Archive for February, 2015

What Are You Grading?

Posted: February 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

This semester has been a little different for me. I haven’t had too much grading to do. Why not? Well, I’ve been focused on helping students in class and seeing how they are doing.

Our building has also been using Study Island this school year. I have enjoyed using it because it is aligned to our standards . . . sort of. There are a few topics that either go a little further than what we need for testing (which isn’t a problem) or it is asking for the wrong information that we don’t need. Again, this is ok, I just have to teach a little more to help with the understanding.

What I really like about Study Island is that it is broken down by standard. So I can teach, then have students jump on there and take an assessment. I can tell the students how many questions to do, ask them to try for a certain percentage, and strive to better themselves. If students don’t get the percentage they like (I have a few who want 90% on every topic), they can go back in and try again.

That leads me to allowing standards based grading in my grade book. I can look and see how students are doing and then post that grade. I can also see what problems students have missed and know how to help them out.

Now, this past week I did the old fashioned paper quiz. But I didn’t just give them percentages . . .

My Pre-Algebra classes are working on graphing lines. Last week we worked on finding choosing x values and placing them into an equation, finding the value of y, then plotting the points and drawing the line. (For those of you who don’t understand what I’m talking about, bare with me.)

Here’s an example:

Suppose the equation is y = 2x – 4

First the student had to choose four x values. For my example I’m going to choose 3, 5, 0, and -3. Now, let’s substitute each of them into the equation and solve.

y = 2(3) – 4 –> y = 6 – 4 –> y = 2

y = 2(5) – 4 –> y = 10 – 4 –> y = 6

y = 2(0) – 4 –> y = 0 – 4 –> y = -4

y = 2(-3) – 4 –> y = -6 – 4 –> y = -10

That now gives us the points of (3,2), (5,6), (0,-4), and (-3,-10) to plot on the graph. After plotting the four points, the student takes a straight edge (ruler) and connects the points to create a line. I ask students to take the line all the way through the grid (easier to see) and draw arrows at both ends (which helps with the understanding that lines never end).

In my younger days of teaching, I would look at the line and grade it. 1 point if they tried and 1 point if they were correct. Thus making the problem worth 2 points.

WAIT! WHAT?!?!??! All that work for 2 points?!?!?!?!

This time each of the y values was worth a point (4 total), plotting each ordered pair was a point (4 total) and drawing the line with my criteria was worth 2 points (1 for going through grid, 1 for arrows), which gives the problem a total value of 10 points.

But wait, there’s more!

Again, in my younger days, if a student didn’t solve correct (example below):

y = 2(-3) – 4 –> y = 6 – 4 –> y = 2 (the error is dropping the negative sign in front of the 6)

So when they go to plot this point, they plot it at (-3,2) instead of (-3,-10). Many math teachers would count the student wrong for miscalculating AND count them wrong for plotting the wrong point AND count them wrong because then there isn’t a straight line to be drawn. THAT’S NOT FAIR! They would fail because of ONE error.

How I grade now is that this student lost a point for the miscalculation, but I look and see that they plotted THEIR point correctly (even though it isn’t correct for the equation) so they only lost the one point.

Now, in a perfect world, a student would notice that the point isn’t in line with the other points, so they would go back and try to find their error and fix it. However, that is a taught skill that I now realize I need to help the student with this week. However, for this quiz the student would receive a 9/10 points along with notes on their paper about what was wrong and what was correct. The younger me would have given a 7/10 (if they only made the one mistake) without notes of how to improve.

Another example of what I’m grading . . . .

Other classes were looking at central tendencies (mean, median, mode) and range this past week. On the state assessment students are not allowed to use calculators. Ok, on the median (rearrange the numbers from least to greatest and find the number in the middle) and mode (occurs most often) is easy to do without a calculator. Actually, how would you do those on a calculator? Well, I guess you could put them in a spreadsheet and then order them . . . . . sorry for the tangent.

However, when dealing with the mean (average) of data, there is some work to be done. Again, let’s look at the following:

Find the mean of the high temperature of the last 7 days.

46, 59, 51, 49, 39, 51, 36

So the first thing you have to do is add these numbers up. 46+59+51+49+39+51+36 = 331, then we have to divide by 7 because there are 7 numbers. 331/7 = 47.29.

Now I allowed students to use a calculator on the quiz. Why? Because I know my students can add and divide. That’s not what I was testing them over. I was testing to see if they knew what the word “mean” meant and then if they understood that they need to add all the numbers and divide by how many they have. Btw, some students still struggled with what to do and some still miscalculated (sometimes they miss a number or hit the wrong number). However, I am able to know the difference and know how to help them out.

