Students Correcting their Mistakes — Immediately

Students turn in their work papers to me with corrections already marked on it in ink. I ask them to classify their mistake as an algebra error, a physics misunderstanding, or an IDK moment. About 3/4 of the time, kids spot their error as soon as they see the correct answer, saving me the headache of figuring out what was in their head when they were testing. Students get the benefit of leaving the test knowing exactly how well they understood the material (and almost their exact grade on the test).

Here’s how the testing procedure works.

Step 0: Write a Test & Allow 20% Feedback Time

My system works only if the vast majority of your students have the chance to give themselves feedback in the same class period as they took the test. I use the 80-20 rule to plan this time: kids need 20% of the class period to check their work and leave feedback.

Class Period = Futzing Around at the Start of Class + Test + Feedback

Feedback = 0.2*Test

I often will have about1-2 students in a class who don’t have time to do the feedback part. That’s ok. Just plan to allow most kids to do this feedback cycle.

Step 1: Take the Test

though this step would work just as well on a paper test

a moodle test

A test on the Moodle platform can include pretty much any question type you want. These are called calculated questions.

Students hit submit at the bottom of the test then switch to pen. I monitor the room for cheating because this is the one spot where it could happen.

Step 2: See the Key and Give Yourself Feedback

This requires you to either use a computer-based test as I do or place answer keys around the room for students to move to once complete.

How often does it happen that once presented with the right answer, students will have a “D’oh!” moment where they immediately realize their mistake? This is where you get the best feedback from kids. You can’t mine this kind of academic gold the next day, either. You gotta do the mining immediately after they solved the problems.

If you’re working on paper, you could model your setup on Frank Noschese’s version that inspired me. I’ve provided complete solutions in the past though my current setup doesn’t do that. I think kids are more analytical (critical?) of their own work if they have to find their own path to the correct solution than if they’re comparing their solution to mine line-by-line.

Before you look at my examples, keep in mind my kids are transitioning to thinking of their work papers as “scratch” to a place to demonstrate what they know. So with that in mind, here are a few test papers from this latest round:

September 29, 2013 85925 PM EDT

Unit conversions at right and solving for the wrong thing at left. I’ll grant you 3/4 credit on the units and 1/2 credit on the other one.

I wanted to show you (above) some work that’s ugly to try and read because the student doesn’t organize his work well. If I let him identify the mistake, though, I see exactly where he went wrong. Let’s look at another one that’s tough to spot when grading several class sets but every kid who wants some partial credit will find:

This kid clearly wrote the correct work on her paper. I can tell because there are no erasures and the rest of the math follows from the mistake she identified.

This kid clearly wrote the correct work on her paper. I can tell because there are no erasures and the rest of the math follows from the mistake she identified. Oh, and mistyping a number in the calculator should hurt a little but should result in no credit for the problem — 3/4 credit awarded here.

Here’s another one where the kid had a big physics error. The question read “When you blow air across a soda bottle, you produce a tone with a frequency of 253.2 Hz. What is the frequency of the next harmonic?” Students needed to identify this as a closed pipe resonator, which only resonates on odd harmonics, and so the next harmonic is the third. The correct math to do is to multiply the frequency given by three. Most kids didn’t make that realization. When this young lady saw the right answer, se realized her mistake and showed a correct solution.

Who identified their mistake? This kid did.

Who identified their mistake? This kid did. 1/2 credit awarded on this problem.

Step 3: Teacher Awards Partial Credit

Yep, I’m not a SBG‘er. And unless you’re using binary grading, this partial credit thing still makes sense. 

Before I start grading, I like to think about the value of different types of mistakes. Usually I’ll grant 3/4 credit for pure algebra errors such as dividing instead of multiplying, 3/4 credit for unit conversion mistakes, and 1/2 credit for getting some of the physics but not all of it correct.

My kids know that the score Moodle awards them is their baseline test grade. On this last test, the average student added 8% to his/her grade through partial credit.

Beneficial Side-Effect

I spend so much less time grading assessments because kids have identified a lot of their mistakes for me. Sure, there will be cases where kids can’t identify their error. My colleague Adrian suggests students can’t do the bulk of this work:

Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 9.25.20 PM

Maybe chemistry (which he teaches) problems are fundamentally different from physics problems. All I can speak from is my experience — kids can often identify where they went wrong on a problem they’re expected to know how to do if I present them with a numeric answer.

