Learning to Balance

This school year overall, I’ve done a pretty good job at having balance in my life, and it feels wrong.  Yes, that’s right.  It feels wrong that I’m not at school before 7:00 every day and don’t stay until 6:00 every night.  It feels wrong that I’m not taking home grading every single day.  It feels wrong that I’m not spending my entire weekends lesson planning and grading.  It feels wrong to not create everything from scratch for at least one of my preps this year.

I feel like I’m not doing enough.

But you know what feels right?  It feels right to spend Saturday afternoons at my cousin’s playing with her girls.  It feels right to spend my Saturday nights at church and then at home relaxing with a good book.  It feels right to spend most of Sunday doing whatever I want.

I’m trying to learn how to handle those feelings that are so opposite each other.

Earlier this year I really struggled with Sunday nights.  I started dreading them because I was bummed that my weekend was almost over and the school week started again.  I hated these feelings.  I felt so guilty for dreading Mondays, even to the point of wondering if teaching was really for me.  I mean, if it was, why was I feeling this way at the end of every weekend?

Then one week I had a realization that helped me understand what I was feeling. During my first few years of teaching, the school week was almost a break for me.  I spent all weekend lesson planning and preparing for the week.  Once Monday hit, I just implemented what I planned over the weekend and graded so I could spend the entire weekend lesson planning, and the process would repeat again.  Now that I’m in my 6th year, I’ve got a system to get my lesson plans and grading done during the week so that I can enjoy my weekends.  I’ve got balance.

During my first few years of teaching I didn’t dread Mondays because Monday was a break from lesson planning.  This year, I’ve been dreading Mondays not because I don’t like teaching anymore, but because my weekends are so much more refreshing than they used to be and I’m blessed to spend them with family and friends I love.  I’m sad to see that part of my week end.  Now that I understand this better, I’ve been able to be turn what used to be feelings of disappointment that the weekend is over into feelings of gratitude for what I was able to do over the weekend and excitement over what’s to come in the week.

I’m learning how to handle these feelings and struggles related to balance that are new to me.

Another recent realization I’ve had is that one of the reasons this balance I have this year has been a struggle and felt wrong is because it’s been…a while since I’ve actually had balance in my life.  This might actually be the first time in my adult life that I’ve had balance.  I double majored in college, so I always had a full load of classes as well as worked 2-3 jobs on campus.  Then I started teaching right after graduating.  The first couple years of teaching are just crazy, and I started my Masters during my third year of teaching and continued with other grad classes right after finishing my Masters.  SO all that to say that this school year has been the first year since teaching that I’m teaching the same classes as the year before and I’m not taking any grad classes.

It’s new.  It’s different.  It’s feels great and wrong and weird all at the same time.

I’m in the process of learning how to balance.

I think one of the things that’s been hardest about learning all of this over the course of the year is that I was totally unprepared for it.

People sort of prepare you for your first year of teaching, although nothing *truly* prepares you for it, and you’re prepared for year two because you went through year one.  But this switch to reteaching classes?  No one told me about that.  Maybe the change is more evident to me as a single person with no kids, I don’t know.

One of my fears as I start to learn balance is that I will enjoy this balance too much and won’t continue to grow, improve, and challenge myself as a teacher.  I’ve done a few things this past year to help me make sure that I’m not blindly reusing lessons from last year, and I want to be even more intentional with this next year.

I would LOVE to hear from those of you who have been teaching for 6+ years on how you are intentional about continuing to challenge and grow as a teacher.






Good Things: Volume 11

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

One of my favorite parts of this week was completely unplanned and pretty much happened on accident.  This is something I can see myself doing every year, and I think you should try it too, which is why I’m sharing!

My students are taking their state test this coming week during their regularly scheduled class period.  I teach all middle school, so all of my classes have to take the state test.  SO I get to proctor tests all. day. long. for four days next week.  (Bright Side:  Lesson plans for next week were done in record time!)

When my students realized I would be proctoring tests all day long, they started asking what I would do all day.  After telling them I’m not allowed to do much of anything other than actively monitor them, they came up with some pretty crazy ideas for me.  (Put pages of books on the walls so I can read while I walk my room.  Paint eyes on my eyelids so I can sleep but it will look like I’m awake.  Call in sick all week. Ha!)

In one class, someone said that they should write an I Spy for me to play in my classroom while I walk around.  We joked about it, and moved on.

A few of them however didn’t forget about it.

At the end of the class, one student handed me a piece of paper with things for me to find.

  • Find how many s’s are on the poster above your door.
  • How many red squares do you have around your room?
  • How many signs or posters are on the front side of your classroom?


Then the next day another student walked in and handed me this.


