#TMC16 – I made it!


Months ago, I was following a couple people on Twitter and they started talking about this thing called TMC. I did a simple google search to try and figure out what they were talking about and it led me to discovering Twitter Math Camp. Low and behold, this coming year it was in Minneapolis. I read several people’s blogs about Twitter Math Camp and watched some youtube videos that were submitted. I discovered the wiki and watched some of the “My Favorites” sessions. I used some of the things that I found in my classroom and had wonderful success with them. I knew I wanted to go to #TMC16!

Knowing I wanted to go and actually going were two different things. I had to figure out registration and accidentally missed registration due to being exceptionally sick during the month of February. I made the wait list and then waited. Fortunately I was in Minneapolis so they could call me the day before and I would jump on the opportunity to show up. I waited and waited and actually forgot about it until I got the happy email from Lisa telling me that I had made the cut! I was so excited that I told several of the administrators at my school about it and they were actually jealous! (It was a weird situation for me to be in.) This was May.

As we got closer and closer to the date, my excitement stayed. However, my anxiety climbed. I was terrified that I would make a fool of myself. That people would realize that I was a fake and did not know as much as I thought. I actually stopped blogging because I was afraid it would show. June came and school was out so I started working on some professional development and summer school planning. This helped my anxiety drop some because I was not as focused on it.

Then Friday night came. It was the day of the Desmos pre-workshop. (I really wanted to gate crash the workshop and I probably should have but oh well.) I was attending the twins game and had to go pick up my ticket at the dorms. I had delibrately chosen to go to the game to force me to socialize with some people and see what it wouuld be like to attend TMC for real if it was in another city. The fact that I had paid $30 was pretty much the only reason why I dragged myself out of my apartment that day and went to get my ticket. There had been some emailing about timing regarding the twins game and then there was very little twitter chatter (or at least very little that I could see)! I showed up at about 5:30 and picked up my ticket and waited in the dorms. While I waited, there were very few people in the area and none of them talked to me. I was terrified that I would be the wallflower and would stay that way. No one showed up for a ride to the game (they all must have gone earlier… but I was okay with that since it gave me the time alone in the car.) I got to the game and comtemplated just  hanging out in the standing room on the lower deck instead of going upstairs. Eventually I made it to the group of math teachers and sat with them while we watched the game. I am not talented at starting conversations with people so I really just sat and watched the game and I was alright with that.

Eventually, Meg Craig (@mathymeg07) started talking to me. She introduced me to several people that were at the game and I started feeling more comfortable just being there. That was half my battle. I survived that first evening with TMC people!

The next day it was easier to get out of bed knowing that I would at least know someone there. I missed the newbie session (thanks to the alarm that hates me!). I went to my first morning session and met people for lunch. I eventually became more and more comfortable talking to the people that were around me and slowly got over my anxiety.

People did talk to me! People did sit with me at the Newbie dinner! People came up and said hello in the large group session! People let me be a part of their trivia team! People sat with me at lunch! And people said goodbye on the last day! Overall, I consider it a success. I made it to TMC. I enjoyed TMC. And I feel renewed and reenergized and ready to start the school year!

Then Tuesday came and Glenn Waddell (@gwaddellvhs) got up and told his story about the first TMC. Check it out here! It resonnated so much with me and what I was feeling that I was  starting to tear up! It described what it was like everyday for me at TMC this year. I would get out of bed and think “You don’t have to go, no one will know if you don’t” and I just kept going anyways!

No guaratees that next year I will be able to afford it but I know that I will do everything in my power to make it to TMC in Atlanta! Thank you all for helping me feel successful with my first year at TMC!

Testing… again…


We all know the struggle for testing. It feels like an epic uphill battle every year!

When students return in the fall there are placement tests and diagnostic tests that we complete as a school followed by the first round of NWEA testing. In the winter we take the OLPA in both Math and Reading and many of our language learners take WIDA tests. There is also the mid-year diagnostic test. (As a school we do not take the winter NWEA test.) We then hit cram time where we attempt to make sure all of our students are ready for both the reading, math, and science MCA. We start MCA testing in March continue all the way through April. May hits and it is time for our spring NWEA test followed closely by any final diagnostic test required by the school and any final assessments I choose to give them in the spring…

Was that confusing enough??