Why Teachers Pay Teachers Irks the MTBoS Me

The online math teacher community[1] has I have a problem with Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) and I intend to explain my own understanding of why.

First, a disclaimer: The MTBoS is a loose confederation of teachers all around the world. I don’t even know it’s fair to say “we” share beliefs and practices. However, I think our community has come to rally around this one idea probably more than any other single idea: we share freely. We share freely to help other teachers out, we share freely because we know we get more than we take, we share freely because we understand more users help make a better product.

Those ideas are more than a grand altruistic vision. It’s not about all the feels we get from sharing, at least not for me.

Part I: Why Share Freely?


If I offer a resource for sale on TpT, I get an immediate benefit. What’s the benefit in sharing freely? There’s a great parallel in the world of software — a group that figured a lot of this stuff out before we hit the scene. Before I became a teacher 10 years ago, I worked in/around the free & open source software (FOSS) movement. Many around us wondered why anyone would spend their time crafting something just to give it away. These doubters also wondered about the quality of work that’s ultimately given away.

I think in our school buildings, plenty of us encounter territorial teachers. Those who feel like if they created it, they’re not gonna just give it to you. The MTBoS is completely opposite that mentality. We don’t even know you, but we’ll share with you our best lessons.

What benefit do I get from that sharing? Oh dear, this is where I’m going to come off to y’all as an egotistical jerk: I the ego boost of “Hey, I used your rational equations project. Thanks!” I like that someone trusted my work enough to put it in front of their kids and then found value in it. Am I circling back around and saying it really is all about the feels? Not quite. Have you heard of the gift culture? If not, go now and read Kate Nowak’s inspired words describing ours as a gift culture. I benefit from the gift culture — more on that later.

While I’m busy being an egotistical jerk over here, here’s another reason I like to share freely — y’all proofread my stuff and let me know about errors. Not to mention, if I share a half-baked idea with the MTBoS, y’all will help me brainstorm it into a complete idea. I definitely get more than I give from this community.

As a user of other teachers’ materials, I love that I can adapt your stuff to fit my classroom. Kindergarten teacher Matt Gomez has issues with TpT because he can’t adapt lessons (it’s mostly distributed in PDF). In the best applications of sharing, the user shares back with the developer ways the resource might be improved for all or mentioned as an offshoot at the source.

Part II: How TpT Subverts

So, let’s turn the corner now and look at Teachers Pay Teachers. TpT treats lesson materials as scarce commodities and therefore something of monetary value.

Teachers who participate in TpT see the immediate benefit of getting paid for their hard work whereas in the gift culture, the payoff is further out. Hey, I’ve been a single mom on just a teacher’s salary — getting paid is valuable. About getting paid through a store on Teachers Pay Teachers, my good friend @approx_normal says

I get that teachers don’t make a lot of money and this is a way to supplement that income. But we didn’t go into education thinking it would pay for luxury cars and vacations in the Bahamas. We went into education to make a difference in the lives of students and no one outside education really gets the trials and challenges of what we do everyday. We have to look out for each other because no one else will.

(she’s one of those altruistic types)

What does getting paid look like over at TpT? Approximately 2400 teachers made between $1000 and $5000 on Teachers Pay Teachers last year.[2] That’s nice money. Not as nice as this, though: my participation in the gift culture is 100% responsible for my current job. It came with a substantial raise from the job before. That raise was way more than I could’ve expected to earn on TpT last year. See what I mean about waiting for the long-term gains?

When you participate in TpT, you give up citizenship in the MTBoS gift culture.

Oh, we’ll still let you visit us (use our resources, read our blogs, and build upon our ideas) but what you lose out on are those long-term benefits of participating fully in the gift culture.

I have other concerns about the TpT gig, ways in which it subverts the whole gift culture because

  • TpT has no method of ensuring the seller has the rights to sell the product they’re offering. Several MTBoS’ers have seen their own creations go up on TpT without their permission.
  • Resources sold as PDFs (as I believe the majority of TpT stuff is) can’t be adapted for the purchaser’s classroom. Adapting and extending on another’s work is an important element in the gift culture.
  • “TpT is making money off of the teachers who use their services, so they’re using the teachers who sell things through them. It’s just another company taking advantage by making a buck off of education.” — @approx_normal

Part III: Why MTBoS Me and TpT Sellers Will Never Reconcile

Two words: culture clash.

