A Self-Paced Math Unit?!? Say Whaaat?

A Self-Paced Math Unit?

Happy snow day!  I hope everyone who is off is warm and cozy.  I have to admit I’m going a little stir crazy, but it’s giving me a chance to wrap a few things up for school and get some serious knitting done!


I have been thinking about how I can incorporate more self-paced learning into my math classes for a while.  I wanted to shift my role from lecturer to facilitator for a long-term unit, not just lesson by lesson.  However, when you’ve never seen it done first hand in a math class it’s hard to know where to begin!  I suspected Hyperdocs were the way to go, and I asked for “The Hyperdoc Handbook” for Christmas, so that gave me a great jumping off point.

Image result for the hyperdocs handbook

We are learning about systems of equations in my class, which is a topic that my students always find very dull.  I decided I wanted to try some self-paced learning to change things up a bit, and so far (about 1 week in) I am pleased with the result!  I gave one task for students to do together that we discussed in class, just so they know what a system of equations is trying to accomplish.  Then, students are leading themselves through the three main topics (Solving by Graphing, Solving by Substitution, Solving by Elimination), and can take the quiz over each when they feel ready.  I have given each topic a due date, but the activities leading up to the quiz can be completed at any time before that due date.

How I Developed It

I knew I wanted the unit to be on a Google Site, because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get the entire thing done before we started the unit. This way I could still update/add/make changes while students began working.  I also wanted to be able to embed Youtube instructional videos, which you can’t do with a plain Google Doc.  Google Doc

To get started, I created a Google Doc with my “skeleton.”  That is, the objectives (written as “I can…” statements) of the unit and a list of activities I wanted to use to help students meet those objectives.  You can see in this doc that not everything is fully formed, but it did help me get organized and think about the order of activities I thought would work best for my students.



Then, I added all of my topic one activities to the site, with just the bare minimum of directions so that I didn’t clutter up the website with too much text.  I figured that would overwhelm them so I put the longer directions  in the activities themselves.  I then linked all of the activities and created my screencast for students to use my examples.

Add in some Bitmojis just for fun and voila!  A self-paced unit.  The “I can…” statements are at the top of the page each day when they log in, and they can let ME know when they are ready for the quiz.

The Structure

Under each of my 3 topics, I’ve tried to create what I feel like is a good flow for my students.

  • A problem to try out their thinking before instruction, which students must show me before they move on to the video.
  • A video of me working a few examples.
  • Some practice to try, preferably self-checking so they instantly know how they did.
  • One or more chances to collaborate with the rest of their class.
  • Their quiz, either on paper or Edulastic
  • A tracker for their progress

The most powerful tool of my unit by far has been my project tracker.  Here is a copy of one with students’ names removed for privacy.  Before the unit started, I emphasized the importance of logging their progress in the tracker so that we all know where everyone is at, who needs help, and what I can grade or have already graded.  This is our hub for the entire unit and so far they are doing great.  I remind them about 5 minutes before class is out each day to log in and make sure they have updated it.

Students have a drop-down menu under each activity with “In Progress”, “Complete”, “Need Help”, and “Graded”.  With handy dandy Conditional Formatting, the color of the cell changes with it and I can easily see the areas I need to discuss with students or grade.  And with the Protect Range feature, I can set the spreadsheet up so that students can only edit their own row, so they can’t accidentally (or on purpose) mess with another student’s tracker!  This spreadsheet is simple but so powerful that it’s probably my favorite part of the whole thing!

Each day as students come in, I get them started or make any necessary announcements, and then I address anyone who has changed a status to “Need Help,” which highlights in red.  Then, I move on to anyone who seems significantly behind the others to make sure they get some support and a little nudge to pick up the pace if necessary.  After that (usually only a few minutes), I am free to roam around the room and answer questions and see what students are working on!  It is great to see them making connections and owning their learning.

**Wanna see my whole unit and adapt/use it in your classroom?

How Students Are Doing

The response has been pretty good overall from most of my students.  I haven’t had any negativity about the new style so far, and most students are working at a very good pace.  I feel like I am much more freed up to answer student questions, and much less stressed about grading because I can grade a few things as I go rather than getting everything all at once.