It’s confusing to me and it is the reality that I live in. I spend hours and hours testing students trying to keep myself engaged and brain functioning. Some teachers at my school test in their classrooms. However, due to the wifi in my classroom being very spotty, I get to test in the library. This has two advantages for me!

  1. I am not tempted to sit at my desk and correct papers when I should be actively monitoring the room.
  2. I do not have to go through the hassle of taking down all of my posters and math stuff. I also don’t have to worry about covering it with paper.

Testing in a room outside of my classroom has some disadvantages too. My students can’t look around the room and try to remember what had been on the wall in a specific location. They are forced to look around a room that they typically associate with reading and are required to take a math test.

Because I teach at a small charter school, the difference of only a couple of questions could make a large impact for the assessment of the quality of my teaching and my school (by some people’s standards). Testing always puts me on edge and I want everything to run very smoothly!

I was one of those kids that struggled anytime that a testing period did not run smoothly. I remember at least one occasion where something happened at home the morning of a large test and I had to go to school and perform the best that I could on the PSAT. It was nothing my parents or I could control but I know I did not perform to my potential on that test.

I want every child to perform to the best of their abilities because I want success for each of them! They are rockstars in my book! They come to school and they work hard every day to help make sure that they are ready for those standardized tests when they do come. They know what their individual goals are and they know where they should be in order to match up with other 7th and 8th graders across the state and county.

Even though testing days are some of the most stressful days of teaching, they are some of my favorites because I get to see my students practice their flexibility and versatility with the standardized test questions put in front of them! I know that testing is a way of life and it is here to stay, but I hope that I can continue to work with students and help them develop the mental stamina to continue performing well on these assessments.



We are wrapping up our unit on data analysis and probability. I’ll be honest, unless it is pretty straight forward, probability is not my strongest area. I had to do some relearning!

Earlier in the year we touched very briefly on probability and we talked about probability trees. My students kinda understood these tree diagrams, but it still confused many most of them.

We worked on understanding probability through the use of area models. This made a lot more sense to them than trying to use a probability tree. Here is a model.

Untitled drawing

A area model representing rolling a dice and flipping a coin.

This was more visual for my students and made a lot more sense. The problem was that it only works for a two event situation. It will not work for three or four events. That means that when students get to a more complicated situation where they have to calculate the probability this strategy will not work. However, since two events falls within the scope of our standards, I have chosen to continue with this model. This also made it easy to highlight areas where the desired outcome occurred and then count the squares of the total number of outcomes possible.

Since my students need to see examples similar to those that they will be expected to complete during the assessment, I created a foldable for them to fill out. In my room, I am fortunate enough to have a document camera that I used to fill the foldable out on the board. We then added these to our interactive notebooks. Here is the foldable that I created.


For many of my students this helped to organize our thoughts and strategies. There are some things that I would like to tweak about it, but it was a decent place to start. Here is the pdf for the foldable.




The 8th graders have recently been spending time learning to work with scatterplots. We reviewed scatterplots and what they looked like. The students are very competent in graphing points on the scatterplots. They had seen lines of best fit before but were struggling with the purpose of these lines.

We started with a review of some definitions. We talked about how the line of best fit could help us make a prediction of what to expect from the data. We then practiced drawing lines of best fit and creating equations for those lines.

I found an activity in the MTB0S about celebrity age guessing and making lines of best fit. I started by explaining to my students that I used to work at Valleyfair (a family amusement park in Shakopee, Minnesota.) I told them about my distaste of the guy that stood by the scale and tried to guess peoples age or weight. Basically he was/is annoying because he is constantly talking! I told them that I wanted to see if any of them could be the better guessers of age than he was. We went through a powerpoint of celebrities and students guessed the celebrities ages. They LOVED this! They also got into the idea of competing to see who would be the better guesser.