The MTBoS is based on I believe in the gift culture while TpT is based on a capitalist culture. We have entirely different cultural norms and expectations. And excluding individual members being swayed by a blog post, people aren’t likely to change their minds. The comments on this post by Darren Draper illustrate how entrenched in our own cultures we all are.

So if we won’t move and the TpT’ers won’t move, is there any common ground? Andrew Rotherham, in Time’s School of Thought column had this to say:

Regardless of who foots the bill for more-effective lesson plans, this sort of professional sharing is long overdue. Too many teachers are on their own. It’s a sink-or-swim system, as [AFT president] Weingarten has often noted, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

I believe we’re all working to be our best in front of the children. Let’s keep that in mind next time we argue.[3]

Highlights from the Comments

  • Mary Dooms: “Teachers selling on TpT may be violating their teacher contract. If the lessons, activities, etc. are, “prepared by an employee within the scope of his/her employment” it is considered a work made for hire.” It’s a concern others have, but I’m giving TpT’ers the benefit of the doubt that they’ve already checked their contracts and are in the clear.
  • Moniki: “I just lurk in the shadows and learn as much I can, adapt these wonderful resources to suit my kids and teach and reflect in the hope that I suck less than yesterday. But if I got paid for sharing, I might share more easily – a sort of you get what you pay for mentality. Like “it’s only 5 bucks” or whatever, so this will do. Whereas now I prefer to wait until I can really contribute something valuable.” Not the only one to express this to me. Mind blown.
  • Cathy Yeneca: ““Freely sharing” and selling on TpT aren’t mutually exclusive. Presented as an “us” versus “them” issue, should any teacher who wants to be involved in “MTBoS” who happens to have items for sale on TpT just politely step away now, per your post?” She made me think, which is why I replaced MTBoS with me where appropriate above. I can’t speak for an entire community.
  • Sam Shah: “The MTBoS is big and doesn’t have a single philosophy or ethos. However there are a lot of people who do converge on a few key points — Megan hitting on what I think is one of them. It isn’t everyone, and I’m happy that not everyone agrees with everything…I don’t see it as an “us” versus “them” thing. I think if people find good resources on TpT and find it valuable and useful, awesome! Buy them. If people want to make money on stuff they create on TpT, cool! Sell them. We all have to do what works for us as teachers.”
  • cheesemonkeysf: “I think there’s just a cultural mismatch and a skew of beliefs about means and ends. Someone who sells on TpT is probably not going to post a lot in a community where the cultural norm is to share and share alike because they are trying to protect the value of their own materials that they sell. Similarly, I think that someone who posts/shares their materials via the #MTBoS is unlikely to participate much in the TpT world because we simply value materials differently…The reason I share materials and lessons and strategies via the #MTBoS is that I do so in order to improve my practice as a teacher.”
  • algebrasfriend: “But today, I asked myself the same question you did, should I just quietly quit that community. It’s clear they don’t want me. I participate in TpT. I’m not going to defend my choice.” At first glance, there’s conundrum here because I very clearly said there’s little overlap between my gift culture and your capitalist culture. Similarly, there’s little overlap between my religious beliefs and yours, I bet, too. Doesn’t mean I don’t want you around. Just that we don’t talk religion. Please stay. Contribute. Let’s just be aware that we have different motivations.
  • I Speak Math (Julie): “My main worry with TPT is not stolen lessons but it is that the “lure of the money” for underpaid teachers will entice amazing new teacher bloggers to save their best work to sale, instead of sharing for free…Some great bloggers are using TPT, many of them before they even started blogging. This is not a blog against you. I admire how hard you work. However, I would like all NEW math teacher bloggers to realize that TPT is a business. In contrast, what I would like for our community is not more business people, but more volunteers, who freely share their time and work. I would like to encourage new math teacher bloggers who benefit from our gift community to freely give back as well.” There’s that culture clash again. Folks, if you’re considering participating in Teachers Pay Teachers, realize it’s a business making money by offering you a marketplace, be hyper-aware that ideas and materials you download from the Gifters cannot be incorporated into something you sell (without express permission), and the Gifters hope you’ll share freely in addition to selling.

[1] also referred to as #MTBoS as an acronym for mathtwitterblogosphere.

[2] Source: I refuse to link to them.

