Stepping Back

So again in studio math professional development work, I realize how much I need to step back in the classroom. How has this been my goal for 4 years and yet I still struggle so much? I need to be doing planning, but I think reflecting on this may help me uncover some ideas in order for it to “stick”!

What I know:

  1. Stepping back (not group hopping to help scholar by scholar by scholar) will help scholars to learn independence to rely on their own and their groups’ mathematical ideas. When I intervene, oftentimes I am taking away from their ideas and thinking and pushing mine on them.
  2. Stepping back will not only teach them independence and let them explore their mathematical ideas, it will free me up to do what I really want to be doing
    1. that is, looking for different mathematical ideas to make public to the class for scholars to present rough draft thinking. If I can really listen and pay attention to thinking, I can scope and sequence before every group figures it out to help push their thinking forward.
    2. Also, with the new ideas around complex instruction and multiple abilities treatment, I can look for the differing abilities of the scholars in my class, particularly those with low status that I can bring forward to the whole group.
    3. Also, I can look (on perhaps different days than multiple abilities so as not to be overwhelmed) for productive group behaviors. I have done two skillbuilding lessons and in the most recent, scholars came up with a great and comprehensive list of group behaviors that helped them in their skillbuilder that can also help them in their math investigations. See the ideas from my 3 different classes below – sorry to be too lazy to type them up!


  3. Basically, all of these things that I’ve been working on for 3+ years will become more possible if I can just freaking step back and let scholars be scholars. It’s SO HARD! I like helping. I like being the center of attention. But none of it is actually helping them! If I want to make public all the ways that these brilliant scholars are already mathematicians, I need to stop making it about me and what I want to get across to them in math and more about their thinking!
  4. I don’t know why I’m still doing numbers. Just another last thought. Part of the difficulty is getting kids thinking and ready so that they can pass their competencies. I hate that I just said that and I hate that there is so much pressure to get to this and that this is how we judge whether scholars have learned, but right now it is! I wish I didn’t have to assign grades or give tests, but since I do, how do I keep scholars thinking about really big questions but also help them to be successful on competencies so that they don’t just give up because of frustration with grades.
  5. Sorry this ended on a bad note. But key point – I WILL STEP BACK!!!!!

First Days with Freshmen

Okay – I’ve struggled with freshmen for 4 years now and I want to write about this and see how I can get better. The first week they were pretty good this year, at least, but that honeymoon period is over and they are starting to get squirrely. I have to say, I haven’t been known for my classroom management in the past, though I think I’ve learned more and improved a bit every year.

With my sophomores already, I’ve talked to kids privately when they’ve been off task too much and that has helped. With my freshmen, though, I think they’re still trying to figure out what high school is all about so it’s a totally different beast. With my sophomores, I can tell stories and joke and goof around more, but I’m learning that I can’t do this with freshmen as much – at least not yet in the year.

There are a few things that I think I need to do in order to help manage my freshmen (and really all) classes.

