Archive for the 'Classes' Category

S2 Goals for Alg Support

For lots of reasons, I’ve decided that my algebra support classes need a change.

In semester 2, I will get quite a few new students, and some students will move out based on grades (both good and bad).

I usually tend toward ‘No-time-like-the-present’ when making changes to my classes, but since we only have 2 1/2 regular weeks left, and this plan requires a bit of work…I think I’m going to take it slow to maximize success.

This semester, Algebra Support consisted of me and 20ish students, and even though the goal of the class is to help students pass algebra, quiz and test scores were not as good as they could have been.  I chalk it up to me spending most of my time trying to get them to do late homework.

In theory, I was supposed to offer students a 10-15 minute recap lesson every day.  That didn’t always happen.  On days when they had homework, students were loud and cranky and would do their best to ignore whatever I had planned because getting the homework done had taken priority over learning the material.  I’ve had a few discussions with the Algebra and other Algebra Support teachers and we agreed that it’s ok to make changes to help our students.

My big change stems from the fact that I’m sick of being the homework monster.  I don’t assign homework in my other classes, and I’ve learned that chasing homework is a losing game when quizzes and tests make up a majority of the grade.  So since I really want support to make a difference, I’m going to attack the problem from a study skills and quiz/test performance angle.

I want to make this group into awesome quiz/test takers and students who know how to advocate for themselves and use resources.

I found some cool study skills resources from the Larson Algebra within Reach program, and I think I’m going to use their suggestions as the basis for a math study skills boot camp.

I want to give students credit for trying new things, applying new skills and learning what works for them as a math student.  We have also been given access to Odysseyware, which I think I will use as a supplement to help me remediate specific skills, rather than trying to tailor one lesson to fit all 20 students.

We’ll see how this goes!

End of Q1 Support Responses


I categorized and tallied responses to the handout I gave today.  The official prompt was “Three things that will help me:”

I wonder how this will change if I ask the same question at the end of Q2.

Q1 Reflection Handout

I made a handout to help the students organize their thoughts.

I’m an algebra support teacher, so I will look at the grades they’ve earned from their respective Algebra teachers and help the students interpret them accordingly.

Today we will be completing these sheets and I will snap a pic for their personal files in my OneNote.

Most students have a skewed view of THE FINAL.

They either see it as this mythical thing that can rise grades from the ashes like a phoenix, or they see it as this horrible impassible thing that is going to get them no matter what.

Some of them are repeating algebra because they had a D going into the final and didn’t understand that one test could make so much of a difference.  Alternately, some of them will say ‘I’ll just pass the final!’ as a catch-all any time I suggest they do homework or practice in class.

I hope I can help each student set and stick to a realistic goal.

The Beginning of Year 5

Today was really weird.

So for the past 2-ish weeks, I’ve been at our brand-spanking-new high school building.

I unpacked all of my stuff and made it look presentable.

I put posters everywhere.

I did my pre-planning.

But today the students arrived and it finally became real for me.

This was my new classroom.  These are my new classes.  I have some pretty big changes planned.


Geogebra: Eratosthenes

This year, my school is doing a Bring-Your-Own-Device initiative.  I’m super excited because it means that I can use GeoGebra and Desmos in class!

One of my favorite things to do in Physics is to discuss Eratosthenes’ estimate of Earth’s Circumference.  It’s a good early activity to check how much they remember from Geometry, and show them an example of how math knowledge can be applied to solve real world problems.  I think this year, it will serve as my intro to GeoGebra too!


Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth from his home in Alexandria.  In the city of Syene to the south, there was a deep well that served as a landmark.  Eratosthenes knew that on one day each year, at noon, the sun would be directly overhead, and the water below could be seen.  (This day was the longest day of the year, the summer solstice.)  On this day, in Alexandria, Eratosthenes went out at noon, and observed the shadow of a vertical landmark.  The angle between the base of the landmark and the end of its shadow was measured at 7.2 degrees.  Eratosthenes estimated the distance between Alexandria to Syene, and used these values to make his calculation.

    • We will estimate the distance from Syene to Alexandria as 800 km.
    • We will assume the Earth is a perfect sphere.
    • We are going to ‘guess’ the radius and circumference of the Earth, and use Geogebra to match our situation to Eratosthenes’

Click the picture to go to my Geogebra file

Eratosthenes 1

Extension:  The sun’s rays can be adjusted to show how to solve this problem with shadows in both cities.Eratosthenes 2

Baby Steps toward a Paperless Physics Class…

This is a thing I’ve been secretly working on for weeks, but it has become more relevant in the last few days.

Yesterday during our daily announcements video, our principal announced that there would be no backpacks in the halls or classrooms once we move to the new school building.  (Students can bring backpacks from home and leave them in their lockers, and then pick them up and use them to take stuff home at the end.)

My freshmen seemed pretty neutral to the idea and didn’t have much to say as they watched the video.  However, my juniors in physics had a lot to say about it today.  They really wanted to know how I felt.

