Calculator Foldables

Posted: November 22, 2016 in Interactive Notebooks
Tags: ,

If you are anything like me, you use the heck out of your graphing calculator. My students need all the tips and tricks they can get. The better they learn to use this great tool, the less stressful they will find the state exams. To this end, I include calculator pages in my interactive notebooks. Every time we learn a new way to use our TI-84s, we glue an image of the calculator on the page, along with step-by-step instructions. Last year at the state math conference, I won a copy of TI’s SmartView. If you don’t have this program, I highly recommend it. My favorite part of this program is creating screenshots for us to glue on the calculator pages to show exactly what we are talking about. It just doesn’t get any better than that!


When I first started using interactive notebooks, I got a lot of ideas from Sarah Carter over at Math=Love. She created a page with two TI-84 graphing calculator images, but I wanted something smaller. I decided to create a page with three images. This turned out to be the perfect size for our composition notebooks. We glue them way over on the left side, leaving us plenty of room to write the steps.


This year I started teaching 8th grade self-contained Pre-Algebra. Oh no! I couldn’t take my beloved 84s with me! The regular 8th graders are all using the TI-30 XII S. After talking to my TI-Rep (Shout out to Dana Morse for being the most awesomest TI rep ever!!), I asked Special Ed for TI-34 Multiviews. They are a step up from the 30s plus they have a lot of the same features as the TI-84s, which will make the transition a lot easier when we get to 9th grade. My favorite thing they offer is math print. This is the feature that makes a fraction look like a fraction or an exponent look like an exponent. When the 84s upgraded their programming to include this, my Regents scores jumped almost ten points across the board. Turns out my students were really struggling with how to input things like fractions using parentheses. Once the math on the calculator looked like the math on their paper, there was no stopping them! My next goal is to upgrade my high schoolers to the Nspires. I have my fingers crossed for next year. Wish me luck! Or rather calculators. Wish me calculators!!

So now that I have shiny new yellow TI-34’s, I needed to find a foldable for them. I sent out a tweet to #MTBoS asking if anyone had already created one, but no one had. So I created my own. The kids love them, and once we make a page, I just refer them back to their notebooks when they tell me they don’t remember what to do in the calculator. Easy peasy!! I don’t have SmartView for the MultiViews yet, but it’s on my list.


Not being one to leave something unfinished, I created two more calculator pages for an Interactive Notebook session I taught at the state math conference earlier this month in Rye, NY. It was a great time, and I got to meet lots of wonderful like-minded math people. I can’t wait to present again at the regional conference in March. Maybe I’ll get to see YOU there!

Want copies of my calculator pages? You can find them here:

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The Rearview Mirror

Posted: September 10, 2016 in Uncategorized



Today is finally here. It doesn’t matter how much I have willed the clock to stop ticking, the calendar to stop advancing or life to freeze for just one more minute. It doesn’t matter that I am not ready. Today is the day that I will leave my baby at college. I will somehow make myself get in the car and head north, leaving her to fend for herself 1000 miles away from me. The longest we have ever been separated is for two weeks one summer. I am dreading the next ten weeks. I have been “mom” since I was 22 years old. At 49, I now need to figure out who I am. I need to create an identity other than mom, and frankly, it scares the hell out of me.


The last morning

Today, I will sit in the Civic Center and smile, laugh in all the right places, and take lots of pictures. I will hug her and send her on her way to start her great adventure. I will do all of this while trying desperately not to cry, not to wail and scream and hang on so tightly that she cannot get free. I need to put on a brave front so that she can go start her own life, find out who she is, without being burdened by my grief. So far, it is not going so well, but that is okay. For she is not here. I have an hour to get myself back together, and somehow I will do just that. Thank goodness I don’t wear makeup!


