Thursday, September 26, 2013

Need Help Turning a Negative into a Positive

I have so much I want to blog about!  I knew that once school started it would be difficult getting blogs written though.  I am not a writer, so a few times I have written stuff down and then deleted it.  Anyway, my blog today is really important to me and I am going to ask for feedback because I know people read this especially when I link it on G+ and Twitter.

So let me start by saying "I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE my kids this year!!!" I always love my kids and I half-jokingly call myself the "Mama Bear" of the school because I do love them all.  However this year there is a certain magical combination of sweet, polite, studious 7th/8th graders that I've never seen before.  (I pray that I do not wake from this beautiful dream LOL)

Now to my dilemma...
My admin did decide to go with ability grouping this year.  I have three 8th grade classes and two 7th grades.  They literally took the NJ Ask scores and divided them up based on high math/low math etc.  We are a small school so our homeroom kids stay with the same group for the whole day.  I now have 2 high 8th grade classes and 1 high 7th grade which are awesome.  But that leaves a low 8th and 7th grade.
The worst thing is that the 8th graders have completely caught on. The low 8th class is so bummed out it is not even funny.  They are so depressed at being what they call the "dumb" class and it breaks my heart.  I've tried to tell them that they are not dumb and at the end of the day they are learning exactly what the other two classes are learning, its just the way I deliver it to them is a little different (which is somewhat true-I do also give them less problems for classwork/homework so we can get through them and go over them)
My 7th grade hasn't really shown any emotion or notice that they are in the lower group, but I'm afraid the other kids might start to say something...the higher group has already noticed they get a little bit more homework.

What I am looking for is some advice on building up their self-esteem and also how can I keep MY expectations high even when I know that it is going to be harder for them to do the more challenging work or have to move slower than the other class?

Basically how do I keep them from falling farther behind when the research tells me this is what will probably happen?  I really want to help these kids beat the odds and succeed even thought they are ability grouped!

On another note, I was able to get two or three "lower scoring kids" in the higher classes since we only have 12 kids in each 8th grade class.  I can't wait to see how much they improve being in those classes!
Any suggestions?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

One Good Thing-Circle Tracker

After my last post about what is working in my classroom, I decided to write a little more about my circle tracker.  Since the MS Math Sunday Funday theme is One Good Thing, it is the perfect thing to write about!

My circle tracker is a spreadsheet that I make for each pretest/chapter.  This example is from the first pretest.  Its kind of blurry but you will get the idea when I explain it.

So the first column on the left I have the skills I am (assessing or teaching.) I just number them to save room, I have a list of what they are in my unit plan.  Then along the top are the students names.  For the pretest, I know which questions match the skills so if they got them right I put the circle with the plus, most of them right but maybe 1 wrong, they get a circle with one line, if they have a clue but got the problems wrong (silly mistakes or whatever) I give them a blank circle.  If they have no clue, its a blank box.  So when I graded the tests, I used a red pen.  The next day, I have stations for them to work at based on what they missed.  They then have new problems to try as a reassessment (those I wrote in pen to the left) and I go through as they work updating my circle tracker.  Those who still struggle, will get pulled for extra help during our last period which is a skill reinforcement period. 
I really like how I can see at a glance if there are any major trouble spots.  For example, after the pretest, I could quickly see that not one student could approximate a square or cube root on the number line, so instead of sending them off to stations, I did a mini lesson on it; that was the third skill down and so far 9 have mastered it, 2 are getting there and only 1 is still struggling.  

During lessons, I start by using this with their independent practice and homework.  It is really nice to keep on my clip board and reminds me to "check in" or confer with everyone.  Plus if I have struggling students I want to refer to our RTI Specialist I have documentation to back it up.
I must admit, I tried using this last year and it was a little overwhelming.  This year, since we are using new textbooks and curriculum mapping it is a lot easier.  I finally feel that it really serves its purpose!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

What's Working and What's Not

Two weeks in and I can really see the things that are working and the things that just aren't going to happen in my classroom.  I am really happy with the way the year has started off and I'm excited to see how my kids do this year.  One of the biggest things I notice is that even though I have ALWAYS had high expectations, this year they seem the highest they have ever been.  I'm not sure why or what changed in me to make this happen, but I like it and the kids seem to be responding!