So far, my students are mostly through Topic 1, but the snow days are delaying us from finishing that of course ;).  Let me say though that some of my students are done with topic 1, which I allowed about a week for, after only three days of self-paced learning!  My largest (and usually craziest) class has actually done the best so far, with over half of my students already finishing and they have taken the quiz.  They all received A’s!  I may be onto something with those kiddos :).  I actually had to rearrange my desks so that half were in rows and half were still in groups so that that many could take the quiz, and the other students who weren’t taking the quiz did a great job of staying quiet and continuing to work so their classmates could concentrate on their quiz!

That’s all for now!  I will update you later with any additions as we work on this unit.  How do you offer students blended learning opportunities?  How do you handle tracking their progress if they are working at their own pace?  I would love any extra ideas!


Forms and Sheets and Sites…Oh My!

Last post, I shared a basic “4 Steps to Getting Started with Google Classroom” document that I will share with my school in the fall as we go 1:1 Chromebooks.

Today, I’d like to share a more in-depth tutorial that I created for Google Forms and Sheets!  I have been gathering info at the 4C’s Conference earlier this month, while completing my Google Certification Levels 1 and 2, while browsing Pinterest and Twitter, and while reading Alice Keeler’s AMAZING book “Teaching Math with Google Apps.”  I have created a Google Site with all of the ideas I have collected, and sorted the site into these topics to make it more manageable:

  • Google Forms Basics
  • Google Forms Tests/Quizzes
  • Google Forms Assignments
  • Google Forms Rubrics
  • Google Forms for Everyday Tasks
  • Tips for Making Google Forms Quickly

You can find my tutorial site here.  I also created a doc for each page, because when I tried to print the pages of the site, my formatting got lost and the images went weird.  Here are my files and example forms if you would like to make a copy and steal them for your own use!



Google Certification, LearnZillion, and Google Classroom Tips

Happy Monday everyone!

I’m going to start the week off by tooting my own horn just a little bit because I’m overjoyed about how my summer has gone so far.  A few accomplishments:

Happy Monday everyone!

I’m going to start the week off by tooting my own horn just a little bit because I’m overjoyed about how my summer has gone so far.  A few accomplishments:

  • I earned my Google Certified Educator (GCE) Level 1 and Level 2 Certification.  If you haven’t gone through the training center, I highly recommend it!  Even if you don’t plan on taking the certification exams ($10 and $25), the free training gave me great ideas to enhance my digital lessons using Google Apps.
  • I became a 2017 LearnZillion Dream Team Content Creator, and I’m super excited to be a part of their latest project!  I just started last week, and I will tell you more about the exciting new content as we roll out at the end of the summer.
  • I just heard today that I am going to be a LearnZillion Ambassador this year!  This is a new position at LearnZillion, but basically I will be helping to develop the content that we will present at conferences, in blog posts, etc.  I will also get to travel to both national and local conferences to talk about my story on the Dream Team and talk about LearnZillion’s resources!

I also have all of these lovely badges I get to display on my websites, social media pages, and email signature.

Google Tutorials

I’m sure there will be more of these throughout the summer, but I am beginning to create some Google tutorials that I want to share with my colleagues throughout this year as we transition to 1:1 Chromebooks.  At the beginning of the year, we are going to encourage everyone to create a Google Classroom for each class so they have a centralized location to distribute announcements/assignments/due dates.  This first tutorial is a quick-start guide to creating and using a Google Classroom site, and it is aimed at beginners, but has a few tips even if you’ve used a Classroom page before.  Feel free to steal it and tweak it for your needs if you need something to take to your school, or need help getting started!  I plan on coming up with a walkthrough of a few more advanced features soon.


Here’s the file in two different formats:

PDF:  4 Tips for Getting Started with Google Classroom
Google Doc:  4 Tips for Getting Started with Google Classroom

Is there anything I’ve left out for beginners, anything I should add?  Leave a comment below!

Tomorrow, I’m going to share some tips on using Google Forms and Sheets!


