Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Teacher Binder 2015

Each year, one of the highlights of my summer is printing off my Teacher Binder for the new year!  I love the crisp new, blank pages and filling in the dates of meetings, etc.

My Teacher Binder is my everything... it is my calendar for both my school and personal life, meetings, my lesson plan book, my gradebook, my to-do lists, and my notes for everything!  If I lose this planner, I am totally sunk!  I know a lot of people like to use digital resources for planning out their lives, but I get too scattered for that.  I need the tactile-ness of writing it into my agenda, having it on my desk at all times and seeing what all I have going on that day/week/month.

(For previous posts about my Teacher Binder:  2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15)

To be honest, I was so pleased with the 2014-15 binder, that I just updated the dates and the subjects I'll be teaching, so if you are interested in the details or downloading my binder, please see the 2014-15 post above!

I did add a pacing calendar to the front of the binder, before my lesson plans.  I haven't starting using this year, but I really like the way it turned out:

But the BEST change this year was the binding!  In the past, I've tried several things, with varying degrees of success.  I love the look of the spiral binding that you can have done at Staples, but since I use my Teacher Binder for my gradebook, that wasn't an option since I wanted to be able to add pages easily.  I've tried 3-ring binders, but those don't allow you to fold them back for easy note-taking or for a smaller foot-print on your desk.  I've used the Mead Flex Binder, which is supposedly a mix between spiral and 3-ring, but pages did not turn easily and it was annoying to add gradebook pages, one ring at a time.  So, what to do?!?!?

This year, while having my Teacher Binder printed at Staples (I wanted thicker paper than I had at home), I was browsing around and found the ARC system.  The ARC system is a disc-bound system that I think I will really like!  Staples had a cute poly black & white cover for $2.49 and I got a set of 1" disc for $1.99.  The most expensive part of the system is the hole punch and my Staples was out (and I didn't want to drive across town to the other ones), so I ordered a hole punch on Amazon.  So far, I really love it! The pages turn smoothly on the discs and it is a breeze to add, remove, and move around pages in the binder.  I'm curious to see how well this system wears over the year, especially in terms of taking my binder back and forth from home to school.

Have you used the ARC system?  What are your thoughts?

#SummerList Update

Almost two months ago, at the end of May, I blogged about my #SummerList.  Sadly, with less than one month still to go, I can't say that I've accomplished much from the list, other than most of the books have been read. :)  I find it very interesting to see how my #SummerList actually changes once Summer is officially here.

  • What's Math Got to Do with It by Jo Boaler - I bought this book over Memorial Day weekend and read it at the beginning of summer.  This is also going to be our next #EduRead book, so feel free to join in!  My big take-aways from this book include:
    • Making mistakes helps our brains to grow.  I need to incorporate more error analysis in my classroom and use those mistakes to provide feedback and growth.  I would like to learn how to use "My Favorite No" with AP Stat as well as more student grading using the AP Rubrics.
    • Students can grasp high-level concepts, but not if they are given low-level work.  I think I often suffer from the "Curse of Knowledge" and try to rescue my students before they really have the chance to grapple with the concepts.  After 15 years, I know where struggles will happen and I have structured some lessons to help students over those hurdles.  However, in trying to help, I think I have coddled too much and created a learned helplessness situation.
    • Talking and discussing mathematics with your peers is vital.  I totally agree with this and my students are often asked to discuss their methods.  However, I need to also add in more written explanations and reflections.
    • Self assessment and Peer assessment are tools that need to be used more.  I am going to try more self-assessment this year (see previous blog post) and would like to use the AP rubrics more this year for peer assessment. I want to use strategies like "Two Stars & a Wish" to provide students with peer feedback. (By the way, if you have a great method to organize all the paperwork that comes with AP Rubrics, please let me know! :)
  • Never Work Harder than Your Students by Robyn Jackson - We read this book in our Twitter Book Club several years ago, but I felt the need to read it again this summer.  It is a great book with lots of practical advice, although it can be very overwhelming.  
  • How to give Effective Feedback by Susan Brookhart - I have not re-read this one yet
  • Accessible Mathematics by Steve Leinwand - This was a very quick read and gives you 10 practical instructional methods that you can use in your classroom right away.  For me, the biggest take-away from this book was about the daily skills quiz.  This is something I plan to implement this year.
  • Make it Stick by Peter Brown, et all - This book was recommended at Best Practices Night by Daren Starnes and I'm very grateful that he did a brief talk on it!  This book started out strong, but did lag quite a bit for me in the middle.  However, Chapter 8 makes the laggy parts worth it!  The main idea is the science behind learning and what strategies have been proven effective and what has not.  Make It Stick was our #EduRead book this month and I really enjoyed these chats.  I've already blogged about my big take-away's but here are the big ones:
    • Retrieval Practice is necessary!  I plan to create retrieval opportunities through short 10-minute quizzes that spiral through the curriculum, exit tickets on one learning target to help students be more successful on chapter/unit assessments, and opportunities through class to stop what they are doing and answer a question without looking at their notes. It's important to note that retrieval practice can occur without a formal quiz structure... flashcards, Chalk Talk, writing down a list of things you learned (without looking at the text/notes), etc are all forms of retrieval.
    • Mix it up!  When we do massed practice of one skill, it feels effective, however, as any teacher can tell you, when it comes to the final exam and everything is mixed together, kids really struggle!  I need to develop activities that have that mixed practice throughout my course.
    • Reflection is powerful!  I already knew this because I spend a lot of time in reflection.  However, I don't think I ask my students to reflect as much as I should.  I need to explore the use of Learning Logs in my class.
    • Practice like you play and play like you practice!  This is something I did not do well this year.  My students spent a lot of time discussing and justifying their answers verbally, but since the AP exam is written, their practice did not reflect in their "game play".  This year, I want to do more written explanations.
    • You must practice!  One of the things that I really need to stress to my students this year is the importance of practice.  I think too many students look at a review worksheet or practice assessment and think, "Yup! I know that one!", but never actually sit down to practice answering the question.  Then when assessment day (or AP Exam) comes, they struggle to write a complete and concise response.  
  • Rethinking Grading by Cathy Vatterott - This book was the ASCD book of the month and I highly recommend it if you are looking at Standards Based Grading.  The book starts out with some history behind grades and grading, but then in Chapters 3 & 4, she really delves into the nitty-gritty details about how to change your classroom practice to incorporate SBG.  The book doesn't go into all of the theory like Marzano's work, but is a practical guide for teachers to dip their toe into the SBG waters.  
  • Rethinking Homework by Cathy Vatterott - Similar to the book above by the same author, this book also starts out with the history of homework, then gets into more practical strategies.  My favorite chapter was Chapter 4 about effective homework practices.  Homework has been a struggle for my entire teaching career and I don't think I've ever been completely happy with how I've handled it. 

