A Little Experiment with Student Agency

I finally tried it. I had wanted to try it since I moved to fifth grade last year, but it just didn’t work with my schedule; I had too many short blocks of time that didn’t allow for much freedom of movement. I was a little nervous about how it would go, but after several days, I would say that it has been a success.

I gave my students the opportunity to pick their own schedule for the day.

I had a lot to accomplish with them one day last week, and I thought this might be a good way to fit it all in; let them be master of their own time management.

Well, I would say that it has been a huge success: students loved it, I loved it, everyone got everything done, and everyone was motivated and engaged all day. It was fun to see what each student chose to do first, second, etc. during the day.

We’ve done it a few more times since then, so I have a bit of a routine in place. We start the day with everyone setting up their schedule based on available time and the tasks they need to accomplish that day. We schedule whole group things first, then fill in the gaps. I don’t have them block out specific times, but I do include the amount of time in each block, as well as a suggested amount of time for each task. I don’t really want them to get hung up on what specific time they are supposed to be working on something, in case something takes longer than they thought. It’s more about the order of the tasks than when they accomplish them.

I started by blocking out whole class minilessons and read aloud times in the schedule, but I quickly moved to asking the class to come to a consensus on when to meet for those activities. It gives them more control over the whole schedule, not just what they are working on. It doesn’t really matter to me when these kinds of whole group activities get accomplished, just that they get accomplished. Plus, they can then find out when they prefer to do math, writing, reading, etc. without me telling them what I think is best for them. Then I can save my own input for really important things that can’t be moved, like assemblies and field trips.

October 4, 2017 Schedule

I have already seen a few advantages to using this kind of system with my students. I am able to meet with everyone more often for guided reading because everyone is reading at different times. Students can practice their self-management skills in an authentic way by deciding when they want to accomplish each task.  I can differentiate everyone’s schedule if they need to finish up something they were supposed to finish the day before. Not to mention how much more productive they are, how excited they are about each day, and how things take less time when we don’t spend a lot of it transitioning en masse from one activity to another.

In the future, I want to get to the point where students are are choosing their tasks as well as their schedule. I don’t think I can jump to that soon, but that is the end goal. I can tell them what they need to accomplish in a week, and they can decide how to split up the necessary tasks to achieve that goal. I could start by listing the recommended steps at first and then move to just the end goal. I guess we’ll see how this goes. So far, so good!


New Math Assessments

This year, I wanted to be more intentional with my assessments. I wanted students to have more of a say in their learning, and I wanted students to be able to explain what they had learned and what they needed more practice with.

I tried this first with math by creating a rubric for each unit. This rubric has each objective that we discussed listed, along with three options for how comfortable the students feel with each objective: Not yet, starting to, and yes.

The first time they saw this rubric, it was near the end of the unit but before the assessment. The students self-assessed their understanding of each of the objectives. Listed next to each objective were the review problems that addressed that objective. Then, students could spend time practicing the objectives they were “starting to” to understand or “not yet” understanding.  Students could have some ownership of what parts of the review to complete based on their individual learning needs.

After the assessment, both the students and I filled out the same rubric, this time with the assessment questions listed next to the objectives. Students could look through their assessment and see how they did on the questions that pertained to each objective.

Then, students chose an effort-based and attainment-based sentence that described their effort and understanding of the content in this unit. These are part of our school’s grading policy, but at this point, there are no grades attached to these descriptors.

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 11.58.52 AM

Last week, we did the whole cycle of our assessment reflections for our first unit. In general, I like it because it really gets the students involved in the grading process and makes the learning more on-going.  It’s not just finished whenever the unit is over.  We have already been able to use this “growth mindset” for choosing homework on a night we didn’t finish a math lesson. They chose a topic from the first unit that they need extra practice on from our extra practice workbook.


We wrapped up this process by having individual conferences about their thoughts, strengths, and goals for the future.  I think the conference was a good way to tie all of this together, but I want to take it a little further next time. I want to hear what they were thinking when they were solving particular problems or go through word problems they didn’t understand. We could also talk about ways to practice the skills that they feel they need more practice with in the future.

