Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Escape the Math Classroom

This I made my first attempt at an 'escape room', but I decided to do it digital style.  Students came in and saw an on the front board with the message that said, "Escape the Math Classroom." 

We had a quick talk about "escape rooms" and I asked if anyone had experience with these. To my surprise a number of students have done these activities.  I asked what qualities escape rooms had.  Students answered with "puzzles, clues, a time limit, and teamwork."  I agreed with all of those.

I explained that today would be a little different than a traditional escape room.  Today's would be all digital.  Clues and answers would be solely on the computer.  Students would still have to figure out clues and work with a partner to solve the puzzles to move on, and they would only have until the end of class to finish the room. 



This escape room was designed around a math review for integers and the coordinate plane.  Each clue was designed on Google forms. Using the response validation option when I set it up, students had to correctly answer each question before being allowed to move on to the next response. 

Students were excited to get started and were engaged from the start.  It was fascinating to watch them work together to solve each review question - there were levels of frustration and perseverance, and absolute excitement when they finally moved on to the next clue. 

Some students finished before others and went on to other academic choices, but all groups ended up solving the room by the end of class.  For homework students had to complete a reflection survey to help me get some feedback as to how well they felt it went.  Overall they enjoyed it and were looking forward to doing it again (with more clues than just digital.)   Here is the survey they had to complete: Reflection Survey. (TTQA = turn the question around)

I plan on expanding this activity soon to include many more multi-sensory activities.  I purchased programmable combination locks and plan on storing some clues in lockers throughout the division.  Also, the next one will be multi-class and incorporate many clues from language arts as well as science and social studies.  I'm excited to team up with my teaching partner to create this game!

Here is the room for those of you that want to try it out! Escape the Math Room

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Getting the Monkey Off My Back.

On Saturday November 18th I decided to spend a day at my favorite Metro Park with one goal - finish a 50-mile run. I had attempted the 50-mile distance twice before, coming up short both times (finishing 41 and 38 miles, respectively.) I showed up at just past 6:30 in the morning and started off shortly there after.

The first few miles set the tone for the day - rain, thunder, and lightning. I had my headlamp, but in the downpour, it did little good. Still, I had a great water proof jacket on and enjoyed the start of the run. I passed a park ranger and I was worried that he was going to tell me to seek shelter. Instead, he just gave me a wave and I waved back as I passed. As the sun rose (or more accurately as it got lighter out) the temperature started rising and I returned to my car after about 4 miles to ditch my sweater and long pants for shorts and a t-shirt, keeping the water proof jacket.

OK - maybe more water resistant than water proof

It was also then that I realized something key - I left my bag of Gu and honey stinger waffles at home. I spent the next loop doing some math. I had three PBJ sandwiches (400 calories each), 3 protein bars (230 calories each), two Zone perfect bars (200 calories each), and two Gatorade bottles (200 calories each) in my car. I also had a bag of mini Three Musketeers and a bag of Swedish fish. All in all, this was well over 3500 calories. My goal was 150 calories at the aid (car) station and another 50-75 during each of the 4~ish mile loops. This added up to about 2500 calories. I figured things would be as fine as they could be. Besides, I’ve attempted two fifty-milers on gu and waffles and those didn’t exactly end as planned. Worse case scenario, if I really wanted (or needed) more traditional fuel, FrontRunner Worthington was a (scary) four-mile run down highway 23.

It was all of this math and thinking of contingency plans that got me through laps two and three.

There were three main loops throughout the park that I had planned: One that took me down to the observation deck via the overlook path, one that lead out to big meadows via Dripping Rock path, and one that headed to big meadows via the multi-use path. Each lap was between 4 and 6 miles long. I figured if I did each separate loop 3 times I wouldn’t repeat anything too often.


map of the park

Honestly, I felt my first 50k (31 miles) was pretty solid. My nutrition plan, though off from what I had prepped for, was right on. I had a quarter of a PBJ with some Gatorade each time I got to the car, then a quarter of a protein bar during the lap with some candy thrown in for fun. This turned into about 150-200 calories every hour-ish.

I finished the first 50k in about 7 hours and 20 minutes, just over 14-minute pace. This was nearly perfect as my goal for the first 50k was a 14:30 pace. With the time I had left before the park closed, I would need to pace at about 19:30-minute miles to finish before getting kicked out.

