of Year Survey – Part 2

As my last set of students are working on their final, I’m ready to reflect on the rest of my end of year survey. This was the part where students were given a set of 30 statements and asked to rate me on them, with 1 being “strongly disagree” and 5 being “strongly agree”. I then inserted all of the data into Excel and sorted based on average (mean) rating. So without further ado, ten things to work on from highest rating to lowest rating:

  • “My teacher gives the right amount of work.” I find this very surprising, but I’ll go more into this when we reach #10.


  • “My teacher is interesting.” This one made me a little sad, but as a new, young, female teacher I feel as though I have to draw really hard boundaries when it comes to divulging information about my personal life. My students know I have a younger brother and younger sister, and they know I have a boyfriend in med school. That’s about it. Maybe it’s time for me to start letting them in a little more so they can see I’m actually a real life normal young adult? Any advice here would be helpful; how much is too much for students to know about you?


  • “My teacher is patient.” Not surprised by this. It’s something I’m actively working on and I truly feel as though this year I was more patient than last, but it’s so much harder than I thought sometimes…


  • “My teacher gives me enough time to finish.” This goes with the last statement – wait time is something else that I’m actively working on. It’s also hard to figure out when students aren’t writing because they’re done or because they never started without constantly being on the move. I think as I get more comfortable using my iPad as a casting device I’ll get better at this and honestly if I lose technology I’ll probably have to relearn it all over again.


  • “My teacher plans fun activities.” I do more activities than the other teachers teaching the same subjects as me but the students still don’t see them as fun. While I’m going to continue finding new activities to incorporate this one doesn’t bother me a ton.


  • “My teacher seems to enjoy her job.” Well at least I know that a good amount of my students are empathetic enough to pick up on how stressed I was this semester! I’m going to be even more stressed next semester but I’ll be doing mostly project-based learning so I think I’ll be enjoying the stress.


  • “My teacher has a sense of humor.” I’m not a funny person, I’ve never considered myself to be funny, and I don’t have any drive to become funnier. Also my students quite probably have a different sense of humor than me. I’m not broken up about this one either, but it is something to keep in the back of my mind. I don’t want to be a stone-faced killer my whole career.


  • “My teacher is enthusiastic about teaching.” This one goes along with the stress. I do enjoy my job, but that’s hard to portray sometimes when you’re working on 6 different things in your mind and 3 in front of you. And I’m a very organized and prepared person, I just know that as a new teacher there’s always stuff I could be doing better. I also got the lowest rating on this statement from my worst behaved/managed class, so that’s a factor.




  • “My teacher is challenging.” This one really surprised me. Really surprised me. My students complained all year about how they didn’t understand things, how we were doing too much work, how the other Algebra 1 classes didn’t have homework, how low their grades were, and yet in the end they didn’t think I was challenging enough. Why? I’m not sure. This is going to be one of the things I reflect on the most over the summer, because I really was starting to think that maybe the classes were too hard or that I was expecting them to do too much work. But maybe the voices of the many were drowned out by the voices of the few, and in reality most of my students were surviving and okay with simply passing the class regardless of the grades they received or what they actually learned. I really don’t know about this one. It’s going to require a lot of thought.

A lot of these relate to each other, and while some of them made me sad they were also reassuring. I knew I was struggling with most of these things, and hearing it from multiple students in multiple classes via this survey is reaffirming the fact that I’m not crazy and these are things I actually need to work on. I know that with some of these statements they are ever changing, and I’ll have to adapt to every group of students in every school that I’m at, but that doesn’t mean I should stop trying to be better at classroom management or connecting with my students.

I know that some students loved me and therefore agreed or strongly agreed with each statement, and some hated my class and the highest they gave me was a 3 (which was “unsure”)… but, such is life. I almost don’t want to get to a point in my career where all of my students love me. Having critics, whether they’re honest or biased, is a crucial part in helping me reflect and grow. I wouldn’t be forced to confront the issues otherwise.

I wasn’t offended by the low ratings of the statements above. The students told their truth and this is me listening and responding one final time this year. The most offensive thing on any survey was a student strongly disagreeing with the statement that I have nice handwriting. What a rude and wholly inaccurate thing to say.

#MTBoS30 Day 27: End of Year Survey – Results, pt. 1

My survey this year was two parts. The first part was a paper with 30 statements. The students were supposed to evaluate me on those 30 statements based on how strongly they agreed or disagreed. I will blog about these results next week once the absent students complete them.

