Saturday, October 20, 2018

Question Stack: Rational Number Conversions 2

It's been forever again since I've posted.  I have a bunch of drafts of things from last year I've wanted to share, but for today I'm sharing something new - an updated question stack for rational number conversions.

I originally shared a question stack for fraction and decimal conversions in this post.  This year I made an updated version which includes fractions that can be simplified first to make the long division easier and improper fractions.  I've tried to stress to always simplify your fractions before working with them, so I like that this updated version gives students a chance to practice that.  I also like that in this version, students have to pay attention to which number is the dividend and which is the divisor.  Even in eighth grade, I still see students mix up the numerator and denominator when dividing; because this version includes proper and improper fractions, students cannot just go on autopilot and always do the smaller number divided by the bigger number or vice versa.

Fraction Side

Decimal Side

View/Download: Rational Number Conversions Question Stack 2

Sunday, July 1, 2018

I'm Only On Page Seven...

I just started reading Daniel T. Willingham's Why Don't Students Like School.  I am only on page seven and already I made a strong enough connection with the text that I felt compelled to stop reading and write about it!  To be honest, I don't know yet how important this idea is to the subject of the book as a whole - I'm only on page seven, remember?! - but I can say that being able to relate what I'm reading to some of my own experiences makes me excited to read more.

Willingham describes how tasks that require you to think can become automatic with repetition.  He gives the example of learning to drive a car - all the minor bits that go into it like how much pressure to put on the pedals, how far to turn the steering wheel - and how in the beginning, new drivers may not even listen to the radio, but with time they are talking, eating, and pointing out landmarks all at once.

I immediately thought of my first retail job when they started me on register.  I was shy and timid and outgoing Val was my trainer.  I still recall some of my first transactions with customers.  Val greeted each customer while I smiled politely.  Val took clothes off the hangers, hung the hangers in an organized fashion on the rack behind us (shirt hangers on the top row, pant hangers on the middle row, swan hangers and kids hangers on the bottom row), and handed me the item to be scanned with the tag upright.  I scanned the item.  By that point, Val had already removed the hangers from several more items of clothing, organized the hangers on the rack, and lay the clothes neatly on the counter with the tags exposed for me to scan - all while talking with the customer.  I scanned the next items.  When it came time to pay, Val kept an eye on me, ready to give me reminders as needed, all while maintaining her conversation with the customer.  I pressed the right buttons in the right order.  Phew!  As the receipt printed, I realized that at some point Val had neatly folded and bagged all of the customer's items.  Here's my actual journal entry about this day.

So, working the register was fun, but I was shocked how much there is to do!  I mean, Val was moving my hangers out of the way, bagging for me, and talking to the customer!  All I had to do was scan things in and type the discount and I was barely handling that!  I'll get the hang of it soon enough though.

And I did get the hang of it.  Quiet little me learned to make small talk with the customers while quickly processing their items and keeping my work space organized.  I could even do all that while answering the phone, which was maybe not the best customer service practice but hey, you do what you gotta do when the store's busy, and I was a multitasking machine!  I learned to do all those things without thinking about them.  With repetition, they became automatic.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

My Reflection on PBL101

I tend to be what you might call an "on my own" PD person.  I am the webinar-podcast-book-article person, not the attend-this-collaborative-hands-on-training kind of person.  That's not to say I don't do both kinds, but when I have the choice, I tend to choose options where I am learning on my own.  Funny how that's the exact opposite of what I hope to see in my classroom.

I just finished a 3-day workshop on Project Based Learning from the Buck Institute.  It was great because not only did I learn a lot about designing Gold Standard projects, but I also was reminded of what it's like to be a student.  Long story short, I had moments (more than a few) where I was so overwhelmed with the task of creating my own project that I just sat and stared at my computer screen for longer chunks of time than I'd care to admit.  I needed more time to process everything I had learned before I felt ready to implement it and design my own project.  Besides learning about PBL, the goal was to leave the training with a ready-to-go project that we could do with our classes in the fall.  I wish I could say that I accomplished that goal and left the training with my PBL unit complete.  What I can say is that I left the training feeling inspired and excited to create my own PBL projects.

One of the hardest things for me while designing my PBL unit was keeping it authentic and open-ended.  I realized that I'm maybe not as flexible as I thought.  We have this driving question that is supposed to guide our inquiry, but I still want there to be a right answer at the end of this.  How else will I know if my students "got it?"  And if I'm so focused on the end, is this really a PBL project that I'm designing or is it a "dessert" project where you show what you know at the end of a unit?  I mean, PBL should be about the journey, right?  The ongoing learning that takes place throughout the unit?  I'm having a hard time finding the balance.