There are so many firsts ahead for both of us. Her first class on Monday. Her first excursion with her new roommates. Her first night in her dorm with all her roommates (there are four in her mini suite). I am so excited for her. And so sad and scared for myself. In 49 years, I have never been completely alone. As a card-carrying introvert, I am comfortable by myself, but there has always been the knowledge that I am not completely alone in my aloneness. That there has always been someone else with me, that she will be home from work/school/orchestra/whatever at some point in the near future. It has just been she and I for the past seven years, and we have formed a tight bond. We hang out more with each other than with anyone else. Both of us will have some adjusting to do.


So today, my old life as “Mom” and little else, will end at 7 pm when I leave her at college and start the long drive home. I will have a lot of time to think about what will come next for me. I need to find some interests, join some clubs, find some activities and create a social life. Apparently starting a new phase in one’s life has similar requirements.

I will give myself some time to grieve, to look in the rearview mirror and miss those days that are gone. But then I will turn my eyes forward and look to the future. Ten weeks isn’t terribly long. I can’t wait to see how college changes her, to have adult conversations with her, to sip tea and chat about her life, classes, and friends. Until then, I will work on my own changes, so that I have something to share with her.





The concept of standards-based grading makes so much sense to me. Grading based on mastery of standards would be a clear indication of what my students know and what they need to work on. As a special education teacher, showing progress on IEP goals and objectives is a huge part of my job. SBG would make it very easy to gather the data I need. That being said, I have no idea how to make this work in a district that uses a traditional grading system. How do I translate all this information into a final percent grade? Adam Lester, a high school English teacher at Batavia High School in Batavia, Illinois, wrote today’s guest post about his thoughts on SBG.

My name is Adam Lester, and I am in my 6th year teaching high school English, my 2nd year at Batavia High School in Batavia, Illinois. I teach Sophomore English and Sophomore Honors English. I also coach the sophomore football team at Batavia High School. I have previously taught Junior English, Junior Honors English, Senior English, and AP Language and Composition at Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville, Illinois. I am currently working on my Masters Degree in Educational Leadership. I’m a husband to my best friend, Sara, and a father to the cutest 7-month-old baby in the world, Lincoln.


“Mr. Lester, how many points is this worth?”

“Mr. Lester, is this for a grade?”

“Mr. Lester, what can I do for extra credit?”

“Mr. Lester, how will this affect my grade?”


If you are anything like I was, these questions are all too common. At the end of my first year of teaching, I was completely disenchanted with the way my school year ended. I felt as if I had no idea why students got the grades they did and what a grade in my class meant. For the most part, if students turned in all their work and weren’t late with major projects, they would get an A. It didn’t really matter how well they could analyze a character from The Great Gatsby or if they could write an essay about Death of a Salesman. I confused compliance for mastery. As long as students were “good students,” they did well in my class. At the end of the year, my department chair introduced me to the work of Alfie Kohn, Myron Dueck, Thomas Guskey, Lee Ann Jung, Rick Wormeli, and many others. My journey into Standards-Based Grading in the confines of a Traditional Grading setting had begun. Four years later, I’m still working on making grading more effective for my students and their learning.

So what does it look like in my classroom?

While I’m still in the process of transitioning to SBG principles and away from traditional grading, I do things very differently than I had in the past. Here are a few practices I use that break away from traditional grading:

  • Practice Work vs. Major Assignment: Practice work is solely for teacher and peer feedback. Major assignments are used to determine a student’s current level of mastery on a specific skill.

  • No penalty for late work: If a trend develops where a student is constantly late with work, I contact parents or schedule another intervention for executive functioning skills.

  • No averaging of grades: I look at the most recent evidence of student level of mastery as opposed to the average of their work over the course of the year. I tell students, “It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get it, just that you get it by the end of the year.”

  • No percentage based grading: Everything in our class is based on a 4 point scale instead of the standard 0-100 scale which weighs failure as 60% of outcomes and success as 40% of outcomes.

