Good Things

I’ve done Sara Van Der Werf‘s name tents the last several years and have really enjoyed hearing from every student every day the first week.  However, after that week, I wasn’t nearly as intentional about this.  This year I started asking a non-math question at the end of every test, and I respond to every student like I did on the name tents.  I shared briefly about that in this post.  This has been one of my absolute favorite things I’ve implemented this year.  I look forward to test day because of this, and as I walk around while students are testing, I notice that when they get to the back page of the test, they skip ahead and answer that question first, so I think they like it too.

The first few tests I asked random things like “If you could live anywhere, where would you live?”  “If you could go on vacation anywhere, where would it be?”

Then I remembered Rebecka Peterson has her students write down One Good Thing in a notebook every time they take a quiz.  Rebecka never reads these from her students; it’s just for the students.  I thought about using that as the prompt for students, but I admit, I was a little bit hesitant.  I wondered how this would go with my middle schoolers compared to Rebecka’s pre-calc and calc students.  I wondered if I would get a ton of “nothings”.  I was worried about what they would think knowing that I would be reading them or if this should be something just for them.

My goodness.  Their responses were incredible.  I decided after that first time to never ask another question all year.

I heard about students who helped another student pick up their stuff, who realized they paid attention in class more that week, or who couldn’t think of a bad thing that has happened in a long time (Man, reading that response from the student knowing some of what’s going on outside of school stopped me in my tracks.  That student is going through some tough stuff right now, yet couldn’t think of a bad thing.  Wow!).  Another response started, “Bad thing first…” and then the student went on to say how that bad thing turned into a good thing.  How often do I not take the time to see that the bad/difficult thing, ended up being something pretty great?

My students taught me more than I taught them that week.

Did I get some “I don’t know” or “nothing” responses?  Yes.  Even then, it gave me the opportunity to think back on the week and try to point out a good thing that the student did or that happened to the student.

I’m also really enjoying the opportunity to check in with students and ask about their good things while they are working on test corrections.

And some of their responses just make me smile.  I love that they are taking the time to recognize these good things in their lives.




This past week was one of the best weeks I’ve had with my 6th graders in a long time.  Sara Van Der Werf has said during PD to take note of the good moments in your classroom, the moments when students are engaged, because we want to recreate those moments!

When I think back on this past week in 6th grade, one thing stands out to me.  Movement.

Nearly every day this past week, a good portion of the class my students were out of their desks practicing problems.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

This is something I *know* I need to be doing, but I’ll be honest, I had gotten out of the habit of intentionally putting it in my lesson plans.  Last year I had class sizes of around 33, and it was definitely more difficult to do these types of things both because of space as well as for behavior reasons.  Because I hadn’t been using these types of things last year, I had sort of forgotten to be intentional about this, even with much smaller class sizes this year.

Here’s some of the activities we did this week to practice problems using greatest common factor and least common multiple.

Every student had a card with a different number on it.  The numbers did not go in order and were random.  Half of the numbers were printed on one color paper, the other half on another.  Students were to pair up with someone who had the opposite color card as them, find the greatest common factor of the two numbers, check their answer using Desmos (Did you know you can type in gcf(24,32), and it will give you the greatest common factor?!), switch cards, and then find a new partner.

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I did have a few cards left over so that if a group of students finished and there weren’t any other groups close to being ready, I could give them a new number so they could keep working.

VNPS.  I admit, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve tried using Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces with 6th graders, and the times that I have used it, I’ve used it with one of my sections that I thought could handle it, or with only a handful of students who had finished their other work.  This was the first time I had tried it with all students in all of my sections.  It was great!  I will definitely be doing this again!

Loop Activity.  We did a loop activity, or sometimes called a scavenger hunt.  I hang pieces of paper with problems around the room and on each paper is the answer to the previous problem.  If students do the problems correctly, they will loop back to the first problem after completing all of the problems.  Here is the link to the post where I shared this activity.

Word Problems.  When we did word problems, we didn’t spend a ton of time going over examples together as a class.  We did two problems, and then students spent the remainder of the hour working on their own with partners.  Even though we didn’t spend a ton of time as a large group, students still did great on their own.

