Top Ten Review


Over the course of the school year, I have been creating dividers for my interactive notebooks for my students. I adopted the divider that Sarah at Math=Love used in her classroom.

At the beginning of the year, I would give my students 10-12 minutes to write their own Top Ten. We would then spend sometime reviewing these items as a class and trying to come up with our own top ten list. This mostly did not work with 7th and 8th graders because they are not able to pull out major topics and summarize it into short phrases. This still needs to be modeled for them.

img_0749On our third unit, I started helping them pull out the main ideas and write their top ten with them. I would write it on the board and they would write it on the divider. I liked this way better that what I had been doing. Here are a couple of things that improved when I changed my practice:

  • Instead of spending over 20 minutes on these t0p ten lists, I now spend about 13 minutes.
  • Often when I had the students write their own lists, never fail I would end up spending time on something that wasn’t essential to the units topic. (I don’t mind working to understand incorrect thinking, but sometimes it would lead to extra conversations that were not essential to the unit we were working on.)
  • My students struggled with completing unit projects because they did not have a specific list that had approved topics on it to work off of.

img_0747Now yesterday, we were completing our “Top Ten” in 7th grade math getting ready for our test on the “Ratios and Proportional Thinking” Unit. I was bored with life and looking for a way to engage a few more students. Let’s also be honest, my students were bored. I had written out my Top Ten list and knew what I wanted to be on the list when we finished. Instead of copying it over for the students, I ended up turning it into a little game show type of activity. (This just means I asked them questions and told them to “Come on down and get their prize.”) I gave students gold-tickets for correctly answering the questions and even when a student got something wrong, I wrote them a ticket and thanked them for reminding us that we are all learning.

As much as I hate bribing students to do math work, this time it worked to my advantage. I had a lot more students engaged in answering the questions as I posed them. They were so excited when they knew the answer. Today when we took the assessment and a student had a question, I was able to tell them exactly who answered gave us that piece of information during our “Top Ten” review and many of them remembered.

My coworker was in the room at the same time and she mentioned how much she loved that we did a “Top Ten”. She commented about how it made it easy for students to remember what would be on the assessment and review the essential information.

I will definitely keep this practice around. I will even throw in the attempt to make it a bit more engaging using the Quiz Show type of review!!



It’s Friday night, I just took a hot shower and I’m sitting on my couch watching some old episodes of ER eating some frozen potstickers for dinner (I didn’t feel like cooking!). I keep a bullet journal of things that I would like to/need to get done over the course of the day. Today, there was nothing crossed off. I had a list of things to do and despite the fact that I am sitting her exhausted, I accomplished nothing?!

I started making a list of all the things that I did do. Here it is…

  • Create Trivia quiz for staff to complete during lunch.
  • Double check the answer key for my 8th grade test. (Sometimes teachers make mistakes too!)
  • Grade 8th grade homework that needed to be returned today. – There was a lot and it had been backed up for two weeks.
  • Review expectations during testing with 8th grade students.
  • Collect all homework from this week from 8th graders.
  • Troubleshoot student login issues for the online testing system.
  • Supervise students in the hallway during passing time and in the middle of class (when they were causing enough of a distraction to interrupt my class).
  • Assure 8th graders that weren’t done with their test that we would finish testing on Monday.
  • Finish writing 7th grade assessment for the afternoon.
  • Boost team moral through a mid-day run to Caribou Coffee. – Including my own personal sanity.
  • Quickly grade 1/2 of the 7th grade homework that needed to be returned.
  • Review expectations for 7th grade assessment.
  • Discuss how to input answers for the online test (Because adding an extra comma or being off by even one digit will result in the question being marked wrong until I can review their answers.)
  • Graded the 2nd half of 7th grade homework to be returned.
  • Avoided a complete class melt down when the rounding during the math problems caused questions to be marked wrong on the assessment.
  • Managed 5th hour classroom behavior that was involved an insane amount of talking during assessments.
  • Checked staff trivia question results.
  • Input all of this week’s lesson plans into the online system
  • Emptied my turn in bins of everything that had been piling up there for a couple of weeks. – This was huge!! I had things waiting for my portfolio that had been there since before Winter Break.
  • Put all my master copies into my master copy binder.