One of my questions going into the training was "What is the difference between a project and a task?"  I was thinking about Dan Meyer's 3-Act Tasks and wondering if those were mini PBLs.  Did I ask my question?  Nope.  Why not?  Honestly, I don't know.  We had opportunities to ask questions anonymously and I still didn't speak up.  So here I am after the training, working on my PBL unit alone, still unsure of that distinction and starting to question whether the distinction is even important.

Okay, when I say "alone," I am reminded that I'm not really alone.  Being on Twitter has been so great for me, the I'll-just-hole-up-in-my-room-and-watch-this-webinar-by-myself type of person.  I can reach out to all these other teachers and learners.  I even did just that during the workshop despite the fact that I was surrounded by other teachers from my district.  With Twitter, I get the community without the anxiety.

Despite some of these frustrations, I meant it when I said I'm feeling inspired and excited.  Our presenter's enthusiasm was contagious and the knowledge and experiences he shared could convince even the most resistant that PBL is the way to go.  This is the first time since I started teaching that I am not teaching summer school and I'm feeling really motivated to work on my PBL unit this summer. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Clearing Fractions from Equations Notes

When I jumped into blogging and the world of Twitter at the beginning of this school year, I couldn't imagine how much these two outlets would help me grow.  I love learning from other teachers' experiences, and I love being able to share my resources with other teachers as well.  As I find myself feeling too busy to blog some days (or, let's be real, some weeks...okay, maybe months...), #teach180 reminds me that while reflecting on lessons and my teaching practices is helpful for me, sometimes simply sharing my daily resources (and using resources and activities that other teachers have shared) can be even more beneficial to the community as a whole.

With that said, today I am sharing notes that I used with my students in our multi-step equations unit.  I don't have much to say about these notes other than feel free to use them if you teach students how to solve equations containing fractions by clearing the fractions and solving an equivalent equation with integers.  The notes are available to download as a PDF or an editable Publisher file.

Additionally, I'm sharing this homework assignment that I used with students before we completed the notes above.  This assignment was used to prepare them for clearing fractions from equations.  It gives students a chance to find the LCM and LCD, multiply fractions by whole numbers, and use the distributive property with fractions.

View/Download: Clearing Fractions from Equations Notes and Preparing for Clearing Fractions Assignment

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

First 1000 Digits of Pi Posters

Earlier this month I put up these digits of pi posters in the hallway outside my classroom.

They sparked a lot of great questions and conversations with my students, other students, and other teachers in the building.  I blogged about some of these conversations here.

In case anyone may be interested, I thought I'd share the file I used.  To create the posters, all I did was google the first 1,000 digits of pi, which I copied and pasted into a Word document.  I enlarged them until each digit filled a page and I added the ellipsis at the end of the document.

After determining that I could fit a 7 by 14 array of digits on the wall, I needed to print the first 97 pages of the document, plus page 1,003 for the ellipsis.  I knew that I wanted each digit to be a different color, so I arranged my colored paper on the floor like this.

I used my Word document of poster pages to determine the pattern of numbers where I would stop - so I looked at pages 93-97 to know that I was ending with the digits 3, 4, 2, 1, 1.  Then I went back to the webpage showing the digits of pi (rather than clicking through each page of my document) to start arranging the colored papers in order.  I inserted white pages for the decimal point and the ellipsis.  By having the colored paper in order of the digits of pi, I was able to simply put that stack of paper in the printer and print pages 1-97 and page 1,003 of my document.

Here are a few more printing tips:

  • Make sure you're set to print single-sided.
  • Print a custom selection of pages using the hyphen to include the pages of digits you want to print and a comma to also list the ellipsis page (p. 1003).
  • Be sure that you know if your printer starts printing with the first page of a selection and prints forward through the selection or if your printer starts with the last page of a selection and moves backward through the selection (if you don't know, print a short selection on scrap paper to find out).

You'll need the free font Comic Zine for the Word document to display correctly (or feel free to change the font to something else - you may also have to adjust the page margins and font size if you do that).

View/Download: First 1000 Digits of Pi Posters

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Good Things

I feel like I've had a lot of negative posts lately.  And if I haven't, that's just because I wrote them and didn't publish them.  Maybe it's just that time of year, but I'm ready for a change!

