Dream Jobs

The ninth graders I teach are a cohort in my district’s STEM Early College High School. It’s the second year of our program and our students complete four term-long interdisciplinary projects each year. One of the questions we asked students to answer on their beginning of school survey was, “What is your dream job?”

I created this wordle comparing the student responses from this year, with the student responses from last year, and this is the result. There are many similarities between the years, but we have many more students this year wishing to become engineers and doctors. Since that’s the focus of our program, I’m very happy to see this.

I do this because it inspires me to be a better teacher. My students have such big dreams and I will do anything to help them succeed.






You’ve Got It!

It’s the last week of the math teacher blogger initiation! I’ve decided to respond to a prompt about classroom sayings. Two sayings that I use immediately came to mind, one that I love and one that I wish I could stop saying.

The one I love: “You’ve got it!”

It’s something I started to say naturally without even realizing it. The department head who interviewed me for my first teaching position, and observed me teach a lesson, pointed out this phrase during our post-lesson debriefing. As I helped students throughout the lesson, I frequently used this phrase to let the students know when they really seemed to understand something or make a great point. Since he pointed it out, I have used it in my repertoire ever since. I think it’s a stronger affirmative than just saying “Yes” when a student asks if they did something right or explains a concept to us. When I say “You’ve got it!” students hear and feel that they know something well enough to explain it to others.

The one I need to stop saying: “Sure!”

Again, this is another saying that I used without realizing it until a student pointed it out to me last year… “Ms. Kohn, when you say “Sure” in response to something I ask, I can’t really tell if you mean it or not…” Excellent point. What do I mean when I say that? I’ve thought about it a lot and decided that I mean something different every time, which is confusing. When used in response to a bathroom request, it makes sense. But when used in response to a “Did I solve this correctly?” question, I can see how students can be confused. Did I mean that they really did solve it correctly? Or am I being noncommittal because the problem could have been solved many different ways and there wasn’t one correct way?  “Sure!” has been on my radar ever since and I’ve been trying not to use it anymore. If it accidentally comes out, which is still at least once a week, I quickly follow up with another statement or a question to provide the student with more information.

Emailing Parents

Every couple of weeks I send a brief email update to all the parents/guardians on my email list for the year. I include special school information in addition to class updates, which include units of study/quiz/project information. What started as a little extra thing I did to open lines of communication, morphed into one of my favorite must-dos each year.

The basics: My emails are very short and to the point. I spend about five minutes writing and sending each one. And even though I teach three classes, I send only one email using the general subject line “[School Initials] Math Update #1, etc”. I bcc the email addresses so that parents do not have access to each other’s emails.

The most frequently asked question I have heard in response to a teacher hearing that I do this is, “But how long do you spend answering all the emails sent in reply to your original email?” The answer: not long at all. In fact, most of the emails I receive just say a version of, “Thank you so much for sending these updates! They’re so helpful!” Occasionally parents write back and ask for a quick update on their child’s progress. However, I have never received more than two of these requests at any one time, so I am happy to oblige.

I have had students come into homeroom and say, “Ms. Kohn, I got home from school yesterday and my mom said ‘Hi, go study for your math quiz’… how did she know???”


Here’s a sample email I send at the beginning of the year:

“Hello! My name is Heather Kohn and I am your son’s or daughter’s math teacher this year. I will be sending math updates every couple of weeks to let you know what is going on in our classroom. The year is off to a great start and I believe that together we can help all our students succeed!

Open House is this Thursday night from 6:30-8:30pm. I hope to see many of you there!I will be discussing my grading policy, the curriculum, and how your child can succeed in math class.

Class Updates:

Algebra 1 – We are studying a unit titled “Solving Equations and Inequalities.” We have been using the distance formula to solve interesting problems (ask them about the football players!) and have been rearranging physics formulas. Students have received their first project (the Calendar project), which is due Friday, September 28th.

Geometry – We are studying the building blocks of geometry: points, lines, planes, and angles. We have been learning to use Geometer’s Sketchpad on the student laptops. Today, we investigated the geometry behind playing pool. Students will receive their first project in the upcoming week and their first quiz will be on Friday, September 15th.

I am available for extra help most Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. I post all homework on my school fusion webpage (the link is below). Please encourage your child to come see if they have any questions. If you have any questions/concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


Ms. Kohn”

“Never really good at math, either”

For week 3 of the Math Blogger Initiation challenge, I have decided to write about what I do when a parent at a conference says, “Well I was never really good at math either,” when talking about his child.  That quote really irks me. My gut reaction is to laugh a little while saying, “Please don’t say that in front of your son!” Because everything is nicer when you laugh while saying it, right?

But in all honestly, I actually do say something like, “Even though math wasn’t your strength, that doesn’t have to have an impact on Rob (for the sake of this post, I’ll call this parent’s son, Rob). It’s important that you don’t talk about how you weren’t good at math with Rob. Even though we all struggle at some point with math, I believe that everyone can succeed, and I need Rob to believe that too. Here are some ways you can help him!”

I tell the parent about my homework website, and how he should ask Rob about his math homework every day. Because by asking about Rob’s math homework, you are showing him that it matters to you that he does it, and that he asks for help the next day if he doesn’t understand it. I show the parent how to access the online textbook. I tell the parent to show interest in Rob’s math projects because even though the parent might not be able to help Rob, it will help Rob to explain what he’s working on to someone else.

I finish by saying that I set high expectations for all my students in class and will do anything I can to help Rob succeed. I ask the parent to support me in school by supporting  Rob at home and creating an atmosphere where math is a positive word. It’s all about attitude.

What about you? I would definitely love to hear feedback on this infamous saying from others!


Tasty/Easy Graph

Dan Meyer used this Tasty/Easy graph during his 2011 Perplexity Session and I have used it as my 2nd day of school activity ever since.

My goal for day 2 is to get the students talking. Talking and disagreeing with each other respectfully. The graph has a low entry point. EVERY student has an opinion about this graph and you will see all hands in the air. Even the quiet students want to tell you that oranges should be moved up and bananas to the left. Then we talk about the math terms which we can use to help us describe what we’re saying more accurately. Move the orange from quadrant 3 into quadrant 2. We talk about what fruits the author left off the graph, and where we would put it.

As a follow-up to this intro, I put students into groups, and tell them to pick their own topic for a graph. I pass out graph paper and markers. I tell students they have 10 minutes to create a graph that is wall worthy. They need to determine axis categories and place at least 5 items on their graph. A few student examples:

  • “Sneaker Brands” – Price vs. Swag Factor
  • “Restaurants” – Price vs. Taste
  • “Athletes” – Salary vs. Skill Level

I love the debates the students have over category placement on the axises. Many students will place “expensive” at the top of the y-axis, and then we talk about how it would actually be a more positive experience to go to a cheap, tasty restaurant. If we have time, groups stand up in front of the room and share their graphs.

I use this activity on day 2 because it gets all students participating and talking to each other. They get into groups and everyone has an opinion about what to do or draw. They stand in front of their peers and explain their work. No one stands up and says they don’t know why they put Michael Jordan in quadrant 1. So before a student even has time to be scared about talking in math class, they’re already doing it.