Second Breakfast: Day 8 Or Conversations In Math Class

My lesson plans were not revolutionary today, but they were effective. Alternate whole class, individual, and group activities. Keep the students moving and engaged.

Some take-away’s from today:

  • Assignments are always going to take longer than I expect even after I have accounted for this fact.
  • Building and reinforcing a culture of collaborative mathematics through grouping desks and reinforcing student conversations is worth the extra talking that sometimes can result from the seating arrangement.
  • It doesn’t matter what you do or say to get their attention, sometimes students just weren’t listening and you’re going to have to repeat it.
  • Make use of what you have. I give the students open-ended and (I hope) interesting math tasks, but I also make use of the exercises in the textbook and workbooks provided to me by the district. Some open-ended tasks in Geometry are just the “Extend Your Knowledge” sections from the textbook that I change a little bit so they don’t give too much away just in the question. We received workbooks for all Foundations students this year and my knee-jerk reaction was to turn up my nose at “worksheets” but actually I have been able to make good use of them so far as a question bank. Today in Foundations we completed 2 pages as a class, but instead of sitting quietly by themselves listening to music while I circled the room we did whole class, individual, group discussion, a modified “speed dating”, and Talking Points.

My geometry class is 29 students and although I am able to get their attention, they are difficult to wrangle sometimes and it is VERY difficult to get around and help everyone in an efficient manner. There are just too many students to help. However, I enjoy teaching Geometry and the students themselves are pretty good for the most part. (It helps that they are not freshman, but then again, they aren’t “scared” of me like freshman are.)

I am incredibly pleased with how both of my Foundations classes are going so far. I really feel that most of the students are responding well. Comparing this year to last year it’s as though I am teaching completely different courses.  I was really, really happy with a conversation that both of my Foundations classes had about whether there is a Commutative Property of Subtraction and if it was true that a-b=b-a. The students discussed their opinion using Talking Points and then we spoke as a class about it. One reason that I enjoy being a teacher is hearing students realize or make connections about how something in math works. It bring me genuine joy. I like my job, as hard as it is.

Today I said to a colleague, “I liked my job last year. I mean, it was hard, but I liked it.” And he responded, “No, you were really frustrated last year,” which is the truth. I was really frustrated last year. There were moments that I liked, but I was frustrated a lot. This year (as everyone says) has been much better so far. I am sure I will have frustrating days this year too, but I am glad to the ratio of enjoyment to frustration seems to have flipped.

Thanks for reading.


Second Breakfast: Day 7 Or Slow Going

It’s only Week 2, but I think I might be a little bit behind the other classes. I might be over-planning since I am teaching a new class with Geometry and Foundations feels new because of the textbook change, but I keep not completing the lesson plans I had for the day. The students aren’t wasting time and are working for the most part, but I just am not able to make progress through all the material. I am wondering if I am doing too much review, but the review seems to be effective. Many of my students are answering questions in class during review and doing well. I don’t know.

I am still pleased with how my classes are going, but now that we are halfway through the second week I have a good feel for who is going to be tempted to talk and who is capable of staying on task. I will probably do some seat shuffling some time next week as necessary. (I also need to address specific students with talking misbehaviors rather than admonishments in a general direction of noise. Even still, my students are mostly well behaved and there is a huge difference between this year and last year.

Some things I am doing differently this year:

