Twitter: More than Just a Place to Steal Resources

Yesterday I shared some of my favorite Tweets from the 2016-2017 school year.  They were mainly of things I want to remember to use/steal for next school year.  That was why I first got involved on Twitter.  I was looking for great ideas to steal from others, but as I was going through Tweets, I started realizing how much getting involved on Twitter has helped me as a teacher beyond the resources I find to use in my classroom.  I realized that my “Twitter Friends” not only make me a better teacher through the resources they share, but they also encourage me.  They help me see that I’m not the only one that has days where I question what I’m doing.  They validate those feelings and encourage me to keep going.  They remind me that the work we do as teachers is so incredibly important, even when we don’t feel like we’re making a difference.  They also challenge me to think critically about my teaching.  That was an added bonus of getting involved in the #MTBoS that I didn’t know would happen when I was first looking for stuff to steal.

So here are some of those Tweets.

Here are a few Tweets that have made me think about my teaching.

It is also encouraging to see that other teachers have lessons that flop, don’t have great ways to teach concepts, or still don’t fully understand some of the concepts we’re supposed to teach.  More importantly, it’s a great reminder that it’s ok to admit those things and ask for help.

So thanks MTBoS for becoming so much more than just a place to go to steal resources.


Favorite Tweets of the 2016-2017 School Year

One of the things on my to-do list this summer was to go through my Twitter “likes” and clean it up a bit.  As I was doing this, I was surprised to see that it’s really only been a little over a year since I started using Twitter to find math resources.  It’s now the first place I go when looking for ideas to use in my classroom, and I don’t remember teaching before I found the MTBoS (Math Twitter Blog-o-Sphere).

Here are some of my favorite “likes” from the past year or so.  They are things I liked with the intention of using, or modifying and using, in my classroom but haven’t yet.  So here’s to trying to remember to use some of this for next year.

Here are a few that just made me smile and think “Oh my gosh!  You too?!”

I try to beat the Chick-fil-a system by saving my extra packets of sauce so I can have Chick-fil-a without laving my house.


Seeing Dan Meyer say that it’s ok to have times like this made me smile.


Weekends and summers.  God had to have created them with teachers in mind.

Happy summer!

Add ‘Em Up

I read about Sara Van Der Werf’s Add ‘Em Up activity on her blog a while back.  I remember reading her blog and seeing the pictures of this awesome activity and thinking, “Ok, this is great, but is it really like this in real life?  Yeah, it works for Sara.  But she’s THE Sara Van Der Werf. Would my classroom really look like this too?!”

Then I heard her talk about it last summer a few times at PD she was running.  I was slightly more convinced that I could pull this off, but I wasn’t fully there yet.  I remembered this activity when I was looking for something other than a worksheet to do with one of my classes, and I decided this would be a good class to test it out on.

This is what I saw in my classroom in nearly all of my groups!

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My classroom really does look like Sara described in her blog when I do this activity with my students.  It has become one of my favorite ways to review concepts with my students.  I love that it’s minimal prep for me.  I create 4 problems, get big sheets of paper, and I’m good to go!  I’ve learned to just keep several big sheets of paper in my classroom so I am prepared at all times to do this with a class.  I also love that my students just naturally start working together while doing this activity.

Sara explains in detail how the activity works in her blog post, but here’s a brief overview of how I’ve done it in my classroom.  I highly recommend that you read through her post if you decide to use this in your classroom.  Re-reading Sara’s post was a good refresher for me.  She does several things I have left out when I do the activity with students.

  • Put students into groups of 4.
  • Give students a big sheet of paper to work the problems on and have them divide it into four sections with a circle in the middle.
  • Each student solves one of the four problems given to the group in their section.  Once all students have an answer, they add up the four answers and that number goes in the middle circle.
  • When students finish, I tell them whether or not the number in the middle is correct.  I love that they don’t know which problem(s) of the four are incorrect, just that something is wrong.  Students automatically start helping each other to find their mistake.  It’s great!