I’m not grading to know if they can add or divide (their previous teachers did that and I can see in daily work that they can do that), I’m grading on understanding of concepts.

I get frustrated with state assessments because they feel that students should be able to do everything without a calculator. How do “real people” in the “real world” solve these problems? WITH A CALCULATOR OR IN A SPREADSHEET!!!!

In fact, the standards state that students need to find the central tendencies of data with up to 30 numbers in the data. THIRTY NUMBERS?!?!??!?!

Find the mean, median, and mode of the following numbers.

3, 54, 72, 4, 85, 12, 53, 95, 6, 3, 5, 54, 74, 83, 83, 6, 21, 43, 96, 65, 32, 5, 2, 74, 83, 54, 12, 43, 54, 5

How many of you just freaked about because now you have to order these numbers to find the median.

2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 5, 5, 6, 6, 12, 12, 21, 32, 43, 53, 54, 54, 54, 54, 65, 72, 74, 74, 83, 83, 83, 85, 95, 96

the median is 53

And then I have to find the mode, which is kind of easy because they are all put together.

the mode is 54

But now I have to add all of these numbers and divide by 30! Yea, that’s not happening. I think I’ll just choose answer D.

That’s what kids do.

Now, how many of you noticed that I forget one of the 43s when looking for the median? Yea, so my median is actually 48, not 53. (I did that on purpose)

What are we testing and grading?

How do you grade and give assessments?

What can we do to help encourage change?


Today our district had a professional day. It was set up as a conference format. I led a session on how to teach students concepts of mathematics for understanding and not just teaching tricks to pass a test.

I presented three times, but only recorded the first one.

The conversation turned out to be really good toward the end.

The last slide I shared is below. These are great resources that I encourage all teachers to read.

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Do you have any tricks that we should look at trying to stop? You can make suggestions at Let’s all work together to help students understand mathematics!

These are my students.

My students are doing well.

I have to get my students ready for the test.

Over the past few years I have said “my students”. Yes, they are my kids, but really, they are not.

Due to testing, teachers are always referring to students in their classes as “their kids”. It’s come to the point that I think teachers are so focused on preparing them for the test, that they don’t care about other teachers or students.

Do other teachers feel this way?

I feel like a lot of teachers keep secrets of what they do in class and how they help students learn so that they can help their students pass the test.

But aren’t we all teaching so that we can help all students? So how can we stop this “my students” talk and secrecy?

Well, I think by stopping testing in grades 3-8 could help.

Now, am I saying we need to stop all testing? Well, no. I do believe that we need accountability and make sure that students are learning and can show what they have learned. However, I think by changing some of the testing could help with teacher collaboration.

So in my perfect world, this is what I could see that could help with teachers working together and to help stop testing fatigue of students.

3rd grade could have Reading and Math assessments. Now, there is not a MUST HAVE score, but this would help with baseline scores to know how students are doing.

4th grade would have the must have scores for Math. In this assessment we would make sure that students can add, subtract, multiply and divide. There would also be some problems to help us know that students are starting to understand problem solving skills.

5th grade would have must have scores for Reading that would also include some writing. This would give us some insight to how students are developing in the Reading/Writing world.

6th grade has Science to help us see that students are understanding the concepts of the world around them. In this assessment would be a writing aspect also to help us see their understanding of the world, but also if their writing is improving.

7th grade is back to Math to see if students are ready for deeper concepts and that they are starting to understand how to use integers (positive and negative numbers), fractions, decimals and how all of those work together.

8th grade would be Reading. By this point we need to make sure that students have a great understanding that they can read. In that reading assessment would be readings and questions about our government/history of state and country as well as science aspects. Why have separate assessments when all of them could be included together?

Once the students are in high school then the districts pay for students to take the ACT or SAT the first time as a sophomore (10th grade) in high school. These are the tests that colleges look at, so we need to utilize them. Why are we wasting money on assessments that only the government looks at? Shouldn’t we be showing off to everyone what we are teaching students?

With testing in this form it would allow teachers to stop saying “my students” and start talking to teachers across their grade level and also with teachers before their grade and after. This would help us focus on what is best for ALL students and not just the ones sitting in our class at this time.

I also feel that it would help us get away from “you’re in this grade so you should know this” mindset that our government has. Would the tests be a little longer? Possibly. But when they are only taking one assessment a year, then we could allow 3 or 4 one-hour sessions for the assessment. I think it would give us a better look at how the student is doing.

What are your thoughts? What could we do to testing to help teachers work together to reach ALL students?