  • Making the warm-up on paper. Last year I began the semester with writing questions on the board which students would work on paper. I struggled to get them to comply with that beginning class routine for a long time and then when I found a solution (making the warm up digital through Go Formative) I saw marked improvement for a while but I far too heavily on that format. The routine became stale rather than helpful and I wasn’t asking good questions. Students would just click random answers and not really engage with the warm up. It was also not a good idea to set a tone for my class where they started by opening their chromebooks. I think the paper tasks serve as a physical reminder of what they are expected to do.
  • Making the warm up more open-ended. The questions I am asking are meant to spark conversation so that I can walk around the room at the beginning and engage rather than just be concerned about whether they are doing the warm up. I sometimes see teachers on Twitter talk negatively about compliance, and generally I need my students to attempt the tasks I give them in class, but my warm ups last year were requiring the wrong kind of compliance and it was a source of frustration. (Yes, yes, I know some of you out there think that ALL compliance is the wrong kind of compliance. I disagree. The good kind is necessary for the context I teach in.)
  • Providing more explicit structure for note-taking and reiterating every day what I expect them to do with their composition books. (Put the date at the top. Label what section this notes are for. Number your pages at the bottom so you can be organized.)
  • Putting cups with dry-erase markers, erasers, and glue sticks at every group of tasks. This has greatly cut down on class-time that I devoted last year to students getting or putting away supplies. (I need to be meaner about getting them to put them back. Some students just leave the cups empty with markers out.)
  • Being more consistent with behavior enforcement for classroom management. (This is obviously still a work in progress but I have gotten better at it.)
  • Varying the types of activities in my planning. I have been alternating whole class assignments that require the attention and quiet of everyone with group and individual assignments that can be louder or less structured. This has seemed to help students focus better in both formats.
  • Not using technology as a crutch for classroom management. Although I still have plenty of progress to make in this area, I have gotten better at communicating and enforcing my expectation that students stay on task during class. Last year I was using Go Formative more to keep students in line and on task than to inform me and them about their education. I still love Go Formative and plan to use it this year, but I am going to change the context that I use it for my class. I don’t have it set up yet this year, but I think it will be less a daily fixture in my class than it was before.

That is all I can think of for now and I need to get started on grading and planning.

Thanks for reading.


Second Breakfast: Day 6 Or Oops It’s 11 PM And I Forgot To Post Today

Today went well! I really feel better so far this year compared to last year. Last year I had good days, but overall it was very difficult and I got home just beat every day. This year I feel more normal when I go home.

But life is still life and between grading and planning, going home for dinner, church small group, and relaxing at home, I just realized I forgot to write my post for the day.

I’m writing this on my phone rather than a laptop because I’m already in bed and I’m too tired to go downstairs and get it. So this will be short.

I was really encouraged today with my foundations classes. Yesterday I was confused because they did so poorly on a matching activity I gave them for definitions of real numbers. They seemed so lost when all they had to do to begin was match what they had in their notes. The first part of the assignment didn’t even require understanding. (The latter part did though.)

However today I gave them a group activity on real number properties and they did much better. I also turned yesterday’s assignment into a small project due Friday to give them more time.

I’m really pleased with how much better I have been handling Foundations classes this year. Last year they were very difficult to handle and so far it’s been smoother.

My geometry class also did well today. I had over-planned yesterday and my notes went too long. I avoided notes entirely today and had them do a mix of whole class, group, and individual practice on points, lines, and planes. (As well as the first five postulates and segments and rays.)

My geo class has been a little chatty, or more chatty than my foundations, but I think I scare the freshman a little more and the geo class is my biggest by about 6 students. (24 versus 30 but often one or two students in geo are absent.)

That’s all I’m going to write for now because it’s late and I’m on my phone but I really am feeling good about my job right now.

Thanks for reading.


Second Breakfast: Day 5 Or PEMDAS is a lie

Today went mostly well. I overplanned. Oh well.

For the warm-up, I picked an ambiguous order of operation problem that often makes the rounds on Facebook where people argue about a math problem and PEMDAS when really the issue is a gross lack of grouping symbols. The students weren’t as interested in this problem as some of my other warm-ups, but my first block was especially good about writing on the desks and trying the problem. This year I have placed markers and glue sticks in styrofoam cups on the desk groupings and that has really cut down on materials time in class, which I like.

So they all did what I wanted, which was get different answers. And some of them even argued like I wanted, but they didn’t get fired up about it like I was hoping. I also didn’t lead the discussion afterwards very well either. I used the problem to talk about how PEMDAS is just a convention that we agree on and it’s better to be generous with our parentheses and understand what the expressions actually mean. Like I said, I didn’t do a very good job. Even with three attempts.

Oh well. Can’t get it perfect every time.