This time, the whole process took a week, with all of the reflections and assessment corrections. I hope that we are able to do it in a more timely manner to keep it relevant and fresh in their minds.  Ideally, I think we could do it in about three days (I have a very small class).  We’ll see how it goes in the second unit!

September #blogamonth

One thing that is different from a year ago that I am grateful for…is a class that already knows each other.

I teach at a small, private school with only one class per grade, so most of the students were taught by the same teacher the previous year (except, of course, any new students).

Last year, my school merged with another school so half of the class was new. While the two groups of students blended easily and quickly, as the teacher, I had to deal with the fact that half of the students were taught by one teacher and the other were taught by a different teacher. They brought in a wide range of skills and understandings that took a lot of time to pull together, especially in math.

Of course, this is not unusual for teachers. Most teachers have to deal with this every year, as the students get mixed up from year to year; at other schools, I have had to work with students from four different teachers the year before.

This year, however, I didn’t get any new students at the start of the year. I only have to deal with the way that one teacher taught something last year. Students have their own strengths and weaknesses, of course, but they are a much more homogenized group this year. Math took off quickly at the beginning of the year, as they were taught with the same curriculum last year that I am using this year. I can talk to their teacher from last year, which helps me adjust my instruction and attention for each student and the class as a whole.

It is very nice to have a class that had the same teacher last year. It makes the start of the year go a lot more smoothly.


A Little Bit of Math Love

We started school this week, and I very quickly remember why I love about teaching. Students. They are just the best. Just when you think you know everything that they are going to do, they surprise you. Part of me feels like I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, but where would all the fun be if my students didn’t delight me every day?!

While I was doing some pre-assessments today, the other students were testing out some centers that we might use throughout the year, practicing skills that they learned in 4th grade. I saw a couple of things that made me think and showed the useful skills that they are bringing up with them to 5th grade. You always hear “they should’ve learned this last year” from teachers; I am here to tell you that students actually do bring good stuff up with them from year to year.

Here, two students are doing a number puzzle activity from Jennifer Findley. The point of this activity is to practice three ways of representing numbers–word form, standard form, and expanded form–by matching up the three forms for each number.


These students started by organizing the different forms together.  Then, you can see that they put a horizontal line above some of them; all of these cards start with a four in the hundred thousands place. From there, they were looking to match just those cards up. I was so impressed with their thinking with this activity. They took a large task (there were 60 cards to match up) and started organizing it in a way that made sense to them. They were able to get through a lot more of the cards than the group before them, which didn’t use any kind of organizing system. This shows some good problem solving skills that we will definitely be utilizing this year. It also shows that they have a good number sense, which will be helpful for them when we add millions and billions to the numbers they are working with.

This student was adding the two numbers on the top of the white board. I didn’t give any other instructions. This is what he had done when I came back to check on him.


I was amazed! This student estimated before finding the exact answer on his own, without any teacher prompting, without being required to estimate. And, he was able to use his estimation to check his answer in the end, when he realized that he had subtracted instead of adding (that had been erased before I took this picture). He showed rounding, estimating, and addition skills, all with just one problem. I am so excited to have a student who actually sees the benefit of estimating first. It can be so helpful when you are working with larger numbers and decimals, which we will do a lot of this year. I am hoping that we can use estimation more in the classroom this year, and I hope the other students see this student’s success with estimation and start using it themselves.

It’s always hard starting a new school year with a new group of students (you always feel nostalgic for your last class). But I am seeing some amazing math thinking already this year, which gets me very excited for this new group of students.

Top Ten Day 4 ISTE 2017

Last day of ISTE 2017.  Here are my final thoughts:

1. Crowds. There were definitely fewer people at the closing keynote than there were yesterday at the random Tuesday keynote. I guess a lot of people had to jet out of there, literally. Hooray for being local, y’all.

2. Music. Still digging this live music at the keynotes. Three for three on high school-aged artists from Austin. Quick recap: Tianna Girls, Charlie Belle, and Grace London. Makes waiting for the keynote to start much more fun.

Grace London

Made on Canva.

3. Serendipity. I started talking with a computer science teacher in North Carolina and it turns out that we had been to several of the same sessions throughout this conference. Great minds think alike.