Things started to slow down after 50k. Miles were definitely taking longer. 15-minute pace turned into 16-minute miles. Still … I was moving forward. Mentally I was just trying to get to mile 37 in about 9 hours. That was when I would pick up a pacer… My very good friend / coach / running partner Erika was back in town and said she’d put a few miles in with me.  Mentally I just had to keep moving until she got there.

It was so amazing to have someone there to share the really crappy of the suckiest miles. She spent about 2 hours with me and made sure I got through to about mile 43. I’m so thankful for that time - it got me through the absolute worst miles and certainly helped me complete my mission. She had to leave as the rain started picking up again, and I was left with a bit more than a 10k to go.

By this point, I had been moving for 11 hours. I had 7 miles to go and could pace at 20-minute miles to finish by 7:45 pm (sunset was at 5:15 pm, the park closed at 8:00 pm.)


Not that I saw the sun at all... This was the weather for my last few miles.

The rain became a deluge for the final stretch. The temperature had dropped, and I was out of gloves. I used a spare pair of socks for my hands. At mile 47 my Garmin indicated low battery. I had prepared for this with a charging block and cable, but with the storm using this was not an option. I got back to my car at mile 48, stopped my watch, and did my last two with my phone tracking my distance. Not that I needed it - I knew the one mile out and back mark. I finished with an overall distance of 50.02 miles in 12 hours, 43 minutes, and 22 seconds, pacing overall at 15 minutes and 16 seconds per mile. This was by far the most ALL THE FEELS run I have ever done. On my feet for nearly 13 hours (earning nearly 100,000 steps along the way) was like nothing else in my history. I can think of preciously few things I have done for 13 hours straight.

The “why” of this run is a whole different post. Feel free to get in touch with me and I’ll gladly share my thoughts on that… until then time to rest, refuel and see what is in my future. I have three weeks of downtime for sure, then who knows what I’ll throw onto the schedule!

Thanks for reading.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Gotta Know When To Fold 'em


I had a completely different plan for my blog this week.  Originally this was supposed to be a blog on a vocabulary review game that I play in all of my classes. It involves paper plates, teams, and an expectation of 100% participation.

I planned on taking pictures of my students holding up plates, spelling vocabulary words, and talking about how this is one of my favorite review games.

Then 6th grade happened, as it often does.

We had done our first two rounds of the game, which in this case was a review of rules.  The first word they had to spell out was "Wonder" (the title of the book we are reading as a class.  The second word was October.

I was excited because I was things were going perfectly.  My co-teacher was also excited because she is the Language Arts lead and loved that the students were doing this in a science class.

I gave the students the definition of the next key word: The preserved remains of an ancient organism. The groups got the word (fossil), but there was some dissent in one of the groups (I want to hold the L, no you hold the S, I want to hold the L.)

Then two other students started arguing because "you are always trying to boss me around."



Suddenly I had a flash to my first few years of teaching. I saw myself as a teacher that "had to get through the lesson."  The one that would have thought "oh my goodness, my lesson is bombing, I have no control over the class, but I have to finish because my lesson plan says so."  Then would have finished the lesson despite children crying and yelling.

However, years of experience have taught me what really matters - the community.  I stopped the lesson, and had the class return to their chairs. 

We then reviewed our agreements, specifically ones on accountable talk.  It was a very powerful discussion with students realizing and admitting they lost the purpose of the lesson and the game.  They also noticed they lost the values of the community.

We teach our students so much during the course of a year.  Each lesson builds upon the previous - and this includes lessons in culture, community, and expectations.  Letting little things go leads to bigger things later.  I'm glad I have enough confidence to know when to stop the lesson and review cultural expectations.

I'm also glad to have enough experience to know that sometimes six grade just happens... there isn't much I could do to prevent that - but know that when it does, we process, apologize, and move on to more greatness.

Side note, the kids that snapped at each other talked it out and were besties again by lunch... because sometimes 6th grade just happens :)


Monday, September 25, 2017

Reflection, Pooh Style



I recently started my 20th year of teaching.  I've been reflecting on so many things over the past month - how education has changed...how it hasn't...how I have...and how I still haven't.