Other Things on my List:
  • Better integration of the Chromebooks (1:1) - Yeah, so this hasn't happened yet.  I still want to explore the Chromebooks for formative assessment (Google Forms, Kahoot, etc), but after seeing my AP scores this year, my main focus will be "back to basics" as listed above.  I like technology but I don't want to integrate tech for the sake of tech.
  • Work on more Free Response writing - Still working out in my head how this is going to look this year :)

Stuff NOT on my List:
  • This was the first summer in many years where I did not travel or attend any conferences in July.  Don't get me wrong, I spent most of June traveling, but July has been pretty low-key.  However, even without traveling, I was able to get a lot done:
    • At the beginning of July, we rented a dumpster in order to do some major deep cleaning of our house.  After 10 days, the dumpster was full, several loads had been taken to Goodwill, and we again had an upstairs that we enjoyed spending time in!
    • Spent time with family and friends, including several days with my sister, who lives on the east coast.
    • House repairs... I really don't like being a home owner most days and this week is one where lots of repair people will be in and out of my house.  Today, the plumber is coming to run a water line to my fridge... so excited about having an ice maker! :)

How is your #SummerList progressing?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Some Thoughts from Make It Stick

Subtitled... Because Julie Said So :)

On Twitter, we've been reading the book Make It Stick (You can read the archived chat under the Book Chat tab above).  For the past 5 years or so, I've been very focused on assessment and grading and this summer is no exception.  What I really find interesting is how one book will lead to another book (or 3 or 4 books) and they all seem to tie together.

While reading Make It Stick, I've also read Rethinking Homework and Rethinking Grading, both by Cathy Vatterott.  While reading all of these books, I've been trying to think about how to create retrieval practice opportunities that aren't tied to a quiz or quiz-like structure.  I am more certain than ever that I want to use the Multiple Choice Mondays and the weekly skills check, but I've also been thinking about exit tickets and reflection tools as mentioned in Make It Stick.

As a reflection tool at the end of a chapter, I plan to hand out a self-assessment tool with the chapter objectives listed on it and ask students to tape it into their notebook:

Students will self assess for the objectives for that quiz, then do some sort of "brain dump" activity on the rest of the page.  Some ideas for a "brain dump" would be a One-Minute Paper, a Concept Map, etc just to see what they recall about the chapter.

What are some ways that you practice retrieval in your classroom?