Once they had made all of their guesses, they spent some time entering their data into a table on Desmos. I they taught them how to create a line of best fit in slope-intercept form using sliders for m and b. We then exported their pictures to a padlet page where we could look at all the lines of best fit together. This was about all the time that we had, so we didn’t get to voting on who was the best guesser, but they still enjoyed working with Desmos and guessing peoples ages. It also made it so that they all had different answers to the problems and couldn’t copy what their friends answered.

I moved on to an activity from Math=Love about Best Line of Best Fit. We started with a desmos file that had a scatterplot already created on it. I printed this off for my students and they wrote directly on the paper to create lines of best fit. There was a five minute individual work time followed by some table time where they worked. The students had to create the equation for their line of best fit and since I only had one computer, I entered everyone’s equation in. This was a little time consuming since once I wrote the equation in and they saw it on the screen they thought they could make it better. I gave them some more time at their table to perfect their line of best fit and adjusted the equation in Desmos according to their specifications.

I was the only adult in the classroom so we did not have an unbiased judge, but some of the students got into the competitive nature of this activity. We displayed two lines of best fit and then had a discussion as a class about which line was better and why. We got very picky about which line we preferred. I also threw in some lines that were poor choices to see how they responded. (They rocked these problems!)

Best line of best fit.png

Our Best Lines of Best Fit Contest (there were a couple more, but I forgot to click save.)

Our scatterplot unit ended with using some of the worksheets that I got off of teachers pay teachers that guided the students through creating equations of lines of best fit. These were nice because the students had to graph the points and then had to draw the line of best fit before deciding on the slope. Once they created their line of best fit, they had to use the line to determine what the data would yield for an unknown quantity. Here’s a link to the product by Mathink.

Thought for next year… my students tend to believe that the line of best fit has to have at least one or two dots on the line. This does make it easier for when they have to pick points that are on the line of best fit they can easily calculate slope. This is a challenge though since lines of best fit do not always have a point from the data set that lands directly on them.


Late Night Probability


This year my team has set a goal to increase our student achievement in the Data Analysis and Probability strand. Unfortunately, this strand is typically one of the last strands that my school teaches last. It makes it a challenge to access the information from previous years and to get this content across before the standardized test in the spring. Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to spend one day each week in each homeroom working on this strand.

We all know how excited students are to come to math class. Now imagine that you tell them that they get to participate in a second math class once a week. They are angry thrilled!! As a result, I work to at least make these lessons interesting and memorable.

When I was first introduced to the #MTBoS (Math Twitter Blogosphere), I spent some time looking through the resources that were available online. I found a video where someone explained that he taught probability using the idea of Egg Russian Roulette. He had plastic eggs and some had bits of paper in them and the students would calculate the probability of getting an egg with paper in it. (His name is Bob Lochel  @bobloch – and here is his video.)

Because I am spending time in other teacher’s classrooms, I am thought it would be wrong to bring small scraps of paper that would drop all over the floor. Instead I had the students use a piece of paper and we created table to calculate the probability and then watched Jimmy Fallon and Channing Tatum play Egg Russian Roulette. I stopped after the directions to make sure that students understood the rules and the number of raw vs. hard-boiled. We stopped after each round to practice calculating the probability. Once we finished the Channing Tatum we watched Anna Kendrick and Jimmy Fallon. This time the students were on their own to calculate the probabilities. I did not stop the video for them to catch up.


You can check out the videos here:

Jimmy Fallon and Channing Tatum Egg Russian Roulette

Jimmy Fallon and Anna Kendrick Egg Russian Roulette

Day 72: Parallel, Perpendicular or Neither




Today we had Guided Groups. Most of the time students spend working on the math software that we are required to use and they are required to spend a minimum of 50 minutes on during the week. This is pretty much the only day that I get to use the computers unless one of my co-workers decides that they are not using the cart on their assigned days. It bums me out that we can’t get to more exciting opportunities but nothing I can do about that.

Today during my 8th grade guided group, we worked on the idea of parallel, perpendicular or neither. This was our second day on the topic so we started with a review. No surprise, most students remembered what that parallel lines have slopes that are the same, but the understanding of perpendicular line slopes was more challenging to grasp. Once I talked through a couple of examples it made a lot more sense to them. (Non-examples were also very useful.)