[3] Want to start a firestorm? Tweet this: “I love Teachers Pay Teachers! #MTBoS”. I’ve been meaning to check back in on Chris Robinson since he decided to monetize his sharing on Twitter.

Teacher Business Cards & Stationery

It’s back, it’s back! Vistaprint has a Groupon deal out right now. For $17, you can purchase $70 worth of stationery. Last summer, I bought cards, Post It notes, business cards, and stickers. All of them have been useful and I’m definitely ordering more. You should, too!

small2012-08-01 22.22.34

My VistaPrint haul

The notecards have come in handy many times — thank you notes to students, to colleagues, and even parents. Def my favorite part of the purchase.

My business cards are straightforward and have my contact information. I purposely left off all mention of my school so I can use them in my personal and professional lives. It’s got my Gmail address, phone number, Twitter ID, and website address. Because this teacher doesn’t use business cards all that often, I’ve also taken to using them as excuse notes to colleagues when I must hold a student late after class.

The Post It notes and big stickers were whim purchases (because, hey, with $70 to spend, why not?!). The big sticker is a copy of my business card. I imagined needing to label stuff like maybe a binder or a laptop power plug. Yeah, haven’t needed as much of that as I thought. Post Its have been handy, though.

Sam did a far more creative job than me with his stationery discount last year, so def check his post out for amazing ideas. Also, Kate has written about writing good news postcards to her kids. UPDATE: Breedeen also made creative cards & stickers.

Here's an example of Sam's creative card-making.

Here’s an example of Sam’s creative card-making.

Thoughts as I wrote this quick post: I keep saying to myself “stationery with an -ery means stuff you write letters on and stationary with an -ary means not moving.” I have a certain anxiety over misspelling words on a blog other teachers will read. My consolation is that most of y’all teach math and science and likely wouldn’t even notice, let alone get all up-in-arms about it.

My Twitter Math Camp Essay

I teach in an independent school in Georgia and have the opportunity to have my Twitter Math Camp trip funded through a grant program of the Georgia Independent Schools Association.

Several folks wanted to see my essay after they helped me brainstorm it yesterday. Here ‘ya go! Help me improve this essay?

Writing prompt: Describe in detail the program of study to be undertaken. Include the personal benefit this study will provide you as a teacher and the value it will return to your students and school.

The Need for Professional Study
Mathematics education is increasingly project-based, exploratory, and based on research into how the brain learns. I began studying these while earning my Masters degree in teaching mathematics. I’ve continued studying with teachers who blog and tweet.

This summer, I have an opportunity to attend a summer conference that will further what I started in graduate school with amazing teachers. The conference is called Twitter Math Camp ( because many of us met through the eponymous social/professional media site. We are teachers with a passion for the very best in education.

About the Conference
Twitter Math Camp is a grass-roots conference created by mathematics teachers who first found each other on Twitter and through their blogs. The conference is hosted, staffed, and presented by the attendees. In this spirit, I am both presenting a session and attending as a learner.

Benefits to My School & Me
I see three major benefits to my attendance at Twitter Math Camp: 1) I’ll learn creative-but-rigorous practices, 2) I’ll collaborate on lessons I can bring to my classroom, and 3) I’ll experience productive struggling so I can better model it for my students.

First, I’ll have the chance to learn great new practices from some of the best teachers in the country. Last year, at the same conference, I learned about using GeoGebra with students to create something akin to a mathematics lab. The hands-on session provided “labs” I could use with kids without modification as well as gave me inspiration for creating my own. Also, I learned about the brain-based research behind the idea of building intrinsic motivation – and how to implement it in the classroom. It turns out that students need to understand the purpose of a problem, assignment, or project. When the kids buy-in to my lessons, they are always more motivation. My Math Camp colleagues helped me understand how to structure lessons so students buy in.

Second, Twitter Math Camp offers me the opportunity to collaborate on lessons. The conference organizers are providing time for deliberate planning this year. Last year, the attendees held impromptu planning sessions in hallways during breaks, we were so starved for practical lessons co-created with creative colleagues. I look forward to planning out a project or unit that unifies physics and geometry at Twitter Math Camp.