My Takeaways from the 4C’s Conference (Part 1)

This week I went to a two day conference in Mt. Vernon, IN called the “Rock the 4C’s,” and it was the best local conference I’ve ever been to!  So many great takeaways and the Keynote speaker was amazing!  Today, I’d like to share some of the inspiration I got at the conference.  Tomorrow, I’d like to show two exciting ideas I’m now working on for the fall as a result of this inspiration.

In case you are unfamiliar, the 4 C’s are a new “buzz” in education:

  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creativity

Keynote:  Buddy Berry, Superintendent in Eminence, KY

  • Buddy Berry talked about his schools and how they began to do things differently.  They went from the lowest performing schools in Kentucky to some of the highest performing schools by making some radical changes that would scare the pants off of most of us.
    • They made some sacrifices for two years to get a device for each student.
    • They got wifi buses so students could be online while they ride to school.  They decided to shrink the gap between low and high income families by parking their wifi buses in lower income areas at night. (AWESOME!!)
    • They engage their students in passion projects and dedicate a significant amount of time letting students pursue their interests.
    • They complete community service projects that help solve problems in their community.  Some of their students decided they didn’t like that their was a creek dividing the black and white “sections” of their cemetery.  They designed a bridge that would both metaphorically and physically connect the two parts of the cemetery, 3D printed a model, and made a proposal to the cemetery board.  This is just one example of the amazing problem-solving and community involvement he talked about.
    • They dedicate zero time to standardized test prep.  Yet they are still some of the highest performing schools in the state.
  • Mr. Berry’s keynote and breakout sessions inspired me to think differently about how I want to improve my classroom this year.  I need to not just think about better ways to teach my content.  I need to think about how I can offer more choice, collaboration, fun, and real-world problem solving skills that they an apply and see the results of in real time.  Most of all I need to be less afraid to try something CRAZY.  So many of the examples he gave us were completely out of the norm for the educational world.  But they have repeatedly done “crazy” things and it has paid off.  More about that in my next post.

Google Apps Breakouts

  • Besides the awesome inspiration and mindsets, I wanted some more inspiration on how to best use Google Apps when we go 1:1 Chromebooks next year.  Displaying GCE_Badges_01.pngI have recently become Google Educator Certified – Level 1, and I am currently working towards my Level 2 certification.  Some powerful things I’ve learned from the certification process and the conference:
    • Google is perfectly set up to use multiple apps at a time to create powerful lessons and communication with students and parents.
    • I can use Google Forms and Sheets to automate previously tedious processes, so that I can spend more time creating powerful lessons for my students.
    • Students can collaborate on pretty much every Google platform.
    • More on this throughout the summer as I begin to create  lessons for fall using the Google Suite.

Other Breakouts

  • Two other sessions I attended were about using PBL in the classroom, and a 3D printing/STEM session.  A few important takeaways:
    • Instill that it takes time to find the answer to a real-world problem.  Encourage them to keep improving and revising their projects and use all of their time given.
    • Choose projects that could have many different solutions to the problem.
    • Limit the materials they can bring from home and make sure they get the materials pre-approved.
    • Have other, cheaper materials in the classroom, but give them a “budget” and give each material a “price”
    • Always have them present their projects in an authentic way.  Present to their peers, other grade levels, create a Google Site, present to parents at a parent night, etc.
    • Try to also choose projects that are connected to something in the community.  Students can also suggest problems they see in their community.
  • Last, I went to a session on Sketchnotes with Pam O’Risky, which I knew nothing about.  I loved it!  Basically, it’s just a way to visually represent the same information you would take notes on, but it is much more memorable because you draw sketches, make mind maps, and personalize your sketchnote based on your thinking.  The link above has some great resources/examples/videos if you are new to the idea.

Top Three Takeaways

Ok so here are my top 3 things I will think about as I plan for my classes this year:

  1. What combinations of tools, apps, projects, and activities will best help my students engage and learn?
  2. What choices/freedom can I give them so they can find something they are interested in?
  3. How can my students authentically show what they know?