The second part was a paper titled “If I Were A Teacher…” I gave students 6 prompts, and encouraged them to think about what their classroom would look and sound like. I only got a couple of responses from these but here they are:

  • What would your tardy policy be?
    • tardy after the classroom door closes, 2 each marking period is acceptable, possible consequences include lunch detention, after school detention, or referral
    • no tardies (not sure if this means no tardies are acceptable or they wouldn’t mark students tardy…)
    • tardy one minute after bell rings
    • you must have a slip or get a call home and only 3 unexcused tardies are acceptable
    • tardy 5 seconds after bell rings, 6 allowed per semester, if 3 or more in a week they get assigned extra homework
    • tardy 10 times they get a call home and go to ACS for the rest of the class period
    • 3 unexcused tardies all year
    • consequences would be reminder, warning, parent contact, lunch detention, suspension
    • keep track of tardies in a book and 5 is the most allowed


  • How would you arrange 30 desks?
    • in 6 rows of 5
    • 4 groups of 2, 4 groups of 4, and 2 groups of 3
    • 5 groups of 6
    • in a semi-circle facing the main whiteboard
    • in pairs


  • How would students take and keep track of notes?
    • take all papers home
    • students only taking notes 50% of the time
    • in a binder and not an interactive notebook
    • it’s on them to take notes
    • keep depending on how important
    • keep all papers they get in class
    • the interactive notebook and they wouldn’t have to keep worksheets
    • (sidenote: multiple students included the fact that notes help you remember and if you keep good notes you don’t have to ask the teacher as many questions)


  • What would your electronic device policy be?
    • they can be on them as long as they understand the work
    • consequences would be reminder, warning, take until end of period, take until end of day, parent contact, and suspension
    • 2 warnings, only music during solving time and not notes
    • 2 warnings and then the phone goes to the office for parents to pick up
    • no phone while the teacher is speaking
    • 3 warnings, not allowed when teacher is talking, after 3 warnings extra homework
    • no phones out during class and if you’re caught on it you will not get it back until the end of the school day
    • it’s okay when the teacher isn’t talking
    • use them whenever they want
    • as long as they are taking notes, they could have one headphone in


  • What would you do with students who fail a test or quiz?
    • give them lots of extra credit
    • call their parents
    • try and help them to see why they failed
    • see what is wrong and give them opportunities for extra credit
    • come after school
    • have to retake it and if they fail again they have to repeat the class
    • talk with parent and give advice to parent for student or after school; if phone is distracting take it away
    • tell them to do better next time and give them tutoring to help them improve
    • teach them some more and then let them retake it


  • Anything else? 
    • be on time
    • no sleeping
    • no snacks without permission
    • no cursing
    • do your work
    • be nice to the students and teachers
    • don’t get up till 10 seconds left of class
    • no talking when teaching
    • important to know basics like how to raise your hand or turn in homework


Some of these cracked me up – the students must think teachers have an unlimited amount of power! I found it very interesting that multiple students suggested extra homework as consequences as well. I definitely agree with a good amount of what they said and it’s going to give me a lot to think about while planning for next year, especially as I’ll be jumping into project-based learning (another topic for another day).

What questions would you have added?

#MTBoS30 Day 23: Why I Won’t Quit

There are days. Every teacher knows those days. The days where the students are dead silent, and seem incapable of even picking up a pencil. The days where students seem incapable of picking up a pencil, but this time because they can’t stay seated and focused on anything for more than 15 seconds. The days where you were up tossing and turning all night and are struggling just as much as your students to stay awake during 1st block. The days where you’re working and working and working and all of the sudden it’s dinnertime, or bedtime.

But then there are other days. Days where you saying “Alright one final problem for the day…” warrants a disappointed groan or an exclamation of how quickly class went by. Days where you catch a student smiling to themselves when they see how well they did on an assessment. Days when groups are actually talking math with each other and not just talking. DAYS WHEN EVERYONE IS PRESENT AND AWAKE AND NOT ON THEIR PHONES (I don’t know if this has ever actually happened but I’m holding out hope).

Friday’s 4th block was one of the good days. I projected problems (similar to #MTBoS30 Day 16: Easy Peasy Differentiation but with multi-step equations and inequalities) and students got to work on their desks. Their goal was to correctly complete at least 5 problems in 45 minutes, and every single student did. All 23. Even the students that are failing. Even the students who are absent at least one day a week. Even the students who are usually on their phones or talking to people across the classroom or trying to sleep. Even the student who came from another school less than a week ago and didn’t understand anything we did in the last week of review. Every single student got at least 5 problems right that day.

The pride in some students was palpable. Those struggling kids who normally try so hard to be disengaged couldn’t stop smiling every time I told them they got one right. And it was exhausting, to be zooming around my classroom checking answers for 3 blocks. And I felt bad that I didn’t have much time (if any) to stop and help students who were struggling (thank God for other students finishing early and not wanting to do more of their own problems…). But to see a girl who normally says “I can’t do this.” and resorts to doodling every day be so successful was worth it.

Days like that are worth it. Even if it’s not a whole day, blocks like that are worth it. And even if it’s not a whole block, moments like that are worth it. The success of my students will always be worth it, and that’s why I won’t quit.

