Mitchell 20 – A National Board Certification Journey for the Benefit of Students

Mitchell 20 was AMAZING!!!!!! Everyone…teachers, parents, politicians…anyone concerned about the future of our youth, and for that matter your future, must see this!!!! I’m calling on my National Board Teachers to get a site license to show this documentary to their district. I know how you can do this and even make it a fundraiser. I know really fantastic teachers that can be the spark that starts the fire to make change happen. Let’s do this!!!!

Great On-Line Learning

I wanted to share with you Hippo Campus. This is a wonderful independent learning site for many courses, particularly algebra. Students are provided an opportunity to warm up to the lesson, reviewing and assess previous learned skills, and then move into video lessons that walk them through the mathematics unit. Instruction can be geared to the student’s pace. Opportunities to assess learning are provided throughout. The explanations are very clear and accurate.

If  I had one thing to change about the site it would be the font size. It seems a bit small and difficult to read, however, this is not in reference to the instructional window. This is regarding the scrolling lesson outlines to the left and the explanation boxes that appear to help students along. I find the key notes at the bottom of the instruction window very helpful. For instance, if the lesson, activity or problem involves a certain algebraic property or definition, this is provided below the window the lesson is being presented in.

If you teach algebra, this is certainly a site to have linked on your webpage or provided to students and parents for extra support for your class.

Parent Communication

Year after year, after year, there always seems to be more to do at the beginning of the school year than any human can possibly accomplish. I would like to emphasize one, and only one thing, for the first  3 -4 weeks to accomplish. This would be parent communication. Please make at least one contact home, verbally speaking with a parent or guardian, within the first 3-4 weeks of school. This is a valuable opportunity to make a connection to home; to put your best foot forward; to stress the passion you have for educating their child or student. If at all possible, I would recommend moving those students that are already pushing your buttons to the front of that call line; however, I would only say nice things.

I know…I know….there are some students that are really showing their true colors in the first week of school. Keep in mind…these students are instituting their best defenses during this period. This may just be a front to protect their integrity, their ego, and their pride. These students may be trying to make a place for themselves in the only society they know…school. Let them. However, make a connection home to let their parent(s) or guardians know that you have their best interests in mind. Let them know that you will work with them to insure that “Johnny” or “Susie” have the best year ever. Let them know that the communication lines are always open, in both directions. It’s amazing what positive gains will occur with a simple, casual conversation.

With that said, I would suggest a cheat-sheet of sorts to use when you call parents/guardians the first time. Try to be consistent with the information you give to all parents. As we all know, parents do talk with one another. You’re laughing, but mark my words…. say X, Y and Z to parent A, and G, H, I to parent B, parent A and B talk, …you know what will come your way.

Don’t be afraid to encourage parents/guardians to come into your class for a class period. Some will take you up on it and others will not. When they do, don’t put on a show. Be yourself. Keep your normal routines. Maintain the same expectations. This will paint a real picture for them. For the ones that take you up on this offer, be sure to continue communications home throughout the year, good and bad. Remember, it takes a village to raise a child. With that said, I would also keep a record sheet for each student to record the parental contact you have made and the reasons for doing so, including returning phone calls from parents. Come April or May, this will prove to be a value resource for those students that have been “high-flyers” all year.

The key is communication home. I certainly do not want to disillusion you into thinking that every parent or guardian will be responsive to you making calls home. Some will and some won’t. The key is to do what you should on your end….and that’s making sure that the line is open. Sometimes, it’s just one-sided.

Best of luck!

Amazing Math Software – FluidMath

I’m not sure how FluidMath found me on Twitter, but I’m so happy they did. Finally, someone has created a math software that WORKS for math teachers and the way they teach. I’ve used a Tablet PC since 2004, for both instruction and for personal use. My students absolutely loved the features a tablet provided me for instruction, but wow! If I had only had this software, I would have knocked their socks off!


These are only a few of the things I love so far:

  1. It reads math hand writing, including math symbols and formatting.
  2. It has graphing tools that are effortless, precise, readable and adjustable.
  3. It has just enough bells and whistles, such as color changing tools and styles, to capture students interest and allow for emphasis throughout instruction.
  4. The graphs act like Java applets that are completely responsive to changes made my hand.
  5. It can easily be used with Microsoft Word in creating assignments, assessments, and notes.
And, so many more.
What I would like to investigate with this software is how well it works with the functionality of Microsoft Office OneNote, particularly the recording feature. I would love to see a lessons recorded with the teacher/class speak using this software so that it can be uploaded and archived on the teacher’s blog or website. This way, if a student misses a lesson, they can simply cue it up later and not miss a beat!
I am very impressed with this software. I can’t wait to purchase a copy of my own! I’ll keep you posted!