  1. Talk less! I’ve known this from year 1, but it’s so hard! I know that I want them to come to realizations on their own and I have days where they do this very well. It’s particularly tough with freshmen in the beginning to try and get them all on the same page with what we’re doing. I need to intentionally plan how to talk less. If anyone reading has suggestions on this, please let me know! I haven’t found much room yet for good Launch, Explore, Summarize lessons.
  2. Keep at a good pace. I often wait until the majority of the class has gotten through problems, but I’ve known that it doesn’t work because others get off track. Based on the fact that I’m often behind in pacing, I know that I should move through lessons at a better pace. I really want to get better at having scholars present their work at different stages of a problem – I think this would help the class.
  3. Keep an organized system of behavior. Because the teaching day gets so crazy and I have attention issues anyway, when I ask a scholar to stay after class, I very rarely remember to hold them to this. I also lose track of how often behaviors are occurring and what I’ve done about it. I’d like to keep some organized system of this. I also want to keep notes on each scholar and what mathematical abilities (from complex instruction) that they show so that I can work on raising the status of low-status scholars. I have a SmartSeat app for seating charts and it would be great if I could add notes about each scholar in there, but I can’t find this. I wonder if there are other apps that do this. I could also do something paper-based, but that gets messier a lot faster.
  4. Stay in close contact with families. For certain scholars, it’s very helpful to have families involved. Once I’ve had a couple of conversations myself with a scholar about behavior, I’d like to talk to their families to keep them in the loop with how their scholars is doing as well as to learn anything additionally about the scholar that might help me in supporting them. Last year, I kept a list of contacts and this year, I’ve dedicated a notebook to family contacts.
  5. Do everything I can before writing a referral to administration. I want to make sure to try and develop a relationship with scholars to get to know them better so that I can work things out directly with them instead of having to go to administration. Of course, there are some events where I would send them, but in general, I might hold scholars at lunch and try to talk to them more one-on-one to see if I can find out more about what’s going on with them.
  6. Learn names faster! I am so slow with learning names. I did go around and take pictures of all of my freshmen holding up their name cards and in theory, I would be studying these every night to make sure I know them. But with the beginning of the year and all the planning and helping kids from last year, etc. etc., it has fallen by the wayside. Pick this up right away! How can I develop a relationship when I don’t know all of their names 2 weeks in!?

I will have to keep writing and reflecting on how this is going. If anyone has any additional suggestions, please let me know!


A New School Year – More Reflections

So in my 4th year teaching the same classes, I am going to try and make use of this blog more and use it to reflect. Maybe it’ll help me to reflect on those things I want to reflect on and not every single thing that happens in my day (as is my norm).

Our district is training all of its math teachers on Complex Instruction. I went to a training this summer and the ideas behind complex instruction were brought back to my attention by Bryan Meyer and Bryan Lawler – two Bryans that I have so much respect for. It was not hard for me to buy into the idea of expectation states theory because this is what I have come to understand about scholars in my classes through teaching the last 3+ years.

I am doing a training for my site on some of the ideas of complex instruction this year (with Bryan Meyer’s help) and we started with the idea that you have to teach group behaviors in order for scholars to learn them effectively. And just like in any good math lesson, they will learn the skills much more deeply if they discover them on their own.

Friday in class as part of starting Complex Instruction, I did the Four-stage Rocket groupwork activity with my 3 classes and wanted to reflect on what went well and what didn’t. If you’re not familiar with this activity, it can be seen here:

1st period – 10th graders

For this class, I did not give any private think time, but had the groups immediately begin to discuss the problem without any rules. I left them to do this for 2 min.

After 2 minutes, I gave them the Stage 1 rule of each person talking no more than 15 seconds. They did pretty well with this.

After another 2 minutes, I gave them the Stage 2 rule of waiting 3 seconds after each person speaks before anyone else speaks. They did not do well with this stage. I went around to groups and showed them that they weren’t doing it and even pulled the class together and suggested they have someone who counts to 3 on their hands for the group to see.

After another minute, I gave them stage 3 which was repeating back what others said. I didn’t get to really look at this much because many groups were finishing. I went around holding them to the 3 sec rule and for those who finished, I asked them to cut the list down now from 7 to 3.

After 2 minutes, I gave them stage 4 which is to have everyone speak before any person speaks again. At this stage, some groups were doing okay but none of them were fully following the rules. I tried to get around to help with this, but wasn’t very successful.

I had groups share out who their final 3 were and almost all groups agreed.


I had them write on the reflection questions silently and then share in their groups. At least half the class said there were no changes from before the rules to after the rules (likely because they weren’t following the rules). I had a couple of scholars share out, but most were not willing to speak.


I then had them make mini posters on a sheet of paper with markers to write their 3-5 most important behaviors for effective groupwork. I went around asking them to add what each of these behaviors look like. They did pretty well with this activity.


2nd period – 9th graders.

For this class, I did things the same to start. The freshmen still did not all follow the rules, but they did better than my sophomores. They were also much faster at agreeing and choosing the people. I tried to go a little faster through the phases, but even after giving groups the 3 person constraint, groups were finishing.

