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.
- 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.
- 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 ______!”
- 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.