Virtual Whiteboards

In my one moment of creative thought this evening, I thought,

“Shannon, how great would it be to collaborate with teachers and students via an online shared whiteboard.”

I know I cannot be the first one to think of this; however, I’m thinking free! Yes, free online desktop sharing, or simply a shared whiteboard for two or more people to think collaboratively, posing questions and seeking methods of solutions. I’m not too far removed from teaching that I have forgotten how much teachers already spend on their classrooms. Teachers do not need to spend a cent more of their own dime if they are willing to give up out-0f-the-classroom time to answer questions from their students. I started a search for a FREE online whiteboard application/resource and found two so far.



I played with the first website the most and found it easy to use, but would require practice to become proficient with utilizing the functions live with students.

This is what I captured.




I have yet to give the second link the same attention.

When I taught mathematics, I use a tablet pc, which allowed me to use a stylist to write just like using a pen, but with using software like Microsoft Office OneNote. I have used OneNote since 2005 and it is amazing! Math is so difficult to “type”, so time is wasted formatting instead of explaining. When explaining mathematical concepts to students in the classroom, I have found students appreciated and respond best to the real-time writing I did during instruction. I was able to use different colors, write on a notebook paper template or graph paper, use a highlighter, and draw shapes to instruct. I was also able to lay out notes for students to record into their binders, a format which was best suited for reviewing, researching and studying. Most importantly, and unlike using the chalkboards of old, I was able to face my students while I wrote, monitoring student behavior and attention. As one administrator observed, “Students have no choice but to listen and learn!”

I’m on the hunt. If you know of a resource that would fit this bill, please post a comment. Whether it would be for math instruction or not, there is a need for online collaboration and instruction for all teachers. What is your favorite resource?

#1 Teacher’s Resource

I am, and will forever be, a lover of learning. I was the first of my family to get my bachelor degree, and continued on to get my masters. This of course came with a hefty price tag, but completely worth it. My master of mathematics education program was entirely online and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I embrace the online world as a means of learning and exchanging of knowledge. Many students today have not known of a time without computers; therefore, learning online is just as natural as learning via textbooks and videos of previous generations.

When my friend introduced me to Khan Academy, the learner inside of me got very excited. Free! Online! Learning! Thousands of instructional videos that allow me to review previous learned topics or to branch out and learn something completely off the charts, like Galvanic Cells in chemistry. Math.  Science. Humanities. Test Prep. It’s all just a click away. Oh, and Mr. Gates himself is part of this amazing project.

This blog is about me sharing information, strategies, lesson plans, and resources with teachers across all subjects, but particularly mathematics. So, what are the implications for the classroom with regard to Khan Academy? Let me list the ways…

  1. Teacher learning/reviewing resource – Teachers can see instructions and examples of content they will teach their students. This is very helpful for cases where teachers are required to teach a grade or a subject they have not taught before.
  2. Student learning/reviewing resource – Students can access content or lessons they feel they need assistance in mastering. This could be on the whim of the student, or as the teacher, you could assign students to review particular videos and content for purposes of understanding material taught in the classroom.
  3. Parent learning/reviewing resource – Parents can learn in along with their child. Parents usually want to help their child understand all of their subjects, but feel too many years have passed to do so effectively. Directing them to particular videos pertaining to material being taught in the classroom will provide them an opportunity to learn along with their child. Moreover, parents can benefit from this resource to broaden their own knowledge base.
Since most school systems and teachers utilize websites to communicate with students and parents, as well as fellow teachers, it would be very beneficial to create links to these videos on a weekly or unit basis. Doing so in an organized fashion according to your curriculum’s pacing guide will provide this “one-stop-shopping” experience for students, parents and teachers alike.
I truly hope you find this as exciting as I do. Work with your peer/subject teachers to organize this information into a form that works for you, and all those involved.

Making the Switch – Common Core Standards – Mathematics

As we begin this new school year, how many of you will be implementing the new common core standards for mathematics? If so,

  • How are you feeling about this transition?
  • What are the challenges you’re facing?
  • Do you have a support group in place at the school, district, and/or state level?
  • Are you using social media to connect with fellow math teachers experiencing the same transition? If so, which ones?
If you’re not implementing the new standards until next school year, this is the year to reach out and learn from those who are! Please share and collaborate here.

Back To School Time

Wow, that time has rolled around yet again. Each and every year the summers seem to get shorter and shorter. The funny thing is, I’m not in the classroom any longer, yet I feel remorseful for my fellow teachers having to go back to work tomorrow. It seems like they just closed out the school year! I truly hope everyone had a restful and enjoyable summer break. But if you have to go back, here are a few words of wisdom I’d like to pass along.


(1) Have a Plan!