Three Apps I Didn’t Know About

  • Rewordify – an extension where you paste a link of a website that is difficult to read, and it changes words to easier vocab.
  • UBlock Origin – An extension that blocks ads on websites and Youtube videos.
  • EdPuzzle – An app where you can trim Youtube videos, add interactive questions/content, voice over, and add voice memos at strategic parts of the videos.

Tomorrow, I will present my two project ideas that I want to try this year that both scare and excite me.

This summer consider:  What are you trying in your classrooms next year that seems scary/crazy?  How will it be worth it if we pull it off?

What happens when we let STUDENTS Ask the Questions? (Part 2)

My Algebra 1 students used the last week of school to pursue their interests, ask questions, and play! See what happened…

The Project

In my previous blog post, I discussed an activity I wanted to try during our final full week of school (this week we just have one regular day and then exams).  The whole goal of the activity was to empower students to ask and answer their own questions, something I want to explore a lot more in-depth next year.

I launched the project, let them choose groups and their topics, and then they set off to work.  I gave them most of the week to:

  • Write 3-5 questions they were curious about.
  • Attempt to answer 1-2 questions (they have more than this in case one is a dead end or turns out not to be as interesting as they thought)
  • Prepare a short “show and tell” talking about their topic, any fun facts, and what they found out.

Getting Started

So here’s what happened when we started:


  • Almost all of the students had a good time getting started, playing with their topic, maybe doing some quick research, etc.
  • Many of the students struggled to write their own questions, and some of the ones they wrote weren’t very “meaty,” so we had to have some discussions about what makes a good question that will allow us to play.
  • Everyone was able to find something they were pretty interested in. (It’s the end of the year, so even if they weren’t jumping up and down, I’ll take it!)
  • Some students came up with some great questions I hadn’t even thought of, which is always a plus and what you want with something like this!! Score!!
  • Lots of students were afraid to do something “wrong.”  Yikes, you can tell they haven’t had enough time to “play” this year, something I need to strive very hard for next year.

Student Questions

Once we discussed what made a good “meaty” question that takes some playing to answer, lots of groups came up with some awesome questions!  I also mentioned not EVERY question has to be meaty if it’s something they are interested in, but I wanted at least one “Hmmmm…” question.  I want to share some of them here, but obviously there are too many to capture them all!  I will share some more when I get to see their show and tell presentations tomorrow!

Checkers Board

  • “How many checkers does it take to cover a checkers board (if there are no gaps between checkers)?”
  • “How many moves can it take to get ‘kinged’?”
  • “Is it possible to ‘jump’ all 8 of the opponent’s checkers in one move?  If so, how many different ways?” 

Rubik’s Cube

  • “How many twists does it take to solve a rubik’s cube?”
  • “What is the difference between a 3×3 and a 2×2 cube?”
  • “How much do you think one cube weighs?”

Magic Squares

  • “Does a magic square only work with addition?”
  • “Does it only work with the numbers 1-9?”
  • “Does it have to be a perfect square, or can it be different shapes?” 

**This one was actually one of my favorites, my students had lots of “aha!” moments!  They were afraid to play around at first, afraid they would do something wrong.  Many of them chose the number they wanted to total up to first, and then tried to fill in numbers.  The conversation would go something like:

Student:  “I can’t get this one to work.”

Me:  “Ok, so what number would go here to make it total to ___ like you want?”

Student:  “Hmmm… -2?  Can we have a negative like that though?”

Me:  “I don’t know, what do you think?  Should we allow negatives in our magic squares?”

Student:  *Finally realizes after 2 days that we are playing around and there are no ‘wrong’ answers*  “Oh!  I don’t know!  I will try it!”

Me:  *Mental self five!*  “Awesome!  I’ll come back and you can tell me what you found out.”



  • “What kinds of shapes can you make tesselations out of?  Can they be any shape?”
  • “Are there different kinds of tessellations?”
  • “How can we make our own tessellations?”

**I liked this one a lot too because students went lots of different directions.  Some found lots of cool ones that had already been created and we talked about some that were translations, some that were reflections, some that were rotations, etc.  Some created them by hand, and some used some different shapes tools on Google Slides and just changed the colors.  I’m super excited to see all of the cool tessellations they came up with!