I understand that these are the kids who probably have 3 or 4 monster textbooks to tote around (mine being one of them).  I also understand that most of these teachers require separate notebooks or binders.  (Again, guilty as charged…)

So I was honest with them.  I asked them to look in my corner behind my desk.  There lies my green and grey plaid backpack.

“See, even you have a backpack!”

I confessed that I did.  Teacher’s editions are heavy, and carrying them around used to be a pain in the butt.

Then my second confession:  My backpack hasn’t gone home since Thanksgiving break.  I’ve switched to using the .pdf version of the textbook.  I have copies of everything on our school’s Microsoft One Drive.  It’s awesome because I can literally stop working after school, walk home with nothing, and have access to all of my resources on my home computer (if the urge to work strikes).

In my own self-contained teacher bubble, I am paperless as I plan and build assignments.  However when I get to work, I make copies and distribute textbooks like everybody else.  Our school is an older building, the wifi isn’t great.  I share my laptop cart with two other teachers.   Not every student’s phone runs the same operating system.

It was really easy to use these things as excuses as to why I couldn’t go paperless with the students!  But the more I think about it, they are just excuses and can be overcome.

We are moving to a brand new building next year so (hopefully) the wifi will be better.  The reason I mention the move is that it’s made me lazy.  I look at the things I need to pack and think ‘I just don’t wanna!’

So out of laziness, I put on my thinking cap and decided to do what I could with One Note and One Drive.  If I can digitize some stuff, I can travel lighter, right?




30 Days – Post a Picture of Your Classroom

Describe what you see, and what you don’t that you’d like to.


About Time…

On Wednesday something interesting happened in my classroom, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.  This post might be a little bit fluff and story time and a little less content, but it’s definitely something I want to remember in the future.

So for the last two years, 5th hour staffing has taken place in my room every Thursday.  My room has become bright and colorful over the last few years, and I love finding new things to stick on the walls.  I post student quotes in the form of Twitter birds.  I have tons of motivational posters that I’ve stolen from the internet.  I have bizarre artwork that students have left for me over the years.  It’s pretty cozy, and it feels like home.  I try to keep it well-organized, and friendly.  Some of my colleagues like to poke fun at my ‘elementary classroom’, but I find that letting students play and cut and draw and create really gives my class a different spin than the rest of their day.

The decoration in question, however, was a set of arrows.  Before the 2014-2015 school year started, I realized that I was sick of students asking when classes ended, so I made a set of 8 arrows to mark the end of each hour and lunch.  I stuck the arrows around the clock, and it saved me a ton of headache.

Other teachers had really mixed reactions to this particular decoration.  Some thought it was a cute idea, but the majority of people who spoke up would pick on me about it.

“Can’t your kids tell time, Skinner?”

“You can’t hold their hands forever, Skinner!”

“Don’t they have the time on their phones?”

So this year, when the bell schedule changed, I caved and got rid of the arrows.  Maybe the other teachers were right…  Still I noticed myself wanting to gesture to the clock and point every time a student asked when class got out.  Was I too hand-holdy?  Would removing the arrows magically encourage the students to learn to tell time on their own?  I tried not to think about it too much.

But on Wednesday, during 1st hour, a student that I had last year stayed after class to chat.  He hasn’t always had the best grades in class, and even though he wasn’t in the exact same class he took from me last year, his lack of punctuality and general disinterest in school were part of the reason he was mine again this year.  He asked where the arrows had gone.  I told him that the bell schedule had changed, so my arrows wouldn’t be accurate any more.  This is true.

Then he asked me if I’d put up arrows again.  This is the only request this student has EVER made of me, so I asked him why.

“Because I’m not good at telling time, I can never remember the schedule, and I kept a picture of your clock on my phone so I’d know where to go at what time.” is what he said.

So that brings me to today, Sunday.  And you’ve probably already guessed what I’ve done.


The arrows are back. They’re up to date.  They’re snazzy, even.

And I feel like a heel because I let other teachers pressure me into taking a resource away from my students.  I’m ashamed that I allowed them to embarrass me for even a moment.

Because let’s face it:  These are only my kids for an hour.  The rest of the day, they’re yours too!

If you don’t like my classroom visuals, just remember that they’re not for you…they’re not for me.

They’re for him.

This young man wanted them back because this visual of the clock made this classroom feel a little more like home.  Enough so that a student who doesn’t always show up, or do homework, took the time to stay after class to request that this visual come back.

And after learning that it meant so much to him, I’m sorry that I ever took it away.

Lesson Learned!

Keep Change Start Stop 2015

I decided to hand out the Keep Change Start Stop worksheets from Math Equals Love as the last pages in my students’ ISNs this year.  I had them do it twice…the first one said ‘I Should’ at the top for them to self-reflect…the second was ‘Mrs. Skinner Should’.

This was a great idea because we won’t be offering Intro to Algebra again next year.  I’m not quite sure what my math prep will be next year, and I wanted to give students a chance to tell me if they loved/hated the notebooks and the warm ups and all of the things I tried this year that I may or may not try with my new prep next year.


