Since I’ve Been Gone


Writing the title made Kelly Clarkson’s song play through my mind.


A lot has happened since my last post.  And instead of boring you with minor details, I’ll share the highlights of April to May.

“School should end after GMAS!”

Georgia Milestones, Georgia’s standardized state test, happened a week after spring break.  My students were pretty anxious about the test has its a portion of the promotion criteria for 8th grade.  To ease the worries, we focused more on mindfulness strategies and stress relieving techniques versus math content.  With the help of some parents, I cooked them breakfast the mornings of the math test to help boost their brain activity.

That was only the first hurdle.  Once testing was done, the students were mentally spent and cried, understandably, “school should end after GMAS!”  The unfortunate part was, there was still a month left of school.

My Vow to Keep Them Engaged

Full fledged choice learning was my vow to keep my students engaged.  I asked the students to choose what and how they wanted to review for the semester final based on the provided student guides.  Students worked independently or within groups on the student guides during the work session which was followed by a daily mini quiz (Mini quiz example).  Our compromise was, we worked hard Mondays through Thursdays and had a free day on Fridays.

To prevent the student guides from becoming mundane, I implemented multiple review games such as Kahoot!, Quizlet Live and my favorite Towels on the Beach.  We also did many “get up and move” kinds of activities like gallery walk task cards and desk hop.

Using What Jo Taught Me

After testing I felt I had a fresh start to try some ideas I learned from reading Mathematical Mindset that I was too impatient to wait until next year to try.  So instead of creating a study guide for our semester 2 final, I created task cards similar to what Jo discussed in Chapter 7 From Tracking to Growth Mindset Grouping.  My sources were Illustrative Mathematics, Open Middle, Georgia Frameworks, and the SMILE inventory referenced in the book.

Look to the Future 

My role next year is changing yet again.  I’m super excited about what’s to come.  The rationale for my class is establishing mathematical mindsets and foundations in middle school.  I’ll be working with a curriculum to fill gaps 6th through 8th grade students have in mathematics.  The entire undertone will be growth mindset.  More on this to come!


Using Observation Rubrics


Anyone who has experienced John Van de Walle has probably read about observations rubrics. In his Elementary and Middle School Mathematics Teaching Developmentally book, he discussed various ways to collect formative data on students.  The observation rubric happens to be my favorite.

I’ve used this idea in my classes for about three years now. This school year I’ve been using it more consistently to truly inform my instruction on a day to day basis. What has helped with this consistency is use of standards based grading (SBG) as each rubric is developed based on the concept we are focusing on.


For example, we are currently focusing on linear vs non linear. So I reviewed the Achievements Level Descriptors developed by the Georgia Department of Education to define the levels of understanding. So when students engage in an activity, whether whole group, small group or independently I’m able to use the rubric to assess where they are.

Whole Group

Have you ever done a whiteboard activity with students? You may pose a question to the class, each student records their responses on their own whiteboard and holds it up for you to see their answers.  With the rubric on a clipboard, you can quickly record students level of understanding of the concept and make adjustments to the collaborative or independent portion of the day’s (or week’s) lesson.  As students are taking turns to go to the board to record their answers to problems, you could mark where they fall based on the expectations on the rubric.

Collaborative/Group/Partner Work

While students work on tasks from Illustrative Mathematics, Georgia Frameworks, Open Middle, etc.  I circulate with the rubric on the clipboard and ask questions or listen in on the conversations students are having and rate them on the rubric.

Formative Assessments

Often times I will use Exit Tickets or Plickers or post-it notes as formative assessments.  After reviewing the responses, I’ll record how the data reflects the expectations on the rubric.

The Best Laid Plans…


For me, formative assessment is not just one of the latest buzz words I use to sound like I know what I’m doing. It’s what I actually use to “know” what I’m doing. Without feedback from my students I feel like I’m walking in the dark, alone. 
So I formatively assessment more often than our required Friday CFAs, common formative assessments. 

In addition to the ticket out the door, observation rubrics, FALs and FAs of that sort (which never, ever count for a grade and still my students do them without griping or apathy…but I digress) I use weekly concept quizzes to capture student understanding of the concept of focus for the week. These are entered into the gradebook. 

Here lately, I’ve been using Google Forms to create my quizzes which provide a wonderful spreadsheet to which I can add conditional formatting that gives me this look to easily identify students’ levels of understanding. 

Therefore, as I go through a unit, I have a pretty good idea of who will show mastery on the common assessment (our unit test) and who will need more time before reaching mastery. This year, the FAs and CQs have been accurate. That was until this Unit 6 assessment. Although all signs pointed to majority of the students showing mastery, this data proved differently. 

Yikes!!  My knee jerk reaction was to have students complete test corrections, discuss common misunderstandings as a class, get student feedback on the test and reassess. The retest results further proved the lack of sense making of written scenarios and the confusion between rate of change and initial value on a graph. 

Does this prove that formative assessments aren’t useful and don’t help prepare students for success? Not at all. Is this an opportunity to reflect, adjust and grow as an educator to help my students be successful? Hell yes (sorry mom). This is clearly an instructors error as proven by the data from both the FAs and the CA. As we build more understanding by looking at this concept through a different lens, I’ll post about our accomplishments. 