This was our first week back after February vacation.  I was feeling very refreshed after the week off and I made a few changes to the room, including putting up these digits of pi posters in the hall outside my classroom.  And the comments I've been hearing from students this week really just bring a smile to my face each day.

The first day the posters went up, a lot of students just mentioned how colorful it was.  A few wondered how many numbers were up there and I listened as one student said she would count them all and another said he was going to count "across and down, then multiply."  That was a conversation I didn't expect to hear as it was not related to pi itself, but it was neat to hear their different strategies.

Then I had seven or eight students standing outside my room after school when I came back up to my classroom from outside duty.  Some of the students I didn't even know because they aren't on my team, but they were all talking about the numbers.  And they had so many questions for me when I got there!

They knew the numbers were the digits of pi, but that was about it.  They asked what pi is, how and why it never ends, if there are other numbers like pi that never end, how pi was discovered, if pi ever repeats.  We talked about how pi might be a "long" number, but it's not really a big number - it's only between 3 and 4.  It was so cool to have those conversations with some of my students, but also with students I don't even know (and some of whom I only know of because they're in trouble a lot, but here they were after school, talking about math with me and other kids!).

Feeling so refreshed helped me to pick out the positive in some of the other things that happened this week.  We had one and a half snow days.  I am so sick of snow and at this point we've had so many that we have to make them up at the end of the year, but it makes that transition back to work from a vacation week a little bit easier when it's not a full week.

I had my formal observation this week.  Every year I've finished my formal observation feeling like it went well.  This year I really didn't have that feeling, but I realized after some reflection that I think it was the type of lesson that I picked this year.  Students were engaged and working hard all class.  It was a productive struggle, but it wasn't resolved until the next day in class, which my principal did not get to see.  So while I'm not sure how my observation went, the full lesson itself over the course of two and half days did feel worthwhile and really challenged my students.

I also got news this week that my principal is thinking of moving me to a sixth grade team next year when one of our teachers retires.  I have such mixed feelings about this because while change excites me, I really love where I am.  I love my team, I love my students at this age, I love the eighth grade curriculum.  And I always figured if I was going to teach, it would be high school.  I started out in a 7th/8th grade split position and have moved my way up to full eighth grade.  I want to keep moving up to high school, not down to sixth grade!  But the idea of catching kids earlier, when they're still more curious and hopefully don't hate math yet, is intriguing.  Nothing's been decided and I don't know that I have much say in the matter, but if anyone has feedback on teaching sixth grade, I'd love to hear it!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Teacher Report Card Part 3 - Analysis & Interpretation

Yesterday I blogged about the results of the Teacher Report Card survey (modeled after this one from Mr. Vaudrey) I gave my students.  You can view the results here and the original blog post here.  Now I want to dig deeper into some of the trends I noticed.

But first I want to say that I know this survey is not the end-all be-all.  I like assigning numbers to things and comparing them and so I've spent a bit of time analyzing my students' responses.  But I know that some students gave me high ratings just because they like me, the same as how some students may have given me low ratings just because they always get in trouble in my class and they don't like me.  Only about half of all my students chose to participate in this survey, so we could also be talking about participation bias here.  I am attempting to quantify things that are, to some extent, subjective.  How do my students perceive me?


I dress professionally.

Ms. Ess...Period CPeriod FGPeriod JAverage

... dresses professionally.94.67%95.00%86.67%92.11%

I'm not sure what happens at the end of the day here!  I kind of wonder if it's just student opinion or if maybe by the end of the day my hair is sloppier and my clothes appear wrinkled and more worn.  I'm not really concerned, just amused!

I respect each student.

Ms. Ess...Period CPeriod FGPeriod JAverage

...respects each student.91.25%95.00%86.67%90.97%

I needed this confirmation from students.  I do feel as though I respect each student.  I try to model this respect for others so that my students will also treat each other with respect.  My toughest class gave me the lowest rating.  I need to stop thinking of them and referring to them as my "toughest class."  Whether or not I am actually treating them differently than other classes, they perceive it that way.


I need to keep the class under control without being too tough.

Ms. Ess...Period CPeriod FGPeriod JAverage

... keeps the class under control without being too tough.69.33%53.75%72.73%65.27%

The fact that this is an area in need of improvement is no shock to me.  What does surprise me is that the class that feels most out of control to me gave me the highest rating.  As I try to make sense of this, I am realizing that behaviors in that class are usually so extreme that I need to send students to the office.  In other classes, I tend to tolerate minor behaviors for too long.  Disruptive behaviors are disruptive no matter how minor or major they are.  I need to stop tolerating behaviors that impede learning.


