Classroom Remodel

The Wall

I am not by any means the craftiest, neatest, most organized, or creative teacher in our building but I still decided to take on the project of redoing my classroom decor this summer.  My biggest problem has always been my “wall”. My classroom has a removable wall that is made of some sort of upholstery like fabric that drives me crazy because it is dull an dingy looking.  The first year I was there I did nothing to it and years  two and three I covered it with fabric but I was tired of looking at that as well.  The biggest problem with the wall is that we have to be able to open it for team incentives, open house, etc so I knew I had to be able to cover the panels individually to keep the functionality.

The "Wall" before the redo

The Wall Before the Redo

Enter Pinterest

I found this pin with lots of different uses for scrapbook paper but I knew I would have to toughen it up to get it to last for 177 days with 120+ kids.  I found a scrapbook paper pad that I liked that had 20 different patterns with 4 sheets of each pattern.  It took 2 to do the wall and and another one to finish up some other stuff I wanted to cover.  Purchased on sale at Hobby Lobby the wall cost right at $15.00 and the whole room was $21.00…way cheaper than the fabric I had purchased in years prior!

I laminated each sheet individually and then cut them out (yes there was lamination scraps all over my house!).  Next I just pieced them on the wall and secured with a staple gun.  I did have to trim some of them so that they wouldn’t keep the wall from opening but in the end it still turned out great. I also made my bulletin board match and hot glued extra sheets to the sides of my book cases and filing cabinets to add to the effect and cover up some ugliness!  

The new wall

The New Wall

I also found some great storage containers to match for  $1 at Dollar Tree and was so grateful to Sarah’s blog for the FABULOUS classroom posters.  They were the perfect finishing touch to my room.  

Matching bulletin board


All in all, my entire remodel was less than $30.00 and I am thrilled with the results.  I just wish I had taken more before pictures to show!

7th Grade Common Core Taboo Cards

One of our MDC PD days last year included a math vocabulary taboo game that was really fun. I printed the cards out to play with my 7th graders but found myself removing lots of the cards that were high school vocabulary based and that my students didn’t know yet. I developed these cards by 7th grade Common Core Unit with the thought that I would print each unit on a different color paper so I could quickly identify what unit the vocab came from. If you can use these in your class please do! We always have days were we have assemblies and come back to class with five minutes left and need an activity or the power is out and we need a back up activity or we got done with a test early and need an activity so I am hopeful these will help make good use of that time.

Also, after you have made taboo cards for rate, unit rate, constant rate, proportionality, etc the taboo words begin to run together so if you have a suggestion to make one of the cards better please let me know!

Expressions and Equations Taboo

Geometry Taboo

Number System Taboo

Ratios and Proportions Taboo

Stats & Prob Taboo 

Find Your Local Teacher Education Program Today!

If you don’t have a strong relationship with the teacher education program in your area you are missing out on one of the most valuable tools available to you.  Through a series of really fortunate events I have come to develop a really strong working relationship with the STEM Education Department at the University of Kentucky and it has transformed my teaching career.

Math Clinic

The See Blue Math Clinic partners pre-service teachers with struggling learners at my school.  It is a program that benefits our students and the pre-service teachers equally.  Our struggling learners receive an hour and a half of free hands-on and interactive tutoring that focuses on conceptual development and the use of manipulatives.  The pre-service teachers receive experience engaging learners and the use of multiple instructional methods to reach all students.   Each pre-service teacher is paired with 3 students to make sure that all learners can receive adequate instruction.  The clinic meets once a week for 90 minutes at our school.  The student’s classroom teachers provide instructional information and student needs to the pre-service teachers in order to further make sure all learners are having their needs met.

Family Math Night

As a part of the See Blue Math Clinic we were able to start a Family Math Night at our school.  In this fun event each math teacher designs a short math game that can be played in about 60 seconds or less and is paired with a pre-service teacher or STEM Education Club member on the night of the event to help facilitate the games.  Dinner is provided for all the families that attend in addition to lots of door prizes and a program that includes instructions on how to play all of the games at home.  In our first year we had over 600 people attend and it was one of our most popular school events.  There is nothing better than watching a gym full of parents have fun doing math with their kids.