I ended up giving this class the Alligator River story and asked them to continue following the rules and work to come to an agreement on this one. I went around holding them to the rules. I had a couple of scholars who resisted and talked about how they didn’t like it, but for the most part they were trying.


I had them do the posters, but we ran out of time, so they didn’t get very far.


3rd period – 10th graders.

I told this class about how my others had done and was very specific on them following the rules for the effect of what the activity was intended to do. I also added a 3 minute silent work time to choose the 7 people to go on the spaceship. I think this was probably the best change that was made because it allowed more people to give their input now that they had definite differences. I did have a couple of groups go down to only 5 on the spaceship, but the discussions were better. I also asked each group to assign 1 person as the rule master so that they were to make sure everyone was following the rules. I still went around to help, but for the most part, the groups were trying to follow the rules.


Before all groups had finished, I went through the 12 people on the list and asked groups to raise their hands on who they choose. There was a lot of agreement but some disagreement.


I then had each group choose 1 representative to go into a new group in the center of the room. This was an idea that I had from another teacher at my school, Kris Bucu. I gave them the Alligator River situation and asked everyone on the outside to stay quiet and take notes about how the group was doing. They did not have to follow the rules. The group in the middle tried working through this problem, but were at a bit of a stalemate, not agreeing on things. I stopped the class and asked them to give feedback about how the group was doing. They said that the group was letting others talk, but that they were not getting anywhere to working to compromise. The group went back and worked some more and did better. At the end, I had all groups work to come up with a list of 3 behaviors that are most important for group work. I then made a list on the board of their most important ones. This list contained:

Getting somewhere

Listening to others

Adding on to ideas

Voices that everyone can hear

Everyone contributes and is given opportunities to speak



I feel like because of this activity, I will be able to go back and continue to have conversations once the math instruction begins. I look forward to also doing a new activity in a couple of weeks to help to teach these behaviors. Another colleague, Anne Schwartz is having her 11th graders use these lists of behaviors as their social contract for the class that they will all agree to throughout the year. I liked this idea and may try to implement it somehow too, although with freshmen, it might be important to have the other ideas on the social contract too.


Not sure this reflection will be useful to anyone else, but I’ll at least have it to look back on in the future. 🙂

Anti-Math Club

So… I have had some thoughts ever since I saw Rochelle Gutierrez speak, but I’m having trouble solidifying these ideas. The idea of what I want to do is around getting kids involved in math that is not part of the standards, and that is fun and engaging. I want kids to start to see that math is an art form that is beautiful and that everyone can do it. Here are some of the thoughts I am struggling with.

  1. I would love to get kids that normally do not excel in math to try to help them see the fun in math more than they’re used to…. but I’m not sure how to get them to come. Those who will want to come most are probably the kids that always love math!
  2. I’m not sure what activities to do. I can do puzzles, games, etc. but I don’t even know what all is out there in terms of fun stuff that’s not in our standards that’s accessible to different freshmen – seniors.
  3. I’ve also thought to let the kids decide what math we will do. I could present math munch and other sides (though I’m not sure which yet) to let them explore. I’m not sure how easy or hard it would be for them to come up with ideas.
  4. I’d love to include in the club the hidden agenda behind – to allow them to see that math is not just everything they are made to do in the standards. That it can be more engaging when there is time to delve more deeply into topics and take as long as we want to explore them. To allow them to see the math that is done throughout the world and how it is different than what they have learned. I’m not sure how to structure this.

I’m posting this partly to get my ideas down, but I would also love love love feedback and help in creating this club! Comments please!? 🙂

#middleschool abc’s

Okay, Anne, I’m in. I’m way down on my 30 posts in May, so this will be fun.