A few things I’ve thought about this past week:

  • My students need lots more practice at this!  They are not used to being the ones asking the questions that drive us forward.
  • I need to figure out how to introduce activities with the tiniest piece of information possible, so that students can have the freedom to come up with these questions. 
    • For example, I saw an Illustrative Math task that used a scatter plot, and I was thinking of creating some kind of time lapse video of my laptop battery charging, and using it next year when we talk about linear equations so that students can ask questions like:  “How does it know how many minutes are left?”  “How fast is it charging?”  “When will it reach full charge?” and more…
  • My students need more chances to be the experts in the room!  They have so many great ideas/insights/questions and I keep losing sight of this as I keep to the “pace.”  As always (and I’m sure I’m not alone on this one), I need a better balance between student inquiry and keeping students on pace to cover the material we need to cover in Algebra 1.
  • I need to figure out what to do with students who have trouble focusing or lose motivation halfway through when we are doing projects next year. 

Anyone have any help/insights on these?  Please comment below!!

What happens when we let STUDENTS Ask the Questions? (Part 1)

What happens when we empower students to ask the questions?

Where has the school year gone?!?!  I haven’t written in forever, I need to make myself write more consistently throughout the school year.

As the school year draws to a close, I am already (like all of you I’m sure!) thinking of what I will change/tweak/completely redo for next year.  To give me inspiration, I am making some time to read!  Here are two books I’ve read, and one more I’m currently reading:

  • Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros
  • Empower by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani
  • Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had by Tracy Zager (currently)

I want to move to more student-centric learning next year, and I feel like I’ve been moving this direction for some time.  All three of these books are giving me great ideas on how to get there.  One common thing I’m reading into these I that to be more student-centric, I need to give students more ownership in their learning and let them experience the empowerment of answering questions THEY came up with.  The learning will be more sticky if students come up with their own questions to answer than if I give them a prescribed set of questions.

The Plan

So as the school year closes, I’m trying out an activity that I’m thinking of using the first week of school next year.  Students are so used to waiting for me to ask them all of the questions, sometimes they have forgotten that they can come up with lots of great questions I may never have even thought of!  So I want to give them a chance to practice asking and answering their own questions in a very general/open/non-scary way.

Google PD Banner (2)

For my Algebra 1 and Math Foundations classes, I plan to set out 10-15 objects/topic descriptions on my desk, and let students look through them.  A few examples of topics include:

They will pick an object/topic and generate 3-5 questions they would like to try to answer.  Then, they will spend the next 3 days or so trying to answer 1-2 of their own questions!  They will research, play, and create something to show the class next Monday (last regular day of school).  This could be slides of pictures along the way, examples they show under the document camera, a video, artwork, etc.  They are also allowed to pick something that isn’t in my list, as long as it’s something they are interested in exploring the mathematics of.

I’m very excited to see all of the possibilities and awesome ideas!  I will add some pictures and some ideas of what students are working on this week (part 2) and I will share some reflections once students present their work next week (part 3).

Do you have a few days at the end of the school year that you want to use to have some exploration time?  Consider letting students do a free exploration like this one!  I just used objects that I already had laying around, and put together some quick descriptions of topics they might want to do a little quick research about.

Presenting at the 2018 ICTM Conference

After three years of submitting myself for speaking at our local conference, I was asked to speak at our ICTM (Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics) Conference on February 15th.  For my first speaking opportunity ever, I feel like it went really well!  I even wore my math skirt for luck!


I submitted a proposal for two topics:

  • Using Open-Middle Problems to Encourage Productive Struggle (K-12)
  • Using Open-Ended Tasks to Build Conceptual Understanding (9-12)

I have already gone a great deal into the Open Middle topic in this post, so here I am going to focus mostly on tasks for conceptual understanding.


I included a handout of the slides, and then a second one with a ton of task ideas that were not covered in my presentation.  In my presentation, I mostly focused on tasks I had actually used in Algebra 1 and Pre-Calculus, so the extras I included were mostly Geometry with a couple from Stats.