One thing that has been consistent in my twenty years is the importance of building culture both in the classroom and also with the staff within a school.  I'm sure most of you have really focused on classroom culture over your first couple of weeks of school - but what have you done to build your relationships with your co-workers?

I recently read some quotes from Winnie The Pooh (or more specifically A.A. Milne.)  As I read them, I reflected on how they relate to building relationships within a staff...


A staff has to be thoughtful of others. It is a long school year.  There are bumps and obstacles.     How do you show thoughtfulness to others?  There are so many ways in a school: Take someone's lunch duty. Buy donuts for the staff lounge for no reason.  Give out balloons. Be unexpected.




This quote had two meanings for me.  First, so many teachers are in need of help.  You can't wait for them to come forward and announce they need help. Many beginning educators don't even know WHAT to ask for.

Second, we tend to flock around the same people all the time.  We see them at our division meetings, at our parent meetings, and at duties.   At the next staff meeting instead of sitting with your usual crew, go sit with someone from a different division.  Say hi. Share what you did over the weekend. Make a new connection.



It is so easy at a school to let everything get to you.  Students yell at you or tell you that you lost their work.  Parents hear their child's side of a story and come to you with fire in their eyes.  It is so important to step back and realize why you are doing it all. That student needs you.  That family needs you. You are helping to change their future.  

I am so grateful that I work in an industry where my impact can be felt both short and long-term. I am making a difference in the lives of so many - my students, my families, and my co-workers.  I can't say it is the most rewarding profession since I have no reference point for that, but I can't imagine getting so much love and satisfaction out of doing something else. 

So here is your challenge this week:  Go make a new friend. Buy them a balloon.  Tell them you are grateful that they work in your building.  Go be Pooh. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Random Thoughts of a Runner

When you talk to most runners about their races they may talk about their goals.  For a 5-k that might be "run in less than 30 minutes" or "go the entire time without walking."  For longer distances you might hear numbers like "3 hour half marathon" or "qualify for Boston.

Just about two weeks from now I will be starting a race at 6:30 in the morning in which I have a set a goal to "finish before sunset." This is not a hyperbole, and sunset is 7:15 PM.   Most people are not comfortable talking to me about this run.  Few really even know what questions to ask about my run.  When I tell them the length of my race.  Generally the reaction I get is "I don't even like to DRIVE 50 miles!"

Why am I doing it?  Running two marathons?  Back to back?  There has to be a reason.

It's easy - run ten 5ks, then four 5-milers. 

Honestly, there are many, many reasons.  I can talk and write about many of them - health benefits, the challenge, the mental therapy, the time to reflect, the food, for all the people that can't run at all, because some day I won't be able to....  but being a teacher's blog, I'm going to keep the filter with my teaching goggles on.

When was the last time you asked a student to get out of their comfort zone?  My guess is it wasn't too long ago - maybe even today!  Each day as teachers ask our students to do dozens of things each day that challenge and scare them.  We ask them to practice skills that are difficult for them.  We make them read out loud.  We randomly assign them a partner to work with.   We give them tests on which they may or may not succeed.   And we ask them to do all of these things compliantly.

Here's the next set of questions - When was the last time you truly got out of your comfort zone? What have you done recently that challenged you?  What have you committed to that scares or intimidates you?  When was the last time you volunteered to do something you had a significant chance to be unsuccessful at?

So many teachers set goals of "get better at integrating technology" or "to incorporate reading strategies in my science class."    As a teacher pushing your students out of their comfort zone every day, shouldn't you be on the front line leading the charge?

Some have taken this challenge. Have you done it yet?

Monday, September 4, 2017

#TeacherMyth Challenge

Just before school started, I was in a twitter chat where this image was produced



I took this challenge to heart.  How much do we know about our students? We are with them for days..weeks...months... and in some cases years.  Yet with that knowledge, how much do we know about our students?  We know how fast they can complete math facts... We know how many words per minute they can read... We know that they have trouble behaving in class.

But what do you know about the students themselves?  What music do they like?  What sports do they play?  How do you build upon that knowledge?

To start the year I had students complete a google form.  Our sixth graders are in a 1:1 Macbook program with Google accounts.  Many of them have never used a laptop before so teaching them how to check email, respond to a form, or even open chrome is a period-long event.  Students answered a two-paged form.  The first page had basic information such as their locker number, their advisor's name, their birthday, and how many years they've been at Marburn Academy.