  • No grades for homework: All major assignments are done in class within one class period, or they are longer process pieces like essays or projects. In order to get the most accurate assessment of a student’s skills, I want to assess them on what they do after they have practiced the skill many times and have had an opportunity to incorporate teacher and peer feedback.

  • Redos/Retakes for all major assignments: If students want to go back and rework a major assignment because they believe they can do better, I allow it as many times as they want. Students have to come to me with a plan for their relearning, a schedule on when the relearning will be done, evidence of their relearning, and the revised work with a reflection on why it is better than their original attempt This places the responsibility of relearning squarely on the students and all I have to do is read the new work.

So does it actually work?

At the end of the year, I asked a few students how the grading system affected their learning and if they wished other teachers would adopt similar policies. Here are a few responses:

  • “The traditional grading system has held me back from truly learning any subject I have ever taken. In English 2 this year I wasn’t afraid to make a mistake while I was trying to understand an idea, my grade determined how much I had grown and what I learned from my mistakes” – AZ

  • “I liked this system because even if I messed up in the beginning on an assignment but I improved in the end, my grade reflected the improvement” – AL

  • “I really feel like the “do it if you want but if you don’t your loss” ideal is very nice and helps us make good decisions about our own learning and I like the grading system and the fact that we really didn’t need to stress about our grade. We just had to focus on learning.” – MB

What’s Next?

If you are thinking about making a shift towards more SBG practices in your classroom,  there are so many resources available to you. I’d recommend starting with Ken O’Connor’s A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grading, Rick Wormeli’s “Redos and Retakes Done Right,” and Thomas Guskey’s “The Case Against Percentage Grades.” All of their work challenges traditional practices that we use because it’s the norm, and gives practical changes to make right away. The best professional learning I get when it comes to grading is Wednesday nights during the school year at 8 pm CST on Twitter. The Twitter chat #SBLChat always gives me great ideas on how to grade effectively and improves my teaching. If you have comments or questions about anything, reach out to me in the comments below or on Twitter @CoachLesterBHS.

Summer school ended in New York last week, which means the August Regents Exams are being administered this week. I’m betting there are few things teachers dread more than proctoring state exams. I would prefer to do SPED testing,  write IEPs, and sit through both Pre-CSE and CSE meetings than proctor. At least that way I am doing something. And I have more than a fighting shot of doing it successfully. As a special education teacher, I proctor exams that are given in separate locations, away from the main body of students. Some of these assignments require me to read the exam to the students. I’m pretty sure those frustrate me the most. Reading an algebra exam to a group of eight or so students is an exercise in futility. No one works at the same speed, so how in the heck do I read this exam? I try to shoot for the middle of the pack, but then I have the handful that is way ahead of me, that I know didn’t understand the question and the group that got stuck a couple of pages back so are no longer listening to me. I’ve tried reading the first question and then having students raise their hands when they are ready for the next one. Guess what. No one raises their hands. I’ve tried walking around the room, asking, no begging, to read questions to my students. No one wants me to. I’ve even started the session by taking a poll to see how they would like me to read to them. In ten years of administering high school math exams, I have not found a strategy that works. Since my district went 1:1 last fall, I wonder why we don’t use technology?

Last year I was introduced to VoiceThread. VoiceThread is a cloud-based application that lets you upload and comment on lots of different things like slideshows, documents, audio and video, and images. My grad classes use it a lot to share introduction presentations or to collaborate and present group assignments. It allows me to narrate anything, and I can leave comments on other peoples’ work, in written, video or audio format. This is important to me because my students all have Chromebooks. While PowerPoint will let me narrate slides, it doesn’t work on a Chromebook. Google Slides does not include that feature. Do you see where I am going here?


This year I will be creating tests using VoiceThread, narrating them and administering them on the Chromebooks. Each student will have a set of headphones, and a written copy of the test. They will now be able to click through the test slide by slide and have each question read to them, as many times as they want; as fast, or as slow, as they want. I created a tutorial if you are curious.