Here is the link to download the activities I created this year.  Please let me know if you find any mistakes in my work.  The following activities can be found in the link above.

6th Grade Activities:

  • Evaluate expressions
  • Solving one step equations with decimals
  • Greatest common factor and least common multiple
  • Solving multi-step equations (includes equations with variables on both sides)
  • Solving multi-step equations using the distributive property

8th Grade Activities:

  • Solving equations review (includes quadratics, absolute value, square root, and equations with no solution/infinite solution -I just had students tell me which problem(s) had no solution or infinite solutions when they gave me the number in the box.)
  • Function notation

Highlights from 2016-2017

Megan recently posted her highlights from a hard year, and it caused me to think about my highlights from the past year.

This past school year was a tough year for me as a teacher for a multitude of reasons.   Because of that, I sometimes I feel guilty for mostly sharing just the good stuff here.  However, I’ve said since day 1 that this is a space for me, a place for me to reflect for myself.  Because many days I leave school feeling like I complained/vented too much to my colleagues about things that didn’t go how I hoped and was too hard on myself over how the day went, or was frustrated over things I felt were out of my control this has become my space to reflect and find the good and positive things that I often miss in the midst of my days.  Because there’s been a lot of really great things that have happened in my classroom this past year too, despite it being a tough year.

In the process of writing about my highlights from this year, the quote “Every day may not be good, but there’s something good in every day” comes to mind.  There were definitely many days this school year that I would not classify as “good” days, but even as I look back on those tough and challenging days, I see growth in myself as a teacher, colleague, and a person.  And for that, I am counting those trials and challenges as joy and am grateful for them.

Here are my top 10 favorite things from the past year in no particular order.

  • New Classroom – As part of a big remodeling project at my school, I got a new classroom, and I absolutely LOVE it.  I love the big windows.  I love that I had a clean slate to re-organize and set it up the way I wanted.


  • 8th Grade – I taught 8th grade for the first time this year, and I’ve found that I really, really love it.  It’s sort of ironic because I remember being in college and looking at the 8th grade standards and thinking that I never wanted to teach 8th grade.  Now I am, and I wouldn’t want it any other way!
  • New Stuff in 6th Grade – This is the 4th time I’ve taught 6th grade, but I haven’t found ways to go about teaching the concepts as quickly as I have with 8th grade.  However, I tried a few new things this year with 6th grade that I enjoyed.  I used differentiated review stations that I learned about from Michelle at TMC 16.  I used Julie’s ideas for teaching solving equations and Fawn’s ideas for dividing fractions.
  • Wednesdays with 1st Hour – Every Wednesday 15 minutes into first our, about half my 6th graders left for religion class.  Partway through the year, the routine sort of became that they would work on a puzzle type problem for the first 15 minutes, and then after students left, the rest of the students could pick from any of the games I had in my closet if the rest of their work was done.  This became one of my favorite parts of my week.  I loved watching students learn a new game together or seeing a student who already knew how to play a game teach it to others.  It was fun to watch my students interact and have fun while playing a math/logic type game that didn’t involve a screen.

Every year it’s fun to see which games students gravitate toward.  Blokus is always a hit.  Last year Blink was a big favorite among students.  This year, my students really enjoy Rush Hour and Tipover.

  • Stand and Talks – I first heard about Stand and Talks from Sara Van Der Werf.  I don’t know that a day goes by when I don’t use them at least once in every single one of my classes throughout the day.  Here’s one way that I use them with Find the Flub.
  • Notice/Wonder – This may be perhaps the biggest game changer in my classroom this year.  If you haven’t watched Annie Fetter’s ignite video on this yet, stop reading this right now and go here to watch it.  Now, I don’t know if I always use notice/wonder the “right” way.  I don’t know if there is a right or wrong way to use this.  I do know that I can’t remember teaching before I started using this in my classroom.  I don’t know who has benefited from this more this year, my students or myself.  It has been huge for all of us to realize that my students can use prior knowledge when working with the current/new topics.  I started the year off by using this more formally and being intentional about when I would ask the questions “What do you notice?  What do you wonder?” in my lessons.  When I first started using this, I wasn’t quite sure when/how to use this, but as I started using it more and more, that became easier.  I now find myself asking these questions more informally throughout many of my lessons.


