Category Archives: Ideas

Are stations the answer?

My time as a math coach taught me that stations are the bomb! I observed masterful first grade teachers regularly manage many different math levels without breaking a sweat. I experienced fourth grade teachers manage a room full of wiggly students during flex blocks and everyone was “getting what they needed.” Somewhere along the way we begin to believe that our students can sit for longer, focus for longer, and we don’t need to use stations to reach all learners.

A few years ago my district purchased the Connected Mathematics curriculum. I had used previous versions of the curriculum in the past and many of the problems were interesting and rich. The new version is clunky, disjointed, and difficult to use. Many of the problems are long, requiring several class sessions to complete with very little conceptual understanding. My students lose interest and are unmotivated by the time we finish a problem. The math they may have gleaned from the problem is lost in the euphoria they feel to be done.

As the year came to a close and I reflected on what went well and what didn’t, I was reminded of the times my students were engaged, challenged, and motivated to learn. The times this happened the most this year was when I was using stations in my classroom. They felt as though the tasks were interesting and at their level.

I began to think about my first unit in terms of stations using the math workshop model thinking about how I could use the best parts of the CMP curriculum. I came up with four stations including one where I will meet with students in small groups. These small group meetings will force both remediation and enrichment to happen within the station rotation.

Then I ran across this tweet….

After I read a little about responsive stations it seems like this is exactly what I need to add to make my stations even more productive. By first spending time to teach the necessary skills before starting a new unit I can really meet my students where they are. Looking at what students know and how to build off of that I can make all students feel successful.

So, my first unit is no longer my first unit. I need some station work before we start the first unit. The skills they really need to have solid are their multiplication and division relationships. I started planning my stations here. I think this will also be a great time to teach some of the classroom routines that need to get done at the beginning of the year so I’m only going to use three stations. More to come…

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My Day at Google

I found myself at Google last Friday. A wonderful organization, Ed Tech Teacher, along with Google organized a Jamboree for about 200 educators. We had the opportunity to heGoogle Manar from Googlers (Google employees) as well as amazing technology educators (including Jenny Mageria…check out her blog!).

The last hour of our day was spent listening to a panel of Googlers answer questions. The questions were mostly about the working culture at Google. While some of my colleagues felt as like they were bragging, I heard some really easy things that make an exciting working and learning environment.

1. Everyone’s ideas are heard.

A young software engineer talked extensively about her early weeks on the job. She initially felt intimidated and learned quickly that this was a place where her questions would be heard.  When she asked a question everyone turned to listen to her. This made her realize her opinions mattered.

After Google’s recent decision about Blogger, Google held town meeting style forums for Googlers to ask questions about the decision. The forums lasted for hours and allowed everyone to feel heard.

This takes no money. This is part of a culture where people want to come to work because they feel like they are part of something larger than themselves.

2. You are asked to step outside your comfort zone on a regular basis. You never feel like you know exactly what you are doing.

Several of the Googler talked about being kept on their toes. They are asked to do things that require them to solve problems. Their job descriptions change occasionally and they are constantly learning and growing. In a company setting where you are trying to get the most from your employees it is clear you will get more if they are kept on the verge of comfort. At first this sounds like an awful situation, but after teaching sixth grade math for so many years it is easy to see how this would be a positive. Many teachers teach the same topic and grade level for year after year. There is always a greater learning curve when something is new. The same is true with our students. If we can keep them challenged then we will see more from them.

3. The best way to deal with change is cause it.

The world of technology changes so fast and all the Googlers must keep up with it. They have found that the best way to deal with it is to be on the leading edge. What would this look like outside the walls of a company? It would be children doing great things like this. How do we inspire our students to create and make something better for themselves? How do we get students to stand on our shoulders, use what we know as their teachers, and put it together into something great?

Overall, I had a great day at Google. There are many other takeaways that could be applicable to a education setting. The culture we create in our schools is the culture our students emulate. If we have a culture of collaboration and creation our students begin to mimic it.


First Day

September will mark my tenth year teaching in my current school district and my fourteenth year teaching. It is overwhelming to look back at all of the different ways I have started the year. I don’t feel like any of my first days were spectacular. This year things will be different!

I have been doing a lot of reading about the growth mindset. I recently purchased Carol Dweck’s book Mindset:The New Psychology of Success and I think I have the gist. It is all starting to make sense now. I have been trying for years to convince students that making mistakes is the only way to learn and if you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t learning. If you haven’t been reading about the growth mindset and fixed mindset, the premise is that once you believe that your intelligence can’t grow, it can’t (fixed mindset). You need to believe that learning comes from challenges and learn from the mistakes you make along the way (growth mindset). Great! Now that I had some research for these ideas I want a way to start off the year teaching them.