My only concern is preventing students from using Google to find answers. Luckily my district subscribes to GoGuardian, a service that allows teachers to monitor what websites students are using during class. After creating a class and having students join it, whenever I start a session, all of my students’ screens show up on my computer. That makes it super easy for me to see who is watching dog videos on YouTube and who is using to find answers! They know I can see them too. While there are always those students who try to push the envelope, it usually only happens once or twice before they realize I am serious.


My hope is that the state will catch up with us at some point, and start providing these exams in a narrated form. That idea has the potential to eliminate some frustration for both the student and the teacher, and level the playing field for these students. And isn’t that what we are trying to do?

A Day in the Life….

Posted: August 16, 2016 in Uncategorized

I wrote this post on January 12, 2016 for the MTBoS 2016 Blogging Initiative but never managed to post it. If you stick around long enough to read it, you’ll understand exactly why I never got off the ground the first time. The fundraiser that was ending the week I wrote this, kicks off in the next couple weeks. I’m ready to get started but exhausted just thinking about it. Wish me luck!

So Tuesday I wrote down every single thing I did from the time I woke up until I crawled into bed.  It has been a crazy week, as the fundraiser that I spearhead donations for ends tonight in a Post-Holiday event.  We have been frantically calling donors, picking up donations and making baskets.  It is also IEP Season (as we call it!) and both my grad classes started on Monday.  So for better or for worse, here is my first contribution to the #MTBoS 2016 Blogging Initiative.  Be forewarned.  It is long….


5:45 – Wake up 45 minutes before my alarm, par for the course. I am already thinking about today and what I need to accomplish.  Check my emails and glance through Facebook.  Get up and start laundry, straighten up kitchen, empty dishwasher.  Load dishwasher.  Why are teenagers so averse to cleaning the dishes they create?  I guess I should be happy they are at least in the sink….

6:30 – Wake my daughter Jay up. She’s a senior in high school but definitely not a morning person.  Jump in the shower.  Go downstairs and make pancakes.  We eat them together.

7:00 – Kiss her goodbye. Go upstairs to dry my hair. Come back down and let the dog out. Complete Introduction Video for EdTech 503. (Agonizing. How can I mess this up so many times?  Take 37…..)  Make coffee (also known as lunch) and head out the door.


7:50 – Leave for school.

8:00 – Stop in office to write an announcement reminding students that the GSA will be meeting in my room after school. Check mailbox. Get settled at my desk, check emails, go through lessons planned for today. Head to the copier. Run back to classroom to grab paper I want to copy.  Sigh. Upload assignments to Google Classroom for all classes. Touch base with my co-teachers. Work on a math assignment that is due this afternoon with a student.

8:26 – Homeroom. Pledge. Attendance.

8:35 – First period – Math A2 (second year of two year algebra course for self-contained sped students). We are reviewing factoring methods from GCF, to DOTS to grouping trinomials. Put task cards on tables for students to rotate through. Put my iPhone out so they can use it to check the QR codes for the answers. Watching their excitement when they get them right makes my day!

9:18 – Second period – Math A1 (first year of above class). We are wrapping up literal equations. About half of them are demonstrating mastery; the other half range from lost to slowly getting it. Mastery kids are working on their own to solve multi-step equations. The rest are working through easier problems with my help. Remind them their weekend assignment is due after school by 3:30.

10:01 – Third period – Math A1 (same as second period but I push in as the collaborative teacher; these students are way ahead of my self-contained class). We are working on function machines. Complete a function slider for our INB’s that I borrowed from Kathryn Freed of Restructuring Algebra. Work with an online Function Machine that my co-teacher uploaded to our Classroom.  So cool!