4. Fatigue. While this has been an amazing learning experience, I am ready for ISTE to be over. I am overflowing with new apps, cool tools, and learning that I can’t wait to take back into the classroom. But I am tired.

5. Social media in the classroom. I went to another session that talked about the importance of using social media in the classroom, modeling it for students, connecting with them, and creating a respectful and responsible community of learners. This session was about Snapchat. I can see how this would be very popular with high school students, but I am curious as to how it would work with elementary students.IMG_51856. Global collaboration. My class next year will likely be very small. Because of this, I am nervous that we will create a sort of “echo chamber”, without a wide variety of voices, perspectives, and opinions. Today, I learned about several tools that should provide us with some collaboration opportunities: Flipgrid, Recap, and PenPal Schools.

7. Sketchnotes. You have probably seen some of these floating around the internet. If not, just Google it; the images will blow you away. Anyway, today I learned how to do my own sketchnotes and use them in the classroom. I like the visual nature of them; I can think of some students that probably would’ve paid better attention were they taking sketchnotes. Here are my first two humble attempts:

8. Rental car shenanigans. My husband and I just downsized to one car, so I rented a car for ISTE. Enterprise closed at 6. I left San Antonio at 4:05; that should’ve been plenty of time. Car returned: 5:55. Whew.

9. Closing keynote. The woman who started Girls Who Code spoke to us, and it was both uplifting and depressing. Depressing that there are so many coding opportunities and so few women in computer science fields, and uplifting because there are people working to get young women interested in these lucrative, in-demand fields.img_1673.jpg10. Reflection. I wasn’t sure how much I would really enjoy ISTE. I loved the math conference I went to, but I am very passionate about math instruction, while edtech is more of a personal hobby. I thought there might not be much I would be interested in (HA…with over 1,000 sessions, how could there not be!?!). Well, it was amazing. I learned so much, and I am excited about a lot of the things I learned. Now it’s time to prioritize what I am going to do first when school starts up in the fall. And it’s time to start budgeting for ISTE 2018 in Chicago.Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 8.00.32 PM

11. Bonus: Yesterday, I talked about people with excessive name tag decorations. Today, I secured a couple of photos so you can see the madness for yourself. 🙂 IMG_5206IMG_5200

Top Ten Day 3 ISTE 2017

Whew. These days are long and action-packed. Here’s my top ten for day 3.

1. Keynote. Wow. The keynote today was awesome. We had a student panel. We compared student growth to cilantro that grows wherever it wants. We compared teachers and wizards. We learned about single stories and untold stories. Amazing. IMG_1626IMG_16312. Talking to exhibitors. I think their favorite sentence might be, “Tell me more about your product.” Their eyes light up, their voices pick up, and they look like Christmas has come early. They must be exhausted by the end of the day, all that enthusiasm.

3. Tidbits. Today was my day for learning little things. I didn’t do as many “sit and get” sessions, but I did a lot of poster sessions and short 20-minute bursts. Like how to search more effectively on Google.IMG_16544. Buncee. Never heard of it before, but it looks like something my students would love to use for presentations. It helps that the person I talked to was also a fifth grade teacher. Holla!

5. Newsela. I’d never heard of it before this conference, but it looks like a good nonfiction resource, especially now that they have US history and thematic units for my students to use during research. Score!IMG_5145

6. KidBlog. Started by a teacher, it’s a safe place for students to blog and share their writing with a wider audience. I ever got a picture with the CEO!IMG_51737. Tired feet. I clearly did more walking today as my feet hurt more than they did yesterday. Just a little more walking to do…

8. Clever session names. I did a session called Under the Sheets with Sheets, which I just thought was so funny. Bonus: I learned lots of cool tricks to try with Google Sheets.IMG_5146

9. WriteSteps. It’s fun to talk to educators about products they are passionate about, especially if they created them. This looks like a good resource for writing instruction. I’ll have to check out the free unit they are sending me.IMG_5136 10. Name tag accessories. You can get these tags to attach underneath your name tag. I have zero. Most people have 3ish. I saw a couple of people today with 20. 20! Clearly I have a lot of catching up to do tomorrow.

Last day and last top ten tomorrow!

Top Ten Day 2 ISTE 17

Another day, another top ten of ISTE 2017.