Page two asked for some different information.  It included questions about their birthday, their favorite books, movies, singer or song, and "What actor / actress / movie character would play you in your life movie?"

I'm excited for when students start archery

This gives me, if nothing else, a starting point of conversations with my students. I love having this information in the back of my head as I play some of my first three days of school activities.

It has been great to be able to talk to students during class and unstructured times about their interests and get to know them better.  I have learned so much about my students.  In my sixth grade classes I have someone that

  • makes her own usable mermaid tails
  • has played soccer for years
  • is a farmer and made a tractor out of donuts and candy
  • is an Irish Step Dancer
  • is a hip hop dancer
  • loves playing card games, especially Dominion
  • has the nickname "Iguana" when she plays basketball
I'm still working on learning more about all of my students, and don't think I'll have 3 authentic items for each of my students, but just by accepting the challenge I am way further ahead of where I would have been!  For those of you just starting school, I hope to hear how you are getting to know your students.  For those that started a bit ago, it isn't too late!  Find out something new about your students today!




Sunday, August 27, 2017

Name Webs

The beginning of a school year is amazing! I love getting to know all of my students. as well as let them get to know each other.  It really sets the whole class up for a great year.  This foundation of community building - learning names, strengths, weaknesses, and just laughing - builds the classroom management needed for the rest of the school year.

One of my all time favorite things to do with students are circle games.  Circles allow everyone to see everyone else.  It allows everyone to participate.  It gives an aura of fun, not competition.  It also gives some control to what can be more chaotic activities.

I play this circle game on the first day of classes.  When possible, I get my room in the circle before students arrive.  If that isn't possible, we go over protocols and expectations for moving furniture.  This includes moving one piece of furniture at a time, always using two hands to move it (I tell them that I know they can move a chair with one hand, but we're going to use two) and remembering physical safety.  I also demonstrate and let a few students go first.

Actual picture of how middle schoolers sit. 

The game is called name web.  Students sit in chairs in a circle and I ask how many names they know.  I have them show me on their hands how many people they can name (but I don't actually have them name students.)  Many students come in knowing a few people, but rarely will they know all members of the class.  I then tell them the goal of this game is to learn at least ONE new name.  You may set a higher goal, but the ultimate goal is one more name.

I then take out a soft round object - sometimes it is a koosh ball, a stress ball, or something of the like.  You need to greet someone in the circle and toss the ball to that person.  There are a few restrictions:

  • You can't toss it to someone that already has had it
  • You can't toss it to the person on your immediate left or right
  • The goal is for your toss to be caught by the other person - it isn't dodge ball!

I encourage students to sit with their hands and palms open if they have not had the ball, and sit with their hands folded or closed if they have. This helps students remember who has and has not had it.

I start by greeting someone by name and waiting for them to greet me back (Good morning, Joe. Good morning, Mr. Taylor.)  I then toss the ball.  They then find someone else, do the greeting, and toss the ball.  If they forget someone's name the expectation is that they ask in a polite way ("I'm sorry, I don't know / forgot your name) - and we model this often.  If a protocol is broken, I calmly review it with them and have them try again.

(not allowed in this game)

Eventually, everyone will get the ball and the last person will finish by greeting me to finish the web.  We then go around again in the same order - whoever you tossed it to is who you give it to again.  We still use the greeting, we still use names, and we still give 'polite' tosses.

After two rounds I ask them to recount how many names they know.  Often their count goes up by one or more names.  I encourage them to continue asking names and that just because you know a name today doesn't mean you'll remember it tomorrow - that's ok.  Just like school you'll learn something, kind of remember it, forget it, then have to get reminded.  It's all part of learning.

I also apply this throughout the year to integrate curriculum.  On the second day after doing names we switch from that to count-bys.  So I'll say two, and toss it.  The next person says four, then six and so on.  After that variation, I'll say we have to count backwards - but in order to count backwards the web has to move backwards!  So instead of tossing it to the person, you will receive it from that person.  This mental juggling helps students be flexible thinkers and adds to the fun of the game.

There are so many variations of this game I couldn't begin to list them here. If you are interested in how else I use this as a base in math, science, and reading classes, comment below!