I was very surprised by my Foundations students today. I had some notes on properties of real numbers and then I gave them a matching activity where they were supposed to match the name, definition, example, and verbal explanation. And then draw a picture. They were lost. This baffled me because they had done a decent job of copying notes and the first half of the activity could be done literally by looking at the notes and matching even if you didn’t understand the math. This happened in both Foundations courses. They floundered big time.

I don’t know if I overwhelmed them with too many items to match or what. I think if I did this activity again I would only give them 2-3 categories at first and then after they sorted those, give them some more. That’s the only reason I can think they were so lost. It was supposed to just be a group activity today, but it went so badly I plan to turn it into an individual project due Friday.

For my geometry students I had a points, lines, and planes presentation prepared and had planned to give the students time to work and explore afterwards. The notes took far longer than I had anticipated. I talked longer on each slide than I normally do. So far geometry has been presenting a challenge because I only get one go at the lesson. With Foundations (and this was even more true last year with 3 blocks of the same class) I got at least one “practice” run with the first class to work out the bugs.

I ended up talking on notes for most of the block after the warm-up and some algebra review. In retrospect I should have broke up the notes, but while teaching on the fly I didn’t know if they would be able to do ANY of the problems if I didn’t finish talking about undefined terms, the postulates, and our common objects like segments, rays, and so on. So I just powered through. They were restless and I can’t blame them. But I was able to get them to keep a lid on it. We finished with 5 minutes left in class, which wasn’t nearly enough time to do anything. So I moved homework back a day, planned to do classwork tomorrow, and gave them a half-remembered puzzle that James Cleveland nerd-sniped me with during #tmc17. I was pleased to see many of the students attempted it on their desks. Although looking it up now, I remembered it wrong.

Oh well. They tried it and that was better than 5 minutes of free-for-all.

I am starting to get a feel for these students and they me, which means they are beginning to test boundaries. But I am feeling much better this year so far. I feel more confident in the classroom and I’m not so tired when I come home in the evening. Obstacles don’t seem so overwhelming and misbehaving students aren’t as stressful.

Thanks for reading!



Second Breakfast: Day 4 Or Pulling A Bob Knight


I made it to the end of Friday and my first week of the second year.

I went back and compared how I am feeling to now to how I was feeling at this same time last year.

Here is the post from my first Friday. (I was so tired at the end of my first week I wrote it on the Saturday after.)

On the previous day’s post, Rookie Year: Day 2, I said that my first day of teaching felt like a whole week.

Comparing then to now, the first day still felt like a whole week. The first day back takes a lot out of you. Talking to other teachers in the building, I think that is true no matter how long you have been teaching. However, comparing the end of this week to the end of the first week last year, I think I am not feeling so drained this second time around. It was a good week. It wasn’t perfect, but I have a better handle on things.

In today’s lesson I started with a warm-up that asked the students to look at a sheet of numbers and select ALL of the sets that each number belonged to. I only gave one sheet for each table so they had to work together. I allotted ten minutes for this, took attendance, and then circulated the room while they worked. I noted who was on task, which groups were working together, and who was letting one or two students work while they talked. I redirected where necessary and then when the timer was up I called the class together and we summarized as a group. This went pretty well in all three classes and we even got some extra nice discussion from the middle block about why 5/6 is not an integer, complete with candy bar drawings fractions. Granted those diagrams were from me, but the students were still talking to me about it.

Two things with warm-ups that have been working well for me this year:

  1. Physical paper tasks
  2. Tasks students can do without help

Last year once I started using Go Formative I relied so heavily on that format that I didn’t get any good mathematics out of the students. It also was a reason for the students to start class with chromebooks out. Although that made it easy for me to throw a few review questions together, I think even once all of my students have their assigned chromebooks I am going to continue paper tasks that they can work on as tables (even if each of them have their own paper at their tables). This seems to be setting a better starting atmosphere in my class then coming in and answering 3-5 electronic multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank questions. I don’t judge my last year teacher self though, I was doing what I thought was best at the time and what I needed to survive.

I just hope I can come up with enough paper tasks each day. I am tempted to use a warm-up sheet like my high school math teachers did, but then I feel as though that would limit some of the tasks that I could assign as warm ups. I am not sure.