#MTBoS30 Day 16: Easy Peasy Differentiation

Julie Morgan posted as part of #MTBoS about Challenge Grids about a week ago and as a second year teacher currently teaching all collaborative classes I soaked the idea right up. It was crazy easy to create (I mean, all you do is take a worksheet with a bunch of “boring problems”) and it saved a lot of paper (which is something I’m really trying hard to stop wasting).

As a class we worked through one problem, solving by factoring and using the quadratic formula and checking the answer by graphing. Students were at their desks with dry erase markers and worked on these problems on their desks. I walked around and would answer questions they had and checked their answers. The student that received the most points will get a piece of pie tomorrow – I’m always talking about making food so most of them are interested in trying it.

Julie had mentioned having a better mix of problems in her original post, so I made sure that I had more medium problems than easy or difficult ones. The only other thing I would do next time is give students a minimum number of problems to complete or a minimum number of points they needed to earn because a couple of students were perfectly content completing the 4 easy problems and stopping there… this isn’t their first time seeing quadratics so I should be expecting them and encouraging them to push themselves into the problems that require more work. But I will definitely be using this idea again in the future!

#MTBoS30 Day 12: Online Math Classes

I gave up my planning this semester to supervise a classroom full of students working independently on online classwork. These students are taking everything from English 12 to AP Psych to Latin 3 to Econ/Personal Finance. There are also three students in here that are taking Algebra 1, only one of whom has taken it in a classroom setting before.

This makes me incredibly nervous for the math and science future of these students. I know that online classes do work for some students, but to not have a teacher around to ask questions to or show you different methods the very first time you’re learning something just doesn’t sit well with me. How do you check your answers and know that you got the right answer because you did things that were mathematically sound and not just through luck? What do they do when they don’t understand something (because who doesn’t go through Algebra 1 questioning at least one thing that they learn)? Plus they have to learn how to type everything in Cambria Math on Word, which is a skill I don’t think most people need to have. Maybe I’m wrong about that last part though.

I don’t know the grades of these students either, since I’m not in charge of their actual course, but when I check and see what they’re working on they’re doing tasks that would be done in the first half of our current curriculum. So either the online course runs in a much different direction than the in-class course or they are so incredibly behind. There are other students at our school taking AP Calc online as well. Who does that?? And why?!?

I haven’t even had terrible experiences with online classes to be giving me this predisposition. I took both Intro to Web Design and Visual Basic 1 both online in college, and they ran fairly smoothly. My professors were easy to contact via email and it was nice to be able to work on some assignments with other classmates whenever we wanted to (at the gym at 9 P.M. on a Sunday night was our go-to). I know that online classes can be run well! But math?

The school I teach at is piloting a PBL/blended learning environment next year which will include portions of math being taught online, but again there will still be teachers around and available to these students during the day. They are still going to be expected to do some math, both by themselves and with other students, in the physical presence of a teacher who can correct any misconceptions and guide them in their learning.

Then again, I accidentally told my 2nd block today that the larger the absolute value of “a” in a quadratic, the wider the parabola will get, so maybe you don’t need a teacher to learn math after all.

#MTBoS30 Day 10: Down the Final Stretch

We started SOL Review a while ago. Spiraling has been a thing in some warmups and on assessments, and after spring break each student was given a personalized SOL review packet to work on during AEP. But real SOL prep started on Monday.

Yesterday and today my students took a 44 question practice SOL. It still amazes me the difference in speeds that these kids work. I had some students finish all 44 questions in about 45 minutes total, and other students only got through about half of the questions in the more than two hours provided to them. It’s a good thing that our students have all day to work because if there was a time limit some of these students would simply not finish (which is an entirely separate issue that I may or may not blog about in the future). The highest score was a 28, but that student was one of the ones that didn’t finish. The lowest score was a 9. It’s worth noting that our current passing threshold for the Algebra I SOL is a 50% as well (again, another issue warranting a different post).

My teaching BFF took the time last year to create a spreadsheet that has the standards related to each question and then I formatted it to tell me each question’s average score. There was one question this year that 88% of my students got correct. Another that 0% got right. ZERO. So you can see how this helps me figure out what needs reviewing.

After school today I took all of these results and figured out which standards could be reviewed in half a day and which would take 1-2 full classes. Then I mapped out the next 14 days and figured out when/how many review games to include as well. We’re going to play Zombie Graveyard, do a Kahoot, and have an auction – hopefully these will all go smoothly! But then I read THIS AWESOME BLOG POST and I’m definitely going to try implementing this during review. It seems like a fun way to keep students from hating life as we review and finish up the school year and to give some more rewards for completing work and doing well during review games.

It gets a little discouraging when a student gets a 9/44 on a practice test, but I can’t let it get to me too much because I have to get the students to overcome that. I think it’s possible. Maybe I’m crazy.