Finally, the conference will give me the chance to productively struggle on math problems. Math teachers call the process of working on one or several big problems productive struggle. Students shouldn’t be working on auto-pilot, they should be thinking, struggling, and making progress. We will take time to solve problems that are part of the Exeter math curriculum. Over the summer of 2012, I had the chance to work on similar problems and found the experience interesting. For one, how can I structure work time in my class to best take advantage of students’ attention spans? Everyone takes longer to get started, get engaged, then lose focus. How do I honor that in a class of 20 students?

In conclusion, Twitter Math Camp is an awesome opportunity for me to grow as a teacher. The conference is free to attend if I can just get myself there and lodged. If you’d like to read more about Twitter Math Camp 2012, please refer to

Online Learning: I’m not a fan and here’s why

Online learning in the fashion of Khan Academy or the MOOC is an extension of the factory model of education which I believe to be outmoded. One key assumption is that online learning extends a teacher’s reach to more students. My thesis is that students achieve better with individual attention from and dialogue with a teacher.

Khan Style Online Learning

My colleague Frank Noschese said it well,

While Khan argues that his videos now eliminate “one-size-fits-all” education, his videos are exactly that. I tried finding Khan Academy videos for my students to use as references for studying, or to use as a tutorial when there’s a substitute teacher, but I haven’t found a good one. They either tackle problems that are too hard (college level) or they don’t use a lot of the multiple representations that are so fundamental to my teaching (kinematic graphs, interaction diagrams, energy pie graphs, momentum bar charts, color-coded circuit diagrams showing pressure and flow, etc.).

Online learning in the model of Khan Academy (a video library with accompanying assignments) moves classroom focus from the student to the teacher. It becomes about what I’ve taught, not what the kid has learned/mastered. Teachers are not in the business of delivering content. We’re in the business of helping kids learn.

That said, Khan Academy and his competitors, aren’t entirely awful. If you need to reference how to factor a quadratic expression, the video may be helpful. Maybe Khan is most useful when the material is a refresher, not entirely new. In my opinion, Khan Academy-style videos can be excellent tutoring resources but are horrible full-time teachers.

MOOC Style Online Learning

The Massive Online Open Course, MOOC, made a lot of noise this year. You can take a university level class with a university professor (and often for free). Learning from leaders in the field at schools such as Stanford? Wow! Audrey Watters declared 2012 the Year of the MOOC. She gives a great deconstruction of the pedagogy, getting to the crux of the MOOC’s drawbacks with,

much of what’s being lauded as “revolutionary” and as “disrupting” traditional teaching practices here simply involves videotaping lectures and putting them online…xMOOCs might be changing education by scaling this online delivery

When I taught in public schools, my class sizes crept up to 32 students. One colleague taught math to 50 kids in a single classroom. We barely knew or kids’ names, let alone what they understood of our learning objectives. For the same reason, I don’t advocate the MOOC — it fails to address each student’s understandings and misunderstandings of course material.

A teacher with a relatively small (<20) class CAN know every student and track their progress toward learning objectives. For example, I know that not all my students have the same misconceptions, therefore not all benefit from the same instruction. Kids are not widgets in a Ford factory. They require individual attention from a teacher who can address their misconceptions.

Maybe Ok? Flipped Classroom Style Online Learning 

I see promise in some of the flipped classroom pedagogies invented by Jon Bergmann and implemented by Audrey McLaren McGoldrick, Kyle Webb, Graham Johnson, and Ryan Banow. You can see that group share a presentation at Global Math Department in December 2011. One key piece I took from them: flipped classrooms are about YOU the teacher connecting with YOUR students. Not Sal Khan or an MIT professor.

Last semester, I played with video a lot as a tutorial tool. While not a flipped classroom, the videos were effective at letting me respond to student questions asynchronously. Case in point: my videos from December are based on a final exam study guide and ALL were solved based on prompts from students.

It would be fair to characterize my entire argument as one of local control. I form relationships with my students that I don’t believe can be duplicated to a large scale. Those relationships help me understand how to best teach each one of my students instead of talking at them in a traditional lecture.

Why Traditional Lecture Doesn’t Work

My very favorite explanation comes from Derek Muller at Check out his graph, below.

Why Lecture Doesn't Work

On the left are the results of a pre- and post-test when the instruction style was a expository video (aka, lecture). On the right are the results of a misconception-attacking style he’s created. In a typical Derek Muller video, he interviews people with a question (which ball will hit the ground first, for example). Their answers are riddled with misconceptions, just like the students. He then goes on to attack every misconception. Until a kid understands why his conception is wrong, he’ll continue to believe it. Muller blows those misconceptions out of the water. His research proves that a simple lecture is NOT the answer.

