Engaging the leaders

Engaging the tough to engage 8th graders in an advisory activity has been a struggle. First of all I have 9 eighth graders out of 21 students. A few of 8th graders have started the year with really poor attitudes and refuse to participate in any activity.  UGH! The attitude is catching on with the other 8th graders, I think it is the middle school version of senioritis. This morning, however, I was able to come up with and activity that engaged all of the students. I try and have a STEM day each week where they can play with the Ollie and sphero, etc.  Today I brought out glasses that I had bought at Goodwill and challenged them to make them “sing”. Some of the students were able to do it right away, the ones who couldn’t worked at it the whole 25 minutes. I was happy to see the engagement and perseverance from all of them. I think it will add to our follow up discussion on relevance next week.

This activity was inspired by my crazy family (who can never be trusted to behave in public with glassware) and the movie Miss Congeniality. 

Here is our first day’s attempt!





Relevance: 2019 Blog Challenge #2

Teaching relevance.  Relevance is defined as knowing why something matters or how it is important.  Our Top 20 lesson today was on relevance- the top 20 see the star quality development in the things we have to do, even the boring classes.  The bottom 80 don’t. I had my students read pages 87 and 88 in out Top 20 book in groups of 3 this morning. We discussed the important take-a-ways. All of them understood the relevance of their classes at school- and they all agreed that top 20’s are able to find the star qualities in their classes- even the ones they don’t care for or struggle in.  Yet, every one of them hangs out in the bottom 80 when it comes to actually participating in those classes.


Why is this?  I have my own ideas, and no, I’m not going to blame social media, or video games or parents.  I think for too long we have had expectations of our students that “average” is the same as a grade of “A.”  You, know, that small town in Minnesota where everyone is above average? The math teacher in me points out that for there to be an “average” there needs to be people above and below the average.  I remember a college professor grading our class on a curve- 10 % got an A and 10% got an F. He also made the comment that all the people who got C’s would have gotten an A in his class held on campus (This particular class was an evening course off campus with mostly second-career type students). I was flabbergasted!  You could do the same quality work and have a much lower grade based on the make up of the class. I think often times our grading has been the other extreme. We give students an A for the average work- or we allow extra credit to bump up a grade to keep the parents happy. Grades are the little treats handed out for compliance, not as a measure of learning.  I really struggle with the students who have straight A’s in my classes then score partially meets or does not meet on our MCA’s. I know, it’s one test, one day, doesn’t measure everything that is taught, etc, etc. But an A student should be able to pass a grade level test!


This idea has been haunting me for years. A few years back I heard Rick Wormeli talk about Standards based grading.  I started it in my classroom 6 years ago. The biggest push-back I get is from the parents of students who have been A students who suddenly are getting C’s and D’s because homework doesn’t help their grade.  These students can re-take assessments to bring their grades up, but often don’t take the time because the grade- or the relevance of learning- isn’t all that important to them. On the other hand, there are students who really are using top 20 star qualities and look at their mistakes as learning opportunities and who do re-take assessments and improve their learning.  I think the whole topic of how we grade and what each grade means needs to be discussed on every level- grade level, school level and district level.


We’ll continue with the relevance lesson next week, I’ll be interested to know if any of my advisees have found some star qualities to develop in their least favorite classes.

2019 Blog Challenge Post 1

January brings with it all things fresh and new- a new coating of snow, a new hobby, a new outlook and a new motivation.  Along with that is this new challenge to write a blog a day for 30 days. I’m pretty sure this will be one of my bigger challenges.  I have as my Professional Growth goal this year that I will write at least 2 blog posts a month to reflect on my teaching. Somehow, that didn’t motivate me much- well, that and life that got in the way.  

One “big idea” observation that I can make about this school year:  You can’t necessarily use what worked last year with a new group of students.  Last year was our 2nd full year with Personalized Learning. We had students who were able to schedule their day in a way that they could plan for their own learning.  Also, we started using the online version of Open Up Resources Illustrative Math. Wow! What a curriculum! As I was working with the new curriculum I was also trying to stay ahead of my students who work faster than the regular group.  We had amazing success with the progress of most of our students. There were only about 10% who were struggling with choosing schedules that were good for them prompting us to schedule their day. Also, I was able to go pretty close to paperless (other than for my planning purposes and assessments) with the online curriculum.  

Enter school year 208-2019.  We are halfway into the year and we still have a large number of our students who are struggling with scheduling their day to work for them.  They are not understanding that a “flex” period is one where you work on whatever you need to work on- so if you don’t have an assignment for math finished, you schedule your flex for an hour before your math seminar and finish the assignment.  About ⅓ of the students are managing their schedule well- and I’m glad we have the ability to let them go forward. However- the schedule struggle is limiting our ability to offer the extra workshops to target specific skills like we did last year. I’m holding out hope that this too will be developed in 2019!  But again, I need to always remind myself- different students, different needs. I’m the one who needs to make the adjustments from what worked last year to help this year’s team be successful.