Now, here’s to hoping I remember this in the future, even when I have larger class sizes!

Changes for 2019-2020

I went into the school year knowing I wanted to be purposeful about making some changes in my classroom so that I didn’t go through the year on autopilot repeating everything I did last year.  However, when the year started, I didn’t have a clear idea of what those changes would be.  A few weeks into the year, I’ve found my “thing” for the year.

Change 1:  Feedback on Tests

While going through my master’s program, I started grading review worksheets and quizzes by highlighting students mistakes after seeing this on the Teaching Channel.  I didn’t feel ready to grade tests that way at that time.  That was two school years ago, and last year, since I was no longer doing action research for my master’s, I only graded the review worksheets that way.  I’ve always dreaded handing back tests in class.  Students didn’t look over them how I hoped they would, and it became something I put off doing.

During a conversation with my department, one of my colleagues talked about how she gives feedback on tests by highlighting student mistakes.  As a result of that conversation, I decided to go back to giving feedback that way this year, including tests.

I know it will take a few times of going through the process to work out a system that works for both my students and me, but after going through it once with most of my classes, I truly feel this is a better system than what I was doing in the past.  I was hesitant to try because I couldn’t picture exactly how the process would work or that I could get buy in from all of my students.  Ultimately, I decided that even if my students even gain one thing from looking more closely at their mistakes, it is worth it.

Change 2:  Non-Math Test Question

I’ve used Sara Van Der Werf’s name tents the last several years, and I’ve wanted to try to find ways to keep the conversation going throughout the school year.  I want to be a student of my students all year long.

I decided to add a place for this on all of my tests.  I’m asking students a non-math/school question and respond to each student the way I do on the name tents.  So far I’ve pulled the questions from this Chat Pack, something I picked up at a thrift store years ago.  The first question I asked was, “What event or activity in the next few months are you looking forward to more than anything else?”  Some of my students assumed the question meant in math or in school, so next year I may ask something that is more obvious that it doesn’t need to relate to school at all.  The next question I asked was what state they would choose to live in and why.  I loved getting a glimpse into the thinking of middle schoolers!

On the name tents, I don’t typically ask students questions or give them prompts, as I want to conversation to be more organic and for them to share with me whatever they want.  So far, the questions on the tests have been much more direct.  I may change that in the future so that it’s more open ended.

Here are a few other small changes or classroom hacks I’ve been using this year.

Random Grouping

I noticed last year that when I would number students off for groups, I continually heard, “I’m always with_____.”  Even though I tried to be “random” about how I numbered students, I obviously didn’t do a very good job of it.  I know this is NOTHING new, but I finally started using cards to put students in pairs.  I use two different colored decks (blue and red) and students are partners with the same card of the other deck.  One of my classes has struggled to stay focused and work during work time.  A student suggested that I pair boys with girls to help keep them focused.  Because I have two different colored decks, I now give girls one color and boys the other.

I can also somewhat rig the partners if I need to.  I got this idea from somewhere online.  If I need to, when I’m getting the cards ready, I find one pair of matching cards and put them so I know where those two cards are as I’m passing the cards out.  If I have two students who cannot handle working together, I make sure to give one of them the “rigged” card and make sure the other student doesn’t get the other rigged card.  I’ve also used this when I have a student who struggles to work with a partner.  As much as I work with my students on how to work together in groups regardless of who their partner is, sometimes I just need a certain student to participate in what we are doing that day.  I will ask the student prior to putting the groups together if there is a student that would be a good partner for them that day or someone they shouldn’t be paired up with that day.  I make sure to give the student I talked to one of the “rigged” cards and pass out the other card according to the conversation I had with the student.

Class Sizes

This is something I can’t believe has taken me 6 years to start doing.  In the front of my planner where I write down the names of absent students, I put a post it with how many students are in each of my classes.  I use this to figure out how to have students number off for groups.  I’ve found this to make putting students in groups go more efficiently.  For example, if it’s 3rd hour and 2 students are absent, I check the post it to see that I have 21 students, so with 2 gone, I have 19 and count off accordingly.