Sadly, online learning today (as represented by Khan- and MOOC-style pedagogies) is anchored in the traditional lecture. Until we find a way to individualize the learning and attack misconceptions, I can’t back online learning as the primary mode a student gets their learnin’.

Maximizing My Efforts at Exam Time

I think it’s safe to call my new school a high-stress academic environment. Students want to do well, parents push their kids to do well, and faculty/administration have high expectations. That’s not to say I didn’t have any of these factors at my last schools, just that they weren’t as pervasive. So…as I came into this exam season, I knew I needed to step up my exam prep game. To that end I set three goals for myself:

  1. Teach the students to manage their stress well.
  2. Prepare the students for a comprehensive exam.
  3. Use my office hours and after hours time efficiently with the students.


This is always a weak spot of mine. I get into office hours and am constantly distracted by everyone asking me questions from all directions. I knew I needed to be smart about the exam prep window. My mantra: “answer every question once, even if multiple students ask the same question multiple times.”

I took three steps to be efficient and enact my mantra:

  1. Embedded help in the Moodle study guide. Wrong answers that match an anticipated algorithm (such as not converting units properly) gives targeted advice (“it looks like you didn’t do unit conversions to base units”).
  2. A Google Doc shared with the class where students can ask/answer questions.
  3. YouTube playlist of hint videos.

Embedded help in Moodle: here’s one example that helps lead students to the solution.

Screen Shot 2012-12-15 at 11.15.45 AM

The Google Doc:

Google Doc for exam prep

Every question on the study guide earns a section in the Google Doc. Students ask questions and I answer them or give hints. This is one of the meatier exchanges between students and me. I like that I only have to answer the question once because everyone can read the “thread”.

I’ve been working on getting the kids to help each other through the Google Doc (all semester, actually) but they’re much better at in-person help than online.

The YouTube playlist (also linked from the Google Doc) has been fun to create. See below for a video.

Comprehensive Exams

A semester-long comprehensive exam is always a stressful event. Kids have forgotten important chunks of what they learned back in September. It was interesting to watch them work the study guide and remember stuff. Yesterday I heard kid 1 say to kid 2, “I love Snell’s Law!” Awww, that will long be a top 10 memory of mine.

I believe a good study guide is a key component to helping younger students prepare for a comprehensive exam. The study guide should be pretty similar to the exam so kids don’t feel surprised. The mix of problems should reflect what was most important to the semester. (Am I talking obvious stuff here? Never can be sure…) I explicitly told my students, “if it isn’t on the study guide, you can be sure it isn’t on the exam.”

I do study guides and tests in Moodle, so I get several metrics about my students’ study habits to help me offer individual advice to kids. For example, one young woman was working her study guide with little advance thought, so was having to retry questions 5 or more times. I conferenced with her that she doesn’t know the material if it takes her 5 tries to get a correct answer. Another student, a young man was very concerned that he was rushing things because he finished the study guide very quickly. My question, “Do you make careless mistakes?” led to a great discussion about ways to be sure you’re getting work right.


My friend John Burk (@occam98) helped me out here with a year-old blog entry, “The no-stress exam package“. The fact I stressed most with the kids was to plan their exam studies several weeks in advance. We’ve spent a lot of time talking this semester already about the value of sleep.

One addition of my own was the exam bonus: if you earn 80% or better on the study guide, you’ll earn +5 on the exam; get 90% or better on the study guide to earn +10 on the exam.

What do you do to be your best and have your students do their best at exam time? 

First Day Scavenger Hunt

The kids loved this one!

A scavenger hunt around the classroom for kids to locate important features (fire extinguisher and pencil sharpener, for example) AND catch a glimpse of what we might study in physics.

To create the hunt, I (well, actually @physicsbjork) started by listing the important features in the classroom. Stuff that’s nice to know as well as safety stuff.

Next, I (ok, so @physicsbjork did this part, too — but I tweaked it!) found a link to go with each room feature. BONUS POINTS for you if you come up with a metaphor to link the two. For instance, my students decided that my video with a reverse bungee-jumping & parachuting guy was linked to the student supply center because your school supplies are necessary equipment for class just as the parachute was to the guy in the video. I wasn’t that clever but maybe you will be. Then I ran the links from above through, a link shortener that auto-generates QR codes.