1. More student presentations. I was really impressed by the student presentations yesterday at ISTE Ignite, and I was happy to see more of them today at the poster sessions. I also saw a lot of regular teachers like me. Since I am a novice conference attendee, I tend to think that only researchers or professors or super teachers can present at conferences. While I know that logically this is not the case, it’s still nice to see regular teachers being given a space to share the amazing things they are doing in their classrooms every day.

2. New things to try with my students. Today, I learned about podcasting, which I am excited to try with my students as I love podcasts.IMG_1593

3. Swag! While I spend most of my time at the Expo trying not to make eye contact with the over 3,600 vendors that I don’t care about, it is definitely worth my while to stop at the ones I do care about. Shout out to IPEVO for hooking me up with my very own document camera!IMG_1603

4. The Expo. While we’re on the topic of the Expo, there are so many pleasant surprises there. I can’t seem to find any of the vendors that I want to visit, but I always stumble upon undiscovered gems that I am so glad I did find. Like the Global Oneness Project, which will be amazing for my globally-minded, IB-learning students.FullSizeRender

5. Powerful presentations. There is always one presentation that causes a monumental shift in my thinking as a teacher. Today, it was the presentation on rubrics. Why are rubrics so vague? Why can’t students use them to improve? I am really excited about changing my rubrics to make them more student-friendly and skill-based.IMG_5129

6. Taking breaks. With so many presentations, attendees, and exhibitors, ISTE can be very overwhelming. I found that taking breaks during the day made me a lot less brain-tired. I brought along a handy non-tech-related book to keep me company (because being continually surrounded by 20,000 strangers is surprisingly lonely).517oaelnrcl-_sx402_bo1204203200_

7. Ponderings. Thinking about how to model good social media usage for my students if I don’t use social media in the classroom with my students.IMG_5115

8. Fun new apps! Like Newsela for reading and vocabulary practice.IMG_1617

9. Google. I love going to “tool” sessions where I leave with new tools under my teacher belt. Today, I learned about the autoCrat add-on to Google Sheets and Google Arts and Culture. Hooray for virtual field trips and high-def artwork.


Fun things to do with autoCrat.

10. The Expo, part 2. From all my wanderings throughout the Expo, the vendors I saw could pretty much be placed into one of three categories:

  1. Hardware that is meant to protect expensive devices from grubby, droppy hands
  2. Super amazing tech security that will protect everything in the district from scary things like viruses
  3. Other (things teachers actually want to use)

Plenty  more fun to be had tomorrow!

(Featured image created on Canva.)

Top Ten Day 1 ISTE 2017

After my first successful professional conference experience at NCTM this year (check out my exploits here, here, and here), I decided to come to ISTE (International Society of Technology in Education)’s conference in San Antonio.  There were several reasons why I wanted to come for the first time to ISTE: 1) I learned so much at NCTM’s Annual Meeting this year, and I was eager to learn more about edtech, a personal interest of mine; 2) I was very envious of everyone’s tweets about the conference last year; 3) I am already very familiar with San Antonio’s convention center, since NCTM was in the same place; and 4) San Antonio is close enough to my home in Austin that I don’t need to fly.

My first day of ISTE top ten, in no particular order:

1. Live music. I was into the jazz duo in the lobby of the convention center and the girl band from Austin. Shout out to the Tiarra Girls. img_1583.jpg

2. New books. Well, just one new book.  I find that reading is a nice way to take a break from all the tech-ness of this conference. IMG_5108

3. Fan girling. I feel pretty good about myself when I recognize someone that a presenter references. In this case, Jennifer Gonzalez and the Cult of Pedagogy being awesome, as usual.IMG_1569

4. Student presenters. One of the coolest parts of ISTE Ignite (20 slides, 15 seconds per slide, lots of information in a short period of time, whew) was the student presenters! One student was an entrepreneur who founded Studio1ne. Another student talked about different apps and websites that he uses, that maybe we might want to use with or introduce to our students:

We also heard from a student (@steamnerds) who was “too young” to join his school’s robotics team, so he started his own. Rock on, Generation Z! (Learned about them in another adult-led Ignite talk).