The Content

Conceptual Understanding Tasks

My presentation was a fairly simple idea, but I think it resonated with people because the room was packed for this one!  I think since the CCSS began many teachers have loved the idea of building conceptual understanding before explicitly teaching skills.  However, even at this stage I still feel like I have to comb the internet for tasks like this and in the end I will often end up just creating my own.  There are plenty of great tasks to steal/build off of once students have a more formal understanding (MARS, Illustrative, but significantly fewer for building that bridge to the next topic.

Conceptual Understanding Tasks (1)

I first learned how to do this while helping LearnZillion write their task-based lessons and their newer K-8 curriculum, and since then I’ve still been largely writing my own.  Really the idea isn’t too complicated, but I am always refining my questioning to make them better.  More than anything, I think if you commit to the idea of using these to introduce a topic rather than direct instruction, your students will benefit.

  • Take an application problem/task of some kind.  Something the students can connect to without needing to be overly formal.
  • Rewrite the problem so that it removes all of the scaffolding.
  • Have the minimum number of words on the page you can while still being clear.
  • Place that one task on the top of the paper and leave the rest blank.  They will have so much more room to think!

That’s it!  I’ve rewritten countless problems to simply be less helpful and less formal so that students will be less intimidated and we can develop the math together.  Of all of the changes I make in my classroom, I feel like this is the best one I’ve done.  The more I use these to develop new content, the better I feel like class goes and the less I have to rely on notes and traditional structures to help my students learn the content.

Here is an example of a problem that is more textbook/direct instruction, and a completed task that I have students do in my Algebra 1.

Rules. Abstract. *Yawn*


Discovery!  All of the red dots are on that side, all of the blue dots are on the other side!  Weird!

Then we write the inequality together (students are already familiar with equations like 10x+6y=200, so building to 10x+6y>200 was no sweat!), and then put it on Desmos so they could see what happens when I put an inequality symbol instead of an equals sign!  “Why do they shade that whole side?”  “Because that’s where all of the combinations greater than $200 are!”

I hope everyone has had a great weekend!

Mid-Year Update and Some Promising New Developments

Where did the time go?  My last blog post was at the beginning of September, but it feels like yesterday!  Between color guard, math team, tech club, meetings, and teaching a new class, this fall semester has flown by!  In this blog post, you will find some of the highlights in my classes from fall semester, and some new developments in my Algebra 1 and Pre-Calc classes (with more expansion on Algebra coming tomorrow)

After that, I will attempt to write more regularly.  With this being my first blog, it was hard to sit down in the middle of all the craziness and crank out a post, but I’m thinking if I set a day aside each week or every other week, maybe I can keep it under control?