Posted: February 11, 2015 in Uncategorized

So today I was walking around the room and I got to thinking. . . .have I gone paperless?

I know it’s not 100% paperless, but I feel as if I’m on my way. We are not 1:1 technology, but I have had students working more and more on computers and writing on their desks.

Yes, writing on the desks. Kids love it! Using dry erase markers and wash cloths (about $8 for 20 at WalMart) kids work hard. It’s better than paper because kids don’t write small. I can see from across the room as they are working.

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What Are You Testing?

Posted: February 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

Ok, I’m jumping on my soap box . . . well sort of.

My students are currently working on Mean, Median, and Mode in class. It is a tested standard.

For those who need a review:

  • Mean: Average – You add all the numbers in the set of data and the divide by how many numbers there are.
  • Median: Middle Number – List the numbers in order and find the middle number.
  • Mode: Most Often – What is the number (letter, word, etc.) that appears most often.

My students have been working on mode and median and they have a good understanding on how to find those in a set of data. That can be done without a calculator. It’s just a matter of rewriting the numbers and looking at the data.

it’s the mean that is so MEAN.

Actually, it’s not the mean, it’s the state that doesn’t allow use of a calculator that’s mean.

(Do you think I’m mean to confuse you about which mean I mean whenever I mention mean?)

There are tested standards for addition of numbers. I understand not allowing a calculator for this because we need to make sure that students understand the process of adding.

There are tested standards for division of numbers. I understand not allowing a calculator for this because we need to make sure that students understand the process of dividing.

However, not allowing a calculator to find the mean or average of data is down right MEAN! (and kinda stupid)

If a student messes up on finding the mean of the following data . . . .

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 7.46.28 PM

So to find the mean of the Jets score you have to add 10 and 10 and 13 and 21 and 10 and 14 and 10 and 42 and 28 and 12, then after you add then you have to divide by 10. You also have to find the mean of the opponent’s score by adding 7 and 2 and 17 and 24 and 14 and 0 and 3 and 21 and 27 and 28, then dividing by 10 (anyway I think that’s the number because one of them is 0). Anyway, now that I’ve done all of that I hope that I solved it correctly . . . .

Do you understand my point? Are we trying to see if they can add all of the numbers or are we trying to see if they understand how to find the mean?

Why can’t they use a calculator to find mean. Let’s look. Is it possible that they may accidentally press the wrong number in the calculator? YES!! THEY DO IT ALL THE TIME!!!

I guess what’s frustrating is that we are so focused at the state level of not allowing calculators that many students just give up the moment they see all the numbers in the problem listed above and just take a guess. What is that guess showing? That I’m a bad teacher? That the students aren’t learning? No, it’s showing that the students think that the question could possibly be testing the wrong standard.

If you want to see if students understand how to find the mean, allow them to use a calculator to find the answer quicker.

HEY! it’s the REAL WORLD!!!

Ask someone in the legislation to find the mean of some numbers (like the average dollar amount that they raise for campaigning), I bet they grab a calculator. IT’S THE REAL WORLD!!!

Ask scientists what the mean magnitude of earthquakes in Oklahoma (yes, we have them) have been over the past month. Guess what, they will GRAB A CALCULATOR. That’s the real world.

So why do we deprive students of a TOOL when finding more than just if they can add or divide? Why can’t they use the calculator?

What do you think about this? Please share your comments with me. Also, SHARE THIS POST WITH YOUR LEGISLATION so they can begin to understand what should and should not be tested.

“Easy” is not allowed

Posted: February 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

This school year I have been instilling in the minds of my students not to say when something is easy.

You see “easy” is just in your mind. If something is “easy” then it’s because you’ve seen it before and understand it.

I remind the students that there was a time that they thought something was difficult and they were not understanding a concept when they heard, “This is so easy.” How did it make you feel?

When you say something is easy, then someone else may be struggling and then feel dumb because they don’t find it easy. You need to remember others around you may not have the same experiences as you.

It’s pretty simple, but I hear students assisting others and reminding them not to say something is easy. If you find it easy, check with a neighbor and see if you can help them out.

Global School Play Day

Posted: February 4, 2015 in Uncategorized

How was today? Exhausting! Am I upset though? NO! Today was great!

So what happened today? Well, you have to step back a couple of weeks. . . . .(screen goes fuzzy as we look back)

I saw on Twitter information about the Global School Play Day. I shared it with the staff at my school. On our Professional IMG_2657Development day, we had a chance to sit down as a 6th grade team and discuss what we wanted to do. We were totally into allowing the students time to play and socialize with their friends.

