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

Warm-Up System: Again

I loved having warm-up schedules last year, but for pre-algebra in particular, the formatting was not as cohesive as it could’ve been. By only having a template for Thursday and Friday, I had to print out the pages I wanted from What’s Next and from Week by Week Essentials, and then I had to order all of the pages before running through the copier. Occasionally, I made a mistake. Also, my students really struggled with finding and completing the patterns and with answering all 10 questions. Sometimes, they just gave up and we’d end up using a lot of class time doing the warm-up together.

This year, I’ve reformatted the warm-up schedule to incorporate some of Sarah Hagan’s fun tasks:


On Monday, the students will do 6 mental math problems, which will be projected on the board. I think I’ll pull 6 of the 10 featured in the Week by Week Essentials. I’m using “Marvelous Events” instead of “Good Things” just because I wanted the first letter of the subtitles to match the first letter of the day of the week.

Tuesday is going to incorporate a timer and 20 basic facts. I wasn’t sure what to do as the second part (I wanted to keep fun facts on Friday, so I didn’t want to do trivia again), but then I saw Elissa Miller’s newest post with talking points and loved it. I think it’ll be really interesting to get the students’ perspectives on those statements.

On Wednesday, I’ll be incorporating patterns by using Fawn’s Visual Patterns, but I won’t have the pre-algebra students do as much as I expect from the Algebra I students. I want them to be able to draw the next step and then describe how the pattern is being generated. The second part is Wittzle, which I hadn’t heard of until I saw Sarah’s post, but it seems very similar to Krypto, which I teach my students during the first week of school. I think this will be a good challenge every week, similar to how I include KenKen for Algebra I.

Thursday still features “Would you rather…?” questions, but again I rephrased it. The teaser will come from the Wackie Wordies section on

Finally, Friday has a new feature. I’m going to show a mistake on the board for students to analyze. They have to figure out what the mistake is and how they would recommend correcting it. The fun fact is a fill-in-the-blank trivia statement, just like I did last year.

The whole week relies on a template, like my Algebra I did last year, which will make preparing copies so much easier! I hope that the new schedule will work even better than last year’s. I really think the variety and the community-building will pay off. I’m so grateful to everyone that has shared their warm-up strategies and ideas!

Laminate Everything

I wish I hadn’t waited four years to buy a laminator. I bought one at the beginning of this school year and even though there’s some work involved putting all the pages through the laminator (and in some instances, cutting apart the pieces), I anticipate the wonderful feeling of being able to pull those activities easily next year. I’ve even forced myself to organize my filing cabinet in order to fully immerse myself in the laminating experience.

Laminator and Kettle


I bought a Scotch laminator from Amazon for $30. I’ve probably gone through almost 1000 sheets this year (I’d been buying the good stuff, but I’ve recently found that the Amazon label is comparable).

Alas, in March, I feared that my love of lamination had gone too far. The barrel that rotates inside to pass the laminator sheet through stopped moving. I could shake the laminator a bit to get it going again, but that wasn’t a great long-term solution. I sent a note to Scotch on their website contact form just to see if there was a simple solution. Within a day, I received a response:

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for contacting 3M, the innovation company, Stationery & Office Supplies Division.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you with your Scotch(TM) Thermal Laminator. Without having the product in hand, it is difficult to explain the reason why this might be happening.

In order to best serve you, we ask that the machine be sent in for evaluation and repair or replacement. We will send a postage paid label for your convenience. In order to do so, we will need your complete mailing address, including your last name. Once we receive that information, you should receive the label in 7-10 business days.

Please include the following information when returning your machine:

Your name
Your return address
Your phone Number – for any questions or issues with the repair
Problem with the laminator

Our lab technicians will attempt to repair the unit, and if it can be repaired, it will be and then returned to you. If the unit cannot be repaired, a new unit will be sent out. Please allow 3-5 weeks from when the machine is sent in for shipping and repair time.

Thank you for your interest in 3M products.

If you need any further assistance, please feel free to contact us directly at 1-800-328-6276. We are available Monday through Friday from 8:00 – 4:30 CT.



I followed up by sending in my information, and sure enough, I received a shipping label within the week, along with some 3M coupons. I packed up my laminator and sent it off for repair. Four weeks later, during my spring break, I received my new laminator (at least, I’m pretty sure it’s a replacement). It works marvelously and I’m back in business.

I was pleasantly surprised by Scotch’s willingness to offer to repair/replace a $30 laminator. Great customer service!

With summer in sight, I plan to bring my laminator home with me over the summer just in case.

MTBoS Mission #6

I keep getting farther behind, but I think anyone in education knows that beginning-of-quarter/holiday season is crazy. Per Mission 6, I am definitely loving all the MTBoS goodness going on.

My feed reader of choice is InoReader. I have a Feedly account, too, but I am not here for their search being a paid feature. I am a poor teacher / graduate student, so I am happy to say that InoReader has search available for free (Google Reader, it must be said, still stands as the best, RIP). It may not be as snazzy looking as Feedly, but I find that the Light Theme with Modern Blue icons looks just fine. I forget how many feeds I follow – something like 70? – but of course, they don’t all update frequently. I still get excited when I see that I have new posts to read.


I don’t keep a virtual filing cabinet. I keep links organized and tagged with delicious, which was thankfully spared a fate similar to Google Reader’s. When I was still in college (2008), my educational technology professor had us all create accounts and I’ve stuck with it ever since. If I think there’s any possibility that I will ever use any files, I download them and keep them organized in a hierarchy of folders. Also, very importantly, these files are all saved in Dropbox because I had a scare my first year teaching and fear losing everything. There’s folder for each class, subfolders for each unit, and then subfolders for each skill. And all files are sorted by type with a prefix in their names. This year I’ve been trying to be better about deleting junk that I’ll never use, but I admit that I hoard files.


For everything I print out and laminate (card sorts, scavenger hunts, bingo cards, etc.), I’ve started organizing by filing cabinet. I bought hanging files and hanging pockets to hold everything (units organized by color and using the included plastic labels). This is a work in progress, but it’s making everything much easier. If there’s anything I could go back and tell my first-year self, it would be to buy a laminator then and use it constantly. This is my first year with it and it’s glorious.

Theoretically, I also keep binders organized by class and unit to keep masters of everything I print out during the year (in plastic sleeves, too), but honestly, I stack all the masters in a pile near my desk instead. I don’t think I’ve updated a binder since September. I guess I can’t have it all.

MTBoS Mission #5: Chatting

Even though I am behind on blogging still, I did actually attend the Algebra I twitter chat last week. Following the chat was no problem; I followed along on my laptop (so, the web version of Twitter, no special apps). I even participated by responding to all the questions. It was so exciting! My iPad app, despite not using it, kept dinging to let me know I had responses. When I’d refresh the page, there’d be several new responses – I was multi-tasking (making cookies, working on lesson plans, and chatting). It was fun to read everyone’s responses to the questions as well as the conversations that developed from the responses. Everyone was so thoughtful and encouraging.

Overall, I would like to attend & participate in more chats. It seems that the algebra I and middle school math chats are always at 9pm EST (which makes sense to include people to the west), but I like to go to bed early, so staying up until 10 every week or twice a week isn’t likely to happen. However, I will pay attention to topics that are of particular interest to me and I can always read back on the tags later.