New Year, New Warm-Up Format

As with every year, I have good intentions with #Blaugust. I know it’s supposed to be daily, but if I can get myself to post weekly, that would be a huge improvement.

Last year, I updated my warm-up files so that all five days would fit on one piece of paper (front-back); I wanted to use less paper overall and I wanted the students’ warm-up folders to be more reasonably sized. This year, I want to incorporate Estimation 180 into the warm-up, but I want to do it every day. So, I added this section to the top of the page:


Here’s the pdf and the word doc.

As Summer Ends

In June, at the close of the last school year, I told myself that I would start preparing for the new school year in August. Well, here we are, and yet I can’t bring myself to jump in. During each of the past nine summers, I’ve always worked on school stuff during the summer. Especially early in my career, I would work every week in July and August – I would tell myself I could have one day a week so that I would still get to relax.

This summer, I decided not to work at all in July. Lesson planning doesn’t take nearly as long as it used to and even though Virginia’s implementing curriculum changes this year, I’m not intimidated by it. Still, here’s August and I’m not sure I’m ready.

I taught summer school once – it was actually the summer before my first full year of teaching and I learned a lot. But, I didn’t actually feel like I had much of a break between college and the school year. And the school year was exhausting. Ever since, I’ve never wanted to take on summer school; I need the full two months to refuel. Historically, by the time I go back, two weeks before Labor Day, I’m finally ready. And after those two weeks, I’m ready for students. Just in time, every year.

Random Seat Generator

I hate making seating charts. But, I love spreadsheets. So, I made one that assigns random numbers to students, ranks them, and puts them in seats.


I have my desks numbered and grouped into fours. I also used different color sticky notes to write the numbers on the desks.

When I (or the students) get tired of their current seats, all I have to do is type something into the spreadsheet, and new seats will be generated. I do make sure I print the chart to pdf so that I can refer to it, or leave it for a sub.


I’ve been meaning to blog, but after a long day at work, I usually don’t feel like organizing my thoughts. I don’t know how you all (#MTBoS) do it. Maybe this weekend, I’ll get around to posting my classroom pictures.

On Sunday, my church hosted a luncheon for the local college students to welcome them back – all alumni, faculty, staff, and students were invited. After the lunch, I was standing around, reading something, when I heard some of the college students walking by. They were apparently having a conversation about a math class:

Student 1: “It’s been so long since I’ve had to multiply or divide decimals by hand. It’s not that I can’t do it, but I wish my professor would let us use a calculator. It would be so much faster.”

Student 2: “My professor does the same thing. Sometimes I just want to check my answer.”

Naturally, I wondered about my own students’ dependence on calculators. I spend a lot of time with some of my 8th grade students – the ones I see twice a day in an “enhanced” remediation class – working on number sense and mental math. I use Lessons and Activities for Building Powerful Numeracy to introduce some strategies. Last year, when I used it the first time, I noticed significant improvements with many students. We also do counting circles and I’m going to try out Numeracy Ninjas this year, too.

But, the remedial class is only 6 – 15 students, depending on the year. In my regular Pre-Algebra and Algebra II classes, I don’t spend a lot of time on mental math because I feel like there isn’t time. It’s featured in the warm-up once a week, but other than that, I don’t do much to fight the dependence on calculators. Occasionally, if I’m working one-on-one with someone, and a student tries to use the calculator to find 3 x 4, I’ll grab it and hide it.

I get that calculators are a great tool for speeding up the process of simplifying expressions. But, I don’t have a clear idea of how to respect the technology without letting it interfere with numeracy. I wonder if those college students are benefiting from the ban on calculators or if it’s only increasing their frustrations with the subject. What is the right balance?

Back at It

For most of the past two weeks, instead of participating in the Blaugust challenge like I had originally planned, I focused on getting my house in order before going back to work. I painted and tried to organize. Even though I did a little bit of school-related work, I didn’t feel like there was enough to blog about.

I’d never really thought about it when I was a student, but from just observing the #MTBoS, it seems that most of the country goes back to school in August. Here in Virginia, thanks to Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens, my students don’t show up until after Labor Day. Today was my first official day back at work for the new school year. I savor the time at the beginning of the year when I get uninterrupted time to work in my classroom. Right now, the year is full of possibility and optimism, and my annual desire to be organized all year seems reasonable.

Algebra II Warm-Up Template

I was inspired to redo my warm-up template so that it fits on one page (though, mine is front-back). But at least now I can make 9 copies per quarter per student instead of the old system, which took twice as much paper. If you’re interested, you can download a copy of the template; I used Chunkfive Roman and Cambria).


My weekly template for last year also used Futoshiki and Which One Doesn’t Belong, but I switched their days so that maybe I could get more positive thoughts shared right after a weekend.

I changed my plans for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. This year, I’m going to use Visual Patterns on Wednesday; I didn’t want to use it last year because I’ve already used it for Algebra I and a lot of my students will have had me for both courses. Oh well, they’ll get over it. On Thursday, I’m finally going to use the SolveMe Mobiles. Someone from #MTBoS shared this resource ages ago and I’m so excited to incorporate it into the weekly warm-up. On Friday, because factoring is historically problematic, I’m going to use the Sum and Product Puzzles to get the students some practice.

Homework, Again


Today, I spent some time thinking about homework. Specifically, I want to avoid repeating what happened with Algebra II last year: I used homework I got from TPT (I’m not proud of it, but at the time I thought it would make things easier), which ended up overwhelming my students. Their work ethics were not strong already and I didn’t make it easier on them. I ended up doing daily checks of homework and putting them in the gradebook for parents to see, which was annoying. I don’t even do that for my middle schoolers.

The system I’ve used for my middle schoolers for the past 7 years has been pretty successful; it has certainly been better than what I did my first year (textbook? worksheets? it wasn’t consistent). I like that there’s fewer problems, that I include a vocabulary section, and that there’s some choice involved for the students: practice & regular or regular & challenge. I know that homework, and whether or not to give it, has provided a lot of debate not just among the #MTBoS, but with educators at large. I have considered giving up on assigning homework, but I’m just not there yet.

I weigh homework and notebook checks as 5% for the middle schoolers, but for Algebra II last year, my intentions were to put a grade in the grade book, but with no weight. That way I had a record of who did however much, but their overall class grade still relied wholly on proving their abilities on their assessments. As I said earlier, I ended up having a bad combination of poor work ethic and too much / too difficult homework, so I ended up throwing in a 5% weight for them, too.

I’m intrigued by the idea of lagging or spiral homework, but since I’m already redoing the pacing guide for this year, I’m not sure I’m up to the task of developing something like that yet. So, I think I’ll go back to my old standby of practice-regular-challenge for each skill. Hopefully I can get the packets for all the units finished before I go back to work in a few weeks.