Reflections on My MTBosBlaugust

At the end of July, I decided to participate in a blogging challenge that @druinok initiated.   It is the perfect blogging challenge for me.   There were no rules or expectations, no pre-defined prompts, just an invitation to write, to  share, and to read as much as you would like.    Some people dove in with the plan to post every day.   Other people targeted a once a week post.   Still other people just targeted “more”, whatever that meant for them.   I fell into the latter category.   I didn’t really have a defined goal.   I just wanted to write “more”, which wouldn’t take much since I was so busy during the last six or seven months that I wrote hardly at all.   If I only managed  two posts during the month of August, I was going to count it a win.

I wanted to write “more” because writing makes me pause.   It makes me think about the choices that I am making in my classroom.   It makes me consider what I am doing and why.   It makes me think about how the choices I make are impacting my students.   It makes me consider things from another perspective.   It makes me grow.   It doesn’t matter if anyone else ever reads it.   If someone does read it and they find something they can use or that makes them think, that’s awesome but it isn’t why I should write.  I should write because of the thought that must go into the writing and what I do with those thoughts afterward.

As I look back on the month of August, I never would have imagined that I would write so much this month.   Some of it was more reflective  and some less so, but I am better for having taken the time to think in ways that I would not have done without this challenge.   So, many thanks to @druinok.



A Flurry of Owls

Yesterday, Diagon Alley began to take shape.

Today, there was a flurry of owls delivering owl post.


Tomorrow, students will begin shopping for school supplies for Hogwarts.   They will need to convert their Galleons and Sickles from fractions to decimals.   Then, they will determine subtotals at each shop.

On Friday, there will be a mini-lesson on finding the percent of a number so that students can calculate discounts and taxes.   (Flourish and Blotts is having quite a sale.   Of course, the Ministry of Magic must have their due as well.)   They will then set to work finalizing their expenses and making sure that they have stayed within their individual budget.

Not Teaching to the Test

Every spring my students spend a week taking the PARCC test.   Like every other teacher who sends students off to take the test, I want my students to show what they know.     Some people view the test as forcing teachers to try to teach to the test.   I’m not really sure how one would do that.    I don’t even try.   I teach the Common Core State Standards and I try to teach my students how to tackle different kinds of test structures.   One of those that my students need to be able to tackle well is the PARCC Math Test extended response question structure.   Today’s post is about how I start to teach my students to write an extended response.

Step One – Learning how a task is scored

I begin by introducing a task that is one grade level below my students current grade.  I choose a released PARCC item for that grade level that has anchor papers published to go along with it for this stage.    I have students work  individually complete the task.    I want them to be familiar with the math so that they can then focus their attention on how it is scored.

After students have completed the task, I have them work together in groups to score the anchor papers.   Each student scores each anchor paper individually, then they discuss the scores with their table mates.    The group comes up with a consensus score for each anchor paper.    This takes a fair amount of time.   (The completion of the task and the consensus scoring can take between one and two class periods.)

I follow up by giving each group the actual score that each anchor paper would have received.   I give them time to review the scores and compare them to their own group’s scoring.    I then lead a class discussion on the take-aways from the exercise.   These take-aways usually include the following.

  • The correctness of the answer matters, but it is only part of the score and usually not the largest part.
  • Each sub-part of the question has points allocated to it so it is important to complete each part.
  • The explanation or justification is a big part of the point  and it doesn’t have to be verbose,  it just has to be complete.
  • You have to actually answer the question asked.

Step Two – Applying What We  Learned

For the second step of this exercise, I have students individually complete a grade level task related to the work that we are currently doing.   I choose the task from a set of released PARCC items or use a Smarter Balanced Assessment task.  The following day, I have students peer review each other’s work.   Then, I let students revise their responses based on the feedback that they have received from their table group before turning it in for an actual score.

When I score the task, I use a published rubric.   If there is no published rubric, I create one before giving the task to students.   If I have to create the rubric, I try to mirror the kinds of rubrics I have seen in released PARCC items.   I tend to score pretty strictly on these tasks.   When I return the task, I give them feedback and share the rubric used.

Step Three – Ongoing Practice With the Test Structure

Because learning how to write a PARCC response is not a one-time event, I incorporate at least one task that will be scored like a PARCC extended response question into every unit.   I often give these tasks for students to complete on Quiz or Test days.   Students work on the task after they finish the quiz or test.    This means that they are seeing a question with this kind of structure about every two weeks.

By the time that they take the actual PARCC test, my students are very comfortable with this kind of test structure.    I don’t teach to the test.   I teach the content that I should teach based on the standards and based on what my students need.   I am just giving them the tools to tackle the test in a way that shows what they know.


