#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.


#MTBoS30 Day 9: Grade Replacement vs. Standards Based Grading

So I took the weekend off from #mtbos30 but I did read some pretty good pieces, one of which was reflected on standards based grading being the best option for grading but they still weren’t happy with it. I’ve been doing it for 1.5 years and I’m also not super happy with it for a variety of reasons including:

  • My students are constantly losing their checklists so I constantly have to print off new copies and remind them of what their scores are for different topics
  • I don’t think I hit everything that is on my curriculum standards well enough or evenly enough on the assessments
  • Some students will get their sticker and then that skill/concept seems to disappear from their brains
  • Some students still aren’t even writing down guesses to problems to even attempt improving their grades

But I did like it because:

  • The population of students that I work with in particular often take more time and need to see/do problems in different ways before they get it
  • It gives the students the chance to show me that they’ve learned something

Earlier this semester I was told that I’m not allowed to use the concept-based grading/checklist system that Dan Meyer has used, and that I have to give unit tests; this didn’t sit well with me, because I think that my students are over-assessed and I didn’t want to go back to quiz corrections and test retakes. Then one of the other teachers in our department shared at a meeting what they started doing this year and I think it creates a happy medium.She calls this a grade-replacement policy.

Homework: Students complete homework as you see fit (she assigns problems nightly), you go over any questions students have the day they are due at the beginning of class, and then students take a “homework quiz”, which consists of four problems that are very similar to four problems from the homework. This is graded based on accuracy, but you could also include a completion grade if you wanted students to be able to turn homework in late. Students only get to make these up if they’re absent/tardy that day and there are no homework quiz retakes.

Quizzes: Students take 1-2 quizzes per unit. These can be whatever length and whatever type of problem is deemed necessary for the information they’ve learned so far in that unit. Students only get to make these up if they’re absent and there are no quiz retakes.

Tests: Students take a test at the end of each unit. Students that score higher on the test than they did on the quiz get their quiz grade replaced with their test grade. For instance, if a student scored a 65% on the unit quiz and then an 80% on the unit test, both their quiz and test grades would be an 80% in the gradebook. If you want to make sure you’re only replacing the quiz grade with questions relevant to that quiz, create an answer sheet that highlights which problems relate to the questions on the unit quiz and give students a subscore. Students only get to make up tests if they’re absent and there are no test retakes.

Benchmarks: Our district gives benchmarks around the end of each marking period for year-long SOL classes, so if yours doesn’t you’d have to make a benchmark test. The benchmark will need to have an answer sheet that organizes problems by unit (this seems helpful anyway to make sure your units are evenly covered on a benchmark…) and then students get subscores from each unit. If the student that scored an 80% on their unit test gets a 90% subscore for that unit on the benchmark, their unit test grade goes up to a 90% (the quiz grades do not change at this point).

This allows students to turn in assignments late, ask questions after a quiz/test, and reassess without giving them free range to do it whenever (of even if) they feel like it. It also means you don’t have to go back and do grade-change forms at the end of the year (if your school makes you do that). I still haven’t officially decided how or if I’m doing homework next year, but this gives me a good place to start I think.

Yes, you not knowing the vocab really *is* the problem.

I got into a heated discussion with a group of students today.

M1: “But Miss Roberts, it’s not the vocab that’s the problem. I just don’t know what the substitution method is.”

Me: “But you do know how to do it, you just don’t know the process that’s being named.”

With variations going back and forth for a few minutes. When we finally pulled out a notebook and looked at the steps and examples, I was right. They knew how to do it. They were still adamant that the vocab was not the problem.

Then another student at the same table chimed in.

M2: “It’s so hard to remember all of these words. Why are there three different names for three different ways to solve the same dumb problem?”

I didn’t really know what to say to that then, and I still only sort of do now. To address the easy part of that, it wouldn’t make sense if there was only one word that described three different methods; if someone tells you to “cook some vegetables” are you going to steam them? Boil them? Grill them? Roast them? “Cook some vegetables” is the kitchen equivalent of “solve this system of equations”; there are multiple ways to get to the end goal. Also we have done problems where they’ve argued and been engaged. Sometimes you just have to practice the boring stuff; no one really likes doing suicides and shooting free throw after free throw after free throw in basketball practice but they do it almost every day anyway to improve their game.

But none of that still addresses what I believe to be the bigger underlying issue – my students don’t know their math vocab. Is that because I don’t teach it enough? Or because I don’t assess it enough? Is it because we don’t make enough connections between related terms? Is it because they have a disability that makes it difficult for them to comprehend words? Is it because they think it’s dumb and don’t care enough to learn it?

I try my best never to say things like “cancel out” and we don’t use the term “FOIL” in my classroom. We do Frayer models, compare and contrast, use mnemonic devices occasionally, practice picking important information from story problems, and more. And none of it seems to stick. During our SOL review they’re going to have a vocab-related exit ticket each day. I don’t know that that will actually help this late in the year but we’re going to try it. And I’ve already decided that each assessment next year will have at least one vocabulary related question on it, hopefully encouraging me to do some more “always, sometimes, never” activities outside of Geometry. Maybe someday I’ll get students to not only remember math vocab but to understand it.