Many of our students do not have a chance to play games with family and friends. Many of our students have responsibilities outside of school that doesn’t always allow them to be kids. So we wanted to give them a day.

IMG_2656We had the plan that students would follow their schedule as normal. We have Accelerated Reading points, so students who have spent the time to read and take the tests were rewarded with “Play Passes”. These passes would allow those students to leave their regular room and choose another room. We had a sign-in and sign-out for every room so that we could keep track of where students were. The biggest thing of the day?


(fade back to this week)

Yesterday morning (Tuesday) we told the students about the day. We told them how each room was going to have different activities. We told them that they could bring toys and games from home. Throughout the day, students were abuzz about what they were going to be bringing to school and what they wanted to do.

This morning when students came to school they were all talking to each other about what they brought and were excited to share and play. In Advisory we handed out their passes and then students could begin to play. My room was the puzzle room and I had a student almost get one puzzle completed (100 pieces) in the 30 minutes that he sat there.

IMG_2655When 1st Hour began, I had students in my room who were eager to work on puzzles. One student came and worked with me, because well, I wanted to do a puzzle. We worked hard on our puzzle. As we were working, I kept getting texts from other teachers. Some of them were about the day and clarification (which was fine) but then many were just talking. So I reminded them to not use their devices just like we asked the kids to do.IMG_2654

We continued to work on the puzzle, then it was time for class to end. Students moved to their next classes. I had a couple of students from my first hour return to keep working on puzzles. One continued to work with me. We finished out puzzle during this time. I also had students starting to play with the boxes in my room.

I had one student proud of his creation using my centimeter blocks. They asked me to take a picture and I reminded them of no devices. They gave me permission to use mine to take a picture and share it with them later.

Students were completing pIMG_2659uzzles and proud of their hard work. They wanted to show off what they could do! They were not worried about what others thought, but rather wanted to just create.

Throughout the day, students played, discussed, created, and shared. This was a day that for some could be a little loud, but it was completely worth it!

Toward the end of the day I took a picture of the work that I was able to complete with students. I was so focused today on the puzzles that I had a headache when I stopped. I also feel that is a big reason why I’m so exhausted this evening.

I thank my administration for allowing us to have this day with the students. I know that testing is in a couple of months, but I know that today meant so much to the students. It was great to see our Assistant Superintendent Melonie Hau come through our classrooms to see the students playing. It meant so much to see her come through and see this event.

I think the best thing from the day though was an email from a parent. It speaks more than anything I saw today.

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Giving Up Common Core (Math)

Posted: February 3, 2015 in Uncategorized

When states decide to give up Common Core and to make their own standards, I don’t believe they always know what they are doing.

I found a great game online for students to be interactive with their math and not just answer question after question . . . but it’s aligned to Common Core.

We have wonderful resources in our school building to help us assess students . . . but it’s aligned to Common Core.

Do we still use these items? Yes.

Do we try our best to align it to our own standards to help us understand what students know and don’t know? Yes.

So what is this post about?

The purpose of Common Core is so that teachers can work together across the country (and world) to prepare students the same way. Before Common Core, states had their own standards of what needed to be learned when. So if we had students move between states, we would find that students would be a year behind or a year ahead because the standards they were being taught by were different.

The purpose of Common Core is so that creators of games and websites could be utilized by more teachers and students and help everyone improve. Instead, since we don’t have Common Core, I have to try and piece the pieces together of different websites and different resources to help my students rather than just have one or two wonderful resources that would meet the needs of the standards.

The purpose of Common Core was to help students who have parents who move not be disconnected. When students make big moves between states (yes, this happens daily) then students should be able to pick up where they left off at the last school. Instead, since we are not Common Core, I have to piece together the knowledge that they have and what they’ve learned and either fill in the holes that they have because they haven’t gotten to what we have yet, or try and not bore then because they already have learned the information.

What I’m saying here is that Common Core has become a political statement. It is yet another thing that our government doesn’t understand how “their feelings” effect more than themselves.

You are frustrating teachers when you toss out Common Core.

You are leaving children behind when you toss out Common Core.

You are taking fantastic resources away from teachers and parents when you toss out Common Core.

Government, stop thinking about yourselves and start really helping students learn and become successful. Remember, those students will be making decisions when you are old and retired. Do you want them to think about you the same way that you think about them?

I Quit . . . and Returned

Posted: February 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

Yesterday when I read Todd Nesloney’s post “Why I Will Never Quit“, I thought about how I have quit before.

Today as I read it, I was reminded why I’m back in education.

Let me take you back to 2008. I was being chased out of education . . . or so I thought. I was young and dumb . . . or so I thought.