Creating a Remediation They Want to Come to!


At the end of every 1st semester, students who failed a course are invited to participate in Comet Academy, my schools grade recovery/remediation sessions.  This year, those attending Comet Academy come for 2 1/2 hours for 6 consecutive Saturday mornings.  During our first session on January 30th, students were given a 30 questions, multiple choice pretest covering 5 key standards from 1st semester.  I was assigned the 8th graders who failed to which I was very excited.  8th grade is the one grade level I haven’t been able to infiltrate with the use of manipulatives and building conceptual understanding.

Students completed the pretest in about an hours time, followed by checking the answers of a partner.  Stunned by the results, I knew immediately, 6 sessions, even at 150 minutes a pop, wouldn’t be enough to get the students to pass the post test.  The highest score was 11 out of 30 correct, ugh!

After proposing to the math AP about the need for a math boot camp for students who failed to stabilize their foundation for high school, I got busy planning.  8th graders who failed 1st semester, whether they attend Comet Academy or not, would be pulled twice a week for 30 minutes each time for 5 weeks.  This would occur during their Connections classes (electives, specials, not the core classes).  This boot camp would only offer additional support and would not be rewarded with a grade, extra credit or anything tangible outside of a better understanding of the content.  For students who are often motivated by outside factors, I needed to ensure the activities were enticing enough to get them to come week after week.

Meaningful Practice

The standards are not new for students, therefore a mix of meaningful practice and concept development is necessary.  In their regular classroom, students are subjected to worksheet after worksheet or textbook page after textbook page for practice.  In boot camp we used a Solving Equations Bingo game to practice solving equations.  Students filled in the answers: x=3, x=11.5, x= 1 1/2, x=5, x= 17, x=4, x=17 and -72 =x into the Bingo board.  Then I read off equations in which students needed to solve in order to cover the correct answer.

We also played a game of Knockout!  This idea was taken from the basketball game Knockout!  In the basketball version, participates line up behind the free throw line, the first two people in line have a basketball.  The goal is for the second person in line to make a shot before the person in front of them in order to knock the player out of the game.  In boot camp, students sat in a straight line and the second person tried to correctly answer the math problem before the person in front of them did in order to knock them out of the game.  Here’s the PowerPoint with the game: Boot Camp 2-9 and 2-11.

To encourage collaboration, students were grouped (they chose girls against boys) and given whiteboards to record the answers to problems.  The group representatives would hold up their whiteboard showing their answers.  In order to receive a point, teams had to get the correct answer, but also shot a tiny basketball into a toy hoop.

Concept Development

To help to continue to build student understanding of solving equations and integer rules, I used lessons from Hands-On Standards and incorporated color tiles and algeblocks with lessons like this Exponent Activity.

File_001   File_005

Formative Assessment

I have to know where they are from day to day because I don’t have a lot of time to cover the material.  Therefore, each session has a connected formative assessment.  This helps me to plan differentiated lessons even within the small group of students I see on the different days.  I’ve used a two question quiz, a portion of a FAL and a Ticket out the Door pictured below.  Students were able to choose what type of question they wanted to answer which is a formative assessment within a formative assessment :-).


Lesson on Deck! :-)


If you ask any teacher what is their number one enemy, they would most likely say, “Time!”  I wanted to wrangle the moving decimal point in 8th grade, however, time did not permit.  But you better believe when the time comes for me to lasso that decimal point and park it in its proper place, between the ones and tenths places, I will use this lesson along with this activity.

Who Does Small Groups in Middle School?


I do, I do! I’m not talking about pulling a small group of students together to discuss questions they missed on an assignment or test. I’m talking about, station rotation, differentiated, targeted assistance small group.

I started the year out by asking students what they expected out of math class. Many of them stated centers and games as an expectation, which made me excited. I knew at least I had buy-in.

The first couple of times we conducted small group there wasn’t a lot of differentiation going on. I didn’t have students sit in specific areas to complete the various activities, they pretty much had free reign.
I quickly learned that working independently was a struggle for many and without proper structure this element would not be effective.


By the time the plans above were implemented, I established specific locations in the room students would sit to complete the assignment. By then, students knew why they were grouped in this manner and from where I got the data for the groupings.


With each passing week came a new layer to add more structure to the process. Group captains were established for two purposes: keep their group on track and to be the “go to” person within their group for help. The captains were identified with an astriek. I tried to be strategic about who was picked. It ranged from the person who is normally off task and would benefit from having a job to do, to the natural leader in the group who can easily influence the other group members. I also selected those who like to fall back into the shadows of others.


Students had to complete a technology contract in order to use the technology in my room. They are the ones highlighted for easy recognition.

And after my recent visit to #EdCampATL and speaking with @Natasha_Neffy about Transformational Teaching, I’ve implemented a new layer. Student selected groups. It came at a perfect time as we had just finished our unit assessment. I asked students to rate themselves on 3 learning targets. Using the ratings, students signed themselves up for the group which would focus on the their least understood target.



Most students had an accurate perception of their understanding, while others needed a little help. Those students who did not pass the unit posttest were switched to a group focusing on the learning targets covered on the assessment. I plan on sticking with this concept of student selected groups. Eventually, I would like for my students to be such independent thinkers that they select their activities as well.