What's Working
1. So I will start off with the biggest surprise of all (to me) and that is the "whole brain teaching" strategy of "Class, Yes" and the scoreboard.   I am using the Class/Yes, with all classes, but I'm only using the score board with 7th grade.  Always liked the Class/Yes idea for getting their attention because it makes them respond and then be quiet, I've always done the "hands up" for attention and while it works really well for our school, for example when we are in the auditorium or cafeteria, its not so great for the classroom as I was never able to get 100% participation.  With Class/Yes, I am getting that 100%  I also might get into other types of call/response phrases after a while, just because I think its fun and I'm always looking for ways to put fun into my math class!! Here is a list I found on pinterest:
My 7th graders really like the scoreboard and I can do things like give them a frowny point instead of Shhhhing them when they are too loud for example.  That has been great as I teach them my expectations.  Right now there is no prize/consequence with the game but I'm thinking that will be coming soon.

2. Next up is my SWAG sign!  When I notice them starting to drift, daydream, lose focus, etc, I just say "Show me your SWAG" and they all sit up straight no questions asked!  I don't want to jinx myself, but even my tough guys are buying it!  Love it!!!  Sometimes I say "Table 1 sure has SWAG" and they all follow whatever Table 1 is doing or whoever is following the rules.  Another thing I noticed yesterday was that when I taught the procedure for "SWAG" we went through each letter, and I didn't really model the sitting up straight part, just what it didn't look like.  Well I've noticed that when I ask to see their swag some of them are even clasping their hands on the desk, it is too cute and so funny to see these "too cool for school" preteens doing exactly what I want them to do!

3. Something I call the Circle Tracker.  I made a list of the skills that I was looking for in the chapter.  I put it in a spreadsheet with all of their names.While they are working (workshop time) I go around with my clipboard, check certain problems, ask directed questions and get a feel for their mastery of the skill.  If they have no clue, I leave the box blank, sort of get it I put a circle, get maybe one small thing wrong, I put a line through the circle and if they show complete mastery its a plus sign in the circle.   We were required to do this last year and it just seemed overwhelming.  Somehow this year, it just seems like a natural fit, and I think its due to the workshop model I am trying to implement.    I like that the circle tracker gives me a really clear visual as to where the class is.  Yesterday I noticed that only one of my 36 students could approximate a cube or square root on the number line so I focused my mini lesson on that.

4. Math workshop:  I am so glad I read the book over the summer, it is one of those concepts that really changed the way I look at my teaching.   At first I was going to classify this as "Almost working" because it doesn't quite look like the videos of math workshop that I've seen, but then when I went explain what exactly wasn't working yet I realized, its pretty darn close!  I have to work on my timing and I now have two timers, one I use for the kids (this one) and one I wear around my neck (this one).  The timing issue is also because I am just getting to know my students and the new textbook series oh and after transition times, I am only left with about 48 minutes for each class!  It seems that my class right after lunch can be down to 38 minutes-that is just unacceptable and we are working on it. (We are a K-8 school with no bells since we all run on different class times.)  Once we get the timing down things will go a lot smoother.  I am definitely breaking the lessons in to 2-3 days, so that makes it look a tiny bit different too, but still effective for me-I think, since we are still in the middle of only one lesson right now!

What's not really going to work:
Flipping:  I had originally envisioned doing videos for the skills content and then having students work on the juicy problems in class.  This is just not going to happen.  I am able to get the skills taught in the mini lesson and I noticed that each class needs them tweaked a little bit anyway, so my videos would not be effective for everyone.  I will consider sending them to, AFTER I teach them if they are struggling with homework or want more review for tests.

Monday, September 9, 2013

First Week Recap

One of my goals for this year was to blog more, last week was fast and this weekend was just a killer with lesson plans due Monday, our first annual Back to School BBQ (huge success!  Met lots of new parents in a nice "out of school" setting-really helps us to establish a community!) on Saturday and then taking my daughter and her friend to a concert in Philly on Sunday.
So lets recap, last week was great!  I did all of my expectations and procedures teaching just from their observations (I notice) and their questions (I wonder) and from the Post it activity that Sherrie posted about:  I also did the Guess Who game workshop style and it was a hit!  The thing I love about the workshop model is that it actually works really easily. It didn't feel like I was "doing" some special thing.  After our discussion about mistakes and how we learn from them, the students discovered that it is not the actual mistake you learn from but the feedback you get!  I thought that was really cool.
I made sure to focus on how this year we are going to dig deeper into the math and that our focus is not going to be only on getting the correct answer but explaining how we got it.  And on that note I am going to stop.  I am so beat, want to check in on #msmathchat and I want to keep my goal of posting, so if I try to make beautiful epic posts it will not happen!!!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Day 1! Welcome Back Students!

Holy cow am I beat!  I am so exhausted!! Mostly because I have started getting up at 4:30 am to workout.  I really have to push through and stick with this routine, I am consistently gaining 10-15 pounds every year and it needs to stop!