I then gave the students two sets of points that were on a line and they were asked if the lines were parallel, perpendicular or neither. Some of my lower kiddos needed an explanation that they needed to find the slope of both sets of points and then they compared the slopes. Once they did the first one, the next several problems were easier for them.

The biggest problem we had was loosing negative signs due to carelessness, but that’s pretty normal for 8th graders.

Day 71: Back at It


Back to school we go! Break was definitely not long enough… but then again, it never is. I spent a portion at the beginning of my periods just chatting with my students. While I normally dive right back into class, I talked to them and asked them questions about their break. (We could have done this as a circle, but I literally wanted to take 5 minutes and a circle would have taken longer than I truly wanted to spend on this.) I talked to them about what the plan was for the day and we reviewed our objectives for the week. I also assured them that I was willing to ease them back into the work by reviewing some of the information with them, but they had to actually do some of the work and avoid laziness. (But they are middle schoolers, so lazy was present to some degree all day.)

8th Grade

Right away we dove into working with parallel and perpendicular lines. We need to recognize that there is a relationship between the slopes of these lines and use these relationships to develop equations for lines that are either parallel or perpendicular.

While I was tempted to start with a set of notes on the topic right away, I decided that it would be more beneficial if students recognized the relationships prior to developing a formal definition of them. Thanks to @jennbartels who posted an activity on twitter, I found a resource that walked students through the relationship and made it fairly obvious for an 8th grade student.


Sorry… I don’t own this document, but here is a photo to give you an idea.

I was impressed by how many of my students remembered the general format for slope intercept form and how many of them rattled off the slope equation when prompted. We started with the parallel lines activity and then moved on to the perpendicular lines portion. I had to walk them through finding an equation for one of the three lines that they graphed because they were not as confident because of just coming back from break, but once I helped them with one, they were able to complete the others alone.

7th Grade

We started our unit on Ratios, Rates, and Proportions today. We kicked things off with a task to ease student in and help get their brains to think mathematically again. It did not go as smoothly as I hoped, but it wasn’t a complete disaster. Mostly my students this year are more advanced then where my students were last year. The 6th grade teacher has already spent a good deal of time with them on proportional reasoning and they were quick to jump to answers.

We did the candy jar task where students are given a candy jar and are then asked to upsize the candy jar. My students quickly recognized the ease of multiplying by 20 to increase the content contents and getting them to explore other options was a challenge. However, when we got the the part-whole relationship they struggled more. I saw two strategies but they struggled to explain their relationships as it compared with the problem.

When I recognized that this task was a bust of sorts, we moved on to the notes that I had prepared about definitions of ratios, rates, and proportions so that we could spend sometime solidifying their understanding.

Remember to Live Long and Learn!!

Multiple Choice Grading Technology


While I do not like giving multiple choice assessments, my school requires a specific benchmark assessment be given every month. These assessments are multiple choice and I HATE GRADING THEM!!! It is painful to sit down and spend my time trying to grade these assessments and even more painful knowing that there is something else more valuable that I could be doing with my time.

I recently spent some time finding a scantron type of app that I could use to eliminate this task from my grading ritual. I found two options available that I could use easily in my classroom. There are more and I know they exist, I just haven’t had a chance to explore their features yet.


Platform: Any device that connects to the internet.

Pricing: There are three options with Gradecam.

  • Insight Basic – Free – limits teachers to 10 questions per assessment and does not include standard alignment or exporting options.
  • Insight Plus – $15/month a teacher – Allows up to 100 questions per assignment. This version allows you to align to state standards or common core standards. You can also export to excel, csv, or into some gradebook software.
  • Insight School/District – $2.50/year a student – All the features of Insight Plus and you can share assignments between teachers and create custom benchmarks.

I got a three month trial of Gradecam when I signed up and when I referred several other teachers my trial was extended. The feature that I like the most about Gradecam is that I can grade on every device I own. I can use my phone, my ipad, and I can use the camera on my computer.


Platform: You can only scan from a mobile device but you can access your results on the web.

Pricing: With Zipgrade you get access to the full range of features with the free demo. The demo allows you to scan up to 100 quizzes before being charged. Otherwise it is a paid app.