  • Your Personality Score one for me!
  • Teaching
  • Notebooks x 3 Three points for Notebooks…YES!
  • Doing Notes x 4
  • Taking Notes Completely
  • Pushing Us
  • Book Work
  • Small Assignments Everything was labeled as class work this year.
  • Daily Warm-Ups
  • Being Awesome  Score two for me!
  • Quizzes
  • Semesterized Finals I might be the only math teacher who semesterizes my final, but I’m glad someone likes it.
  • Worksheets


  • Nothing x 2 Score four for me!
  • To a Science and Math Teacher This kiddo might be a little confused…I am already a science and math teacher???
  • Creativity
  • Going Outside x 2 I’m not sure if this means they love going outside or hate it.  I’m guessing hate…because we went out three times this year and they were very vocal.
  • Size of Worksheets
  • Desk Arrangements
  • Seating people with others who will fight I wish I was better at this.  Sometimes I look at my seating chart and it feels like no matter how far apart I put the fighters, they’ll just pick a new target.  I am guilty of putting a class into the HappyClass app and seeing nothing but frownie faces…
  • Working Independent
  • The seating chart every month I change it every quarter, or when a new student joins.
  • The seating to rows Tried pods this year so they could share ISN supplies…
  • The Notes -1 for notes.


  • Being the Best You mean I’m not already the best?  Ouch…my ego. -1 for me.
  • More Class Activities x 2  I agree!  I need to work on my class management a little bit so we can have more fun time without me worrying that all of the supplies will get destroyed and that I’ll have to send someone to choices for being disrespectful.
  • Changing your ways of notes. -2 for notes
  • Kicking people out if they don’t try.  You can’t just boot someone out of a core class.  Sadly several of my students stopped participating after they no longer had to worry about being kicked out of sports…I’m working on what to do about that.
  • Being More Strict x 2  I need to get a little more creative with my discipline…because every teacher seems to give detention.  So ‘those students’ that choose not to work at the beginning of the year usually get it piled on so thick that they can no longer visualize how long they have to serve.  By Halloween, they are daring me to give them detention because my half hour would just be another drop in the bucket.  I also have the option to send them to the choices room if they’re a distraction.  But any time I send a student out, they miss notes, they miss homework, and they miss the chance to positively interact with their peers.
  • Punishing Slackers x 2 I give so much ‘Noon Tutoring Detention’ for incomplete classwork…The students who actually turn in their work have NO idea…
  • Having 1 extra credit assignment per quarter I kind of like this idea…
  • Taking away Phones I was a little more lax with phones this year because I know our school goal is to bring tech into the classroom properly.  We played with Socrative and Nearpod and the students loved it.  Physics didn’t have a problem with phones day to day, but my intro students are total addicts…we’ll see what I do with the level of math student I get next year.
  • Working in Class Together
  • Working together for warm-ups Confession:  I make them spend 5 minutes working on the warm-up alone so I can take attendance.  After that we do work through them together…
  • More Worksheets


  • Nothing x 3
  • Letting us go to the lunch room Agreed…
  • Giving Us Slack
  • Book Work x 2
  • Being late to class  Confused by this one.  This student is in 1st hour and usually shows up about 20 minutes early to sit outside the door.  I’ve never been late, but this student always beats me here.  Alternately this class is full of students that show up late.  So either I need to get my butt in gear and show up earlier, or stop the students from coming late?
  • Giving us Finals Sorry…school policy.
  • Playing on Phones  Yes, the phones are ridiculous.
  • Giving out Homework x 2
  • Warm-Ups x 2  Sorry, the school is adopting these as policy next year…you will see them EVERYWHERE!  FWAHAHAHA!
  • Sitting in Pods

This was actually way more useful than my formal staff evaluation this year.  (Hoping this changes when we switch over to the Marshall evaluation method for next year.)  Even then, I will highly recommend this activity!

My intro class dynamic was a little unique this year.  I started with large classes (25-30).  Students have come and gone, but a quick check shows that only 60% of the students who were in my class at the beginning of the year made it to the end.  I’ve also seen more than 80 unique students across my three sections of intro…many of them only staying a week.  One thing that I KNOW that I have to work on is getting these new students included and assimilated so they don’t become behavioral issues.  I haven’t yet found the book on how to get a student to buy in when they show up in remedial algebra with only a month of school left…but I’m trying!

I also think I need to work on a better way to contact parents.  Next year if I have another freshman-level math, I hope to use Remind to send out the classwork assignment every day.  And oddly enough it seems like the parents I need to contact most don’t have updated numbers in PowerSchool.

I’m three years in, and I think I’ve learned how to initially balance a classroom.  I’m still working on rolling with the changes that occur with students constantly coming and going.  I still really fight non-participation.  I think that’s partially because perfectly capable Algebra students are placed in Intro because they were non-participatory in 8th grade.  If you’re in a class that’s not challenging enough…you get bored!  The notebooks were great, and I think I’ll keep them until the school goes more tech-based.  I will definitely try a limited-scale notebook for important Physics stuff next year.

This was a good year!  Next year will be even better!