10:45 – Planning periods back to back. Spend 4th period making follow-up phone calls for the event on Friday. Success! I was able to get several new donations.  Call three parents to confirm they are coming to Thursday’s meeting to discuss IEP plans for their child. Mixed bag. One yes, one no and one no answer. I leave a message and hope for a return call. Google ideas for today’s GSA meeting. Next week is No-Name Calling Week. I find several activities on GLSEN’s website. They have also mailed me posters and stickers.

11:29 – Meet with student during her lunch period to complete the weekend assignment that is due after school today. Spend most of the next 40 minutes helping her through it. Watching her reach for her INB for help was awesome! My students are finally starting to reach for their notebooks before asking me for help. This is huge. Drink half of my lukewarm coffee.

12:13 – Sixth period – second self-contained A1 class of the day. Similar mix and setup to period two. This is a tough bunch of kids. Many are repeats from last year. One has yet to pick up a pencil and do anything this year (same for last year and same in every other class too). One’s mother died last June and he rarely comes to school any more. So many sad stories in this room. They all need so much, and there are not enough hours in the day. The state exam looms large but really, in the face of what my students deal with everyday, how relevant is this to their lives? The education system in NY is not designed to help my students.  Most of them would benefit from our BOCES system but they must pass two years of Regents classes to get there. Wouldn’t it be better to teach them things that are relevant and will give them the ability to support themselves in the future?  Common Core has made it even worse. Every training I have attended I ask about the level of difficulty as it relates to students with disabilities. Every single person has told me that special education was not taken into account, neither when the standards were written nor when NY wrote the modules to go with them. Every. Single. Person. And I see the effects every day.

12:57 – 7th period – Collaborative Math A2.  I push into another math teacher’s A2 class. We are also working on factoring trinomials completely.  This class is only working on a=1 so they are behind my self-contained class.  I taught both a=1 and a>1 together by using grouping. This class has not learned grouping yet. They are using the method of finding what multiplies to c and adds or subtracts to b. I have tried this method in the past with my students and they were not able to remember what to do.  The grouping appears to make more sense to them.

1:40 – Math Lab.  Math teachers in my school do not have a study hall. We each have a math lab for students to go to for extra help. I have three students show up, each wanting to work on the weekend assignment that is due today. We spend the period working through problems together.


2:23 – Planning period. Finish my now cold coffee. Two more students come in to finish their weekend assignments.  Send several follow-up emails to potential donors. Text with my oldest daughter Heather, who is helping gather donations. We have been communicating all day via text, as well as updating and commenting on our shared Google Sheet, adding pick-ups, crossing out people we have contacted, and highlighting important information. Being able to see and share the worksheets at the same time makes this so much more effective. Thank you Google!!

3:03 – Classes are over.  Time for after school help. Three students show up to finish their assignment that is due at 3:30. Several more drop theirs on my desk without staying to go over it and fix what is wrong. Several didn’t bother to do it at all. Many of my students used to be in classes that taught them about clocks, money and calendars. NY decided that every student should be given Regents level instruction and every student is now required to sit all 5 state Regents exams.  I am doing everything I can to help these students but the knowledge and ability levels are just not there. At what point will they realize the damage they are doing to these children? Why am I teaching algebra to students who in the past would have received an IEP diploma and spent their high school careers learning life skills material and working on job skills?  This is so wrong.

3:30 – The school day is officially over. The Gay Straight Alliance meeting starts. Why is there only one student here?  I look out the window and realize it is snowing. Hard. And my district is a walking district. Well. That explains the one student. She and I talk about the activities I had planned. We want to challenge everyone to do random acts of kindness next week and write what they did on pieces of paper.  We will use
those pieces to create a chain to hang in the hall. My student is also a member of Rachel’s Challenge so agrees to speak to that club on Friday about joining us. She leaves early and I send out a Remind message about our plans. I also add them to our Classroom page.


