First Day Plans

The back to school dreams started about a week ago as I was preparing to help equip 40 Link Leaders for Freshmen Orientation. I’m so excited to be working with this group of students… they know what it means to lead by example.

IMG-1556 (1).jpgOrientation was a success due to their hard work and I’m confident that Ionia High School Class of 2021 is in good hands! Now, to prepare for an equally important event: The First Day of School!

On September 23rd, I plan to:

  • Greet my students at the door with a high five or fist bump.
  • Have students create Name Tents and use these 5 Questions with feedback.
  • Engage students in a Dot Talk to model classroom discourse.
  • Create a first experience with teamwork in Geometry using Let’s Make Squares!  and in Algebra 2 using loops of string to create 2D and 3D figures… and take pictures!
  • Introduce AP Statistics students to the logic of inference using a real study and simulation.
  • Create classroom norms using these two prompts from Jo Boaler at youcubed:
    • Reflect on the things you do not like people to say and do when you are working on math in a group.
    • Reflect on the things you do like people to say and do when you are working on math in a group.
  • Show the video on Strategies for Learning Mathematics at youcubed. Close class by having students reflect on when we used the various strategies during the first day of school.

I’m excited just thinking about the first day of school!

Goals for 2017-2018

I’m blaming temporary insanity for my impulsive decision to publicly commit to blogging  With three entries started and just sitting in ‘Drafts”, I can’t imagine anything more out of my comfort zone right now. So here goes…

I want to start the ObserveMe challenge in my classroom. I’ve been watching the movement gain momentum and I’m excited to begin. I don’t want to miss a single opportunity to gain insightful feedback because my questions are to vague. Please let me know what you think.

  • What other techniques should I consider to improve students’ ability to explain what we are doing in class.
  • How can I better ensure that all students are engaged?
  • What can I do to encourage students to engage in productive struggle and persevere through problem solving?

I want to expand the use of Number Talks in my classroom. This past year I experimented a lot with Number Talks and have a good idea of the impact they can have on student learning and classroom culture.  In the coming school year, I’d like to be more intentional about which Number Talks I use in my classroom and why. Can Number Talks be used to model classroom discourse and will gains made with the whole class transfer to small group work? When students are exposed to multiple strategies, do they adopt them as their own and use them for problem solving later? I’m not sure how I’m going to measure either to see if there are gains, but I have a feeling the answer to both questions is a resounding ‘yes’!

Relationships… I’d be remiss if I didn’t have a goal about deepening the connections I make with students. I’m easily distracted by all the things that need to get done and I often forget how important those connections are to my students. I tried Sara Vanderwerf’s  name tents with feedback last year and loved it. Admittedly, it was a lot of work, but I’m going to use them the first week of school again this year.

I’m going to stop myself now, before I set one too many goals. And I’m going to #PushSend before I have time to overthink this whole blogging challenge!


Establish Mathematics Goals to Focus Learning

“Learning intentions describe what it is we want students to learn in terms of the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and values within any particular unit or lesson.”

John Hattie

My colleagues and I have spent countless hours writing learning targets in student friendly language. Revisiting the topic of goals has given me time to rethink my current practice. I’m sure there is more to it than just writing the learning target on the board. So how can learning targets be used to have the biggest impact on student learning?

I often reference the learning target that is written on the board at the start of class and then refer to it as students progress through the lesson. During closure, we revisit the learning target and check for understanding. Over the past year, two of my colleagues and I have come to believe that some learning targets should come with the following warning:Spoiler-AlertSometimes it makes sense to delay revealing the learning target so that students are free to explore a new problem without any constraints. After sharing ideas that are generated, the learning target can be introduced to focus student on the desired next steps. In geometry, students come to class knowing how to use the Pythagorean Theorem. After solving a problem or two using this tool, they encounter a problem in which it won’t work. They need a new strategy… enter trigonometric ratios! At this point, students are motivated because they can see the need for trigonometry. A similar example comes from Algebra 1. Students spend a great amount of time solving quadratic functions by factoring. Give them a quadratic that can’t be factored easily and they now need to know how to complete the square or use the quadratic formula.

Delaying the learning target emphasizes this gap in understanding and uses students’ desire to learn more as motivation for the lesson. How can I capitalize on these gaps in understanding to motivate more students?

My friend and mentor Kathy reminds me that one of the pitfalls of spending so much time writing, rewriting and thinking about learning targets is that we can lose site of the real mathematical goal:


To keep myself in check, I really like these questions from NCTM’s Principle’s to Actions:

math goals

I want to add these to my repertoire of questions I use with students during a lesson. I think these questions might help both me and my students keep the balance she is referring to!

Please let me know how you use learning targets in your classroom!