And to think I was sitting here thinking I didn’t accomplish anything today!

I hope your days felt more accomplished than mine did. As always, Live Long & Learn!

Homework Collection Evolution


I’m going to let you in on a little secret… Teachers HATE grading homework!! This post discusses the ways in which I have modified my homework collection practices (and a few teaching/grading practices).

My First Year Teaching

My cooperating teacher during my student teacher told me to make sure that I had a bin where students turned in their homework. This would eliminate students handing me homework or leaving it randomly on my desk.

938939When I started teaching, I got one of those clear shoeboxes from target that I put on the corner of my desk and students would put their work in after we had corrected it. This little bin was pretty much the worst decision of my first year of teaching. I was stuck on the idea of correcting every single homework problem. I taught about 90 students that first year and each of them had about 15 homework problems a night an average of four nights a week. A little simple math tells me that I would correct approximately 6,000 problems every week. I HATED EVERY SECOND OF IT!!

Yes, homework had a specific place to go and I didn’t have as many piles on my desk as I otherwise would. However, 6,000 problems every week (because when I read the answers out in class, students would just copy them) was INSANE! I also ended up with students papers mixed up all together. That meant that I would go from grading 6th grade work to 8th grade then a random late assignment from a 7th grader followed by a batch of papers from 6th grade. It was all over the place. In order to be semi-efficient, I had to sort all the papers first and then grade them. Then I had to deal with the nightmare of passing them back.

lg1_16628006Part way through the school year, I managed to scrape together enough funds on my teacher salary to get some nicer bins (because I had gone through 3 of the shoeboxes because students kept pushing it off my desk accidentally and it always managed to overflow before I could get through the work).
These bins were awesome… one piece of paper fit exactly inside of the bin. I bought one bin for all 4 of my class periods, one for blank paper for students to show their work on, and one for graph paper. That means at any given time, there were 6 bins to put out for collecting papers. I made labels for each bin and taped them on the end to help students make sure that their papers were in the right bin. This at least tamed some of the chaos, but it was not the final answer. I still felt the need to correct every question and then give a score based on accuracy.

We were required to send home progress reports every week and never fail, there was something missing on my reports because I decided that sleep was more important than getting through the massive stack of grading that I had left. I discovered that if I had my assignments in the grade book, the tests and quizzes did not impact students grades at all. If a student turned in all of their work, they were pretty much guaranteed an A in the course. (Even if they failed every single test they took.)

Years 2-4

I kept my separate bins for each class period I taught. Now I taught not only math but some variation of everything else. At some point during these two years, I taught pretty much every subject. (Even high school French for a short period!) Students still turned their work into the appropriate bin and then I would grade them. I gave up on grading every single question and instead graded for completeness and spot checked accuracy. Each assignment was now worth 10 points and pretty much everyone got a score between 5 and 10 if they turned the work in. However again because I didn’t have weighting figured out, students that turned in their work would still have higher grades regardless of how well they did on the tests and quizzes. I hated this because I was not assessing students and their content knowledge. Instead of spending time following up on student understanding, I was chasing them around asking them to turn in homework so that they could receive a passing grade. My administrator would sometimes insist that I change the students grades regardless of the amount of work that they completed.

Years 5-6

The bins that I had were getting pretty beat up and finding space for them in the classroom was a bit annoying. Enter the IKEA trofast unit! I found this on pinterest and I fell in love! Work was still a jumbled mess and it was a challenge to sort out each assignment prior to grading.


I only had the shallow bins and they were green!

Each drawer was labeled with one of my classes. Eventually I purchased a second one and then there was a bin for scratch paper and graph paper and whiteboards and anything else that I wanted! Work was still a jumbled mess and meant I had to sort out each bin prior to grading. I ended up handling every piece of paper a minimum of 2 times. My goal in homework was to handle it the fewest times possible.