5. 90 minutes to wait for a session?!? No way, Apple. I don’t care how great your presentations are, that is too much time standing in line and not enough time checking out all the other cool sessions. I will never know what I missed anyway.

6. Good questions. A good thing to keep in mind, as edtech can be pretty overwhelming, and there can be a pretty big feeling of FOMO.IMG_1578

7. Innovation ≠ Technology (necessarily). A good thing to keep in mind at an edtech conference. Just because you use technology does not mean that it is innovative.IMG_1567

8. Radiolab. New fan of this guy right here: Jad Abumrad. Great thoughts about productive struggle and how to work through difficult things to make greatness, or something closer to greatness each time. I like the model he made for Radiolab. I think it also works for education.IMG_1589

9. The Gap. The difference between knowing you can do high-quality work and actually producing it. So good for students–and their teachers–to keep in mind during the learning process.

THE GAP by Ira Glass from Daniel Sax on Vimeo.

10. Size matters. ISTE 2017 is huge! Over 21,000 exhibitors and attendees. All 50 states and over 70 countries represented. Over 8,000 different schools and organizations represented. Maps and “Ask Me” helpers everywhere. People everywhere. Oh. My. Gosh. This thing is so big.

I hope tomorrow is just as thought-provoking!

A Year in Review

I wrapped up my 6th year of teaching on Friday. It was, as usual, a bittersweet day. I love my class and will miss them a lot next year, but I always look forward to a summer full of professional development, travel, reading, and recharging by myself and with my friends and family. As I am now in day two of Official Summer Vacation, I thought it might be good to do a little reflecting on the year as a whole and see what I want to do differently next year. This was my first year in 5th grade, and I will be teaching 5th grade again next year.

Reading in my classroom was a success this year. My students loved to read, and I was able to introduce to them so many amazing books through our daily read aloud. I would have loved to give them more independent reading time, but I was able to give them about 15 minutes every day.  We practiced a lot of reading skills during our independent reading and read aloud times, so they had authentic practice with literary features such as tone, theme, main idea, author’s purpose, and figurative language. Also, I did book clubs this year using a variety of different formats, and by the end of the year, I finally found a format that seemed to work well for everyone. Next year, I want to do more with independent reading time, including more consistent reading conferences and more writing about their reading.

Math was another success this year. I started a self-paced classroom, and while there were some challenges with it, overall, I loved it, and so did most of my students.  My students were able to work through the material as quickly or as slowly as they needed to, and I only had one student not complete the curriculum by the end of the year; the rest of the class finished early enough to review learning from the whole year and/or complete some student-led inquiry projects. Next year, I want to start each class with a modeled word problem; word problems always seem to be tricky for my students, and I want them to see a lot of different types of problems over the course of the year. I also want to include more review throughout the year; since our curriculum isn’t really spiraled, they tend to learn it once and then forget it. We have cumulative assessments that I am thinking about using in place of traditional end of the unit assessments. Also, I have some “math minute” resources that could be useful to get in additional, spiraled review, even though I probably won’t time it.

My students made good progress in writing this year, but I would say that in general, it is a weakness at our school.  My schedule is very tight, and there are some days where I didn’t have writing instruction. Next year, I am going to make daily writing instruction a priority; I also need to include more grammar in my writing conferences and/or mini-lessons.  I am planning on reading this book when it comes out in August, and I am hoping it prepare me with additional explicit writing strategies to bring to my students when school starts.

Finally, I need to do better with executive functions next year. We didn’t clean out folders or backpacks often enough, and I know that they got messy this year.  I was just lucky that my students this year were more or less on top of their own stuff.

Just some things to think about as I head into my summer vacation. Now, time to hit the pool!


NCTM Annual Meeting, Day 3 and Beyond

I am back home after an exhausting and completely wonderful experience at the NCTM Annual Meeting in San Antonio.  I was so wiped after yesterday that I sat around my apartment doing nothing for the rest of the afternoon; obviously, I needed a little time to process everything I had learned over the past 3 days.  Today, I have a fresh perspective and some final thoughts on the last day as well as on the conference as a whole.  Day 1 and Day 2 were pretty awesome, so the last day had some big shoes to fill.  Luckily, it didn’t disappoint.