Challenge: Unlock Learning

Student Survey: What are some areas we can improve?


I was crushed to learn that the subject I am most passionate about was listed multiple times as an area for improvement. Not that we don’t all have room to improve, but math was mentioned in 13 of the 520 surveys completed. That is 2.5% of responses. More than any other subject! I know better than to react to one piece of data, but we still have  students who fail Algebra 1 and our average SAT score has historically been at or below the average for the State of Michigan for a number of years. The data is clearly telling us something.

My colleagues in the math department are some of the most hard-working, collaborative, student-focused teachers I know. Faced with this data… how will we respond?

Screenshot 2017-06-18 22.00.05

“It is the teacher’s challenge to unlock the learning.” Carol Dweck

What does unlocking the learning look like in the math classroom? P2AWe have decided to begin our search for answers with a summer book study of NCTM’s Principles to Action. Some of us have read this book and some have not, so it seems likr a great place to begin our work together.

How will we use Principles to Action to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics? How can we show and share what we are learning? When we can’t find time to meet, how do we share, connect, and collaborate? Use your twitter account and hashtag #ioniamath to follow along. When you comment, please use the include #ioniamath so that others can find your comments easily. Here is our schedule:

Screenshot 2017-06-26 04.59.48

Not sure what to tweet? Here are some prompts to get you started:

  • Share a quote that that is meaningful to you.
  • How do these ideas connect to what you already know?
  • What new ideas push or extend your thinking?
  • What now is a challenge for you?
  • What will you try?
  • I used to think… now I…

Please feel free to join us on our journey of improvement.

Week 2: Growth Mindset

I’ve been using materials from the Week of Inspirational Math 2 at since the start of school with my Math Lab class. My students are enjoying the videos and getting a picture of what it means to have a growth mindset. We finished the week by playing the game at I had my students go to the website and play the game. No further instructions were given. Over the course of the next 30 minutes, all students were fully engaged with the game. Some of them reported going back to it over the weekend to try and reach higher levels! During the last 5 minutes of class I debriefed the activity by asking the class: Why did I ask you to play this game? Some of the responses are below:

  • To make us think.
  • To help us realize that figuring things out takes time.
  • Because it is challenging and makes our brains grow.
  • Because it is challenging and we are going to have to meet lots of challenges to get through high school.
  • The games is about strategy and perseverance.

If you haven’t played Game About Squares… I’d highly recommend it. Warning: It can be addictive.

Week 1: Number Talks

I began the year by committing myself to conducting a Number talk every day for the first 10 days of the school year. I had experimented with number talks in the past and found them to be very enlightening. I knew they had the potential to change my teaching and I wondered if they could change the way my students experienced mathematics. I decided the only way to find out was to implement them on a more regular basis.

I spent some time this summer re-reading Making Number Talks Matter by Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker. The book suggested beginning with dot cards and establishing class norms for number talks. For the first week, I’ve used a Number Talk to open each day in my Algebra 1 support class, Math Lab.

Two things that got me really excited about number talks this week. First, on day 3, one of my students announced that she had arrived at her answer in two different ways. She asked if I wanted her to share them both!. I was really encouraged by this and was actually hoping to suggest the idea to my students the next day. The second occurred on day 4 when I asked my students why they thought we should be doing Number Talks every day. Here were their responses:

  • Because math is about patterns.
  • To practice grouping and counting, like by twos and fours.
  • To practice mental math and help our brain grow.

Below is my favorite dot card from the week and the student thinking I was able to capture.


I’m hoping to get better at listening to and recording student thinking in the coming week. I still have a lot to learn!

Reading 5 Practices

The Standards for Mathematical Practice are an important focus in my mathematics classroom. My challenge this year is to read and implement the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions as a way to further emphasize those mathematical practices in my classroom.

I am asking interested educators to join me in a study the books 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions and 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Task-Based Discussions in Science. Yes! We will study the books simultaneously with and share our thoughts and ideas with our colleagues in both math and science.

Lets use Twitter to share our thoughts throughout this book study using the hashtag #IHSLearns. You are not required to be online at a certain time to take part, simply respond to the prompts and the thoughts that others post using #IHSLearns. Great discussions are sure to follow, but at a slower pace than with a traditional book study.

Consider posting pictures or other documents when you have more than than 140 characters to say. You might even want to write a blog post! Be sure to use your Twitter account and the hashtag #IHSLearns when you post your comments.

Our reading schedule will look like this:

Post to Twitter using the hashtag #IHSLearns and the following daily prompts:

No need to post every day. Don’t forget to see what others are saying by searching for #IHSLearns.

Still don’t have a Twitter account? You can start here. Let me know if you have questions or need more help.