See Blue STEM Camp

I also get the opportunity to work with students each summer at the See Blue Stem Camp.  This week long camp serves students in 5th – 8th grade and is designed to get students more interested in STEM related careers.  I won’t lie sometimes it is hard to give up a week of my summer but I am always amazed at how much fun I have with the kids and how much I learn right along beside them!  Read more about our week at STEM Camp here:

Professional Development

Finally, my work with the STEM Education Department has also allowed me the opportunity to travel to and present at both the Regional and National NCTM conferences.  I have grown so much professionally as an educator due to my involvement with the pre-service teachers and other programs in place.  I highly encourage all teachers to who are lucky enough to have a teacher education program nearby to form a relationship with the professors, staff, and students.  It will be some of the most valuable time you spend!


Our Presentation Team at NCTM NOLA: Dr. Christa, Jackson, Dr. Margaret Mohr-Schroeder, Dr. Craig Schroeder, and myself!

Time to Emerge

Thank goodness that so many people I follow on twitter are at a fabulous conference this week. It has given me the motivation I need to emerge from my summer hiding and begin getting ready to go back to school which starts in just 3 short weeks. It has been a fabulous summer filled with some much needed time to focus on my own two kids and take a break from the daily pressures that come with the regular school year. However, it is time for me to get out of summer mode and start attacking all those “I’m going to be a better teacher next year” projects that I have been putting off.

New Challenges

I have accepted some new challenges for the coming school year that I am equally nervous and excited about.  I agreed to teach two collaborative Pre-Algebra classes.  It is a new idea we are trying where the kids 6th grade special education collab teacher is going to loop with the kids.  This means a few different things for me:

1)  I will get to work with absolutely hands down the best special education teacher I have ever known.  I have never had the pleasure of teaching with him but I am so excited for the opportunity we will have to really push some kids that are struggling learners.  One of the goals I have is to prove that Steve Leinwand is absolutely correct when he says that we have an instructional gap not an achievement gap.  This group of kids got off to a fabulous start in 6th grade with a phenomenal teacher and their special education teacher.  Now if I can take that progress and build I am hopeful we will see a real difference in their so called achievement gap.

2)  I am going to have to get more innovative than ever before.  In addition to the students I will teach that are identified as having an IEP I will also teach a very large population of English language learners.  I feel like every student that comes in my room deserves the best I have and I worry that it will be hard to meet all of their needs daily but I am also excited that I have the opportunity to meet their learning needs.  Although some teachers dread teaching such classes and look “down” on it, I consider it an honor that my administration feels that I can really help these kids.  I just hope I can live up to the expectations. 

New Leadership Roles

I am also equally excited and nervous about some new leadership roles I will be taking on.  I agreed to serve as Math Department Chair for the coming school year which I am hopeful will be a great way to not only serve my school as a leader but will be a chance to improve instructional opportunities for all learners.  This role will be a challenge for me though.  I am not always thick skinned enough and know that there are going to be times that my colleagues may not agree with or like the direction we are going.  I am planning on doing a department book study of the NCTM book Principles to Actions that I know will open up some unpleasant discussions for some but I really hope that I have the ability to start an open dialogue about some of the productive and unproductive practices discussed in the book.

With the implementation of the new Kentucky TPGES evaluation system I will also be serving as a Peer Observer in our building as well.  I am really looking forward to that role for selfish reasons.  I love getting in classrooms and learning from other teachers so I am incredibly excited to spend time in a variety of teacher’s rooms in order to help them grow while I learn from them at the same time.

I have no doubt that the next year will be a mixture of both success and failure as I continue to push myself professionally.  I already have lots of things I am planning on sharing so I hope you will follow along, provide feedback, commentary, thoughts to ponder, or just support as I begin another year’s journey with 120 fabulous 7th graders!

18 Years to Achieve Greatness

When the bell rings tomorrow afternoon it will be the end of my ninth year of teaching. That means I will officially be 1/3 of the way through my 27 year teaching career and that scares me to death. I’m a third of the way in and still am not a great teacher.