Two years ago I attended the Building Learning Communities Education Conference, while I was there I attended a session where the presenters were doing The Marshmallow Challenge. In the Marshmallow Challenge teams of four are given tape, 20 pieces of spaghetti, string, and a marshmallow. The task is to build the tallest structure that will support the marshmallow in 18 minutes. There is a great TED talk  by Tom Wujec that is also on the website. Tom stresses the importance of just trying something as soon as you have the idea, making a mistake and learning from it.

I’m really excited to start my year this way. I know there’s not a lot of math, but I want to set a tone. I want my students to be ready to accept a challenge, to make mistakes, and to learn.

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Where have I been?

It has been a long time since my last post.  I left the classroom last June. I walked out and didn’t look back. It was an extremely difficult year. I became a K-5 math coach. I thought a change would be good. I have spent that last 7 months learning about the acquisition of numbers in elementary school. I have seen the development of number sense from kindergarten up. I have had the opportunity to teach everything from 1st grade to 5th grade. It has been an amazing experience and I have met some extremely dedicated teachers.

Unfortunately, I knew right away. As soon as September came and I didn’t have my own classes with my own students I knew I had made a mistake. I missed having my students to call my own. I tried to hold it in and give this new role time to sink in. It was new for me and it was new for the teachers I was working with. I knew there would be growing pains, but I never experienced the same joy that I had in my own classroom. I have really enjoyed changing how math is taught in so many classrooms, but I knew.

One of the most interesting things I have learned about number concepts in the lower grades, unitizing five and ten are the building blocks for addition and subtraction. Students should be held back from working with larger numbers until they are comfortable with the combinations to ten.

Being able to spend the year working on the development of number concepts K-5 has given me a new appreciation for mathematics. Everything is interconnected and when students are given the ability to make these connections we can watch them do amazing things.




It seems like a really good idea. I just hope I can keep up with it. I have an idea of how I would like this to go. Here’s the plan: I will post pencasts to Edmodo, students will watch the pencasts for homework and then fill out a summary sheet. Kind of like this one.

Here’s an example of a pencast I did using the Livescribe pens last year:


I’m not sure if the pencast is the best way to record the information, but this is the technology I have now, so I’m going to give it a try.



Today was one of those days, well actually, maybe it was yesterday. It was one of those days I question if I am really moving forward. School starts in two weeks, and I was told yesterday that my classroom is moving and I have vacation plans with my family beginning tomorrow until the day before school starts. I know, poor planning, but my room was ready to go.

Now, I have to start over. I went in today and took everything off the walls. I undid every bulletin board, and emptied every closet and shelf. I can’t even start to move into my new room because it is a disaster. No, actually a disaster, things attached to the floor disaster. It was one of those days.

I didn’t want to write this post. I’m trying to be more positive. I had all these really great ideas. I was ready to start and now I can’t even remember what they are. It’s a good thing I wrote them down in this blog.

Now that I’ve started writing, I can go back and read about the better days. I can read about the triumphs and great ideas.  I think that’s how I’m going to deal with the days that are …., well you know.

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This year my room will not look like this. It already looks very different (I don’t have a picture of that). Tables have replaced individual desks and there are working nooks, created for students to work together uninterrupted. Each group will have a large whiteboard for collaborating on problems, a la @bowmanimal, and smaller individual whiteboards for working independently.

Group work has always been the norm in my room. I also feel that students used to be better at it. Now students believe group work is dividing up a problem and copying one student’s work. For group work to be successful there needs to be discussion about the problem before any work is done. I want to spend a lot of time teaching how to do group work at the beginning of the year. There needs to be a lot of processing while students are working. I think Dan Meyer’s beginning of the year activity  stacking styrafoam cups is a great way to start teaching group work. The marshmallow challenge is another idea for teaching group work. While it isn’t directly related to the curriculum, it is a great way to see how students work together. 

Technology! This is the first year that we have laptop carts to share for each grade, as well as projectors, wireless, and document cameras in each room.

1) Class Dojo is at the top of my list. This was a source of conversation at BLC12. The way that you can engage students in a discussion about behavior and what they want the classroom norms to be is very exciting. And who wouldn’t love the little monsters?

2) Edmodo is also going to be implemented this year in my classroom. I was using another website, but I want students to have the opportunity to interact with the site, ask questions, and answer each others questions. I also hope to start posting pencasts to begin flipping my classroom. I say begin, because I am not ready to commit. We’ll see how it goes.

Wow! I didn’t know I had so much to say.

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New year, New Blog!

I am inspired. Every year I have great ideas. I start out the year and I have really good ideas. I begin to implement them and then… I don’t really know what happens. I lose steam, I run out of time, or I don’t think it’s working. This year will be different, I think.

I have really good ideas this year. I could list them, but you would think I’m being too ambitious. I had the opportunity to attend BLC12 in July. I went last year for one day, but this year attended all three days. I was surrounded by amazing educators, who genuinely care about learning rather than test scores. People who are inspiring. I was told to do just one thing. That was the message over and over. Well, there are too many things I want to do, so this will be my one thing.