Combine the two and distribute the QR code printouts around your room. The eyewash station for instance looked like this:

So much better than reading the syllabus.

End of Course Vocabulary Brilliance

School’s out for summer! I haven’t blogged in far too long. Naturally then, it’s time to share a cool idea I spotted at school. Posters like this graced the wall outside a chemistry class at Clarkston High:

Chemistry vocabulary sorted by students.

My colleague, the ever-clever Ms. Marshall*, came up with this great vocabulary sorting activity.  (By way of background, her chemistry classes include approximately 50% English Learners. Academic vocabulary building is part of the way we teach English Learners.) If you’re in the same boat of needing to explicitly teach vocabulary, this is a great culminating activity.

Give the kids all the vocabulary from the course and tell them to sort the words in a way that makes sense to them. The best posters grouped words by commonalities like “phases of matter” instead of “Chapter 1”. Brilliant: getting the kids to figure out how the words link together.

Vocabulary, sorted and categorized.

Oh, and to make things easier, Ms. Marshall has been using the vocabulary tools from Quizlet, so she only needed to print out each unit.


*Ms. Marshall also taught me about Interactive Notebooks. How can this be only her 3rd year teaching?

If I Taught at a 1-to-1 Laptop School

As more schools move to a 1-to-1 model, I’ve been thinking about how I’d operate in such an environment. My current computing opportunities are limited to a laptop cart I can take at 8am and must return at 3pm.

But what would my practice look like if I had a 1-to-1 environment?

First, there’s the tech that everyone would have on hand, every day. We could use Google Spreadsheets for massive laboratory data collection, Tracker Video Analysis software to analyze superhero movies (wait, there are other films out there?), and Evernote for online interactive notebooks. Oh, snap, then there are the PhET simulations!

Could I figure out a useful way to bring Twitter into the classroom? Would a class blog, maintained by the students, be helpful? I wonder how I could encourage the kids to experiment more.

Of course, it’s not about any particular tool on the laptops as much as it is general capabilities of laptops. Spreadsheets, videos, interactivity…

My norm could look more like this.

Second, there’s the chance to share with colleagues. I’ve already shared the love that is ExamView and Planbook with my colleagues. The entire math department at Clarkston is currently using one or the other. I can only imagine how much more sharing I would do if there were laptops in the kids’ hands every day.

I’d develop my pilot-then-share model of sharing. One of the biggest challenges with new tech in the classroom is that busy teachers often see it as adding work to their already busy schedules. That is a problem when the implementation is top-down and mandated. Pilot-then-share is different, it’s grassroots: 1) I learn about a new tool, 2) I implement it in my class and collect data, 3) mention it to a colleague using a hook I know they’ll appreciate, 4) share only when interest is indicated. This model works because it hits an individual teacher’s needs.

Now, when do the laptops arrive?

Interactive Notebooks (Grading)

In part 1, I talked about how I set up interactive notebooks with my students. Let’s look now at how I grade this stuff. It’s 4.5 weeks into second semester, my grading period is closing soon, and kiddos need grades in the computer. Time for a notebook check!

The prep work I did for this day:

  1. announced a notebook check and posted the list of pages I’ll be grading  I came up with the list based on stuff I wanted to be certain the kids had done (key homework assignments, for example). I didn’t do it this time around, but I also like to open up to have kids nominate 1-2 pages they are proud of.
  2. checked most of the assignments as they were due — enter the date stamper  This is crucial. Otherwise the grading takes forever. You can also distinguish kids who did the assignment when first assigned versus did it just in time for the notebook check (stamp vs no stamp).
  3. use a rubric. I don’t love the one my science department offered up (too bulky), so I’ve Googled around and found a few I appreciate. Have kids gluestick the rubric in the back of their notebooks so they know the expectations in advance. A note on rubrics & the pedagogy of interactive notebooks: I have something about “uses color to improve clarity of the message” in my rubric. Even if we don’t add the color during class, I like the kids to go back to their notes and add color.

A few other pictures of my students’ notebooks:

We love to fold paper, do problems in the boxes, then gluestick them into the notebooks.

A composition book is just the right size to hold a page printed “2 up” on my printer. I save a ton of paper this way.

If you implement interactive notebooks, let me know what you love about them. I’m still learning but I do love the fact my kids always have paper and their other notes in class.