3:50 – Grade all the weekend assignments. Enter grades in Eschool grade book. Run current grade reports, publish them to the portals and print them to hand out tomorrow. Run down the hall and grab them from the printer. Come back and highlight missing assignments and their current grades. Each student receives their report every Wednesday. Parents are required to sign it and students submit it on Thursday for a homework grade. I try to write messages on them but there is no time this week.

4:05 – Look out window at snow. Realize my scraper is in my garage. Crap. Start my car from my classroom and hope that helps. The used Civic I bought has a remote starter but I rarely remember to use it.

4:10 – Update date and lunch menu on whiteboard for tomorrow. Look out at the snow again. See my co-teacher brushing snow off my car. Talk about a random act of kindness! Thank you thank you thank you! Make mental note to say that out loud to her tomorrow.

4:20 – Head out to what is hopefully a warm car. Stop in friend’s office to check on donations. She is the one who will take what I gather and make them into pretty baskets. She is as frazzled as I am. Probably more so. She is in charge of the fund we are raising money for and is also the school social worker. She is dealing with multiple crisis situations and is starting to panic at the the idea that all this stuff must be arranged by Friday. We brainstorm some likely people that would be willing to help and start reaching out.


4:45 – Head out again. My car is no longer running but at least most of the snow has been scraped off. Very grateful to my co-teacher. Go to seven different businesses all over town to pick up donations for our event on Friday.  The last pick up is at the Civic Center for our local hockey team. The office is locked and dark.  I am texting my daughter who sent me here. After ten minutes of wandering and increasingly frantic texts, I finally find the correct office. The man in the office has no idea who I am or what I am talking about. This is fairly normal. More texts to Heather. He calls someone and between the four of us, we get it figured out. They donated tickets to a hockey game and 2 signed pucks. I am so humbled by the amount of support I have found in my community and people’s willingness to donate to our cause. All of the money raised is used to purchase items for students that cannot afford to purchase them on their own.  So proud of my school.

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6:00 – I am tutoring a student who is homebound for 2 hours each day, if he is able. He is never very happy to see me. He completes the final exam for his Careers in Health class. He wants to be done but I talk him into completing the capacity packet for Applied Math and then taking a quiz on the Algebra packet we finished last night. They don’t take long and we call it quits at 7:30.

7:40 – Stop for gas.

7:50 – Home. I realize I am starving. Thank goodness that coffee was bulletproof! Find a roasted chicken in my fridge and eat some dipped in mayo.


8:00 – Grab my laptop and curl up in my chair to check in on my grad classes. Watch some Introduction Videos and make comments on them. I meet a few other math teachers, but no other sped teachers so far. We seem to be a rare breed.

8:30 – Jay comes home from Chamber Orchestra. She ate earlier with friends so isn’t hungry. She curls up with me and we talk about the day. She shows me several things on social media that made her laugh. This is the best part of my day. I will miss these times next year when she goes off to college. I am not ready.

9:15 – Run through my spreadsheet for the fundraiser one last time. Call a couple restaurants and follow up now that the dinner rush is over. Add some more pickups to our list for tomorrow.

9:45 – Head to bed. Fall asleep reading my Kindle. I have learned to prop it on a pillow so it doesn’t hit me in the face when I fall asleep. Been there. Done that.

So there you have it. One small day out of my crazy, hectic life. It will get better after the fundraiser is over on Friday. (I keep telling myself this so maybe it will happen!) No more begging for donations, just writing thank you notes and fulfilling student and family needs and wishes. This is the best part!

I am always looking for ways to open lines of communication between my classroom and my students’ parents. I use Remind, Twitter, Google Forms and a Google site through my district. I also make random phone calls every week and mail home information for those who don’t have Internet connections.

Every August I send home “Welcome to My Classroom” letters to both parents and students. In this letter I include my schedule, social media sites and all my contact information. Last year I started thinking about my own experience as a parent of a senior in high school. While I keep everything, it all tends to end up in a huge pile that I have to dig through to find anything. Or is what I am looking for even in the pile? Maybe those important numbers were in an email. Hmmm…. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to hunt down those things. Maybe if I could find a spot and keep those contact numbers there, kind of like our local pizza place. The number is on the fridge. How is it on the fridge? Why on a magnet of course! Go look at your fridge. I’m betting I’m not the only one who uses mine like my own physical Pinterest board. I’m right, aren’t I?


