Some Background Info: I teach at the high school I went to, and am very lucky to work with many of the awesome teachers I had as a student. In particular, the english teacher on my  team this year, Mr. C, was my english/journalism teacher for 3 years. This information has been shared with our students, but it’s always a joy when one “finds” this out for the first time…

Student: “Mr. C was your teacher?! But you seem like you are friends now?…”
Me: “We are friends now.”
Student: “That’s so weird. Let me get this straight… when I graduate in 4 years, I could go to college to be a teacher, and then in 8 years, we could work together and be friends?”
Me: “Yeahh, we could be.”
Student: “I don’t think we would be friends.”



Day in the Life of Ms. Kohn

Here’s my #DITLife Challenge from Tina C. and Sam Shah

5:21 am Alarm goes off. Hit snooze.

5:30 am Alarm goes off again. Get out of bed and get ready for the day.

6:03 am Drive to school.

6:12 am Arrive at school (7th car in parking lot). Walk in with a teacher I’ve never met before, we introduce ourselves and chat about tonight’s parent/teacher conferences. Check mail in office and walk to my classroom. Pick up 2 pencils on the hallway floor on my way…. I brake for pencils… does anyone else do that?!

6:16 am Log onto computer. Put lunch in math department fridge. Make copies for Algebra 1 lesson and place a copy order for next day’s lesson. Finish writing guidelines sheet for Geometry Buried Treasure project and place a copy order. Chat with a STEM team colleague about our Term 2 project and make/copy the group selection sheets we are going to distribute during homeroom.

7:00 am Students enter the building and some of my homeroom students are in my room within a minute. They chat and play on their laptops while I finish setting up for my A period class. One student asks for help on last night’s homework and a student from last year brings me her Mythbusters video that I asked her for the day before. Math colleague swings by to say hi.

7:20 am Homeroom starts. Listen to pledge and daily announcements. Pass out and explain Mythbusters project group selection.

7:25 am Homeroom ends. Students leave for Period A. Chat with world language colleagues about conferences while supervising hallways.

7:29 am Period A begins (Algebra 1). I check off last night’s Piecewise Functions homework and students get ready to play “Writing Equations MATHO” by setting up their grids (I let them choose where to place all the numbers). They write 14 equations (from standard form, slope and y-int, slope and one point, two points) throughout the class period and there are 7 MATHO winners awarded a homework pass. When I try to wrap up class with 5 min remaining to assign homework, half the class begs me to “Please please please put up one more equation!” Love this. So I do.

8:21 am Period B begins (Algebra 1). Same lesson as last period but we only get through 13 equations and there are only 4 MATHO winners. Two students from last year come in and ask if they can come for extra help during Period D, OK.

9:12 am Period C begins (Prep). Input attendance from first two periods. Eat granola bar. Refill water. Empty recycling. Waste 10 minutes trying to hide Roy (fisherman statue the math department plays a “hot potato” style game with) but fail because all of them are alert in their classrooms. Chat with math colleague in her classroom about Algebra 1. Attempt to respond to emails and plan for next day’s lessons but computer decides it doesn’t want to work right then. Give up and go bother another math teacher on her prep.

10:03 am Period D begins (Senior Topics). Meet students in library computer lab to create tables and scatter plots of “Texting Olympics” and “Pass the Books” collected data. Students follow printed directions and I run around and help. Students from last year show up and I also help them on a geometry assignment. Last 5 minutes are semi chaos as we attempt to save and/or print everyone’s work.

10:51 am Lunch! I eat with the math department (plus one health teacher) and we have a great time. Sometimes we chat about students and curriculum. Most days we don’t. Today’s conversation ranged from Movember to The Bacon Underground to the upcoming school rally to book clubs to shingles….

11:21 am Period E begins (STEM Common Planning Time). We compare conference schedules and assign each other specific parents to discuss the Term 1 rubrics with. We finalize our plan to introduce the Term 2 Mythbusters Science Project the next day and start choosing groups to have in our homebases.

12:17 pm Period F begins (Geometry). We review last night’s Geometer’s Sketchpad assignment on Triangle Congruency Shortcuts and take some notes on flowchart proofs. I give students an exit slip at the end of class and correct some before they leave.

1:04 pm Brief meeting with 2 other STEM teachers regarding the selection of the Term 2 groups…. one student has expressed great concern over selecting a team and we brainstorm a few other student names we could partner him with. Crisis averted.

1:08 pm Period G begins (Geometry). Same lesson as before but it takes us longer. This class is chatty today.

1:55 pm End of school day. Math colleague comes to chat about Geometry curriculum and  since I’m ahead I give her my most recent activities. Also chat about conferences and catch up on our lives.

2:10 pm NEASC Committee Meeting. We discuss the brainstormed student academic, social, and civic expectations and attempt to combine all ideas into one document. Also discuss recommendations for our 2 year report.

3:00 pm Back in classroom. Create a NEASC survey monkey survey (in English and Spanish) about the student expectations. Link will be distributed to parents at conferences.

3:45 pm Meet with STEM team to finish dividing students into Term 2 groups. Disagree a few times but finish placing all students in teams and homebases we think will work well.

4:05 pm Student appears in classroom to tell me she missed the late bus and doesn’t know how she can get home. We call an uncle who comes to pick her up. 2nd crisis averted.

4:15 pm Run out to grab some baked potato soup and bread from Panera! Pick up two more pencils on my way back into the building.

4:45 pm Eat at desk. Respond to emails. Receive 39 throughout the day and send 14. Write sub plans for next morning (math department is being given time to write curriculum) and set up W-R-I-T-I-N-G Equations Stations Lab.

5:50 pm Parent/Teacher Conferences begin! I have 16 appointments scheduled and they last 10 minutes each. Time actually flies by.

8:35 pm Last parent leaves. Shut off computer. Pack belongings. Another impromptu STEM teacher meeting in the hallway. We all walk out together.

9:00 pm Drive to bar. There is usually a very large teacher turnout after conference night at our favorite local establishment but tonight only 9 teachers show up. We chat about so many things I can’t even keep track. But we do eat nachos and ice cream.

10:37 pm Drive home.

11:00 pm Asleep.





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!


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!”