So today was great, the kids are really awesome, both 7th and 8th grade I just love them!  The class periods go FAST!  I am so worried about implementing the workshop model!!  I will do it though!!!  :)

Today we just did a kind of get to know the class/teacher day.  I went with the whole I wonder, I notice? idea and the kids liked it a lot.  It got them involved and I was able to teach some procedures just by giving them answers to what they noticed and wondered!   One of them was my SWAG sign.

I started by asking them if they remembered SLANT (Sit up, lean forward, ask questions, nod, track speaker)  It is a strategy from Teach Like a Champion, that the staff had to read a few years ago.  It was one of those things we were told to implement, but it never "stuck"  I could never get into the practice or routine of saying "I need to see you SLANT!" it always made me think I was asking them to slump over!  So as soon as I mentioned it they groaned.  I explained how even I didn't like it, but that I liked the idea behind it.  That it is just a gentle reminder of how you should be sitting in class, and to focus.  Then I said that what I could get into the habit of saying was "Show me your SWAG" They loved it!  It was great when one or two boys didn't sit up right away and I was able to jokingly say "oh man, so and so doesn't have any SWAG!" They would immediately sit right up!

The other came from the activity of noticing and wondering.  I had them first spend 3 minutes looking around and thinking independently.  When it was time to call them back I told them that in order to get their attention when it was time to regroup I would say "Class" and they would respond "Yes" and be silent.  I've tried class, yes in the past and I couldn't get it to stick because of my classroom neighbor. We have kind of thin walls and he would always yell "Hands Up!" which was his way of quieting and getting the attention.  Well by the second week I was doing the same thing.  Its ok, the kids are supposed to put their hands up and be quiet, but you know some don't put their hands etc and it just kind of gets old.  They loved the Class, Yes and really liked when I changed up the way we said it.  My 8th graders bought right into it and worked hard at getting it right.  My 7th graders also bought into it but were having a little difficulty getting it down as well as the 8th grade so I introduced the Scoreboard! (These are both Whole Brain teaching strategies if you want to look them up)  So now my two 7th grade classes will be battling each other in the scoreboard game!  Never planned on that one but it worked so well!  Not sure what the prize will be, but they didn't seem to care, I'll probably do Battle of the Homeroom points for like some crazy amount like 1000.

Like I said it went fast, I am not really used to these short classes (48 minutes each compared to the 75 I had last year)
Tomorrow I plan on passing out syllabus and do procedure and routines.  I am going to have them start working on community building as well and start off with the Post-it poster activity that I got from Sherrie at

Oh and the other cool thing that I did was wrote a Vision Statement for my classroom!!  Here is our Vision Statement:
We will persevere in problem solving.  We will not fear mistakes but embrace them as opportunities for learning.  We shall achieve the goal of becoming mathematical thinkers.

Monday, September 2, 2013

My First Currently

Wow!  I am finally doing a Currently link up!  I've always liked reading these and thought they looked so cute and creative. I never knew how it worked until I stumbled upon this blog!

  I hope I didn't cheat with the same wanting and needing but they really are one and the same!!

I'm listening to Fall Out Boy and Panic! because I am taking my 16 year old and her friend to the concert on Sunday.  I am super lucky that I like these bands, I don't know what I would do if we didn't like similar types of music!

So The Thinking Blocks website is really  We are using Math in Focus: Singapore math and one of the strategies they use a lot is bar modeling.  This website/app is going to be fantastic in teaching them how to use the bar models!  Oops I did the old the the typo!!

Going crazy trying to figure out how to "teach" kids to have a growth mindset.  I have been searching for youtube videos to play for them, but none seem to be what I'm looking for.

Wanting/needing.  Oh boy this is a big one. It started out as 20 pounds three years ago and has been creeping up ever since.  The sad pathetic thing is that I know exactly what to do and how to do it, yet I do the exact opposite. So I want to do this because I can't stand not fitting into any of my clothes, looking at pictures and not recognizing myself and I need to do this because I can't keep on going the way I am or I will be over 200 pounds and at 5'1" that is not healthy at all.

So the three things I picked for the love yourself spot are to make sure I drink my water (really want to get a gallon in, but I'll start with 100 oz for now.) Pack my meals because if I do that I know I will stay on track and then lastly make sure I spend time with my own two kids each day and just focus on them.  It is easy now that they are older and self sufficient to think that just being in the same room is enough, while I try to grade papers, make up new lessons etc. and really make sure I'm focusing on them.