1/11/18: Student Autobiographies

I strongly believe in building relationships with your students. It sounds simple right? As simple as it sounds, there have been plenty of teachers that I’ve had who didn’t know my name, or asked how my day was. The late Rita Pierson in her Ted Talk “Every Kid Needs a Champion” says “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” I don’t FULLY agree with this statement, but I mostly agree with it. It definitely helps if the kids like their teachers.

To this end, I’m having students create little autobiographies on a collaborative Google Slide so EVERY student can know more about each other. I learned from Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler) that we should use Google Slides to GET information, not GIVE information. In addition to creating their autobiographies, they are to comment on at least two other autobiographies. I believe that once we get to know each other, students will lower their affective filter to create a more comfortable and safe environment.


I am so eager to meet my students that I kind of jumped the gun and gave them the option to complete their student bios before class starts. It’s been about a day and I’m already seeing connections forming through either mutual favorite TV shows, favorite restaurants, hobbies, etc. and I love it.

This is the first time I’m trying this so I hope to see faster, stronger connections between the students.

Thanks for reading.

1/10/18: Board games as assessments?!


YES! I want to show students that there are other ways to assess than a multiple choice or short answer test. After a probability and stats unit, I have my students work in groups to create their own board game. It must either be original or it can be inspired by a pre-existing game but it must have a twist. They will write instructions for how to play the game and provide the materials. Students should find 4 different probability problems in the game (maybe one involves the probability of Player 1 winning, one involves a tree diagram of coin flips, one discusses a multi-stage probability problem, etc.). Then students are to play their games several times to collect data (on their own time) and create two graphs from what they obtained. Maybe this could be about the number of turns it took until someone won, how many times each number was rolled, etc.

I give students about 4 days to complete this, and then we spend a period playing each other’s games. Originally, this wasn’t in my plan, but I thought that students should be able to show off what they created. I’ve had a lot of students say that they would actually play these games with their families, which makes me so happy. Especially in today’s world, we need to let students create and be imaginative.

I also love this assessment because it hits the 4 Cs (Critical thinking, Collaboration, Communication, Creativity) really well. Because I teach future teachers, I also have students reflect on how the 4 Cs are hit with this assessment.

Here’s a slideshow of some of the games that my students created last semester!

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Additionally, I’ve never had a student say this. How awesome is it that students enjoy doing an assessment?

So go ahead, think of creative ways to assess. Outside of school, people will hardly ever see another multiple choice test again. What they will be expected to do however, is to work together, critically think, and communicate. Let’s try having our assessments reflect that.

Thank you for reading.

1/9/18: Number Talks (with water bottles!)

I volunteer as a “Friend of the Bulldog Marching Band” and one of the jobs is to fill up water bottles before the game. Putting these carriers in an organized manner, I realized that this could lead to a great number talk. I posted this picture on Twitter and I showed this to my students as well just to see how they counted. This is the first time that I’ve done a Number Talk with my own picture and it amazes me how students find other ways to count.

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Here are the different ways that one of my classes counted, along with some people from Twitter (Travis @MrTravisDrake, Kelly @kfitch831, and Russell @ParksideIC):

water bottles 2

I did this Number Talk early in the semester (early September) and I strongly believe that doing Number Talks like these early on sets up for a great semester. It shows that math isn’t about obtaining an answer and then going on to the next question, but rather, analyzing that there are many ways to get to the same answer. Math is beautiful, but if we rush through problems, we lose the opportunity to see its beauty. 

I later found out that a 3rd grade teacher from Wisconsin (Miranda Zygiel @HSSD_mirazygi) used this image for a Number Talk and I got SO excited. This was still when I was a couple months into Twitter and this was one of the moments that stood out to me that shows how powerful Twitter is. Someone who I didn’t know was using my material, and getting feedback of how her students counted just made my day.

This is what her 3rd grade class found:

I love the authenticity of bringing your own story into the classroom and I hope to bring more of these into the classroom. Not only do I believe that Number Talks is incredibly strong, I also believe that we need to start doing these early on to change student mindsets quickly. If we show them that we value creative, deep thinking over speed, it makes the classroom have a more relaxed atmosphere.