I give students several short 1 to 2 question quizzes throughout each unit.  When I gave the first one, I told my students that I would grade one of the two questions.  Honestly, I did this sort of for selfish reasons, I was looking to cut down the time it took to grade them after school.  However, I realized that I actually learned a lot more by allowing students to pick the problem I graded.  I noticed which problem students avoided.  Some students attempted both and then picked one for me to grade, so I learned which problem students felt more confident in.

Cable Organizer

I put this cable organizer on my desk to keep my laptop charger in place when my computer isn’t at my desk.  It’s a small thing, but it’s so nice to keep it in place so it doesn’t fall down.  I also used to pull out the cable on accident as I’d be working at my desk, and now I don’t do that.

Whiteboard Posters

I’ve also really been enjoying these whiteboard posters and am looking forward to continuing to use them throughout the year.

Whiteboard Posters

A while back, I saw a picture of these posters on Instagram from Teaching the Distance.  I really liked and them and thought of many different uses for them, so I decided to create my own.  As the year goes on, and I finalize some of the other ones I’ve been working on, I’ll add them here.

This is what I came up with.


So far this year, I’ve been using them for the area formulas.  I really like being able to “build” the formula as we talk about why it works.  I show a lot of gifs to my students during this unit so they can see where the formulas come from.  As we were using these, I had the thought that something like this would be really nice for literal equations as well.

To stick them to the whiteboard, I used whiteboard tape like this.  The magnets aren’t super strong, so in the future I may try something else, but this is what I had and it works.

My plan for this is to “build” them each day with my classes as we’re starting the unit, and then towards the middle/end of the unit, leave them up on the board until the unit is over.

I also have the ones for order of operations *almost* ready to go.  As I’m writing this post, I realized I forgot “exponents”.  Ugh.  I’ve updated the file and will print it out this week.


Here are a few I made for our unit on linear equations.




Slope-Intercept Form


Point-Slope Form


Standard Form

It’s hard to see some of the individual pieces in those pictures, but I tried to put words inside the variables to show what it represents.

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Here is the link to download the files.

I’m working on ones for slope, the various forms of linear equations, the Pythagorean theorem, and arithmetic and geometric sequences.  If you can think of any others I could make, please let me know!

Good Things: Year 7. Week 1.

Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3 | Volume 4Volume 5 | Volume 6 | Volume 7Volume 8 | Volume 9 | Volume 10 | Volume 11

I love the first week of school, but I’ll be honest, I love a few weeks down the road more -when I know my students, they know me, and we’re in a routine.

I think that’s why many of my good things from this past week of school (my first week for the year) came from students I had last year.  It felt like we picked up right where we left off.

A student walked in and excitedly asked, “How was your Desmos thing?!”

I overheard another student, “She got a new sign.” as she pointed to the wall.

I was sharing a bit about myself and had a picture of my cousin’s daughters up because I spend quite a bit of time with them.  Another student asked, “Which one is the ABC girl?”  (Last year I shared with them a video of the youngest singing the ABCs.)

All of that happened in the first 10 minutes.

And later when I was going through Name Tents, a different student asked if my cousin’s daughter ever learned out how to “stop the ABCs” (She would get to the end and sing, “now I know my abc….defg…” and it was an infinite loop.)

My heart was full.  We didn’t just learn math together last year in my room.  We learned about each other and what’s important to us outside of school, and we asked each other about those things.

And it gave me hope and reminded me that I’ll get there with my other classes too.


When I was introducing my favorite first week problem (thanks Fawn!), I asked them what they thought I would tell them after they solved it, and a chorus of students enthusiastically said, “Try to find another way to solve it!”  It was almost as if I had told them to say that and they rehearsed.  It was music to my ears.


And when I tried to interrupt them seconds after giving them the problem because I forgot to give part of the directions, I couldn’t because they were already too into the problem.

I didn’t even care that they didn’t stop to listen.


