If You Build It They Will Come

I have no idea why but 8 days into a new school year and I feel like this quote from Field of Dreams best describes what we have going on.

My collaborating teacher and I knew that we would have our work cut out for us this year teaching two collaborative classes. Both classes are filled with students who hate math, students who have been taught that they can’t do math and believe they aren’t as smart as the other students in the school. Although I realize we still have a long way to go it has been amazing to watch their mindsets change in the few days we have spent with them.

 How to Learn Math for Students

We made the choice over the summer to have the kids go through Jo Boaler’s How to Learn Math for Students course. WOW. I can’t say enough about this course. The kids love the videos and they are really buying into what Jo is saying about math ability and growth mindsets. Their reflections on the videos have been beautiful to read, just a few of the comments thus far have been:

“I never knew everyone could be good at math”

“I know I am not bad at math I just had a bad experience”

“Anyone can learn math”


And those are just a handful out of many more like them. I am so excited to see how their growth mindset continues to develop as a result of this course.

Skill and Drill No More 

Equally as important has been a shift in our classroom warm-ups thanks to the MTBOS. I will not lie I was one of those terrible drill and skill warm-up teachers before this year. However I spent all summer pouring through blogs and reading everything that came out of the TMC 14 conference to figure out a better way to engage kids in math. I settled on Estimation 180, Math Talks, Counting Circles, Would You Rather, Visual Patterns and Find the Mistake along with a weekly reflection.   This one shift has probably had the biggest impact on the class. From the moment they enter my students are engaged in high level math and having deep discussions that we rarely had before.  I will make another post just on the warm-ups later!


What I Know

We are eight days in and I can’t guarantee you that every child will master every 7th grade standard or that every child will leave as a mathematician. Here is what I do know though:

Kids that have never enjoyed math come into the room smiling

Kids that said on the first day that math was their least favorite subject wrote on their first weekly reflection that is was their favorite class

Kids that always failed every quiz passed our first one with a B or better.


Maybe it has just been 8 days but it has been the most beautiful 8 days of my teaching career.

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:  http://www.margaretmohrschroeder.com

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.