In terms of grading at this point, I made every homework assignment worth 5 points and I would have students grade 5 problems from different sections of the homework and then give themselves a score out of 5. This score was recorded in the grade book. This at least allowed me to gain a better understanding of the students abilities and helped to keep tests an important part of the grade conversation. I did run into problems when it came to assignments that had 20 questions on them and were only worth 5 points. Then there were assignments that had 5 questions and were worth 5 points. When asked by a concerned parent about this, I explained that the assignments with 20 questions were ‘easier’ and lower on the depth of knowledge scale than those with only 5 questions which were labeled as “critical thinking.” For the most part this system worked even though I struggled with the fact that students were merely ‘playing school’ instead of truly understanding the content. It was about whether or not they turned in the work and performed on the assessments. Students weren’t concerned about ensuring that they understood the content from math class.

Year 7-9.5

I changed schools at the beginning of year 7. My new school was a standards based school and homework was not supposed to be a factor in students grade. I was still expected to track it and report it to parents, but it was either completed or not. I attempted to check-in homework at the beginning of class. This was not successful for me because I was attempting to learn a new curriculum as well as improve/change my teaching style to include guided groups as well as the many initiatives that my new school had. I would mostly end up asking students to turn the homework into the bin and then at some point during the week I would check items in. Returning work was still a major pain and typically things were filed in the blue bin labeled recycling in my classroom. Because homework factored less into my grading, I gained a better understanding of my students knowledge through the guided groups and weekly assessments that I used. I still tended to let my bins pile up and the students weren’t truly feeling that they were accountable for the homework because it wasn’t regularly checked. Enter my newest (and frankly my favorite system!)

Year 9.5-Present

IMG_0725.JPGI invested in some poly folders from Staples. I bought one for each table in my classroom in four different colors (because I teach four different periods). I was even obsessive enough to get two different shades of blue for 8th grade since their book is blue and two shades of red for 7th grade since their book is (you guessed it) red. I labeled each folder with the class period and table ‘superhero’ and placed them in the trofast bins that I still love! Every week on Friday, students take out all their homework for the week. We spend a couple minutes talking about what each assignment was and listing it on the board (mostly to make sure that students know exactly what they need to turn in). Students then sort the assignments out at their table so that all of the similar pages are stacked together. We then place all of the work inside the folder. One pocket reads ‘turn in’ and the other says ‘pass back’. Students put the new homework into the turn in side and remove the papers from the pass back side. This is holding them more accountable for their work because even though I am not collecting it every day, I am collecting it regularly. Students are also seeing that I grade it regularly and I don’t fall as far behind on checking homework in. (Entering into the grade book is a different story… but there is always next year!) I think the thing I love the most is that I am using the half-sheets of paper that Fawn Nguyen talks about in this post to track the homework. (I love these lists and will never teach without them again!)

While I know that many places are moving away from assigning homework, I do believe that students should still have something to do at home. I want to put problems in front of my students similar to what they will see on the MCAs (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment) when they take them in April. I want my students to be comfortable attempting problems even if they get them wrong. I want my students to struggle with understanding something and work on referencing back to the examples that are in the book or that are in their interactive notebooks. I want my students to work to make sense of the topics we review in class. Sometimes, my homework will be “explain your thinking on this problem we completed in class.” The most recent one that I was most excited for was “Create your own problem similar to these examples.” Homework has evolved from e assigning only the problems that were in the textbook to me asking students to create their own thinking about the problems.

While none of these systems are perfect, they were what brought me to my current state. While I am currently satisfied with the way that I am managing the paperwork in my classroom, I am sure that at some point my style will change again. That’s part of the beauty of teaching. I get to be flexible and evolve.

If you’ve made it to the end of this insanely long post, leave me a comment below! How do you collect homework? How have things changed since you started teaching? 

As always Live Long & Learn!


First Day of School #Teach180



Today was the first day of school. I was no where near ready for what I wanted my classroom to look like. I spent most of the two workshop weeks trying to get schedules and other random back to school items figured out. I tend to lend my assistance outside of my room and leave it for the end of the week. Regardless of whether or not I was ready, the students came!