She came up with these creative ideas on her own, typed it up, and printed it out.  What?!  It’s so great and made me smile.  I mean, how can you read, “Think of the Kool-Aid man bursting through the window.” and not smile?!

We had a few extra minutes of class today, so I asked them to come up with other ideas.  Some were so funny, and I found myself laughing out loud at some of them.  Others were super creative, and I found myself smiling over their fun ideas.

  • “Imagine your favorite book and imagine you are in the book.”
  • “ABC games find something that starts in an A then something that starts with a B and so on.”
  • “What kind of house would you build if you lived in a Minecraft world”
  • “Plan a trip around the world”
  • “Count how many people sneeze/cough during MCA’s.  (I really want to know).”
  • “Make up a letter, what it looks like, and how it sounds”
  • “How many inspirational signs can you find around the room?”
  • “Make up a number without using other ones.”
  • “How many laminated posters are there?”  (I blame the MTBoS for my laminating obsession!)
  • “Look for all the letters of the alphabet from A-Z in this room.”
  • “Think of a childhood song.  Then try to get it out of your head.  Example:  ABC’s”
  • “Think of what you would do if you didn’t have to walk up and down the rows.”
  • “Think of as many digits of pi as possible (My best 78 as of 5th grade)”
  • “How many ‘mistakes’ are in the room?”  (I love that they notice my emphasis on normalizing mistakes!)
  • “How many times can you see your face in your pictures by the desk?”  (There’s A LOT thanks to my MTBoS wall.)


So if you’ve got several hours of proctoring tests coming up in the next few months, ask your students how you should use your time!  It was a great light-hearted and fun way to end the last day leading up to our state tests.

Good Things: Volume 10

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


My students have continued to enjoy our play table.

I got those on Amazon.

Those are Lego knock-offs from Target the dollar section.

I had a couple students who came early every day to class after lunch and each day they would try to balance a larger cube like that.


I went to a math Ed Camp hosted by MCTM, and it was a great day of connecting with local math teachers!


I’ve already tried a couple ideas people shared at the Ed Camp.  Jess Strom mentioned that she loves combining Open Middle problems with Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces.  I tried it, and it was my favorite day of Open Middle problems yet! I found that students were more engaged and on task with the problem than when they do it on paper.

Students were working on this problem and this one.



I pulled out Jay Chow’s Desmos Breakout activities recently for the first time this year.  Students always enjoy these so much.  You can find all of his activities here.  If you haven’t seen these yet, check them out!  They are awesome!


The makers of Set came out with a new game, and it’s great!



One of my students had an awesome way of thinking about converting 5/8 to a percent.

“Well, we already wrote 1/8 as a percent today and that was 12.5%, and I know that 4/8 is 50%.  I added 12.5% and 50% to get 62.5%.”

I use this method quite a bit with other types of problems, especially when finding percents of dollar amounts, but I hadn’t thought to use it in this direction – going from fractions to percents.  I love learning from my students!



I had a couple of students debating over multiple days about whether 0/0 would be 100% or 0%.  In this class, we had not been covering percents and this debate was completely student initiated.  We did talk about 0/0 being undefined and sort of an irrelevant question, but they were debating that if you HAD to pick 0% or 100%, which would it be.  I loved listening to their arguments for which one they thought it was.


The last couple years I’ve introduced the Pythagorean Theorem using Notice/Wonder, and I’ve liked how this has gone.  I really like how more of my students continue to think of the what is happening visually after introducing it this way.



Last year I used Dan Meyer’s Taco Cart for the first time.  It was the first 3 Act I’d ever done and it was a spur of the moment decision to try it when I found out last minute that nearly half my class was gone for the day.  I used it again this year, and I felt like I facilitated it a little better than I did the first time.  I made adjustments to how we did this activity on the fly, and I was proud of myself for that.  Students are turning in their solutions on Monday, and I hope to write a short post on how this went soon.


We used one of my favorite Polygraphs recently.  I absolutely love this one for angle pairs in 6th grade.

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We had a crazy couple months after Christmas break with several cold days, snow days, and late starts.  We had a brown Christmas, and ended February with normal amounts of  snow for MN.  It’s finally starting to warm up and the snow is melting.  Normally I don’t like this time of year when the snow gets muddy and the grass is brown; however, I’ve never been so happy to see brown grass as I have this year.


Another idea shared at the MN EdCamp by May Vang was to give students examples of a vocal word and have them come up with the definition.  I tried this with rational and irrational numbers, and it didn’t quite go how I envisioned with my first class, so I changed things up with the second class.  It went better, but still not as well as I had hoped.  So I changed it slightly for the 3rd class, and it went much better.  I added some notice/wonder to the prompt, and it made all the difference.  No surprise there.  I don’t know why it took me three tries to add that to the prompt.


