Tuesday, July 26, 2016

#MTBoSBlaugust is BACK!

Last year, I hosted the #MTBoSBlaugust event, hoping to get myself motivated to blog more and because misery loves company, I asked the MTBoS community to join in!  Today, I realized that August is NEXT WEEK (OMG OMG OMG) and so I tweeted out asking if people would be interested in the return of #MTBoSBlaugust and there was an extremely positive response!

So here we are...

Rules of Blaugust
The rules are pretty simple... all you need to do is blog!  :)

Seriously though, my goal will be to blog daily in August, but I know that's not always possible, so set your own goal!  Maybe it's a goal to blog every other day or to write at least 10 posts this month... whatever it is, you can do it!  This will be my 4th attempt to blog every day for a month and I have YET to achieve that goal, but it's okay - blogging once a week is better than not blogging at all!

Please take a minute to sign-up so I can link to your site as a #MTBoSBlaugust participant and cheer you on!

The Prompts
I know some people really like the prompts and you'll see a list down below.  However, do NOT feel like you have to stick to this list!  This list of prompts is only to help you when you are stuck with the "What in the world do I write about today?!?!?" moment.  For me, this year, I have committed to recording blog ideas using Google Keep on my phone and on paper via my planner.  I'm hoping that those quick little moments of "oh, that went well, I should blog that!" will actually help me remember what I wanted to blog about on a daily basis. :)  

On to the prompts:
  1. What do you hope to get out of Blaugust this year?
  2. Show us your classroom
  3. Top 5 Tips for New  (or Veteran) Teachers
  4. What are your Back to School Must-Haves?
  5. What Back To School supplies have you purchased this year?
  6. What have you made for your classroom this summer?  (#Made4Math)
  7. What is your favorite icebreaker or first day of school activity?
  8. How do you develop a positive classroom culture?
  9. What would you like to Start doing this school year?  What would you like to Stop doing?  What would you like to Continue doing?
  10. One time in math class... (as a teacher)
  11. One time in math class…(when I was a student…)
  12. Something I read/learned this summer that intrigued me…
  13. Pinned It, Did It and/or Pinned it, Did it, It flopped.
  14. Recipe Swap for Busy Teachers (Quick & easy lunches anyone?? Breakfast on the go?)
  15. Something that makes your classroom unique
  16. A  mentor/colleague who impacted your classroom/teaching…
  17. The best teacher I ever had was …. because ...
  18. How do you tame the paper tiger?
  19. What are your best organizational tips?
  20. Brain breaks for students.
  21. Favorite take 5 for yourself?
  22. Be the Change.. what will you do this year to impact the culture of your school and/or classroom?
  23. Using your school mascot, create an acrostic of character traits you wish to instill in your students
  24. What is your focus/theme/mantra for the year and why?  Create and share a notecard for your desk as a reminder.
  25. What are your go to quotes?
  26. Reblog an old post - reflect how you see/use it now?
  27. What are your favorite formative assessment strategies?
  28. Professional Growth Goal
  29. What are your best organizational tips?
  30. Theme song for the year? like your personal fight song?
  31. What is something in your classroom that you cannot live without?
  32. What’s a positive change you would like to make in your life - could be at school/home/health
  33. List of gratitude.
  34. Describe a typical day (or hour) in your classroom.
  35. What is your biggest classroom pet-peeve?
  36. Link to 3 blog posts that impacted you and share why.
  37. Read 3 posts from blogs you’ve never visited, give a quick take-away from each.
  38. What is your greatest joy in teaching?  What is your greatest fear?
  39. Tell us about you!  Post 20 facts about yourself.
  40. What are your New School Year Goals or Resolutions?
  41. What’s in (and on) your teacher desk?
  42. What’s the 10th song on your device playlist?  What memory does it conjure?
  43. What’s your “One Good Thing” for today?
  44. What do you do on parent night / open house?  
  45. What’s the toughest challenge you face as a teacher today?
  46. A favorite activity that is fun and leads to learning…
  47. An activity or something else in your classroom you wish to modify and improve.
  48. What's left on your Summer Bucket List?
  49. What are your favorite apps to use in your classroom?
  50. What is your fitness routine and how to stick to it during a busy school year?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