I encourage more questions.

Ms. Ess...Period CPeriod FGPeriod JAverage

...encourages questions.85.33%88.75%90.00%88.03%

This makes sense to me because I have heard the questions and comments made by students in earlier classes and I take more time to encourage discussion.

I listen to students' ideas more often.

Ms. Ess...Period CPeriod FGPeriod JAverage

...listens to our ideas.85.33%87.50%90.00%87.61%

I think at the start of the day I am more focused on pushing through the lesson, and as the day goes on I lay off that a little and I do take more time to listen to my students.  I rarely have a class not get through a lesson and fall behind, and when it happens I have never attributed that to "wasting time entertaining students' ideas."  It is important to me that students feel as though I really listen to them.

I use language students can understand and I say my words more clearly.

Ms. Ess...Period CPeriod FGPeriod JAverage

... uses language that we can understand.81.25%84.00%91.67%85.64%

...says her words clearly.76.25%80.00%91.67%82.64%

This makes sense to me.  After presenting the same information three times, I should hope that I've figured out a better way to say it!  Also, that seems to be a pretty significant difference between my first class of the day and my last.  I know what I'm talking about, but I should really start practicing how I'm going to say it to better communicate with my first class.

I praise good behavior more often.

Ms. Ess...Period CPeriod FGPeriod JAverage

...praises good behavior.78.75%82.67%95.00%85.47%

The last class of the day is my toughest behavior-wise, and I do make a conscious effort to tell students in that class when I'm proud of how they're acting.  I should really make that a conscious effort in every class.

I give fair punishments.

Ms. Ess...Period CPeriod FGPeriod JAverage

... gives fair punishments.73.33%75.00%76.67%75%

This is an area I need to work on across the board.  I tend to have more behavior issues in my last class and so, more consequences, and I wonder if my students interpreted this question as rating the fairness of my punishments or the giving of punishments at all.


I seem to enjoy teaching less.

Ms. Ess...Period CPeriod FGPeriod JAverage

... seems to enjoy teaching.92.00%88.00%81.67%87.22%

I get tired as the day goes on, just like my students.  I need to do a better job of not carrying over the frustrations from previous classes into the next ones.  I need to find a way to still feel fresh at the start of each class.

I answer questions less completely.

Ms. Ess...Period CPeriod FGPeriod JAverage

...answers questions completely.82.50%80.00%76.67%79.72%

I do feel like I struggle with this.  Sometimes I forget that a question sounds familiar because I answered it in the last class.  The students in my current class still need a complete explanation.

I tell students their learning goals less often.

Ms. Ess...Period CPeriod FGPeriod JAverage

... tells us our learning goals.77.33%75.00%71.67%74.67%

Overall this is another area in which I could definitely grow.  In fact, I was surprised that my students didn't all give me 1s and 2s here.  I guess they really do read the agenda on the board, even when I don't talk about it!


I give quizzes/tests that reflect the material in the unit.

Ms. Ess...Period CPeriod FGPeriod JAverage quizzes/tests that reflect the material in the unit.90.67%90.00%91.67%90.78%

I would expect to see consistency here as all classes take the same quizzes/tests.  We no longer have common assessments among all the middle schools in the district which means I write my own quizzes and tests.  

I treat students as individuals.

Ms. Ess...Period CPeriod FGPeriod JAverage

... treats me as an individual.82.50%83.75%81.67%82.64%

This is another one where I would hope to see consistency among all classes.  It is so important to find the balance between treating students the same while also recognizing their individuality.

My students also answered some open response questions.  Full responses can be viewed here, but common themes included:
  • needing to be more strict/being too nice - one student even referred to her class as "a zoo"
  • students recognizing my stress - when I freak out, stutter, or "have moments"
  • seating - wanting to choose their own seats and rearrange the room
  • gratitude - for listening to them and being involved in their lives

One of my biggest takeaways from all this is that when I make a conscious effort to do something, I'm usually pretty successful.  When I really focused on praising good behavior in one class, my students recognized that.  When I model good behavior and respect for everyone, my students feel respected.  When I work hard to write fair assessments, my students find them to be reflective of the unit.  I need to make a conscious, full-hearted effort to be more consistent with behavioral expectations in my classroom.  But that is a post for another day!