After the warm-up and discussion, I finished some notes that we started yesterday on closure of sets. I was going to continue on to finish with notes on properties of real numbers, but my first block started to get antsy. Like really antsy. I could tell they needed a change. I think last year I would have pushed through and then been frustrated with them when they weren’t good during notes. But today I stopped notes and moved on to the next activity. I explicitly told them that we would work on endurance because sometimes we will just need to make it through some direct instruction. And they seemed okay with this. To keep my classes roughly together I just purposefully stopped at the same place in my second block, even though they were less antsy at that point in the notes. For my geometry, I had different notes planned, and while they eventually got antsy too, they survived the notes. I told them they had to because they were in CP and were sophomores or older.

The geometry class is also where the joke title comes from. I pretended to lose it and threw a marker at my shelf when one of my former students mis-remembered the distributive property. I actually did break the marker, oops. Waste of a perfectly good Expo. At least I didn’t go full Bob Knight and throw a chair. That probably would have been a bridge too far for a bit to get them interested in the notes again. The theatrics did get the reaction from my students that I was hoping for. They thought it was pretty funny after the shock wore off.

After notes we played Speed Dating with a worksheet. This went really well in first block, but not as well in second block because I had less students. I thought I fixed the problem in third block geometry, but since I had a different worksheet for them, their activity actually went the worst and we never actually got to the speed dating part. The worksheet was too hard. Whoops.

Finally I had all of my classes write a short Week 1 Reflection where I asked the following:

  1. How has the class gone for you so far?
  2. What is your opinion of math?
  3. Any questions, comments, or concerns?

And gave them the last 10 minutes to complete an assignment that would become homework otherwise. (I keep saying, I need my 90 minutes.)

Thinking back to last year, I think two things I have improved when it comes to planning are my willingness to let activities go longer when necessary and not expecting the students to do too much. (Inside Joke Warning: Don’t hold your breath, Ed Realist, I’ll probably forget the lesson at some point this year and have the same problem all over again.) I know that the block is allowing me some leeway, and I know I’ll have less wriggle room once we get into the course a little, but I’ve gotten a better feel for how long I should allow an activity to go. And I’m sure next year I will have an even better feel for it.

So great week. I wish I could send this feeling back in time two weeks ago to the Taylor who was an anxious wreck about starting school back up again. I am sure that I will have rough days this year, but I am really pleased so far.

Thanks for reading.



Second Breakfast: Day 3

I’m feeling very tired, but overall today went well.

I have continued to throw things I took from #tmc17 at my students, to varying degrees of success. Today I used Reader’s Theater and Talking points (which I shared about in my TMC Takeaways Presentation at the District in-service mentioned before here).

Some of the student’s didn’t transfer the Talking Points format from Reader’s Theater as well as I would have liked, but most of them enjoyed the Reader’s Theater itself. (Which makes sense, because Elizabeth wrote very well.) With a little prompting from me in large and small group, they got the hang of it. They were at least talking about the assertions I had written on the board, even if it wasn’t exactly following the format. I told them that we would practice and I consider Talking Points to be a scaffolding for encouraging student discussion in the class anyway.

Next we moved on to notes over the Real Number system and sets, and then I let them work individually or in groups on their homework. However since most of them actually did their work (which was great) we had some free minutes at the end. So I got out my clothesline and we did some clothesline math. This went really well in all of my classes, but it went especially well in my middle block, where a student got up and drew circles and illustrations to show why 1/4 was less than 1/3. I got some really good discussion out of that block.

I feel as though I am pulling out all the stops this first week, but I am concerned about sustaining the pace of interesting tasks. Yes I did give a diagnostic test yesterday and yes we did direct instruction with some notes, but I have just been trying all the new things that I can try in an attempt to get the students to buy into the course early. I think it is working, but I want to make sure it does not become gimmicky. So far I don’t believe that it has, all of the tasks have tied into my goals for the students. But it could easily become that or I could also fall too hard the other way and get settled into the routine of last year with Go Formative Warm Up / Homework / New Notes or Activitiy / In-Class Practice and then repeat the next day.