How I Got Here

It was my junior year of college when I switched my major to education and shocked nearly everyone who knew me. The natural choice for me was a degree in public relations and marketing. I was an accomplished public speaker, served as an Ambassador for the University of Kentucky and managed the P.R. for my family business for years. Everyone just knew I would find a successful life in the corporate world and live happily ever after.

I still don’t know why I changed my major to education. I honestly did it on a whim one day after getting very frustrated with a Journalism professor and it was the best decision I ever made. Don’t get me wrong, there were days when I had my doubts. My student teaching experience was TOUGH. I look back on my journals from those four months and laugh about I frustrated I was and how I didn’t think I would ever make it as a classroom teacher. Turns out I just had an amazing supervising teacher who knew what she was doing. Ms. Hack was just ensuring that I was prepared when I got my own classroom. During student teaching I encountered all kinds of trials and tribulations and as a result my first year teaching was actually pretty easy and from there the last nine years have flown by.

 Here I Am

It all sounds like such a fairytale and in some ways it has been. The problem comes with the fact that I don’t want to be a good teacher I want to be a great teacher. In the last nine years I have immersed myself in degree programs, professional development opportunities, professional learning communities, and online and print resources to try and get great but I feel like I still have so much to learn and do before I am a really great teacher.   This summer I will do what I always do I will read, plan, attend PD, and brainstorm ways to be even better next year in hopes that sometime in the next 18 years I can finally find greatness. Every kid deserves a great teacher and I hope one day that is me.


A Reflection on “Who or What Broke My Kids”

I Broke My Own Rule

I have a silly rule in my class that I don’t allow any vine videos to be taken in my room. The reason I always tell the kids is that too many things I say can be taken out of context in an eight second video clip. I always explain that if they want to secretly video my lesson for some strange reason to please video the whole class so their parents will know there is a method to the madness. After all, I have been known to do some crazy things in the 65 minutes the kids are with me all of which could be taken the wrong way without knowing the context of the lesson.

A few weeks ago I posted the piece “Who or What Broke My Kids” after an interesting day in class. Recently that post ended up on Hacker News, Reddit, MetaFilter, and a few other sites with a great deal of controversy regarding the methods and mathematics involved in my class that day. After dealing with the initial shock of reading what people were saying about the post I realized I broke my own rule. I gave people a written equivalent of a vine video and let them take my classroom out of context.

Classroom Culture Can’t Be Captured in Print

A great deal of the comments centered around the fact that no one could believe that I had a meltdown in class and “berated” the kids by calling them broken. I realize this is my own fault as I was the one who used the terms broken and meltdown however what the commenters failed to realize is that I spend weeks at the beginning of the year developing a classroom culture that encourages a free exchange of ideas between me and the students. So what seemed like a 10 minute lecture to most of the commenters actual went a lot more like this: “Guys, can we take a time our here for a minute… What is going on here…You seem really concerned about whether or not I think you are right…Do you think you are right…Which cards do you think definitely have a right answer…Do you think there are cards that don’t have a right answer…” etc.   I wasn’t angry with the kids I was disappointed that they wouldn’t trust their own instinct and reason on their own.

Why I Can’t Always Tell Them They Are Right or Wrong

A lot of commenters focused on the fact that it was a poor teaching strategy to not tell the kids if they were right or wrong. They thought the kids were just looking for guidance and that I was withholding that from them. I can assure you that isn’t what they were looking for. The kids wanted me to give them the answers and the whole point of the activity was for them to engage in that productive struggle we all talk so much about these days. Every teacher has had this happen, the kids were asking if they were correct and when I would give feedback they would switch around a card or two and say, “well how about now…now…what about now”. Kids are really good at getting teachers to give them the answer. I have done it myself frequently. We see them struggling and want to help but instead of helping them think we give them answers and bail them out. I was determined to not let this go that way.

 Despite My Best Effort I Can’t Predict How Every Activity Will Go

Another center of controversy was the fact that I should have been able to predict the lesson would go this way and frame it in a different way so it would not go that direction. I work with thirteen year olds who I love dearly but are terribly hard to predict. This was not at all their first experience with these types of probabilities. We had been working with the standards for a couple of days and the formative assessment data collected showed they were ready for a more challenging activity so we gave this a go. This was also not their first experience with this type of card sorting activity either. I am not exactly sure how I could have reframed it to help them without taking that productive struggle away from them but am open to suggestions.