My 2016-17 Teacher Binder

So today I went to Staples to have my binder printed and totally made a rookie mistake... I had forgotten to save it as a PDF and they didn't have my font installed, so it was a wasted trip and I have to go back tomorrow.  *sigh*

Oh well... At least I did get my binder rings and a new cover so that I'm ready to go once I get it printed! :)

So here it is... My 16-17 Binder :)

The cover hasn't changed for the past few years :)  I like chevron, what can I say? :)

Open the page and you'll find a notes section and the cover page for my Agenda & Lesson Plans.  I never used the notes section last year, which has boxes to fit a 3x3 post-it note, but I still like the idea.  Maybe this year will go better :)

The first 6 pages of the Agenda are for Pacing Calendars, one for each of my 3 preps.  This was also a new addition last year that I did not use at all.  I'm going to try again...

Now let's get into some of the changes...  My monthly spread has undergone a transformation on the right side.  Hedge (@approx_normal) has been tinkering with a Bullet Journal this year, which made me do some research.  One feature that I really liked in the Bullet Journal is a Habit Tracker, so I decided to incorporate that into my monthly spread.  Add in some goals and a spot for a to-do list and hopefully I'll use this page more effectively!

For the weekly spreads, I decided to go with 2 different layouts.  First off, for 'non-school' weeks, such as July, I wanted a place to keep track of my to-do lists and look back to see what I've accomplished each day.  This layout was influenced by a weekly to-do list mousepad that I found at Target Dollar Spot. :)

For weeks that school is in session, I need a spot for lesson plans for 3 preps, my personal calendar for keeping track of meetings, tutoring, etc, and to-do lists.  Last year, I just had a blank column but I knew I wanted to be more intentional with regard to a place to reflect and a place to record blog post ideas, etc.  For me, I need everything to be in one place for my personal and professional agenda, so here's the final design:

There are a few more pages as well, such as a cover page for a Gradebook and Meetings.  I really like for my agenda to be a one stop shop, so it has my lesson plans and gradebook all in one.  This is one of the nice features of the Arc system as well - I can easily add to it!

Thanks to all of my twitter friends that gave me feedback the past few days! :)

Friday, July 1, 2016

Making Thinking Visible - Chapter 4A

Starting with Chapter 4, we start getting into the details of the thinking routines.  For more information on the thinking routines, see the Project Zero website or Think from the Middle.  I've linked the specific routines below.

Here are my notes and random thoughts for the first four thinking routines from Chapter 4

General Thoughts:

  • I liked the examples for each routine, but I personally would have liked more detail, especially in how the dialogue progressed through the class.
  • I say that I value thinking, but in reflecting on my class, I really do a lot more "telling" than I should.  I don't let the students ponder enough.  In all of these routines, a key element was just to sit back and look and ponder what was happening.  I need to do that more.  

See Think Wonder

  • This routine reminds me a lot of "I notice... I wonder..." from The Math Forum.
  • Thoughts on using this in my classroom - graphs, diagrams, visual patterns, charts and data displays from the news
  • Tip from the author:  Look at the image yourself - can you look at it for several minutes and notice new things?  Does it spark your curiosity?
  • If I gave 2 comparative graphs (like boxplots, dotplots, etc), could maybe use this as an intro to comparing and/or inference?
  • In a class, how do you keep 1-2 kids from dominating?  Do you have each group generate a list and then go from table to table?
  • Kids need practice at just stating their observations without judgement

Zoom In

  • Thoughts on using this in my classroom - nonlinear functions like cubic/quartic, scatterplots like the 2016 Q#6, scatterplot and then add regression line
  • Tip from the author: Ask yourself "Are there separate areas of the image that tell a different story?"
  • I wish the author had shown the artwork segments they used at each stage to fully understand how they introduced this routine.
  • On each stage/zoom, spend enough time for students to develop their ideas but not too long for kids to get bored... that seems like a tricky line :(