With this in mind, last year I headed over to Vistaprint and created my own business card magnets. The hardest part for me was choosing a design. So.many.choices! I settled on this one, filled in the blanks and bought 100 of them for about $22, which included tax and shipping. Turned out pretty cool, right?

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If you are planning to make your own, make sure you search for a coupon code. You can also create these magnets online at Staples and pick them up in store. It’s a nice, inexpensive way to make sure parents know how to reach you.

Today marks the end of my summer classes. Other than proctoring Regents exams next week, I am free until August 22 when the fall semester begins. My high school starts back on August 31 with two days of PD. This will be the first break from school that I have had since last Christmas. I know, it doesn’t seem like much downtime, but I’ll take it.

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This blogging class has been my favorite class so far. It forced me to do something that I had talked about doing for over a year. Even better, developing a presence on Twitter was also part of the curriculum, something else that I wanted to learn how to do. I loved being part of a blogging group, reading each other’s posts and commenting, sharing our experiences and thoughts. I met some really great people, some of whom I really connected with and hope to continue that friendship moving forward (shout out to my blogging buddy Joanna!). I particularly enjoyed those posts that brought me back to my childhood. Thanks, Julie! I’m heading upstairs this afternoon to dig out those books and revisit Silky and Moonface! I might even make myself a full Irish for breakfast tomorrow. So many wonderful memories! And I found so many great ideas.

On that note, I joined the Math Twitter Blogosphere (MTBoS) for their August Blogging Challenge. My goal was to post something every single day in August. I hadn’t missed a day until yesterday. In my defense, I had numerous assignments all due by today for my classes, and while I have spent the week slowly hammering them out, I spent all day yesterday working on my final paper for Edtech 504. I crawled into bed at 12:30 and realized I forgot to post anything. Not only that but the day was already over. So my new goal is to post something for the remaining days in August. I’m pretty proud of myself so far, even if I did have to revisit my initial goal. It’s all about not giving up. As my blogging professor has mentioned numerous times, “You get out of it what you put into it.”


Now I’m off to catch up on the Blaugust posts I haven’t had time to read!


What’s Your Theme?

Posted: August 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

I read a couple of blog posts earlier today about themes teachers are using to decorate their classrooms for the new school year. This got me to thinking. As a high school teacher, I don’t use themes in my room. I have lots of math posters and language all over the walls, but no real theme. Don’t get me wrong. I love to look at all the ideas on Pinterest as much as anyone, but I have never even been tempted to coordinate my entire room with something, say like owls. So now I am wondering. Is it me? Are there high school teachers out there that use themes in their classrooms? Or is this primarily an elementary school thing? Do you use themes?

Trigonometry is one of my favorite units to teach. It is super visual which is a huge plus for my students. All the problems in this unit are easily tied to real life. And when I say real life, I mean the type of real life that all of my kids can relate to and understand. My students excel at this unit. So of course when NY went common core, trigonometry was taken out of the Algebra 1 curriculum. Losing an entire unit that that gave us a solid chance of success was a devastating blow. To make it even worse, my favorite foldable is in this unit. Double whammy!

To make myself feel a little better for not getting to make it last year, I thought I would share it with you. I was hoping that maybe time had dimmed my fondness for this particular manipulative, but you know what? It hasn’t. This is still the coolest foldable I have ever found.