A- Age: 37 (for a couple more weeks!)
B- Biggest fear: Spiders
C- Current time: 2:27PM
D- Drink you last had: Water
E- Every day starts with: Pressing snooze (or trying to)
F- Favorite song: Don’t stop Believing
G- Ghosts, are they real? I think so
H- Hometown: Chattanooga, TN
I- In love with: my scholars
J- Jealous of: Amazing teachers
K- killed someone?: um, no
L- Last time you cried?: Last week – rough time with mother’s day and a scholar’s dad died, which hit me hard
M- Middle name: Lynn
N- Number of siblings: 0, but 1 sort of sister
O- One wish: To make a positive influence on people’s lives I encounter
P- Person you last called: My sort of mom (the mom of my sort of sister)
Q- Question you’re always asked: Why do you smile so much?
R- Reason to smile: beauty (favorite quote: happy people are happy because they find beauty every day)
S- Song last sang: Try Everything
T- Time you woke up: 5:30 (my husband made me because I asked him to make me, but I was not happy at 5:30)
U- Underwear color: Summer ME undies
V- Vacation destination: Italy / India / Africa…. I could keep going
W- Worst habit: Forgetting what people important to me tell me
Y- Your favorite food: Southern green beans (cooked in bacon grease)
X- X-Rays you’ve had: Mouth, stomach
Z- Zodiac sign: Gemini

Nominate 8 more people

Um, I don’t know many people on Twitter. My old math friends in credential! Traci, Melissa, Amanda, Kelly, Jackie, Lyndsey, Brian Lawler, Bryan Meyer

Notice and Wonder

I did a notice and wonder day because of Dan Meyer’s recent post on the Blue Point Rule. It didn’t have anything to do with the blue point or transformations, but I really liked how he laid out Before we do….., ask……

Although I love the idea of notice and wonders, I haven’s used them super effectively yet. We are in the middle of a rational functions unit for our sophomores in math 2 and it’s blowing their minds. I am trying to get them to understand simplifying rational functions, graphing rational functions, asymptotes, holes, adding/subtracting, etc. It’s a lot for the last 2 weeks of school.

My original idea for today’s lesson was to give them the following fraction and ask them to simplify it.

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 2.16.27 PM

However, after reading Dan’s blog, I decided instead to give them this.

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 2.18.54 PM

I randomly called on multiple scholars from the room to get their noticings and wonderings. It was beautiful!

  • It’s a polynomial divided by a polynomial
    • Great! What’s that called again? 🙂
  • It has a 5, 6 and 7
  • It has an x^2 and an x
  • It’s a quadratic divided by a line
  • There is a vertical asymptote at -1
    • This one was my favorite and everyone agreed that this would be true (we hadn’t talked about holes yet).
  • Yesterday’s function had an x/x^2 and today there is an x^2/x
    • This was great too because the scholar remembered what causes horizontal asymptotes.

I next asked them to try and simplify the fraction, reminding them that 5/10 is also 1*5/2*5 and since 5 is a factor of both, it becomes 1 and cancels.

Going around the room, some factored more easily and went onto the graph. Some had to think about what it means to factor. Some noticed that after simplifying, it gave a linear equation. Some graphed it and noticed it gave a line.

Whoa – what!? How could this type of function actually give a line?

Anyway – both of my classes were interested and engaged in this, whereas my previous idea would have produced neither. It turned into a great discussion about simplifying rational functions and holes!

I feel like a winner today – I needed that. 🙂

On motivating scholars

So this is something that I really haven’t figured out as a teacher. I have scholars who despite my efforts to support them, talk to them about their lives, offer endless help with the content just throw in the towel and don’t put in any effort. I have 3 scholars who I have had in math for 2 years who have struggled all along, but have put forth good effort for most of it and now at the end of the 2nd year, they all are just throwing in the towel. I feel like I have failed them completely! They all know that I care about them as humans and that I believe in them in terms of their ability to do the math, but yet they have chosen to do very little at the point when they need to be pushing through.

People say we can motivate them best by building relationships with them. So maybe the relationships I’m building are not the right ones? I’m not sure. Before I came to my current school, I kept seeing an attitude of “if the kids don’t put forth the effort, there’s nothing we can do as teachers”. I still hear this at times, but for the most part, neither myself nor the teachers around me buy into this statement. We put forth every effort that we can to try to help scholars succeed. If they don’t believe in themselves, we work with them and help to show them how capable they are. If they are having an especially tough time at home, we get the school counselor involved and we work with the family and the scholar to support them as best we can.