Think Puzzle Explore

  • This routine is like a KWL.  I know what KWL is, but I've never seen it used effectively in math.  Even when I googled it, there are very few examples of math KWL.  
  • I do really like the subtle change in verbiage though... instead of "What do you know?", it's "What do you think you know?" That difference opens up for kids to be more tentative and exploratory.  They don't have to know for certain, but everyone can contribute something that they think they know about a topic.
  • The "want" or "puzzle" area still concerns me.  What if nothing about the topic does really spark a kid's curiosity?
  • This routine is very versatile.  I could see using it as a previous knowledge check, like with boxplots, or even as an end of chapter/unit check to see what misconceptions there are about the topic. 
  • Thoughts on how to use it in my classroom:  pre or post assessment for a chapter, exploring an open-ended data set
  • The "explore" part could definitely be used in a more open-ended inquiry manner
  • Tip from the author:  You don't have to use the entire routine (TPE) together, you can use just one or two parts.  This is huge for me because I see some amazing uses of the Think (and lesser but still useful) for Puzzle.  I don't see as much for my classes for the entire routine.
  • Right now, I have a 'Parking Lot' hanging up in my room, but I could see using that for students to write their puzzles and wonderings  

Chalk Talk

  • I've used this routine several times and LOVED it. However, when I've used it, it's been mostly for more "verbal" parts of my course.  Not sure how to modify for the more "mathy" parts.
  • Thoughts on how to use it in my classroom:  single word/phrase for test/quiz review
  • I wonder if using questions (AP prompts?) would generate richer discussion?
  • Tip from the author: Use reflection questions like "What have you been most surprised by in this unit?" "What has been most difficult for you in this unit?"
  • Debriefing the Chalk Talk is really important - need to develop a better way to do that.
  • I would love to hang these around my room to come back to them later, but with 8 tables and 4 math classes, it's impractical to hang up 32 posters.  Need to figure out how to handle this best
  • Chart paper is really cheap and I need to order some more from our warehouse :)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Making Thinking Visible - Chapter 3

This chapter was really short, but pretty powerful.  A lot of this chapter was an introduction to the structure of the thinking routines as well as how to use them effectively when planning lessons.

Here are my notes and quotes from Chapter 3 with my thoughts in italics:

  • We must first identify what kind of thinking we are trying to elicit from our students and then select the particular thinking routine as the tool for that job.  **This reminds me of a discussion hubby and I have had many times.  He is in IT and often laments how people will try to force a solution to fit a specific problem instead of choosing the best solution for the problem.  We see this in education as well.  Just because something is the new and shiny thing doesn't mean that it's the be-all-end-all for every single situation.  Identify the problem, then choose the best routine for that particular situation.
  • Thinking routines should be useful to both students and teachers to explore thinking, not just a fun activity for student engagement.  **I think this is a potential pitfall that I need to avoid.  I need to be very intentional with my use of thinking routines and not just use them as fun activities.  
  • When doing a concept map, consider using the "generate-sort-connect-elaborate" structure, but don't forget the "sort" part... that's a key element that is often left out!  **I've used concept maps several times, but never thought about the missing "sort".  Next time I do a concept map, I'm thinking of giving each student at the table a different color to generate their thoughts and cut them apart.  Then, as a group, share and sort their papers and glue them down to the map and making connections.  With the different colors, each student is held accountable as a participant, but still there's group accountability as well.  Finally, follow up with the elaborate with an individual quick write.
  • When trying out and planning routines, realize that each step is meant to build on and extend the thinking of the previous step.  When planning, think about what student responses could be and how to make connections between steps. **Again, be intentional!  I think it's really important to think about the student responses, to anticipate how students might make connections and how to guide them as necessary.
  • An instructional strategy may be used only on occasion, but routines become part of the fabric of the classroom through repeated use.  
  • Learning is not a process of absorbing others' ideas, thoughts, or practices but involves uncovering one's own ideas, connecting new ideas to one's own thinking.  **What a great definition of learning!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Making Thinking Visible - Chapter 2

Because this book is property of my school, I've been recording my thoughts in a spiral notebook (with absolutely horrible handwriting... apologies to my elementary school teachers that tried to teach me penmanship!).  Typically, I highlight / annotate in my actual book using either Kindle tools or post-it notes, but I kind of like recording my notes this way.  This book isn't an easy read... I often find myself re-reading the same paragraph, trying to understand what the author is saying, but when I look back over my notes, I realize that I got more out of the chapter than I originally thought!