My students have trouble remembering the definitions of opposite and adjacent as they apply to right triangles. For some reason, labeling the triangle is the most difficult aspect of this unit for them. If they can get the sides labeled correctly according to the placement of the angle, odds are they will successfully solve the problem. Enter Mrs. Atwood. I found this foldable on her blog, Mrs. Atwood’s Math Class. While she doesn’t say a lot about it, (and really, she doesn’t need to, it speaks for itself!) she does include a template so non-creative people like me can make something wonderful! Check it out!





So cool, right?! If you want to make your own, (and I’m pretty sure you will!), you’ll need the template, an old transparency sheet that most schools have just gathering dust somewhere, some tape and thin permanent markers. Find her template here (each template makes two of these).

Print the template and cut out the squares on the dotted lines. Cut small squares of transparency to fit over the inside of each square. If you look carefully at the second picture, you can see how I taped the transparency to the inside of each square. Fold one side in on the dotted line. Use the permanent marker to label the angle and then label the sides with respect to that angle. Now fold in the other side, label the other angle and then label those corresponding sides. Voila! Your own super cool trig foldable. Let me know if you love it as much as I do!

I keep looking at it and trying to come up with something else besides trig that I could use it for, but I’m drawing a blank. Do you have any ideas? Please share them if you’ve got them. I would love an excuse to put this back in our notebooks!



After I blogged about using technology for formative assessment, I received a tweet asking me to post more about Quizizz and how to use it for homework. This post is for you @druinok. Happy to help!

Quizizz is a formative assessment tool most often compared to Kahoot. While the two platforms are very similar, Quizizz has some distinct advantages. I can remove the competition element by turning of the timer and the leaderboard. Allowing students to work at their own pace takes the focus off the solution and places it on the process. I can also choose to assign a Quizizz for homework. I assign a set of Regents practice problems every week called our Weekly Assignment. So creative, I know!! Occasionally I like to change it up and assign a Quizizz instead. Interested? Here’s how!

First things first. Go to and create your free account. You will notice on the home page you can join a game in progress. This is where your students will go to enter the game code.

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Once you have an account and sign in, you will see this page. Here you can choose to search for an already created quiz or create one of your own. I always look to see if someone has created something that I can either use as-is or modify to better suit my students.

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I found a quiz with recent Regents exam questions already created. Once I click on it, I am presented with more options. I can play it live, as is. I can assign it for homework. Or I can modify it. If you are planning to go live, scroll down and check the questions and answers for correctness. Don’t assume anything!

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I decided to duplicate the quiz to remove some of the questions that we haven’t learned yet. I can rename it, adjust or remove any question, increase the time up to 15 minutes per question, and add my own image to the start page.

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Once I click Finish, it takes me to the start page and puts my new quiz in the My Quizizz section. Notice the Print button in the lower right-hand corner? I can print this quiz and hand it out if my students either don’t have access at home or prefer having the paper in hand. Brilliant!

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From here I can decide to play it live. Clicking on the button gives me lots of options. This is where I can remove the timer and the leaderboard. Definitely leave the memes on, the kids love them!

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But what if I want to assign my quizizz for homework? Easy peasy! Clicking on the Homework button opens a similar screen to playing the game live. The difference lies in the date boxes at the top of the screen. By setting the date and time that you want the quiz to close, students will be able to work on the quiz outside of class. The quiz will remain open until the time you told it to close. Everything else can be set just like a live game. I can remove the timer, remove the leaderboard, shuffle the questions and choose to either show the answers after the question is answered or not. (I always turn that option off. I don’t want the answers out there for students to share!)

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Clicking Proceed starts the game and takes you to the start page with the Game Code and the link for students.

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If your school uses Google Classroom, there is a button to push the game out to your Classroom site. Then students can go their Classroom page and enter the game with minimal fuss.

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Back on the home page on Quizizz, you can track student process in the My Reports section.

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Old reports are found under the Completed tab. Below is an example.

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Clicking on the green plus sign shows you how each student answered the question. Reports can be both downloaded and printed.

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So there you have it. A step-by-step guide to using Quizizz for homework. What a great tool!