TMC 16 Brain Barf- or My Thoughts Following My First Twitter Math Camp

It has been a week since I first stepped onto the Augsburg campus and I’ve had a whirlwind of thoughts from the very first minutes on campus.  Here are a few, knowing that some will require their own blog soon.


  • People will follow @Trianglemancsd just about anywhere.  The first person I saw that I knew Saturday morning was Christopher.  He was leading a group across the campus, saw me and invited me along.  But wait- I haven’t registered yet!  No worries, it will be just a minute.  We proceeded to carry his patterns grid to from the Old Main building to the entry of Foss Chapel.
  • Not everyone who is a part of TMC is literally 6 feet tall!  This was a shock to me.  So far, the people I have heard speak that were part of MTBoS (Dan Meyer, Sara VanDerWerf, Christopher Danielson and even Andrew Stadel who I have never met but KNOW his height from estimation 180) were all at least 6 feet tall.   The first misconception I had to grapple with was putting together the faces with the people who I had built up to be at least 6 feet tall in my mind.  They still remain the figurative giants of my math world through MTBoS.
  • During the first timers session, something was said that really resonated with me.  We were told that TMC was started by a group who felt their needs were not being heard by the folks organizing the NCTM conference.  They knew what they were looking for, knew they (collectively) had the talent and were able to make it happen for themselves.   I had no idea yet what they were talking about,  but it soon became clear as the day progressed.  As a board member of our local affiliate, MCTM, I wonder if we are meeting the needs of our members with the structure we offer?
  • The morning sessions were AWESOME!  I loved the fact that I was introduced to some great activities and then had time to process them before going back to continue the conversation. I am really excited to try the Talk Less, Smile More activities that Matt (@stoodle) and Chris (@PIspeak)  shared with us.
  • Those of us in Minnesota are lucky to have Sara VanDerWerf  (@saravdwerf) as leader for the teaching and learning of mathematics.  It was awesome to meet new people from around the country who had a chance to experience some of Sara’s passion.  I heard numerous comments about her session and saw lots of people trying out the backwards bike.  Sara has described her presentations as similar to a  passionate preacher – with such high energy and enthusiasm for the crowd.  She is always inspiring for Sunday morning people like me- the ones who struggle to break away from the known routine and needing to be told when to stand and sit!  Sara reminded us that “Teaching is an art.”  Just like artists who improve with time, so too, our teaching improves as we steadily adapt and learn new skills.
  • My Favorites- how cool was this?  Someday I’ll get up there and share one of mine.
  •  Keynotes from José Luis Vilson (@TheJLV) , Tracy Zager  (@TracyZager)and Dylan Kane  (@math8_teacher)  were thought provoking and each deserving of more reflection on the implications for me, what I can do as a teacher and as part of this community.
  • Glenn Waddell (@gwaddellnvhs) talk hit home with a lot of people, including me.  Thank you for sharing your journey.  I’ve followed the tweets and stolen the lesson ideas for years.  Last spring a friend mentioned that TMC would be in Minneapolis this summer so I put a note on my calendar and looked for the registration.  I registered, but decided not to stay overnight.  I kept telling myself it was because I would sleep better in my own bed, I don’t mind the extra drive, I had a class to teach Monday night, etc.  The real reason was that I didn’t really know what I was getting into and I wanted to leave myself an “out”.  A few weeks prior to the camp there was a tweet about people on the waiting list and to let them know if your plans had changed.  I was growing more and more uncomfortable with the idea and almost gave up my spot.  I told myself- just go the first day and see what’s up.  I’m an extremely introverted person by nature. For the lunch break the first day I jumped in my car and drove around the area.  I stopped and had my KIND bar and a Gatorade for lunch.  Following the afternoon sessions I went back to Foss and asked someone mingling around “What exactly is this Speed Dating?”.  I was looking for a reason to duck out early, but when I was told it was a way for people to connect I told myself- THIS is the reason you are here!  I went in and played along with the activity.  When we were grouped by grade band that we teach, I met Casey ( @cmmteach)  .  She was the first person to tell me they taught middle school so I went out on a limb and said “Would you like to have lunch tomorrow?” Thanks goodness she said yes.  We actually joined some others that she knew and I was able to meet and talk with a great group of folks that I can now say are part of my twitter PLN.  Thanks also to Lisa (@lmhenry9) for sending out the tweet on Monday inviting some folks to lunch.  I had a KIND bar in my bag- just in case.
  • Atlanta will be too far for me to commute.  My goal is to get move more from the lurker role to a participating role so that my introverted self can more fully engage in #TMC17.