I want more tools in my tool belt for motivating scholars. I want to incorporate who kids are into my daily classes. Maybe if we have days to just play with random math outside of the curriculum, these scholars would be more engaged. I’ll have to try itj out and experiment.

Clear credential!

After a semester of prerequisite classes, a year of credential and student teaching including taking over a master teacher’s classroom for the last month, and 2 years of teaching in my own classroom, BTSA, etc. etc. etc., I just got an email from CTC and my credential is cleared. Yay!! I’m a real teacher now! Not an imaginary one (in honor of the imaginary numbers my sophomores learned about today). Not to toot my own horn, but… TOOT TOOT! I promise I’m not crop dusting you. 😜

Folklorico Dancing

I have a freshman who dances in the Folklorico style. It’s a traditional Latin American dance that emphasizes local folk culture with ballet characteristics. I’ve watched videos of her practicing, but told her that I wanted to see her when she had a performance. In Old Town this weekend, there was a 2 day competition, so I brought my 5 year old daughter down on Saturday to watch.

It was awesome! The dresses were beautiful and the dances were too. I loved the music and that the announcer spoke only Spanish. I was able to understand more of it than I expected and even translated for my daughter.

My student went on at 10, so we got to see her group perform but also stayed for another hour and a half and watched people of all ages dancing. I ran into another scholar from last year as well who was going on later in the day to dance. It was so nice to get to watch this part of a scholars’ life and it just made me want to get more involved in their community in general. I want to start attending more community activities in Escondido where I teach so that I can learn more about my scholars and perhaps that will help me bring their lives into the classroom on a more regular basis.

Here is a picture of my scholar, Zaira, myself and my daughter, Kayla as well as a video of Zaira’s group performing.




It’s been one of those weeks and I’m glad Friday is here. I’m going to do what Anne did yesterday and give 30 things that made me smile today – thanks, Anne for the idea!

  1. Scholars clearing no marks (ie, passing tests that they retake)
  2. Time hanging out with Anne
  3. My 10th graders seeing the proof for the quadratic formula
  4. My 9th graders engaged in trying to figure out the multiplicative identity matrix.
  5. An invite to a colleagues’ wedding who I adore
  6. It’s Friday!
  7. It rained
  8. Jumping in puddles in the rain this morning with my daughter
  9. Wearing super fun rain boots
  10. Doing this activity of coming up with 30 things which seems super hard, but it’s making me smile to do it!
  11. A group of my 10th grade Hispanic girls took a history AP test
  12. Telling my 1st period that they are good at questioning the system
  13. Dinner with my lovely daughter and husband.
  14. Texts with Anne
  15. my daughter saying that what she loves about me most is that I like to cuddle (true that, right Anne?)
  16. the sun after the rain but with still some cool black clouds in the sky.
  17. Scholars wanting to come into my classroom before school, during breaks, during lunch and after school. They feel comfortable there!
  18. grtting to take my daughter and see one of my freshmen in a Mexican dance competition down in old town tomorrow.
  19. Friday night margaritas on seis de mayo.
  20. Scholars making origami in my class this morning before school.
  21. Chats with a scholar about good books and sharing Kurt Vonnegut with her.
  22. A freshman scholar who hasn’t done much all year but who has started trying recently and getting it more and keeps persevering.
  23. A scholar who was having some severe anxiety and depression and medication issues who is starting to get back to his self again.
  24. A scholar whose dad is still around even though in critical condition.
  25. The fact that scholars feel comfortable sharing their lives with me. You’re right, Anne Schwartz – that’s why we teach!!
  26. seeing my daughter and husband so happily laughing and playing together.
  27. Singing “singing in the rain” during break in the middle of the halls at school… Oh and morning meeting too… Oh and in the rain this morning too.
  28. The idea of an anti-math math club (more on that another time)
  29. goid food, friends and family!
  30. Sitting in the toilet at 9:30 on a Friday night finishing this post. 😀