Have a plan for everything, from how you will greet the students that first time, to how students will interact with one another, to how students will complete assignments, to how you will manage students outside your classroom. Make these plans as simple as possible, with clear language for students to understand. Do not make a plan to simply say you have a plan for something. Make each and every rule, procedure, and routine purposeful and worthwhile. You should be able to justify to anyone why you do what you do, and how it positively affects the learning of your students. The plans you put in place set the tone for your instruction. Have a plan that promotes a positive and safe learning environment for all!

(2) Steal from New and Old

It is often thought that the “veteran” teachers have all the great ideas, the tried and true. I’ve met a few amazing new teachers in my time that are excellent counterexamples to that idea. During pre-planning time, roam the school, peek into a variety of classrooms, both within your content/grade and out. It’s amazing what you will find. Don’t feel awkward about going in and asking those teachers why they do what they do. They are more than happy sharing with you! It’s the best compliment a teacher can get. Any conversation that begins with, “I like what you have done with… How do you utilize that with your students?” It’s amazing what great ideas come out of conversations such as this, for both parties. It’s through this type of sharing and collaboration that teachers get stronger, communities within the school are built, and students prosper. It’s not a competition. Everyone is in it for the same end result….student success! So SHARE AND ASK QUESTIONS!!!!

(3) Get Organized

Take the time to think about what will be coming in, going out, and staying. By this I mean anything from papers (both from students, parents, and the school office), textbooks and resources, and classroom supplies.

  • Consider color coding the categories you have defined as the most frequent. I remembered that my system consisted of student related materials were in yellow file folders, administrative materials were in red, and parent documentation was in green. These certainly were not the only categories I had, but they were the most prevalent. Take the time to clear out a file cabinet, or even just a plastic file bin, to help to get the organization system under way. I recommend investing a few extra dollars in the box of 5-color file folders. Only use these for such organization, and not for other projects….that would defeat the color coding system.
  • I would also recommend a single manila file folder, one per student, labeled by last name, per class period, to store any documentation that may need to be collected. This could involve signed documents from parents, grade reports, discipline notes, and student work. These are amazing resources to have during a parent conference.
  • In addition to a single file folder per child, I would create a single parent contact sheet per student you teach, organized either by class period or by last name. This sheet should be populated with parent contact information, including names of parents/guardians, phone numbers, and email addresses. These can be easily stored in a small binder. Each time contact home is made, it should be recorded on that student’s sheet. This allows a running log to be kept throughout the year. Once a week, I would recommend making 3-5 additional positive phone calls to student’s parents/guardians randomly selected from the binder. This helps build that bridge between home and school for many students.
  • (These are just a few…keep posted for new entries to this section. I could write a book on just this aspect of teaching)
(4) Assign Seats
       Some may disagree with me on this one, but I did teach middle school. Seating charts are an absolute must for more than 3/4 of the school year, and in some cases the entire school year. Yes, they are a pain, especially if you don’t know your students just yet. Alphabetizing students the first few weeks does make learning names and accounting for all of your students easier, but realize that your peer teachers may be doing so as well. Your students may get quite familiar with each other sooner than you anticipate, thus increasing the chance of classroom disruptions. Consider an alternative method that makes things just as easy on you. Computer grading systems that can be set up to take attendance that has an editable floor plan capability are a great help, especially if these floor plans can be printed with the students’ names in the “furniture”. Other plans can be less-tech with the use of blank floor plan layouts and writing in students names, or with the use of post-it notes with student’s names on each so they can be moved around accordingly. (I’d suggest the super sticky ones!)
I’m going to pause here for this entry. I will be adding more details to these ideas soon.
You really can’t make a second first impression. How you begin the first 3-5 weeks really sets the tone for the whole year. Yes it’s difficult. I won’t lie. I encourage you to stay strong throughout the beginning-of-the-year period, stick to your plan, procedures and routines.
Please post your comments, questions, and suggestions. I’d love for this to be a community and a network where teachers are free share ideas and ask questions as needed. I wish you all the best as you prepare to welcome your new group of students. Good luck!

Lesson Plan Map

Every July when I was a teacher, anticipation would begin to bubble up inside me with the start of the new school year just weeks away. This usually was invoked by the sights and sounds of back-to-school sales. Nothing got me more excited than the dollar deals at Target and Walmart, not to mention the penny deals at Staples. Oh how Staples misses my business.