Monday, July 6, 2015

Back to School Supply Swap

Reposted from sch00lstuff:

I was scrolling through Instagram last night and noticed the #SisterhoodoftheTravellingGift hashtag on many of my virtual friends' posts.  As I followed the links, I came upon a post by Zoe at A Quirky Bird explaining the details behind the idea...in short, it looked fun!  So, I immediately contacted my #Made4Math buddies, Pam and Shelli who agreed, if fashionistas can gift clothing and accessories, teachers can gift school supplies:)

Fun, right?
My favorite part of going back to school has always been shopping for supplies.  I remember telling my grandmother when I was 8, how much I loved shopping for school.  Bless her heart, she thought I meant for clothes and told me a story about a pair of new shoes she got as a little girl.  I didn't have the heart to tell her that I meant that I liked the binders, the old cardboard school boxes, and the paste. But still to this day, I get a bit giddy as I see the colored paperclips, new planners, and fancy pencils being carefully arranged down the aisles of my local big box store.

So, if you are like me and love this stuff too,

Join the Back to School Supply Swap
What is it? 
The School Supply Swap is a fun gift exchange between July 27 and Aug 7.
A gift exchange?  Let me explain...
Imagine...your favorite parcel carrier pulls into the drive and knocks on your door to deliver a brightly colored package addressed to YOU.  You carry it inside...eager to open it.  What could it be???  Most assuredly that whatever is in the package was carefully selected just for you and will be the perfect addition to your classroom this fall, because this School Supply Swap was planned by teachers for teachers.

How does it work?
You will be matched up with another teacher and will be provided results from his/her online questionnaire, so that you can find out a bit more about this new friend. You will select a few school related items based upon the responses on the survey...something that you think that they would enjoy and would fit into their room's decor.  There is a prize for cutest wrapping, so box up your goodies, snap an image of your package and post to Twitter with the hashtag #SupplySwap.

The cost of the gift should be around $15 (excluding shipping) and should be shipped between July 27 and August 7.  It will be like a little Back to School surprise!!!

Ready to join the fun?
If you would like to participate to connect with other teachers from across the country, complete this Google form by July 15 and we will match you up.

Note: To keep shipping costs down, only teachers from the same country will be matched.

REAL mail filled with lots of goodies just in time for the new school year! We can't wait to see what the parcel carrier brings to you!!!

Lots of love! Cindy, Pam, and Shelli xoxoxo

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Brain Dump - Thinking about Assessment...

Warning:  This post may ramble a bit.. I needed to do a brain dump to organize my thoughts :)

For the past five years, I've been concerned about assessment in my classroom.  In the summer of 2010, the MTBoS really helped me with transitioning to Standards Based Grading and in general, I haven't tweaked that process much over the years since because I've been pretty happy with my system.  However, I still have concerns about student retention, so in more recent years, I've been focused on formative assessment and making thinking visible, but I'm really excited to see how the changes that I'm mulling over for this year will impact student learning.

The Background

At the AP Reading a few weeks back, Daren Starnes (one of the authors of The Practice of Statistics), gave a Best Practices talk on student learning and referenced the book Make It Stick by Peter Brown, calling it one of the most influential books of his career.  Two other Best Practices talks referenced assessment - one was about Multiple Choice Mondays and the other, by Adam Yankay and Jared Derksen, referenced Standards Based Grading.  

When I Got Home:
After spending over a week with 800 of my closest statistics friends, I was really interested in doing more research on the assessment practices shared during the week.  During my research, I ran across a Global Math Department (GMD) talk by Adam Yankay that also referenced Make It Stick, so I knew that book had to join my library ASAP.  I quickly downloaded the Kindle version and set up a plan with my Twitter Book Club pals to keep me accountable.  (If you would like to join us, check out #EduRead on twitter)  

My Tentative Plan:
I think the major shift for me will be restructuring my first and last 5 minutes of class.  In Make It Stick, one of the key items is about retrieval and how that ties in to retention.  The use of quizzes to practice retrieval has been shown in several research studies, which is part of Adam's discussion above.  Also, in the book Accessible Mathematics, Steve Leinwand encourages daily skills check/quizzes in the first 5 minutes, with the argument that 5 minutes x 180 days of instruction = 900 minutes or 15 hours of gained instruction of basic skills.  With all of that said, here's my thought:
  • Multiple Choice Mondays - I really like the idea of an organized structure that my students can expect.  With MC Mondays, they would have 5 questions that spiral through the curriculum, which would be part of the "interleaving" mentioned in Make It Stick.  I'm not sure yet if I want these to be individual, pairs, or groups.  I like group MC because of the good conversations that occur.  In the Best Practices talk, the speaker mentioned that she usually puts one of these questions on the weekly quiz as well.
  • Weekly Skills Check - This idea is mainly from Adam's talk and would consist of right vs wrong, "Level 1" retention questions.  The goal would be to automate some of the basic skills so that students have a stronger knowledge base on which to build.  These would be questions like identifying the sampling method, which confidence interval to use, interpretation of r^2, writing a regression line from computer output, etc.  This would also spiral throughout the curriculum, which again promotes retention.
  • Exit Tickets - I've used exit tickets (and other formative assessments) on a regular basis, but usually my exit tickets were more reflective in nature.  I'm thinking that these need to be more skills-check-type assessments over that day's lesson just to see how well students grasped the big ideas of the day. 
These aren't huge ideas nor are they major instructional shifts, but I'm really thinking that they could pack a big bang over the course of the year.  