Here are my quotes and notes from Chapter 2 with any additional thoughts in italics:

  • How does learn to teach well?  **This was the opening question to the chapter and one that really made me pause.  This morning there was a twitter discussion about "high vs low" classes and I stand by my statement that for me, teaching remedial courses made me grow as a professional more than any other class.  I learned more about differentiation, instructional strategies, and classroom culture from those classes than I ever have from teaching AP classes.
  • We judge teaching effectiveness based on student absorption of material with the student in a passive role.  The focus should be on the learner, not the teacher.  With a shift in focus, the role as teacher shifts from content delivery to fostering engagement.  **In many states, there is a trend to include VAM (Value Added Measures aka test scores) to teacher evaluations.  These tests do measure how well our students have memorized processes and procedures, but if our true goal is learning and understanding, then we need to move beyond this passive memorization.  This reminds me of the quote of "The person doing the work is the person doing the learning."  In many classes, the teacher is the one doing the work, running around like crazy while the students sit there passively. 
  • When there is something important and worthwhile to think about and a reason to think deeply, our students experience learning with a lasting impact - they not only learn, but learn how to learn!
  • When we reduce the amount of thinking we ask of our students, we reduce the amount of learning as well.  **Be less helpful.  Sometimes I think I'm being helpful with scaffolding, handouts, foldables, etc, but am I truly creating a learning issue because I've taken away the productive struggle?
  • Uncovering student thinking gives us evidence of student insight as well as misconceptions.  **In this chapter, one of the stories talked about a chemistry teacher asking "why?" on an assessment and not very pleased with the results.  If the teacher had asked "why?" prior to the assessment, she/he would have been able to see the misconceptions and correct them prior to the assessment.  As teachers, do we sometimes avoid asking the hard questions like "why?" because it's easier to ignore the underlying issues than it is to address it head on?  In today's test-taking culture with a focus on multiple choice and memorization of procedures, getting at the deeper thinking often takes a backseat... are we "sticking our heads in the sand", hoping that the deeper understanding will eventually fix itself?
  • The students in our charge need to see an image of us as thinkers & learners that they can imitate and learn from.  **Modeling is key :)
  • Once teachers start noticing and naming thinking (aka making it visible), both the teacher and the students become more aware of thinking, which makes thinking more difficult to ignore. **Knowing is half the battle!  Once you are aware of something, it becomes impossible to ignore.  This is true outside of the classroom as well :)    
  • True generative questions have legs - they propel learning forward!  
  • "What makes you say that?"  **I need this made into a poster :)  This shift in language can have a huge shift in culture
  • Questions that drive learning don't come from a list, they arise in response to student contributions. **You have to listen to students in order to have the information necessary to ask good questions.
  • Listening conveys a sense of respect for and an interest in the learner's contributions.  In order for students to feel safe sharing their thinking, they need to know we are truly interested in hearing them.  As teachers, our listening to students provides a model to our students of what it means to listen.
  • If we routinely ask "What makes you say that?", kids will pick this up as a way to respond to their classmates.  **I really need this as a poster! :)
  • To capture and record student thinking, teachers must be vigilant observers and listeners.
On to Chapter 3!