A student stopped in my room after school one day this week with a baggie of seashells, “I keep forgetting to bring these to class.  I got these shells when we were on vacation, and they’re for you.”  She thought of her math teacher while on vacation.  How did I get so lucky to be apart of these kids’ lives??


It was a work day in 8th grade this Friday, so I put on some of the NCAA basketball games.  A little math and some March Madness.  I can’t think of a better way to head into the weekend.

Good Things: Volume 9

Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3 | Volume 4| Volume 5 | Volume 6 | Volume 7|Volume 8


There have been many more opportunities for my students to “play” with math this year in my classroom.  This has sort of happened by accident as I don’t feel that I have been super intentional about this, but this is definitely an area that I want to be more intentional about -creating more opportunities for all of my students to play with math.  These times when students are playing with math have been some of my absolute favorite times in my classroom this year, and I want to find ways to incorporate this more regularly in my classroom and incorporate it into my curriculum compared to something that is done in spare moments.

My play table continues to be one of my favorite things in my room.  I went to Target numerous times to find the Christmas building blocks and had them out the two weeks prior to Christmas break.


In the afternoon on the last day before break, we have different activities for students set up in different classrooms (decorating Christmas cookies with our cooks, a Christmas craft, a bean bag tournament, dodgeball, karaoke, a Christmas movie, etc.), and they get to hang out and go to the different activities.  I had  group of students ask if I would open up my room so they could continue working on building with the blocks.  It was fun to see them all work together to create something.


Here’s their final creation.



After Christmas I had these hexagon blocks from Target out on the play table.  They are several years old, and I keep waiting for Target to get them in again.  One student came in after lunch the first day they were out, “Oh my gosh!  Where did you get those? I need to add them to my birthday list!”  When I told her they were old, she still wanted to take a picture of them to add to her birthday list.

I also had a student tell me that he got Kanoodle for Christmas after he played it in class.  I love love love that my students are enjoying these mathy toys enough to want them at home!


Another thing my students have been loving are making flextangles.  I’ve shared the video before, but I’ll share it again.

They’ve continued to ask to make these when they have some spare time.  We just finished up fraction stations, and I had many students ask to make these when they finished.


I even had one student cut out the little tiny Pattern Guide in the corner of the template and glue that together to make one!

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Balance.  In the past year and a half, I’ve had MUCH better balance in my life.  As much as that should be a good thing, I honestly struggled with it for quite a while.  I’ve been meaning to write a post about this, but here it is in short.  I felt like I wasn’t doing enough as a teacher since I rarely work on the weekends now or take things home with me.  Because my weekends were finally a time for me to recharge personally rather than try to stay afloat as a teacher, I would spend Sunday nights dreading having to go back to work and felt guilty for not looking forward to going back to school.  A couple weeks ago, I had a realization about this, and since then I’ve been able to truly enjoy my time at school AND my time at home.  Again, that’s a post for another day, but it’s been SUCH a good thing for me to have had that realization.


I had a group of students that were ahead in one of my classes, so last minute I decided I wanted to see if I could try some coding with them.  I’ve seen Ashley, one of the creators of the site CS and Math, post a lot about this on Twitter.  I reached out to her, and she responded so quickly and was super helpful!  I had pretty much no previous experience with Scratch, and it had been years since I’d taken computer science in my undergrad.  In an hour or so, I was able to familiarize myself with Scratch thanks to this post.  My students were able to figure out Scratch on their own thanks to the hyper doc in that post.  Many of my students that tried this absolutely LOVED coding!  This is definitely something I plan on incorporating more of in my classroom.

The following is part of what students create in the introduction hyper doc.

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These next three are things that students created in this lesson.

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We were testing in 7th grade.  I overheard one of my students encouraging the girl sitting next to him to be positive about the test.  From their conversation, I gathered that the girl often says she will do poorly on the test.  He told her she can’t be positive about doing poorly either, since she often says things such as, “I am positive I won’t do well on this.”  His then went on to say because a positive and a negative is still a negative.  I had to smile at this.  I loved that he was encouraging this student, and even incorporated math in his encouragement.  🙂


Last week I had my students create their own marbleslides.  (See this post and this one.)  This is one of my absolute favorite things I do with my students.  Here are a few of their creations.  Be on the lookout for a post on this in the future with more of their creations.

One student asked, “Why are you being so nice and letting us play games all hour?”  I don’t know if he was implying that I’m usually not nice… 😉  I had some examples from last year up when he asked that, and my response was, “Look at all the math that is involved in this!  I am more than happy to let you play with this all day!”

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, MTBoS

As 2018 comes to a close and I’ve been thinking about everything that’s happened over the past year, it really stood out to me how many awesome MTBoS people I got to see in real life this year and how much of my improvement as a teacher can be attributed to the MTBoS.