The day after we started that problem a student pulled these out while her group was working on it.  I was maybe a little bit too excited about this.  I immediately wanted to have enough of them so that we could “act” out the entire problem.



Name tents.

Middle schoolers really know how to make you feel good the first week of school.


100 Numbers Activity.

I think this will forever be one of my favorites.  And every year I laugh when the students I’ve had for the second time are shocked that I was taking pictures while they were working -they knew I did it when I had them the first time!



I LOVE using Set the first week with my 6th graders to introduce them to some of my routines.  I start by doing a notice/wonder with it.  Then I had students do a Stand and Talk and had students talk about what they noticed.

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Then later in the week, once students understand how to play Set, I pull out all my decks, put students in groups, and have them play.  This is also the perfect way to revisit what we talked about on day 1 when it comes to group work in math.




My week ended with a student coming in my room after school on Friday with the problem we had been working on all week.  It was not assigned, yet she so badly wanted to figure it out that she was working on it outside of class.  ♥

What a perfect way to end the week and start my weekend!

Desktop Wallpaper Organizer

A few years ago, I spent way. too. much. time creating a desktop background for my school computer.  I Googled “How to create a desktop background” and learned about aspect ratio and then learned how to save it as a pdf so that I saw the whole picture and not just a small part of it (file > print > save as pdf and then I’d have to click Page Setup and make sure that Wallpaper was selected as the paper size).  I remember saving the pdf and making it my desktop background only to find that part of it got cut off on my screen.  Then I’d save it again to find out that the boxes I had for the different categories didn’t line up with where the folders would snap into the grid on the desktop.  I couldn’t tell you how many times I repeated that process.  It took FOREVER.

However in the end, I was happy with the outcome.

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Watercolor background found here.

As soon as I finished, I wished I had written down or wrote a post about the steps I took so I could remember it for the next time.  I had every intention of doing that this year.  Then I realized I could just pull up the one I had made, change the background picture, fonts, and color of the boxes and call it good!  Yep, that’s definitely what I did.

As I shared in this post, I’ve heard Annie F. Downs talk about Savor This on her podcast and also watched her Instastory where she talked about it.  After watching that, I knew that was my next background for my computer.

This is what I came up with.

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Flower background found here.

So while I don’t have a tutorial for you of how to create this, I can share the files I’ve made for these.  I don’t know if they’ll work on your screen or not, and I probably can’t tell you how to make one for yourself if it doesn’t work.  However, feel free to reach out if you’re trying to make one, and I can try to help!

Here are the files for both.

Savor This

A friend introduced me to Annie F. Downs this past year, and I *very* quickly turned into a fan.  Binge listen to her podcast? Check.  Follow her on all the places?  Check.  Buy her books?  Check.  Read her books?  Check.

She’s SO great!

As I’ve listened to her podcast (That Sounds Fun), I’ve heard her talk about “savor this”.  When I heard her talk about it on Instagram, I knew that I wanted needed this somewhere in my classroom this year to remind me of it throughout the year.  Below is what she said in her Instastory.

“I try to rush through every single thing I do, and I want to move on to the next thing and I don’t like living like that.  So for the last year and a half I’ve been saying to myself, thanks to Jenn, I want to savor everything.  I want to be right in the middle of where I am and really appreciate it, even if it’s heartbreak, even if it’s hard.  If it’s awesome, I want to be right in the middle of it.”

I heard that and immediately thought of me in my classroom.

How many times toward the end of a class period am I already thinking ahead to the next one?  How many times do I catch myself wishing it were the 3:30 (or the weekend, or Christmas break, or summer)?  How many times do I just want to get through *that class* because I know/think the rest of my day will be better after that? How many times do I wish I was done with the current concept so we could move on to one of my favorites?  How many times do I miss out on something amazing going on in my classroom because I’m too busy thinking ahead to the next thing? 

This happens a lot more often than I’m willing to admit.

So that is my goal for this upcoming school year not only in my classroom but also in life.

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I want to be right in the middle of whatever is going on.  Not planning the next thing or worrying about anything and everything.  I want to savor and enjoy and be present with whatever is going on.