You see, I wanted to do things differently, but I felt as if I was being beaten down for trying new things. I felt as if I wasn’t a leader that I wanted to be and that many were trying to keep me from being a leader. So I left.

I packed my car and moved to Tacoma, Washington at the end of May 2008. Well, I was looking for teaching jobs and working on trying to get my Washington teaching certificate. However, I wasn’t really trying that hard. Because of some of what I had experienced, I really thought that maybe I didn’t want to teach anymore. I ended up finding a job as a valet driver and really enjoyed the tips that I got everyday.

When September rolled around (they start after Labor Day) a school district around Seattle was starting late because the teachers were on strike because they didn’t agree with their pay. I knew that I didn’t want to go through that, so I continued to work as a valet driver.

Due to family and personal reasons, I ended up moving back to Kansas that October. I instantly looked for a job and found one at Radio Shack. I enjoyed working with people as they came in and I often talked about my former teaching positions and I feel that helped me out in the job. I started to pursue the thought of becoming a manager and started the training. When the summer of 2009 rolled around, I wasn’t upset about not having the summer off. I enjoyed working and knew that I’d continue down that path.

Then August 2009 showed up. My teacher friends were returning to work. I felt left out. I needed to be back in the classroom.

So I moved to Emporia, KS to become a substitute. That school year I was a full-time substitute teacher. I learned so much about what I wanted in a classroom. The spring of 2010, I started applying everywhere. Yet, I wasn’t getting calls for interviews. I finally had a very promising interview in Pratt, KS in July. I really thought that’s where I was going. Then I got the call that I didn’t get the position.

I was once again questioning if I should be in education. If I can’t get a job teaching, then maybe it’s not the career for me. The next call was from Ginger Lewman. She saw something in me and gave me a chance. I was hired at 4:30 pm on a Tuesday and I was standing in front of parents and students for open house at 6:00. I was all in at Turning Point Learning Center in Emporia.

From there I have had some great administrators who have helped me realize that I am doing what I am to be doing. I have had great supporters in pushing me to be a better educator and to not just “turn the textbook page for the next lesson” like I started as back in 2005.

I’m here for students. I’m here to help them achieve goals that many try to tell them they cannot do. I’m here to help others become greater as well.

I belong in the classroom and I hope to be there for many years to come.

Filling the Calendar

Posted: February 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

In fears of tooting my own horn, I just need to reflect on this past month or so.

Living in a new state and teaching has been very eye opening. When I arrived in Oklahoma, we had the same standards as Kansas (Common Core) so I wasn’t expecting much different. Then in June Oklahoma government decided to toss out CCSS. So here I was, trying to find a new job and I didn’t really understand the standards, so I wasn’t really sure what to teach.

Once I had taken a job and I knew I was going to teach 6th Grade Math, I could start to look at what I was going to be teaching. From my experiences of teachings, I knew how to get started up to get my students learning.

Throughout the year I have helped lead my coworkers (many first year teachers) in how to reach students in interventions and help all students and not just ones who are in your classroom at that moment. Things have been going well. I went to NCTM Regional Conference in Houston and shared with everyone about the great things I learned.

Each day I come to work and do my job and I love every moment of it. I even started up a book study on NCTM’s Principles to Actions book with some Twitter friends and we have great conversations. The crazy thing is, I didn’t know how much my calendar would be filling this semester.

I sat down and talked with our assistant superintendent and she would like me to talk with our instructional coaches next week about how we can get more math going. That meeting is set up for next week.

I’ve been asked to attend a training on standards based grading and assessments. That happens the first week of March.

I proposed a session for MACE (Mid-America Association for Computers in Education) and have been accepted. So I have that the second week of March.

I have been asked to led a session for our district professional development day on President’s Day, so I’m preparing for that.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education has started PD On Your Plan to help teachers become better teachers and to learn from one another. I asked them to come and record me this coming Tuesday.

Our school is participating in the Global School Play Day and I am leading the teachers for this great day of fun for our students this coming Wednesday.

At the end of this month we have Parent-Teacher Conferences and I will be attending EdcampOKC on February 28. Come join us for a great day!

Oh yea, I’m teaching too!!!!

I’ve never really had to keep a calendar because I haven’t had too much going on. But for some reason, my calendar is filling up quickly and I need to learn how to piece it all together. I’m not complaining, it’s just new to me.

I love being a leader and helping others improve. I don’t feel as if I’m anything special, I just do my job.

Thank you to my great PLN on Twitter who inspire me daily to reach for the stars. Keep throwing great ideas at me so I can continue to fill my calendar to assist with others so that we are giving the best education to our students that we can.