Comparing the GCF and LCM

For some reason, students lose there way in the river of Greatest Common Factor and Least Common Multiple.    Maybe it is because the phrases are so long and seem superficially so similar.   Maybe it is because they lose themselves in the woods of what a factor is versus what a multiple is.    I’m not really sure.   I just know that every single year, there is a set of students who lose their way.

Lately, I’ve been trying to focus their attention on how they are the same and how they are different, to compare and contrast them.    Yesterday, I had students complete a quick little foldable to try to help them see the essential differences.  img_1221.jpg

Comparing the GCF and LCM

To download the foldable, click the link above.

Distributive Property Card Sort

The Distributive Property was the topic of the day.    Part of our time today was playing with a card sort.    Students sorted the cards so that they had one version of the expression that was in the form a(b+c), one in the form ab+ac, and one in the form of a model.   IMG_1219

Distributive Property Card Sort

You can download the link above.

Today, we used it as a card sort.   Another day, we might use it as a game (matching, go fish, rummy).

Professional Isolation

A certain amount of professional isolation goes with the territory in my world.   I am the only one at my school who teaches the course that I teach, so I don’t have a partner with whom I collaborate.    Most of the students in sixth grade at my school are sorted into teams.   All the students on a team share a set of  core teachers.   My students, however are not really on a team.   They are split between the two teams.    Because their schedules are IEP-driven, they have one of three different ELA teachers, one of three different Social Studies teachers, and one of three different Science teachers.    I compensate for my lack of “teamness” by trying to stay as attuned to both teams as I can so that I know what is happening in my students’ overall school experience.

In years past, I have shared a prep period with one or the other of the sixth grade teams.    While I haven’t gone to their team meetings, I have made a point of checking in with one or more members of the team on a fairly regular basis during that common prep.   This year, master scheduling constraints required me to have a different prep period from both sixth grade teams.   My prep period is shared with a set of 8th grade teachers.   I do not share content with them.   I do not share students with them.   I do not even share physical proximity with them.   They are physically located as far from my classroom as you can be on our school campus.   I will probably be in a PLC with these teachers, but the work is built around a 90 day plan and the work will most probably center around 8th grade students.

When I looked at the master schedule, a foreboding set in that I could be very isolated this year.   I’ve been teaching long enough to know that everyone has “those” years from time to time.   This year appears to be one of them for me.    I find myself contemplating the things that are within my control and what steps I can take to reduce that sense of professional isolation, to ensure that I don’t stagnate as a teacher.   I’ve decided that the best option is to spend my time doing more professional reading, to virtually peek into other people’s classrooms by reading more blogs, and to try some things that I have wanted to do but have not yet had time to try.   (To that end, I spent a couple of hours yesterday playing in Desmos for the first time.    I found things that would be great if I were teaching a higher grade level but will need to spend some more time exploring to find how I can make it work with my students and grade level.)


Friday Favorites – A little bit late

I like the idea of taking a few minutes each week to think back about some of the good things that happened.   Because it was week two, I am a little bit behind.   So, here are my Friday Favorites from this week, just a little bit late.

  • At Open House on Thursday evening, I asked each parent to write one kind thing and one brave thing that his or her student has done (anonymously) and to post it on our wall as a surprise for their children.   I wanted them to realize that we see these traits in them and that we value them.


  • As I was on duty in the lobby this week, several former students stopped by to catch up.   I got to hear about upcoming Nutcracker auditions, that Albert (our class mascot from last year) was home sick (he’s a stuffed animal – I love middle school), and all about what it is like in the bigger pond of high school.   I love these kids and it makes me happy to catch up with them when I no longer get to see them every day.
  • By Friday of this week, I had used red and green marking on entry cards three times.    With each red mark, a student who had gotten a green mark was asked to go help that student figure out his or her mistake.     The first time we did this, there was a lot of awkwardness and uncertainty about how to this was supposed to happen.   By Thursday, kids were in the zone.   They were finding mistakes and talking about them, they were coaching their peers, and they weren’t just telling someone how to do it or what the answer was.   Our class is taking some first steps towards being a community.
  • When I asked one of my students to look out for a particular student I had heard was eating alone because he is new and doesn’t know kids at our school yet, he gave me a giant grin and said he would invite the boy to eat with him and his friends.
  • The band came to serenade the teacher next door for me because it was his birthday.    I love that our band students ask to do this and that our band director lets them.   I also love that I get to work with teachers who are so beloved for all the right reasons.

It was a good week.