Highlights From Fall

  • Besides the eclipse, we had a great first semester as a 1-1 math class.  I have done all sorts of experimenting and I would say about 90% of what we do is digital. Some of my favorite digital activities we have done are:
    • Collaborative Slides (Alice Keeler wasn’t kidding!  These are gold!)  Students all have a slides doc that is shared with the whole class, and they all contribute.
      • Students make a problem on one slide, and then have to solve another person’s problem.
      • Students create a problem showing mistakes, and students have to determine their mistake.
      • Students share a meme about their weekend.
    • Digital Notes and Sorting activities on Google Slides – Never have students lose their notes again!  These are all in Google Classroom and students can access any time.  I also like to put in interactive slides so once students know what Slope-Intercept and Standard Form look like, they can try to sort out the different types.  Or before they learn about systems of equations, they try this venn-diagram activity.
    • Exit Tickets and Partner Evaluation forms on Google Forms – I make the exit tickets auto-graded so students can instantly see how they did without having to wait on me!
    • Desmos Activities!  I already tried some of these last year, but we get to use them a lot more this year.  I especially like them for Pre-Calc!
      • Polygraph – basically like the “Guess Who” board game, students have 16 images of graphs (for example I did one on just graphs of lines) and students have to ask and answer yes or no questions trying to figure out their partner’s graph.  They have to use vocab like positive/negative slope, y-intercept, steepness, quadrants, etc.  Click here to see an example.
      • Custom Activities – In addition to the many great activities on Desmos, you can also create your own activities that fit your personal style.  I have even used these as a quiz before, they are so flexible!  Here are a couple of my favorites, which you can also copy and edit for your own class if you want!
    • Assessments on Edulastic – While we still do some paper and pencil quizzes/tests, most of my 1st semester assessment was on Edulastic.  They have some great math features such as graphing on a number line or x-y plane, but they also have lots of great interactive items like sorting, matching, drag and drop, drop-down menus, multi-part questions, and more!  You can set them to auto-grade, but then you can come behind after that and add in the correct partial credit.
  • There is always that 10% though that we will keep paper and pencil because they work great that way!
    • Scavenger Hunts are my generic term for any time students have to get up and walk around the room to solve problems.  We typically use these for review.  Here are a couple of different variations I tried this semester!
      • Students each have their paper with 16 problems, but they are not allowed to solve any on their own paper.  They must instead get 16 different people to solve their problems, and then they are responsible for checking them!
      • A true scavenger hunt with “clues,” students are given one of the clues around the room.  Their clue is a linear equation, table, graph, etc.  They must use the graph set up on the floor to follow their linear equation to one of the walls, where the next clue will be waiting.  It got a little crazy in my largest class of 26, but the rest of my classes went great!


  • Since this post is getting super long, here are some other random images from the past few months.  Now on to my two super-exciting new developments!


New Developments for Semester 2

  • I am working on a self-paced, online, Systems of Equations unit with my Algebra 1 class that I am SUPER excited about.  I am dedicating my entire post tomorrow to that unit, so stay tuned!
  • We originally had two separate classes of Pre-Calc that were offered the same hour.  We are going to now get to combine and co-teach that class instead of teaching it separately!  Imagine all of the cool things you can do with two math teachers in the room!  I will let you know more about that later as things develop, right now we are just getting used to all being in the same room together.

And…Liftoff! (Part 2)

Design is not a streamlined experience.  Design is messy.  Design has many steps that are all out of order, you do them over and over, and hopefully at the end you get a product that you are proud of.  This is something we as a math department have been experiencing since April, and we are trying to bring that authentically to our students.

In my previous post, I explained my idea for Quarter 1 of my Algebra 1 class, and how we are going to incorporate a space theme into our math classes in a really unique way.  Here, I will attempt to explain how we came up with that idea in the first place.  I feel like too often we see these awesome ideas on blogs/Pinterest/TPT and think “I could never do that, I’m not creative enough.”  In reality, creativity/design is a messy and long process of deliberately being in the process.  It is not some brilliant, fully formed idea that floats into your head one day.  Here is my attempt at explaining the sparks that came after months of deliberate search, sifting, cycling, and collaborating, and we still aren’t done!

The Design Process


So the initial idea for the space theme came in April, and we bounced around a lot of ideas that are still behind what we are wanting to do this year.  Here is a brief timeline of how our ideas shaped over time:

  • April:  Idea for space math came about.  We wanted our students to be able to “Shoot for the Moon,” tie their math to real-world space problems, do something awesome for the eclipse, and have several projects throughout the year.
  • May:  Created a banner, began to search for space math topics, found the NASA Space Math website.  Came up with the idea to have “missions” that spanned multiple grade levels and challenged kids to come up with a mission, budget their mission, build rockets and rovers to explore, and present their findings.
  • June-mid July:  This was kind of a lull in the creative process.  We were all working on our rooms and other projects.  One thing that we did think of during this time was using our parent-teacher conference time differently, to show off all of the awesome work our students are doing.  We decided to do a smaller project for the fall, where students will find a space topic that interests them and create a math-related product to display.  At the spring parent-teacher conference we are going to be more ambitious and creatively display the cross grade-level “missions” students put together.
  • Mid July – Now:
    • Created a list of all topics within our main subject taught (Algebra 1 for me)
    • Within that list, we tried to find one or more space topics that tie in from various sources such as the website mentioned above, My NASA Data, and more!
    • Once we had these made, we met as a department.  My department head told us she wanted to push further than just taking our normal sequence and tying it to space.  She wanted us to think of some over-arcing theme that tied a bunch of math together, and use that to drive the individual skills that made sense within that theme.  <3<3 This idea and this was my spark for everything I have created since!
    • To find my theme, I basically looked at all of the space topics that were in my “normal” unit 1, and saw that I had used Voyager more than once.  Lightbulb!   So what if I based everything off of Voyager?  My unit 1 usually has graphing stories, solving equations, solving inequalities, and systems of equations.  I pushed out systems into quarter 2, and decided to include rates and a scientific notation review in quarter 1 because they seemed more relevant to my topic.  Then they could come up with their own mission at the end of the quarter and put all of these skills together to analyze their created mission.
    • But wait!  What if I had more than one mission, and students had to break down their mission topics and present to each other, thus layering their knowledge with that of other groups, and then by the time they have to design their own mission they have seen three examples of everything already?!?

