Work in your head, Points in my head


The first day of school is tomorrow, and my math colleagues and I are in a fury to make one last wall decoration…

“If you do the work in your head, I’ll give you the points in my head.”

This gem was overheard by one of my colleagues at the AP Calculus exam reading this past spring. Since our department strives to demonstrate and teach the importance of students showing their work, this quote really struck a chord with us. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!


10 years from now…

At the end of each year, I have students complete a course/teacher evaluation. I ask students to give advice to future students and then I compose a wordle with their responses to show those future students.

I ask students to tell me what I could change about my lessons and which class activities were their favorites. I conclude the survey by asking students, “What do you think school administrators should know about this teacher?” It is these responses that I want students to still be saying about our class. About me. And about what they learned.

They write that I’m friendly, fun, a hard worker, a role model. That I truly care about them and will do anything to help them all succeed. That I’m fair, approachable, and dedicated. That they learned more in math this year than ever before and it helps that I relate math to the real world. And that I really, really LOVE math, and it shows. Oh, and that I have swag.

I hope they still remember these kind words at their 10 year reunion.  It would mean the most to hear the students say they liked going to math class because it was fun, they learned a lot, and they know that even though I challenged them, I knew they could all succeed.  I hope they didn’t just learn math, and realize that I also taught them to problem solve; to collaborate; to respectfully disagree with their classmates; to communicate their findings. I hope they learned that it’s okay to be wrong.

And lastly, I hope that when they come home for their 10 year reunion, they come back to the high school and say “Hi!”

Entrance Table


New Blogger Initiative Post #1 (Prompt 5): Take a photograph of something you’re proud of. It could be something from your classroom. Something a student gave to you/wrote for you. A bulletin board. A poster. A jar of candy you keep in your office to share with students. Explain what it means to you…

While the student voted superlative “Most Likely To Save The World” certificate hangs nicely on my bulletin board, there is no question in mind that I am most proud of my entrance table. Yes, my entrance table.

Students pick up all worksheets, homework, and supplies on their way into the classroom so that I do not have to waste any class time distributing items. This procedure is taught on day 1 when students pick up their information cards and syllabus. Some teachers expect that students will begin to work on the homework assignment rather than listen if they have it in front of them, but they don’t. Not in my experience anyways. The occasional student will get right to work on the assignment if they know how to do it, but most of my students barely glance at a sheet until I tell them to look at it.

It takes a good deal of effort and organization on my part, but it is totally worth it. If you have back to back classes that are different subjects, then you will need to switch the materials sometime during the class period, so that everything is set up appropriately for the next class. I usually do this during the first 5 minutes of the period while students are working on the warm up, or half way through class when students are switching to an activity or group work. At the same time, I quickly write an absent student’s name on each sheet and slip the pages into the absent file folder so that I don’t have to worry about that later.

What does the entrance table mean to me? It means that students come in, see that I’m ready for them, and know there is a plan for the day. It means that if someone makes a mistake and needs a new sheet, they can just go get one without interrupting the entire class. It means that an administrator or colleague who enters the room can grab a sheet and immediately know what we’re working on. It means seamless transitions between activities. And most importantly, it means that valuable class time is spent learning and doing math, rather than getting ready to do math.

Olympic Fever

I immersed myself in the Olympics the past two weeks, and when the New York Times posted this article comparing the the results of the 100-meter-dash for every medalist ever, I just knew I had to use it in my class. My plan is to have the students make a table, graph the results, write a line of best fit, predict future finishing times, and describe the reasons for this negative relationship. There are also videos for the 100-meter freestyle and the long jump, so I might divide the students into groups and have them present their results to the class. Any other ideas?




New Year. New Procedures.

Math Notebook

For the past two years I have “required” students to use a three-ring binder with dividers. I say “required” because I did not have a consequence for if and when a student inevitably did not have said binder in class. I thought by hole-punching everything, it would be easy for them to stay as organized as I do. I was wrong. I thought by requiring dividers (notes, homework, quizzes, projects), they would immediately put everything in its place. I was wrong. Since I believe that a neat, organized binder will help students complete assignments on time and assist in assessment preparation, I’m going to make a few changes this year…

  • 3-ring binder, NO dividers
  • Table of Contents page
  • Binder checks

Dividers, I have realized, are not necessary because they tend to make it harder for students to find and place their handouts… “Does this go under notes or classwork?” I don’t use dividers to organize my materials, so why should they? I’m going to teach students to place everything in the binder in the order that it is distributed, and document each sheet on the table of contents. Hopefully the large sticky note on my front table (BINDER!) will remind me to do this. The binder checks will be twice per term, consisting of five questions in which the answers can easily be found from note pages, class activities, and homework. If students follow the notebook directions, they should earn easy classwork points. If they don’t, they won’t.


Late Projects

Old policy: I will accept any project late, for a penalty, until the end of each term.

Old thinking: Life happens and sometimes you just can’t turn in a project the day it’s due.  But I want every student to complete every project. So I wanted to give every possible opportunity for a student to attempt the project and change that zero in my online grade book.

Problem: Students viewed my project deadlines and due dates as mere suggestions. They knew they had until the end of the term, so they procrastinated. Of course, there are always special circumstances. However, more often than not, students simply didn’t do the project on time because they knew they didn’t have to (and apparently I wasn’t harsh enough when penalizing points).

New policy: Project is due ________________. A letter grade will be deducted each day the project is late (aka you only have five days to turn it in or it’s a zero).

New thinking: I need to hold students more accountable and help them manage their time. I will set up project check-ins (more frequently during term 1) to make sure everyone is on track to finish on time. Students who I identify as needing extra help or time, will be given frequent teacher check-ins and email reminders. Students who do not pass in a project on the actual day it’s due will have a meeting with me and a quick email sent home. My hope is that by communicating this expectation from the beginning of the year, and enforcing it as the first project deadline comes and goes, the students will learn the importance of abiding by due dates.


The Challenge

For the past couple of years I have been reading and following the unofficial mathtwitterblogosphere and debating whether to join. Well, Sam Shah threw out a challenge that I couldn’t refuse. I’m a high school math teacher who spends more time reflecting on my teaching than is probably healthy and I’m looking forward to joining this online community of creative and passionate educators.

It’s finally time to stop lurking and start participating. Count me in!