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.

Blaugust 2016


Every year, I tell myself that I’m going to blog and participate more on Twitter. Yet, every year, I find excuses – too much to do, crippling social anxiety, etc. We’ll see where this year’s attempt goes.

Last school year was my 7th year teaching – the year that one of my professors had said would be the year that everything came together. It didn’t quite work out that way. Now that it’s August, I have three weeks until I go back to work, and I’m determined to make substantial improvements on last year.

My major goal for before I officially go back is to redo my Algebra II curriculum pacing guide and sbg skills list. I like the way that Henrico has laid out their pacing, so I spent some time today reorganizing some of my units and skills. There’s something very satisfying about restructuring folders on my computer.

Making the World a Better Place

A few weeks ago, before winter break, I went into my lunch buddy’s classroom and lamented how, even though teachers generally want to change the world and inspire our students to be good people, sometimes I feel that I’m just too late. Being a middle school teacher, my students have already experienced 12 or more years outside my influence and absorbed all sorts of prejudices.

I don’t always feel hopeless about the future.

This week’s #YourEdustory topic is “Inspired by MLK: How will you make the world a better place?”

I don’t really know. It’s the little things, I guess, that students remember. I try to set a positive example. When they won’t shut up, I stand patiently in front of the room, waiting instead of yelling. I say “sir” and “ma’am” when I address them. I write them thank-you cards. I bake them homemade cookies. When the opportunity arises to shed light on biases, I don’t shy away from it. The classroom atmosphere is more important than the content.

Still, the reason I went into teaching math is – and this is what I said during my job interview – so that people will hate math less. Not so that they’ll love it, but so that they’ll hate it less. It doesn’t sound too optimistic. But in its own way, the world will be a better place as I try to follow through on my goal. My students, already tainted with sad experiences in math and unknown challenges elsewhere, can at least have a safe place to explore and learn for 52 minutes a day.

First Week Plan

I’m a little late, but I’m going to try to keep up with the #MTBoS Challenge. Although I’m back at work this week, the students don’t arrive until the day after Labor Day. For the first week, my plans for Algebra I and Pre-Algebra are almost the same. As of right now, my plans are a little shaky, but this is what I’m thinking right now:


Our bell schedule will almost certainly be strange, as it has been previously. The high school will have their welcome assembly in the morning, which keeps the middle school in 1st period for an extended amount of time (maybe 75 minutes?). Then, the middle school will have its assembly and high school will stay in 1st period. For clarification, the middle school and high school share a building and so some teachers, myself included, teach both high school and middle school students. This year, though, I don’t have Algebra I first period, so I can actually go to the assembly and not repeat 1st period twice. The rest of Tuesday’s schedule will be out of order and shorter classes (30 minutes).

To get started, students will find their seat by solving a simple math problem; the seats are numbered 1 – 24. Then, I want the students to look around the room and do Notice and Wonder. They’ll post their thoughts on post-it notes on the board. I think I’ll also introduce Krypto and maybe SET.


A few years ago, I started using ideas from Education Week on getting students’ seating arrangements for the first few days. It’s really interesting to see how they interact and how many of them just give up on the whole idea. For this first day, students will seat themselves by alphabetical order of first name.

In Pre-Algebra, I think I’ll have students work through Fawn’s “Odd One Out” and in Algebra I, the Algebraic Thinking puzzles.

While students are working on a personality/learning survey (I haven’t decided which one I want to use yet), I will check out the textbooks. I never refer to the textbooks (they’re old and don’t match with the curriculum anymore), but some of the students like to have them as a reference and I don’t have the storage space for the books in my classroom.


Students will seat themselves by birthday, January to December.

For each class, we’ll pass out the syllabus and discuss the highlights. We’ll set up the interactive notebooks by gluing in the syllabus and the index pages. Then, we’ll fill out the unit organizers (division mandate) for the first unit.


Students will seat themselves in order by height, shortest to tallest. They have to do this one silently, which is an extra challenge.

In both classes, students will do a word sort to review for verbal translations. I’d also like them to do a walk-around for writing verbal expressions. So, having several algebraic expressions for small groups or pairs to translate and then doing a rotation to see how many different ways each can be written, if that makes sense.

#MTBoS Challenge