It was great to see the 8th grade students again and hear about the fantastic time they had during the summer break. One thing that I am very excited about this year is that I get to have an all 8th grade homeroom. I really hope that I can use this as an opportunity to build the 8th grade community and develop some leadership skills within the young men and women I spend my days.

I believe that many classrooms begin the year by writing a social contract or a series of rules for the students to follow.


Allowing the students to write the classroom expectations is a powerful activity that provides them with ownership over the learning environment. However, when done poorly this strategy provides little to no buy-in from the students.

I’ve completed this activity in a variety of methods over the years that I have been teaching. I remember the first year being a big flop and subsequent years having it slowly improve. I was pleased with how this particular activity progressed this year.

  1. I gave each table a stack of quarter sheets of paper. Students responded to the prompt “What gets in the way of learning in the classroom?” on each paper. They wrote one thing on a sheet of paper then took another piece of paper and wrote another thing on that paper. They kept writing for about 8 minutes.
  2. I had students turn in these concerns and mixed them up. I then passed the concerns back out to tables. They read the set of concerns they received and attempted to write a rule/expectation to address the concern.
  3. They were asked to group concerns that matched up with each other.
  4. Once they had written rules to cover all of their concerns, tables shared with each other and combined their rules together from 8-10 rules back down to 4-5 rules.
  5. Students then shared their rules back out with the class. We recorded all of the rules on the board and combined them to create 4-5 expectations for our classroom.
  6. Students then nominated their peers to participate in a summit where all the homerooms will gather together to share their expectations and create a final set of expectations for the entire middle school.

At the end of this process, we have a social contract that students and teachers are expected to follow. We create posters with these expectations and students sign off on the social contract agreeing to follow the expectations. We hang these in our classrooms and they stay there for the entire year. We also write these on the top of our Take A Break forms that students fill out when they have to use the buddy room.

Numbers About Me


In preparing for school to start, I am planning to have my students complete the Numbers About Me activity that I’ve seen floating around the internet. I think I first found it at Everybody is a Genius and then I saw something similar on Math = Love. I once did a very watered down version of the activity that was essentially a template/worksheet. That version was not as successful as I had hoped. I ended up with generic answers to questions and random drawings (mostly multicolored scribbles).

It’s a new year so a new opportunity for me to try something new. I made a presentation about numbers about Ms. Schley. I used it as a quiz of sorts. We then practiced names while students guessed the answers. I would tell them higher or lower and other students would guess. Once we had guessed the correct number, I used it as an opportunity to tell them a little bit about myself. Even the 8th graders that I had last year enjoyed guessing and remained engaged in the activity.


Once we had talked about the numbers about me, I gave the students the assignment of creating numbers about them. They will then use these numbers to decorate the outside of their interactive notebooks. This activity will probably take place at the end of the week so look for an update then.


Desmos Card Sorts


While at Twitter Math Camp this summer, I learned that Desmos launched a new card sort feature on the site. I love Desmos! If you have ever heard Sara Vanderwerf talk about Desmos, you will also love Desmos! Check out her blog at I took this card sort activity idea back to my school and my mentor thought that it would be awesome for all of the teachers to see and experience. I thought that I would write a blog post to show them how to create their own card sorts.

First, go to the site. We need to make sure that you have a Desmos account. Choose Create an account from the upper right corner.

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You will then either need to create an account or log in with your google account. If you do not use google, choose a user name and password and enter your email address.Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 10.56.07 PM

Once you are in, you will need to make sure that your account has access to the card sort activities. In the upper right corner, click on your name and choose Desmos Labs.

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Once in, check the box to enable card sorts. (While you’re here you can also choose to enable marble slides, more on that another time!)

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Now it’s time to start making our first card sort. On the left side of the screen under ‘Your Activities’ you want to choose custom.

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Then in the upper right corner choose New Activity.

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Start by adding a title and click “Start Building.”

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You will end up at a screen like this one.

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From here choose Labs and then choose Card Sort.

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You are now ready to create your card sort. To help expedite this posting, I have created a video of me actually creating my card sort so that you can follow along.