I am also a little nervous about my classroom management still. So far it is going well but I am just scared I won’t maintain it well. This job is stressful not matter what, but it is less stressful when I am doing classroom management well.

My brain is a little too fuzzy to think of anything else to write at the moment.

Thanks for reading.


Second Breakfast: Day 2 Or WODB Wednesdays

Today went really well.

I started with a Which One Doesn’t Belong as a warm up. (Huge thanks to Mary Bourassa and Christopher Danielson). I printed this sheet and had one at each desk.

And wow. I could not have been happier with the results. The students wrote down their answers and were talking to each other. Yes, there was some other conversations going on, but when I came around to a desk, almost everyone could give me an answer. And they gave me great answers. I was really, really pleased with how they responded. I asked probing questions and challenged their assertions.

  • “Okay I’m with you. But I think the shaded square doesn’t belong. Which one doesn’t belong the MOST?”
  • “Explain what you mean by ‘the rectangle is longer’?”
  • “Is there a difference between the square and the ‘diamond’?”
  • “Convince me that the rectangle doesn’t belong”

Then I asked them “Which is more important, your answer or your explanation?” Some needed a little more prompting after I asked that, but most got the idea behind the task. This activity tied in extremely well with yesterday’s discussion of whether a hot dog is a sandwich. The students made the connection that what I was asking didn’t have one correct answer, but multiple answers, as long as you gave a good explanation.

Then we summarized as a whole class and I asked students to share and repeat conversations and assertions we had in small group. I was also excited about how this went. It is still early in the year (VERY early) but I think I am getting better at controlling side chatter when one student gives an answer. One student gave a great argument for the numbers WODB about the sums of digits that I hadn’t noticed. It was fantastic.

I spent quite a bit of time on this warm up, but that is what I wanted to do. I am planning “Which One Doesn’t Belong?” Wednesdays and will make a new one each week. Before school started I was playing around with one every day, but I think that would have been too much. They would get tired and I would run out of WODBs.

After WODB I gave the same diagnostic test to both my Foundations and Geometry classes over Algebra I. For Foundations it was a pre-assessment to see what they retained from middle school, but also a way for my to think about purposeful groupings in the future. For Geometry it was also a pre-assessment, but for that class I really wanted to know how much time I needed to spend on reviewing algebra skills like solving equations before we moved on to points, lines, and planes.

I saw some folks talking on Twitter recently about what messages tests in the first week send. I may have misread the tweets, but it seemed the implication was the tests the first week send negative messages about what we value in the class. I agree to an extent, it was more important to me to establish classroom procedures and norms on the first day. But I also think giving a diagnostic test and telling students “This does not count for a grade, and it will not hurt you. I just want to know what you know. Please show me” is not a bad explicit message to send at all. And hopefully the implicit message was that I take teaching them seriously and that they will have to work hard in class.

Another thing I need to work on this year over last year is improving my balance of serious and silly. I did hard work last year, but I think I also sometimes overdid the goofball act portion of my teaching and my students didn’t take the class seriously enough when they needed too. (Not that I am getting rid of silly completely: my first day lesson plan included arguing whether a hot dog is a sandwich–but that did have a legitimate mathematical point to it. And I recently added a big portrait of one of my senior pictures. (I am wearing sunglasses, a loose tie, and am playing the saxophone. If the kids ask, I will tell them not to take themselves too seriously.)

After the diagnostic, I ended up doing something different in each of my blocks. In the first block I had enough time to start talking about 0 as the additive identity and additive inverses. In the second block we had spent more time working on the WODB so we only had time to play with 3×3 magic squares in groups before the bell rang. In my third block, Geometry, we had to pick up textbooks today so we didn’t have any time left at all. Once everyone had turned in their exams it was time to pack up and go.

I did have a few students testing some boundaries with phones and earbuds today, but nothing overt. They stopped after I gave them a verbal warning. I know that at some point I will have to give out detentions, and I am trying to mentally pump myself up for the good of the class and my own mental health. As I mentioned in my last post, I struggled with consistency and follow-through last year.

But overall a really great day. I am feeling much better about this year.

Thanks for reading.