It is such a cool experience to meet people in real life that you’re friends with online and to continue online friendships in person, and I have been so blessed to have so many opportunities to meet up with many of you throughout the year.

I’ve also had the opposite happen this year -people I knew in real life first have been introduced to the MTBoS.  It’s been so fun to see people that I’ve known from high school or my undergrad jump into the MTBoS!

Looking at the pictures below, I am blown away.  When I started teaching I never saw myself doing those things, let alone all of them in one year!  I cannot wait to see what the next year has in store.

I hope you all have a restful break and are able to recharge.  Merry Christmas!

TMC in Cleveland!



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(TMC Posts:  One  Two)



Math on a Stick



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MTBoS in my Classroom


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Activities for Before Christmas Break

The week before Christmas break is always crazy, and I tend to have plans A, B, and C ready to go because I never know what to expect.  For the most part, I try to keep things as normal as possible for as long as possible, while at the same time knowing things may not pan out as I hope.  I usually leave the last day before break somewhat open so I have some wiggle room if something else comes up and I would need to push a test to that day or if a student was gone and needs to take a test, etc.

Even on that last day, I usually have several different options ready to go that I could use in case something else would fall through.

Here are a couple of my favorite things to do with students the last day before Christmas break.

1. Sara Van Der Werf’s 5×5 Activity.

I have used this activity for the past 3 years, and it is an absolute favorite.  Read all about it here on Sara’s blog.  It’s not super mathy, but there’s addition involved.  In short, as I call out numbers, students place them in a 5×5 grid with the goal of earning the most points.  You earn points by having the same number in adjacent boxes.  Read all the details in Sara’s post.  I am always amazed at how quiet and into the game students get.  I will intentionally pause extra long sometimes before calling out the next number just to see if students will stay quiet -they do.  🙂


2.  Flextangles

I stumbled on this last year, and it is a keeper.  I honestly had no idea how this would go over with my 7th grade boys, but they really seemed to enjoy it.  I had students asking if they could work on this in their free time long after the day we did it in class.

I had some extra time with some of my students in a class this week, and on a whim, I decided to try Function Carnival.  I had never used it with students before, but I thought this would be a good group of students to test it out on.  They loved it!

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It was the perfect activity to use a couple days before break because it was fun and engaging for students, and there was still a ton of great math conversations happening amongst my students.

I’ve already used these Desmos activities in a few of my classes, but may pull them out this week again if needed.  (That’s the one downside to teaching students multiple times -I can’t use all my activities the first time I have them, because I will have them again within the next two years and need to save some of my favorites.)

  • Trees and Tents (one and two)
  • Wolves and Sheep
  • Jay Chow creates awesome Desmos Breakout activities.  This is above where my students are at, but if i taught high school, I would definitely consider using this.

I may also pull out several of the different things I’ve put out on my Play Table, or some of the board games I have in my room (Rush Hour and Blokus are some of my students’ favorites).

I also just found out you can play Otrio online!  I have the game, but I honestly hadn’t had a chance to play it until now.

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Game about Squares is another great one!

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I would love to hear your favorite activities to do with middle schoolers in the day or days leading up to Christmas break!

Function Notation Same/Different

I have seen other people use the prompt “What is the same?  What is different?” around Twitter (Check out #samediffmath), but I’d never formally used it in my classroom.  I have asked those questions before on the fly, but I’d never created something to put in front of my students where those questions were the main focus.

As I was driving to school Friday and was thinking about what I was teaching that day, I had this thought to create one for function notation.  Function notation is something that some students struggle with, and it sort of surprises me every year because it is so similar to things they’ve already done.  Here’s what I came up with.


I printed these out on half sheets of paper and had my students do a Stand and Talk with them.

Here are some of the responses I got for “What is the same?”

  • Both have an answer of 57
  • The last 5 rows are the same.
  • Both replace the x with 4.
  • Both have 3x^2 + 2x + 1

For “What is different?” we talked about how on the right it has f(x) and asks to find f(4), and on the left instead it says “evaluate…for x = 4”

We talked about how so much of the problems are the same, but if I just gave my students the top row, they would know how to do the left one, but would feel completely lost with the right one.

In my second class, I explained how these questions are asking something very, very similar but the notation is different.  I thought of the example of in elementary school if they were given 5 × 3, they would know exactly what to do.  However, if they were given 5 • 3, they wouldn’t, even though it is asking the same thing.  As I was explaining that, I could see some students making the connection to the two problems we were looking at.

I LOVED using these prompts intentionally in my classroom, and I’m looking forward to finding more ways to incorporate this into my classes.

(Here are some of the other things I’ve done with function notation.)