  • Find the Flub – I’ve loved incorporating these as a warm-up for students.  I really like that it provides students a safe place to talk about mistakes in math because the mistakes made came from me, rather than the students.


  • Which One Doesn’t Belong – I used Which One Doesn’t Belong pretty regularly last year with my 6th graders as a warm up.  It generally related to what we were currently talking about, but it didn’t necessarily tie to the rest of the lesson that day.  This year, I did a lot more with creating my own WODB problems so that I could directly tie it into the lesson for the day.  I sometimes found that I could skip a portion of the direct instruction after doing the WODB problem.  Next year, I hope to create more of these to use in my lessons.


  • Open Middle – Unlike WODB problems that I had used regularly in the past, this was the first year that I really did much with Open Middle problems.  I pretty much only used them in one of my classes, and I’m not quite as comfortable implementing them as I am many of the other things I use in my classroom, like WODB.  Despite that, I really, really like using them and the conversation and math that happens because of them.  This is something I plan on using more of next year, and I hope that as I become more comfortable using them I find that, like WODB, I am able to start creating my own so that I can tailor them more specifically for what we are doing in class.


  • Add ’em Up – A while back, Sara Van Der Werf shared Add ‘Em Up, a review activity she does with her students, and I’ve used it several times this year.  I love that in a short amount of time I can  create an activity that engages all of my students and is a nice change from a typical worksheet.
  • Desmos – (I know this is #11, but how can you leave out Desmos?!)  This year I did more with creating my own Desmos activities and using Desmos more as the main part of my lesson rather than something I used as a portion of my lesson.  Here are three of the activities I created in Desmos and uses in place of the direct instruction I had done in the past.

As I look over that list, a couple things stand out to me.

  1. Nearly all of those things were not part of my classroom two years ago, yet I can’t imagine teaching without using things like Notice/Wonder and Stand and Talks.  Are they highlights because they were new this year, and the “old stuff” doesn’t stand out to me anymore?  Regardless of the answer to that question, it makes me excited to think about what things will be a part of my classroom next year that will become highlights for me that previously didn’t happen in my classroom.  How will I complete this sentence a year from now? “Man, I can’t imagine teaching without using ______!”
  2. It’s rewarding for me personally to see things like Which One Doesn’t Belong? and Desmos activities that I did use in my classroom in prior years become something bigger this year as I started creating my own to fit my lessons.  Not too long ago, those were things that I was hesitant to try and wasn’t as confident on how they would go as a part of my lesson.  It’s a good reminder for me to stick with routines (like Open Middle problems) that I may not be as comfortable with.  With time, these may become something that is more frequently the focus of a lesson and something I am comfortable creating to fit a particular lesson.



One Good Thing: “I think we need to clap for that.”

I really enjoy reading Rebecka Peterson‘s posts over on the One Good Thing blog.  It’s encouraged me to look for my own good things after a tough day.  Today’s was easy.

Last week in one of my classes we played “Mathketball”  (I think most people call it trashketball.)  A student made the comment that we should play “Mathket-war”.  I said if someone wanted to create the game, we could play this week.


I honestly had forgotten about that conversation until Tuesday.  A student walks into my room and hands me a piece of paper,  “Here are the rules for mathket-war.”  Then, “And here are the cards for it.”


Yes, one of my students spent Memorial weekend creating mathket-war.  I wish I had a picture of my face when she shared this with me.  She told me her older sister who is in one of my other classes helped check her math for the problems.  Yet another reason I love this -her sister helped her out.  As an only child, I LOVE to see siblings get along.

Today she read the rules to the class and showed them the cards.  This was out of this girl’s comfort zone, but she did a great.  Hearing the other students appreciate what she had done was good for her.  They were excited she created this so they could play it and were impressed with all the work she had done.