What are strategies you use to promote retention in your classes?  What would you add to the above thoughts?

Monday, June 8, 2015

Chart Paper is my friend

The end of another year has come and gone, bringing with it both joy and sadness.  I love the anticipation of a new year and starting over with a blank slate, but I'm sad to say goodbye to my students and especially to wipe my classroom clean of all of the learning that has taken place in the past 180 days!  One of my goals this year was to "Make Thinking Visible", so my room was filled with posters that we referred back to often, so it was a day of sadness when I took them down and sent them out to the recycling bin.

If you know me at all, you know I LOVE school supplies (with big puffy heart loves!).  Two of my must-have school supplies are chart paper and sticky dots.  The best type of chart paper are the big post-it note pads with grid lines, but those are really expensive, so I try to be conservative with those.  We can get cheaper chart paper for just a few dollars from our district warehouse, so I tend to use that for activities like Chalk Talk, etc.  I stock up on sticky dots in the Target dollar section at back to school time.  I used to have the students draw dots, but it really annoyed me when the dots were various sizes, so now I just buy the little smiley face stickers and be done with it. :)

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I asked a group of stat teachers on Facebook about their favorite activities that they use to illustrate statistical content and I shared two of my favorites.  One of the respondents asked me to share more details, so here ya go...

Sampling Distribution of Means

I did this activity with a copy of Random Rectangles, but next year, I may use my well-loved JellyBlubbers.  For this activity, my students used a random number table to select 3 rectangles at random, find the average area and graph it.  They repeated this 3 times per person to gather a lot of data.  Then they repeated with 10 random rectangles.  The groups then discussed how the graphs were similar and how they were different.  Over the years, I had done a similar activity with proportions (flipping a coin), but the rectangles made an impact, as evidenced by one student's work below:

I don't know about you, but when an activity sticks out in a student's mind, then it's a keeper for me!

Confidence Intervals

Over the years, I have often asked my students to create a confidence interval and graph it to illustrate the meaning of "95% confidence".  However, this year, I decided to use some of my sticky dots to help nail down a few other items.  Here, students tossed a Hershey's Kiss and recorded whether it landed on its base or not.  This was our first introduction to confidence intervals, so instead of using the CI formula, students used their sample data to find the standard error and draw the sampling distribution model based on their p-hat.  Then they used +/- 2 standard errors to create their first confidence interval.  The part that I did differently this was having them graph their point estimate (p-hat) first, then draw left and right to create the interval.  The idea that I was trying to push home was that the point estimate is in the exact center of the interval, so given any interval, they can find the point estimate and the margin of error.  For some reason, this is a difficulty of many students.  They can calculate 0.4 +/- 0.12, but if you give them (0.28, 0.52), they are stuck on how to find the p-hat and the MoE.  For the rest of the semester, this graph often came up in conversation when students were trying to figure out the relationship between the point estimate, margin of error, and the interval estimate.

Now it's your turn...
How do you use chart paper in your classroom?
What are your go-to school supplies that you can't live without?
What are your favorite activities to teach/illustrate a concept?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


The longer I go without blogging, the harder it is to start... :)

Summer is one of the best perks of being a teacher. I sleep in a bit, go for a walk, then tackle my to-do list at my own pace. I use the summer time to really think through activities I want to add to my curriculum, changes I want to make, books to read, etc. For accountability, I've decided to blog my list here rather than write it down in my handy, dandy, little notebook. :)

Books I plan to Read (or Re-Read):
I'm sure there are others, so I'll update this list as I read them :)

Things I want to explore
  • Better integration of the Chromebooks (1:1)
    • Exploring Google Forms for Quick Formative Assessment
    • Learn to use/integrate various online tools such as Plot.ly, Desmos, and StatKey in my classroom
    • Create some Kahoot games to use for review activities
    • Spend some time playing with Chrome apps that might be useful, such as a flashcard app, etc.
  • Work on more Free Response writing - this is a weakness due to my class sizes... grading 100+ of these is a killer!
    • Integrate whiteboarding activities
    • Use mistakes and error analysis
    • Expose students to the rubrics more

To be honest, I was pretty pleased with how things went in my classes this year, but I always have room for improvement. A lot of the things I've scribbled on my list are minor tweaks, but tweaks that I feel can make a huge impact in my classroom.

What's on your #SummerList?