After you create each of your cards, you will need to make sure that you add an answer key for each card sort you create. You can see the “Add an answer key” button in blue. Once you create it, you click the done button in the upper right corner.

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Once you have created your card sorts, you will need to create a class code. Students will go to to log into the card sort and sign in to participate. (There is an option to have students skip log-in and just enter their name.) Students will need a class code. It looks like this:

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Once students are in, it’s pretty simple to follow along. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or get it touch with the people at Desmos. They are awesome at answering questions!!



Following Twitter Math Camp, I have been spending a significant amount of time reflecting on what I was going to bring back into my classroom for the coming school year. I have a lot of things that I am excited to use and narrowing it down to one thing is impossible. Therefore, I have decided that I am going to choose my top 5 things that I plan to implement.

Warm-Ups – Following Jessica Bogie’s (@algebrainiac1’s) model. I had seen Jessica’s post on her blog before TMC16 and had marked it as something that I wanted to explore. Hearing her presentation about her method for creating warm-ups and her success for warm-ups convinced me that it was something that I could make work for the upcoming school year. While I appreciate the ready made page for the week, I’m also wondering about the flexibility of using different things on different days. Would there be weeks that I want to change the order or use the same type of problem a couple of times in one week? Would it be better to have standard pages for thinks like Visual Patterns, WODB, or Estimation 180 that I put out as needed?

Nominations – Kathryn Belmonte (@iisanumber) gave a “My Favorite” presentation about using nominations in the classroom. She explained that after a series of lessons that are related or at the end of a unit, she asks the students to complete a review assignment. She has given them a list of choices and the students complete one of these choices and bring it into class on the due date. Then students open their notebooks to the assignment and complete a gallery walk. Students are given two post-it notes and are asked to give two compliments to their classmates as they walk around. Once students are back in their seats, the teacher asks for nominations. Students can nominate other students and students may decline the nomination. The nominated student shows their work on the document camera. It sounds like a great way to get students to think about and summarize their understandings.

The Mathematicians Project – I didn’t go to, but I heard about the Mathematicians Project that Annie Perkins (@Anniekperkins) presented. I had heard about this project before and I thought it was a fantastic idea. My school is predominately minority students. (Check out my nifty graph!)

From Minnesota School Report Card (as of July 25, 2016)

 We did a project a couple years ago where they researched a mathematician but most of those were “old-dead-white-dudes.” I think that spending some time talking about the mathematicians in this format would make allow my students to connect with the mathematician better. It will be a bit of work on my part to begin with, but once I get going and I collect some of this information it will be easy to use on several occasions. 

Partner Quizzes – Sarah Martin (@sarah3martin) and Meg Craig (@mathymeg07) had an an afternoon session about partner quizzes and assessment questions. Sarah talked about how she uses partner quizzes as an opportunity for students to work together on an assessment (more challenging than a traditional assessment). She then takes the assessment home and marks if something is wrong. Student then spend about 20 minutes the following day working through corrections. This sounds like a fantastic idea to get students engaged in discussion around the mathematics. My students typically work as islands and I know that as a teacher, I learn so much from talking to other teachers and discussing students with them. Why shouldn’t I provide my students with similar opportunities. We also spent some time thinking about and crafting our own questions for tests and quizzes to use during the upcoming school year. I plan to implement the partner quizzes during the school year. I’m thinking once every month.

Continued Blogging – Once every two weeks. This one is on me. I have a renewed energy for creating blogging. I started mid-year last year (following the NCTM regional conference) and I posted a few times. I was a little nervous about posting things and my administrator not appreciating the fact that I blogged. This nervousness disappeared when during my end of year review I mentioned my blog and she was impressed. She wanted to know how many people come to my blog and how many times I posted. I was a little embarrassed that the answer was not many visitors and not many posts, but hopefully that will change a little over the coming school year. I am planning to post once every two weeks and then toward the end of the school year to change to every week. I’m even putting a reminder in my school calendar to help me remember. I also believe that the blogging will help to serve as a reflection opportunity for myself to think about things that have worked and things that I would like to change for the future.