I started Day 3 by going to a “celebrity” session by Dan Meyers. He might not be well-known to the wider population, but his talk was held in the theater (the largest meeting space), which is also where John Urschel (a Baltimore Raven and current PhD student at MIT–an actual celebrity) had his talk during the conference.  And given the number of people at Dan Meyer’s talk, he was definitely a celebrity at NCTM.

His talk was on creating intellectual need in students.  Most of the time, when students ask us, “why do I have to know this?”, we tell them one of two reasons: 1. so they won’t fail the test/class/grade, or 2. so they can get a good job in the future.  We are hoping that the students feel a social need (don’t want to fail the class) or an economic need (want a good job), so they will feel obligated to learn what we are teaching them.  Well, that just don’t work for some students.  And they aren’t very good reasons anyway.

He suggested creating an intellectual need for the students to learn the material.  Instead of posing a “problem”, pose a “puzzle”, and they need some additional knowledge in order to solve it or solve it efficiently.  For example, Dan put a bunch of dots on the screen and asked one audience member to describe the location of a dot that she had chosen to another audience member.  It didn’t go very well.  Then, he put the dots on a coordinate plane.  The audience laughed.  It was so much easier to explain the dot’s location.  He created a communication need, giving us (and our future students) an intellectual need for knowing how to use a coordinate plane.


With all of the talk that I heard about posing good problems in class to get students engaged and thinking (and hopefully writing), I thought this was a perfect tie-in with that.  Create a problem that they can’t solve without the next math content.  This creates a personal incentive to solve the puzzle.  And the math is a superpower that makes it all possible.  I love this idea.

Then I went to a session about mathematical argument.  We watched some videos of classrooms in action (I love when they show classroom videos because it makes it so much easier to see what this would look like in an actual classroom).  They give us a step-by-step method for implementing this, which I also love.  It’s nice to leave a session with an actual plan, not just a vague notion.  The idea is that students look at some examples and try to make generalizations about math using these examples.  Then, they talk about it with their classmates and make their generalizations as specific as possible.  They even test it out with “nonexamples” to see just how general it really is.


I like the idea of introducing making generalizations and conjectures in elementary school, because the students will need this skill a lot in high school (think proofs in geometry).  Also, it gets them creating math concepts–how very inquiry-based–instead of having the teacher just tell them the concepts.  Then, they can use the concept really understanding it and its limitations.

My last session was about connecting fraction work in elementary school with ratio and proportion work in middle school.  As a 5th grade teacher, I love these kinds of sessions because I am trying to prepare my students for middle school, and it is nice to get an idea of how to do that with at least one concept.

We spent a lot of time talking about the differences between fractions (comparing part of a whole) and ratios (comparing part to a a part or part to a whole).  This discussion really made me think about how similar yet different they are and how knowing fractions well can make working with ratios confusing.  This was especially evident when looking at equivalent ratios and fractions, as seen in this picture:


For equivalent ratios, you actually increase the number of “objects”.  In equivalent fractions, you just cut the pieces differently.  I enjoyed getting to dig deeply into this topic, especially because my curriculum introduces ratios in 5th grade (even though the Common Core doesn’t introduce them until 6th grade).  Plus, we got to watch a few classroom videos.

The closing session was a talk about a British science writer who writes about math in the Simpsons.  It was interesting to see just how much math is hidden in the show by it’s math- and comedy-loving creators and writers.  This picture shows a taxicab in the show Futurama (similar creators and writers) that has a “taxicab” number as the number of an actual taxicab.


All in all, it was an amazing experience; one of the best professional development experiences I have ever had.  It was fun to walk through the Expo and see all of the materials, books, and activities for math teachers and their students.  I enjoyed getting to talk to educators at different levels from all around the country.  I learned so much from my presenters, whether they were math celebrities, college professors, or classroom teachers.  I learned about some content (fractions, ratios, order of operations) and some concepts (argumentation, intellectual need, writing, play, formative assessments), all related to my favorite subject.  I am excited to try out my learning in my classroom tomorrow.  While it was nice to get a break and spend time with other educators, I miss my students, and I am ready to get back to the work that took me to NCTM in the first place: teaching.