  • 2 months for $1.99
  • 1 year for $6.99
  • Or the Zipgrade VPP app is $12.99 one time and vaild forever.

The advantage of Zipgrade is the ability to tag either an entire quiz or a single question as assessing a benchmark or standard. This then creates a record of everything that the benchmark is assessed and a student’s ongoing progress toward meeting that benchmark. I love this part of the program. It is a bit clumsy right now but the data is some of my favorite data that I can access. I was in the process of creating a spreadsheet that I could use to track this information and I found the program that did it for me!

Middle School Data Folders


At my school, teachers are encouraged and required to provide evidence of student learning in the form of student maintained data folders. During my first year of teaching at this particular school, I would keep the data folder for the student. I would constantly add their assessments to the folder and then as students completed standardized tests (MCA, NWEA, I-Ready, etc) I would add the score print offs to the folder.

Let’s be honest with each other. By about October, I had a large pile of papers that were waiting for me to put into the data folders. I needed to develop a more efficient way of keeping this information and accessing it to discuss with students.

I followed this strategy with the development of a data binder. I kept student’s assessments in a drawer that eventually became overflowing with papers that were not easily referenced. (I needed at least 20 minutes to sort through all of them and look for the specific student’s assessment for IEP information.) The change here was that all score reports from those pesky standardized tests went into a binder where each student had their own tab divider. Again all of the work was on me to print out the score report and file the score report. NO FUN!


The binder I made for all 90 some of my students standardized test scores.

This year, I was determined to transfer that work from my shoulders onto the students. What a relief!

At first, I thought that data folders felt very elementary for my middle school students. I was concerned that they would not take them seriously and that they would not understand the reasoning behind them. I created a couple of tracking pages that we put into the folders and then copied all of the score reports that I could find and printed them for my students. We spent a day (60 minute periods) putting all of the score reports into the folder and filling out our charts. I then spent some time during guided groups conferencing with students about their folders and filling in the last of the data. We filled out their high and medium growth goals on the state assessment as well as goals for fall and spring NWEA growth.

MCA Data Tracker

NWEA Data Tracker

I-Ready Data Tracker

After spending one day looking at their data, students started to see some trends. They noticed, they had weak areas in geometry and measurement or data analysis and probability. They started to see how close their scores from previous years were to the next level and started thinking about how they would like to perform on the MCA in the spring.

When it came time for conferences, I pulled the folders out and the students started to discuss the trends with their parents. They were able to show how they had performed in years past and then we could look at either the tracking sheet or at the score reports in the folder. It was the most organized I felt for conferences in the 8 years that I have been teaching.

Personal/Professional Growth Inventory


During the past 8 weeks, my graduate coursework has been centered around the networked global community. While I would not currently consider myself a networked educator, I have made strides toward connecting more to the world of educators around me. (If not actually connecting, at least accessing greater amounts of information and encouragement from them.

I have discovered and learned how to interact with twitter chats. I understand the power of the # (hashtag) to summarize your thinking and the impact of 140 characters. What a challenge to take my grand ideas from a large scale from an entire blog post and condense it down to 140 characters! I know there are some ideas that I have that I couldn’t do justice to in 140 characters.

While I am still a lurker of sorts on Twitter, in complete fairness, I am a lurker on Facebook in my personal life. That sounds weird, but I like to observe for a while prior to jumping into a conversation. In fact, I remember my freshman year of college, in my symposium class (aka english) I would observe the conversation and gain other peoples viewpoints and only contribute to the conversation when it was required or when I had something important to say. During a conference with my professor, she spoke about the power I had in those situations. While I may not contribute a lot, she saw the quality of what I did contribute. She saw how my classmates would listen and process what I contributed to the conversation. They knew that I wasn’t going to just add random suggestions that were not assets to the conversation, but that I would contribute in a way to move the conversation forward.

Maybe that’s not the best approach, but it’s what I am comfortable with for now. As I gain a greater sense of self, I will begin contributing more to the online and virtual PLC. I will continue to make an effort to have my efforts for an online sense of self that matches my in-person PLC contributions.

I have other networks that I enjoy participating in. I presented on them in April during my class time. See the presentation below for more information about my experiences.