Archive for the 'Classes' Category

Skype Sick Day…

Friday was normal enough.  I joked to my physics classes that I’d be spending all weekend playing Zelda DLC…I was all caught up on grading.  I even planned on driving to Minot to do shopping.

But instead, I woke up sick on Saturday morning.  I threw up for about 6 hours until I felt miserable enough to go to the ER.  I came home about 4 hours later with magical pills that stopped the puking, but I still spent Sunday too weak to eat or get out of bed.  I took Monday off in the hopes that I could recharge, eat a full meal and maybe wander farther than the distance from the bed to the couch before going back to work on Tuesday.

I made improvements on Monday, but it was clear I still wouldn’t be energetic enough to run my classroom like usual.  The pills were still the only thing stopping me from throwing up, and I still hadn’t really eaten.  I would have to take Tuesday off as well.

I sat on the couch and whined to my husband.  I was out of easy sub activities for my physics class, and I really wanted them to start and finish another chapter before break.  The other classes could use the previous day’s sub notes, as they were in the middle of projects.

“Why don’t you just teach that class over Skype?”  he asked.

And so, Tuesday…today, the skype sick day happened.  Luckily, I had a camera from work that I had brought home to film robotics videos earlier this year.  I set up with a stack of paper and a sharpie, and my gaming headset and mic.  I typed out a sub note that started with, “I’m trying something new today, so I hope you’re feeling a bit adventurous.”  …and I woke up like normal with my husband, but when he went to work, I stayed behind and tried to get comfortable in front of my computer.  I decided to wait until after the second class to eat breakfast to make sure I stayed healthy while on camera.

My sub, Mr. Ward, was awesome in making sure it all came together.  It was his first time subbing at the high school, and I hope he got a good first impression and wasn’t too weirded out!  My husband went to my classroom and connected the call, and Mr. Ward and I had about 15 minutes to talk face to face before the first class started.  (Advanced Algebra support is a quiet first class, and a great place to test my tech…)  I spent that hour helping students with continuously compounding interest problems.  They probably would have been fine without me, but since Physics is 2nd hour, it didn’t seem like much more work to run both of the morning classes through Skype.  Some students who didn’t need help would occasionally wave at me…or watch my Chinchilla running around in the cage behind me.

The bell rang, and as the physics students came in and saw me on the board, one student asked, “Are we being pranked?”

“I am OZ: Great and Powerful!” I bellowed.  (or I’d like to think that I bellowed…probably not because talking still hurts…but this is my story, so let’s pretend I managed to bellow.)

The whole class jumped, and they told me I wasn’t funny.  I didn’t care…I though I was funny.


Mr. Ward passed back their quizzes, and we went over what they did yesterday.  Screen sharing didn’t work, so my normal power point presentation was kind of a bust.  Instead, the paper and sharpie came in handy as I subjected students to sad stick people drawings as I started the latest chapter.  But hey, they now know what work is from a physics standpoint, they have the formula, and they have something to work on before I come back tomorrow.

After physics, Mr. Ward and I chatted for 5-10 minutes about the rest of the day and I left him to it!

It was awesome to be able to brief a sub over skype before school starts.  He got to ask me about fire drill procedure with respect to a particular class hour, and I got to give him contingency plans for the class depending on time remaining after the fire drill.  I also got to describe which students needed escorts to the bathroom, or certain accommodations throughout the day.

All in all, it went pretty smoothly.  Now I’m going to eat breakfast and take a nap so I can be back to work in person tomorrow.

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!