Edited to add:  Storify of Chapter 2 Chat

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Making Thinking Visible - Chapter 1

One of my favorite parts of summer is having time to read and really feed my "inner nerd" with professional learning.  :)  Pam (@pamjwilson) and I just finished Creating Cultures of Thinking, so now we're off to another of Ron Ritchhart's books - Making Thinking Visible.  Pam has read it before, but this is my first time to read it.  I checked it out from my district's professional library, but based on what I've read so far, this will probably have to join my personal library soon! :)

Here are some of the quotes and notes that I jotted down while reading Chapter 1 as well as my personal thoughts in italics:
  • We ask/tell our students to "think", but what does that mean?  What do we want them to do?  What does "thinking" mean to me?  *If I had been asked the questions in this paragraph, I'd probably be stumped too.  Not a good way to start out on page 1 :(
  • Bloom's taxonomy suggests that thinking is a linear progression, but it's not.  Why is "understanding" toward the bottom of the revised Bloom's?  *I've never really pondered this before, but now that the author brings it up, what a great point!  I think I prefer the word 'comprehension' from the original Bloom's over 'understanding' in the revision.  "Understanding" is a much deeper concept I think.
  • Is "understanding" a type of thinking or an outcome of thinking?
  • Classrooms tend to be places of "tell & practice", not much (if any) thinking.  *I'm guilty of this one.  Especially in the spring when I'm running out of time before exams start :(  I know that "sit & get" doesn't work, yet I still fall into that habit.
  • Retention of information through rote practice isn't learning, it is training!  *Ouch!  This one kicked me in the gut, I must admit... I'm guilty :(
  • Playing a review game or doing other activities may be fun, but still not likely to develop understanding.  Hands on does not mean minds on. :( *One look at my pinterest boards will tell you that I like fun activities.  However, I need to be very careful not to fall into this trap.  If I use an activity, I need to follow it up with connections to thinking.  
  • Work & activity != learning
  • To develop understanding of a subject, you need to have authentic intellectual activity.  *If I want students to develop as mathematicians or statisticians, what do I need to do to create these authentic opportunities?  How can I help my students think like mathematicians or statisticians? 
  • Over the course of a unit, students should be engaged in all of the integral thinking moves:
    • Observing closely and describing what's there
    • Building explanations and interpretations
    • Reasoning with evidence
    • Making connections
    • Considering different viewpoints & perspectives
    • Capturing the heart and forming conclusions
    • Wondering & asking questions
    • Uncovering complexity and going below the surface
  • Activity idea (pg 16) - create a concept map on 'What is thinking?'  However, don't stress if student answers aren't great - most students haven't been taught to think about thinking.  *I really like this idea as a first day of school activity to gauge where my students are and to share with them some of my expectations and what I view as important

For more reflections on Chapter 1, see:

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


From The Big Rocks of Life by Stephen Covey:
"No," the speaker replied, "that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all."

One night at the AP Reading (I honestly don't remember which night... if you ever go to an AP Reading, you'll understand), Julie (@jkindred13), Lynn (@ladsit76), and I were sitting around the lobby visiting about how our year had gone.  I remember sitting there and venting (whining?) to Julie and Lynn.  To be honest, I had a great year filled with great kids.  We had a lot of successes and a few setbacks.  My kids came back from the AP exam feeling confident with smiles on their faces.  I should have been over the moon.  

But I wasn't.  This was a tough year for me.  There's no real reason why other than I just didn't feel like me.  I wasn't finding the joy that I should have had throughout the year.  I was letting myself get bogged down in the minutiae, instead of letting myself enjoy the learning in my classroom.  On that night of the AP Reading, I was struck by the quote above.  I had read it earlier in the day (Chapter 4 of Creating Cultures of Thinking) but it wasn't until that chat with Julie and Lynn that it really hit me.  I had let my professional life get filled up with the small pebbles and the sand until there wasn't any room left for the big rocks.

Another quote from the same chapter said "What does your allocation of time say about what you value in the classroom?"  Am I communicating with my students about the 'big rocks' in my classroom?  Through my actions, do I show my students that I value learning... thinking... understanding... creativity... fun... engagement?  

My 'big rocks' may not be the same as yours, and that's okay!  I have personal 'big rocks' - my faith, my family, my friends, but I have professional 'big rocks' as well and that's what I was missing this year in my classroom, leading to frustration on my part.  

I'm hopeful for a better year coming up.  I've given up some of my leadership roles, which should allow me more time to just focus on the fun part of teaching.  I plan to focus more on my professional 'big rocks' - my professional growth through my PLN and book studies, new teaching ideas via twitter and blogs, and student engagement / visible thinking strategies.  

What are your "big rocks"?