This is the process we went through to come up with the final product of what my first quarter could look like.  We started with the vague “let’s put space into math,” and refined over and over (my LearnZillion friends would say “polish the stone” :P) until we had something that made sense, seemed like it could be powerful for students, and was just a little bit terrifying.

My topic for 1st quarter is these past missions, and my topic for second quarter will be all about basic trajectories and will tie in linear equations/graphs, function transformations, and systems of equations.

My goal with these rather long posts is to show you that the creativity involved in making something like this happen isn’t just a spark that happens and then a final product comes out quickly.  It’s a long, drawn out process of sifting through ideas, collaborating, processing, reading, and much much more and the creative process can be painful at times.  But at the end you can come up with something you never even thought was possible when you started.

Off to plan each week’s challenge problems, and the whole process of ideas/sifting/frustration/refining starts again…

Any ideas?  Shoot them my way!


And…Liftoff! (Part 1)

I finally launched 😉 our space math curriculum concept to my classes this week!  I’m so excited to start this journey with my students, and I hope it makes my class feel purposeful and connected to the real world.

Part 1:  I am going to give you a brief version of the overview I gave my students.

Part 2 (tomorrow):  I will try to explain how we came up with our idea, because it is not something we came up with overnight.  Our plan is the culmination of months of struggle, compiling ideas, and bouncing ideas between the teachers in our math department to achieve.  Sometimes with these awesome projects/problems/ideas I feel like others may get the impression that you come up with these overnight, but often they are the product of hours of poring through ideas that others do, reading blog posts, collaboration, and lots of sweat and frustration.  My attempt at telling you our process will hopefully help you realize that you can come up with a big scary project like this too!  

Space Themed Algebra 1 Curriculum – 1st Quarter

Here is my attempt at an infographic to explain the first quarter to my students.

My infographic for a space unit in Algebra 1.  If you use this idea, please link back to my blog!

The idea is taking real, past NASA missions, such as Apollo, Voyager, and Mars Odyssey, and analyzing them in the context of my first unit of study.  We can study the distances/rates traveled, graph the mission timeline, discuss timing such as when will the Voyager 1 reach the next star (and solve), and much more!  We will do all of this while reviewing/learning key math topics along the way.

My students will be divided into three groups and given weekly, challenging learning tasks that relate to one of these three missions (but with the same learning goal, such as using a graphing story/piecewise function to describe their mission timeline).  They will study the same mission all the way through the quarter.  As they finish each task, I will discuss and debrief with each group.  Then, they will present their solutions to the other groups so they know what the other missions looked like (kicking their knowledge of that learning target up x3!).

We will continue in this way until we have gotten through all of our learning goals and discussed their missions from many different angles, and then the quarter will culminate in an end-of-quarter project.  In their project, they will have to imagine a completely new NASA mission, and use all of our learning targets to analyze different aspects of the mission, and show their learning in a variety of ways!  I can’t wait to see what they come up with and the gears turning along the way.

I hope this helped explain in a nutshell what we are going for here.  We will definitely have many bumps along the way, but I will try to share our experiences here as much as I can!