At one point another student made a comment suggesting something that should happen in the game.  She replied, “Just wait.  That’s in the bonus points.”  She truly thought of everything.

When she finished a student raised his hand, “I think we need to clap for that.”

And they did.  🙂

System of Equations: Substitution

Every once in a while I get excited to have my students do a worksheet.  This is one of those worksheets.  I’ve been waiting to get to this in 8th grade this year to see if it would go as smoothly as it did last year.  So far, it has.  🙂

Last year, I dreaded the thought of teaching solving systems of equation by substitution.  I envisioned my students getting frustrated by the long process involved -solving for a variable, substituting that expression into the other equation, solving for the remaining variable, plugging that back into the other equation to solve for the other variable…  These were all things that students knew how to do already, but putting it all together can feel overwhelming to them.  I didn’t want them to see this as a process to memorize, but rather see this as something that made sense based on what they already knew.

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The result of my brainstorming on how to teach/introduce this to students is one of my favorite worksheets.  This worksheet is also an example of one of my favorite parts of teaching/lesson planning -taking a concept I’m dreading teaching and finding a way to smoothly get my students from where they currently are to where they need to be.

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I don’t know if this is considered best practice or not, but basically my goal when creating this worksheet was to go back to the basics when it comes to evaluating an expression for a given value of a variable and simplifying expressions and slowly add one more step to the process until students unknowingly solve your typical system of equations by substitution type problem.

Should I help students make the connection to the graphs and the equations earlier than I do?  I don’t know.

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The worksheet essentially goes from substitute and simplify to substitute and solve an equation.  Students start by substitution a numerical value and it moves to an algebraic expression.

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After students complete the worksheet, I have them graph one of the last problems in Desmos and ask what they notice.  They are amazed when they realize that their answer is the intersection of the two lines.  The first time I had a student do this she thanked me for “tricking” her into doing this type of problem.  No joke.

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Here is the link to download the worksheet.

Surface Area & Volume Scavenger Hunts

How is it that even after several years of teaching 6th grade, I can still go to my old files looking for stuff to teach an upcoming unit and find pretty much nothing?  How?  How does this happen?  I know I taught it in the past, but what did I do?

This happened with a recent unit on surface area and volume, so I created two scavenger activities.  One on surface area and volume and another with word problems on the same stuff.

I’ve been using “loop” activities or “scavenger hunts” for a while.  I especially like them for the times when I need students to practice a specific type of problem.  It’s a great way to disguise a worksheet as an activity.  I love that they are self checking and get students up and moving around.

I have tried a few different ways of creating this type of activity up when making my own.  This is what I’ve found to be most efficient for me when I’m making the activity.  On the top of a sheet of paper I put the first problem.  Then I put the answer to that problem on the bottom of the next sheet.  It’s been a big help for students to make the font as big as possible so that students can see it from a ways away.  Then on the top of that sheet I put the next problem.  The final answer goes on the bottom of the first sheet.   At the end of the activity, I am able to check students’ work by checking the order of their answers.

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Students can start at any card.  They solve the problem and find that answer on another sheet.  This continues until they have done all the problems.  If they do everything correctly, they will end up back where they started.

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Because this is a self checking activity for students, I tend to be “less helpful” to students while they are working on activities like this.

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And an added bonus is that you can hang the problems just as well to the outside of the school as you can the walls of your classroom.  So when it’s beautiful outside and your class has been awesome all week, you take them outside.  🙂

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Here are the links to download the activities.

Update:  I also uploaded an area review worksheet I used to intro this unit.  I’m trying to incorporate more self-check assignments for my students so they know whether or not they are on the right track while working on them.

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I also thought I’d share the documents I used to create the images for these activities.  I recently discovered I can use Google Drawings to create prisms.  It works really well for triangular prisms and rectangular prisms.  It’s not quite as easy to create trapezoidal prisms, but it was the best I found.  Here is the link to the images I made for the surface area and volume scavenger hunt, and here is the link to the images for the word problem scavenger hunt.