In the End

In the end, I learned a lot from this experience. The whole reason I started this blog was to help me find my voice as a teacher. A great deal of the posts I write are more for myself than anyone else and I seriously doubted my decision to start the blog in the midst of this experience. Reading what people were saying about the post on some of the social sites was eye opening.   Some people thought if I wanted to teach this way that I should be at a Montessori school while others thought I shouldn’t be allowed to teach at all. Many thought the problem was the fact that I don’t teach math like it was taught when they were in school and that my job was to be the gatekeeper to information rather than a facilitator of learning. Some people said they wished I was their child’s teacher others claimed if their child had me as a teacher they would have their child removed from my class.   However, after taking the time to really reflect on the whole experience I realize this is exactly what I needed. I now know I do have a voice and it is a strong one. Although not everyone agreed with my methodology or thoughts they were taking about it. The goal in my class the day of this post was to generate discussion and I was not only able to do that in class that day I was able to do it in the blog world weeks later as well.

A Reminder that at My Worst I am the Best Some Kids Have

A Teacher’s Sob Story

I have not been on top of my game this year.  I have a plethora of excuses that range from finishing my research project to pressures of Common Core gaps or my own son beginning Kindergarten and the  extra parental responsibilities involved with that.  Whatever the reason I have spent most of the year feeling ineffective and tired.  I have considered leaving teaching altogether and maybe starting my own business or being a stay at home mom.  I have dealt with feeling like I short-changed the 120 kids I was responsible for teaching while also short-changing my own kids at home.  Don’t get me wrong, I tried my best everyday but for the first time in my career I felt like it was never enough.


How My Students Changed that Sob Story this Week

It started last week with one of my student’s from last year upset that a parent bailed on his track meet.  I promised I would come watch him at the county championship and bring my big shiny camera to take lots of pictures.  The day of the meet I was tired.  It had been a long day and the last thing I wanted to do was stand out in the 40 degree weather.  I missed my own kids who I had seen minimally that week but my husband reminded me that this kid needed me more so I went.  I hadn’t more than sat down in the full stands before my former student saw me from the track made his way through the stands to hug me and thank me for coming. He beamed with pride and gratefulness and for the first time in a while I knew that even on that bad day I had made the life of a child better.

Fast forward to the next morning when my students arrived for homework help.  I open my doors an hour early three days a week for students to get help, retake tests, do Buzz Math, or whatever else they want.  One of my students shows up faithfully nearly every time with a smile on her face ready to work on material she is struggling with.  Friday morning she arrived with a bigger smile than usual and beautiful flowers from her mom’s yard.  I can’t tell you how blessed I felt that this 13-year-old took time our of her morning to do something to brighten my day.  She told me homework help was her favorite part of school.  Even at my worst I was the best part of her day.


Today I cried in my room.  It wasn’t even a pretty cry.  It was the I am completely overwhelmed by how blessed I am cry.   My students filled out their annual math K-prep test dedication.  I never expect the kids to dedicate their performance to me, sure there are always the few token kids that say me for lack of wanting to think about it but I always really push the kids to dedicate their performance to someone who has motivated them to do better in math.  I was overwhelmed when I read them by the kids that dedicated their performance to me.  It wasn’t the advanced kids.  It wasn’t the well-behaved angels that are always engaged and focused.  It was the kids that never do any homework, the kids that roll their eyes every time I speak, the kids that huff and puff and push back against everything I want them to do.   Those are the kids that picked me this year.

Kprep Dedication


They said things like:

She never gives up on me

She always let me know that she was there for me and that I was important

She loves us

She makes the boring stuff fun

I have never had a teacher like Mrs. Powers

She is weird but fun

I have a really big teaching challenge next year.  I volunteered for it and am looking forward to blogging about it but I also know it will push me to the brink. I will have to bring more to the table everyday.  I am nervous about it and worried that I will never be able to do enough for the kids I will teach but the 50 plus kids that dedicated their performance to me this year showed me that even at my worst I was the best they had.