In addition to my fetish for new school supplies each year, I was also addicted to meticulously planning out the next school year. This interest was usually sparked by summer workshops/trainings I was fortunate enough to attend. These activities always got my brain spinning on ideas of new activities, instructional techniques and the sequence of the curriculum. You would think not much would change from the year before; however, in all of my 10 years of teaching, I only once experienced back-to-back years where the courses I taught and the curriculum I used remained constant. All other years, I basically had to recalibrate my brain and my resources based around the grade and course I was going to teach. This included a curriculum map for the entire year. I would start with a blank printed copy of each month, and I would then pencil in the mathematics standard, objective, and even the chapters/sections in the textbook, along with all known activities I could use to teach that objective. This was not something I completed in a few days. This usually took me the better part of 2 weeks per course that I taught to complete, keeping a separate file per course.

Keep in mind, this regimen was largely due to my OCD tendencies, but in the end, it sure did make for an easy year. With that said, I won’t lie. I was never able to stick to it exactly, but it served as a road map for the year and kept me focus on what needed to be accomplished. After about year 7, I began to construct this file using Word, strictly for the purpose of sharing with fellow teachers. When I taught in South Carolina, it was a requirement to submit typed lesson plans each week, and post these to our website each week for parents and students to access. Looking back now, and after becoming an avid user of google docs, I really wish I had created a “one-stop-shop” for anything dealing with my lessons. This would include notes, activities, and assignments. Of course, it’s not until I stop teaching that I thought of this and have the time to create an excel file, in conjunction with google docs, to accomplish this task. Funny how things happen.

The file Excel Lesson Link is a template to use to map out your curriculum for the year. This file is actually accessed via my google docs page, as a shared file, hyperlinked within this file. In the Excel Lesson Link file are two other files that are linked to my google docs page that illustrate the capabilities of the file. One is a lesson plan and the other is an activity I used with my algebra students, already link to this blog. When you create your weekly lesson plans, all you have to do is upload them to your google docs page, as a shared document (anyone who has the link can view), and copy the link into the excel file as a hyperlink. In the excel file, clicking on “Insert” and then “Hyperlink” will allow for you to choose the text that displays in the file for the link you are sharing. You can attach all the files you need for each week, or per day, in the colored portion of each day on the calendar. The white section for each day can be used as the descriptors and content information, like the standard and objective and the textbook information. This document can be used in any capacity you so desire. Keep in mind, the goal of this file is to have it act as your one-stop-shop file. You could access it from any computer and pull up the files you need for your lesson. In addition, files and information is so much easier to share with fellow teachers, parents and students.

A few notes about goggle documents:

Google documents is a tool within gmail. If you do not have gmail, you would need to create an account. There may be another functionality out there similar to google docs that I’m not aware of. I will only speak of what I know for this post’s purpose.

I would create a structure of file categories and names per your class structure before uploading any files. This may consist of a main file of let’s say, “8th Grade Math”. Then I might break it up into chapters or content areas, class periods, or maybe even semesters or 9 weeks categories. The number of files uploaded may be very high, so creating subcategories will be very helpful for when you need to find a file. Creating the shell of an outline will prove to be very helpful in the end. Be sure that you “share” each file, requiring the link in order for a person to access the file. I would not make any of your files public. Lastly, it is in your best interest to pdf you’re the file before you post it. Otherwise, your files may be altered without your permission. That’s just not a situation you want to find yourself in.

I hope this resource helps you get organized for the year, if not for anyone but for yourself. If you’re unfamiliar with google documents, please play around with this before trying to utilize the excel file. It IS a great resource and DOES make your life easier. Like always, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions .I truly want to help make your teaching-life easier.

It’s always my pleasure!

Files for this post:

Lesson Plan Map Word File

Lesson_Plan_Map Pdf

Excel Lesson Link Excel 2007

Lesson Plan Map 97-2003  Excel 97-2003

How do you review?


With finals around the corner, how do you review the year’s curriculum with your algebra students?

I posted a while back “Algebra Alien” which is a fun way for students to represent their algebraic understanding using their notes and assignments. Another such cumulative review could be created by 4-6 teams of  students, with each team focusing on a particular content area, writing a range of potential test questions. Once the set of questions are finalized, a cumulative practice exam can be created and administered to the whole class. Each team could then instruct/explain the correct responses for their sections and field questions as necessary. This type of review reinforces student’s understanding of their assigned content area, while creating student “buy-in” to the review process. One word of caution…if students are allowed to pick their teams based on the content they like best or know better than the others, you’re hindering them from fully reviewing the content areas they in which they need the most help. Assigning students a particular content, based on their formative assessment performances throughout the year, will provide them one last opportunity to learn the material from a peer base. This can be done very inconspicuously, by pre-arranging the teams. With that said, its best not create a team of students that consists of students who have a poor or incomplete understanding of the same content. This type of review will take a great deal of planning and student mapping to the best team configuration, but when done properly it can have an amazing effect. What students may not have learned through your instruction, may finally comprehend through the instruction of their peers. 

Please share your method(s) of facilitating a cumulative review for algebra.

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