1/8/18: Students, you are more than your ID #

I never understand classes where the teacher doesn’t have interest in their students’ lives. When I was a student, I could absolutely tell who was genuinely interested in their subject and students and others who are there because it’s their job. One thing that I believe needs to be more emphasized in teacher education programs is that you have to be interested in students’ lives. It’s not just about liking the content. You could be the smartest person in the world, but if you do not attempt to know your students, none of it matters.

We all meet each other for a reason. These are humans in our classrooms. They have had many experiences they would love to share and insights that will make us grow. In my class, you will have a voice. At the beginning of the semester, I try to at least ask them what city/high school they are from and where they work, then expand from there throughout the semester. I’ve been trying to go around to different groups before the period starts to just talk, maybe about how their weekend was, how other classes are going, how work is going, etc.

Honestly, I do believe these little conversations go a long way. I have students reflect at the very end of the semester and last semester, a student wrote “I thought it was really great you kept asking how my work was going or where I worked at. I think only 1 other teacher ever in my 4 ½ years at Fresno has ever asked me where I work or how is it. It really made me feel like I’m more than my ID #.” We don’t know anything about their home life, we don’t know if they have support outside of class, so we should make them feel comfortable in the classroom.

On the “student” side of things, I went to CMC South listening to Robert Berry, and one of the very first things he said was “I’m going to treat you like family” and that automatically made me feel extremely comfortable and happy to be in that room. How awesome would that be if all students let their guard down right at the start of the semester?

Everyday (besides test days), I give my students a tip of the day. The last tip of the day I give them is “Keep in touch.” I really mean it. I want to know how they have grown and what they have applied. We only cross paths for maybe a semester or two, but I am interested in how you do later on.

So if you’re my student, feel free to open up! You are more than your ID number, and I want to prepare you to be the best educator you can be.

Thanks for reading.

1/7/18: My #oneword2018

My #oneword2018 is growth. I am nowhere near a perfect educator (not that anyone expects that) but the important thing is to be better than you were the day before. I do reflect a lot but it usually stays inside my head, so this year I will try to blog more about my growth. I’m going to look at all my lessons/activities and ask myself, “How can I make this better? How can I involve more collaboration? How can I make my students think more? How is this lesson preparing students for their future?”

Not only will I focus on my own growth this year but I will try harder to have students document their growth. I think that schools need heavier emphasis on documenting their own growth. have students do digital portfolios, so I’m considering having a “Growth” tab where students would document how they have grown in a specific area. For example, students could say “At first, I thought that math was about performance and speed but then I realized that it is more important to have number sense, finding multiple ways to solve the problem and to communicate my solution clearly so anyone can understand my reasoning.” Additionally, I’ll have students watch videos such as Carol Dweck’s talk on a growth mindset throughout the semester as well.

There is no tangible finish line for my one word, but that’s okay, because as long as I am better than the day before, learning from mistakes, doing research, doing it for my students, that is all that matters.

If there are any other ideas to emphasize student or instructor’s growth, I’d love to hear them!

Thanks for reading.

1/4/18: Teach like Parks and Recreation



(Credit: Parks and Recreation-NBC)

Parks and Recreation is /literally/ my favorite show so I thought I’d make a fun post about what we can learn from each of the 10 main characters from the show and how to incorporate their strengths into the classroom. If you haven’t seen Parks and Recreation, I highly recommend it. It will make you laugh with endless amount of wonderful jokes, and make you cry in an instant (like when you hear the opening chords of Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers”). Here are some of the takeaways from why I think we should channel our inner Parks and Recreation characters when we teach:  

Teach like Leslie Knope

  • Leslie is strong-willed and will do whatever it takes to get the job done. She cares about EVERYONE in her town, for example, she would spend time getting slugs off someone’s yard. She is a workaholic, often taking on more than she can handle, but I admire that she does it because the end goal is to make everyone better off. In the classroom, it’s not about pleasing the few; we need to be sure to make connections to everyone, even if it means that we need to get off our own schedule to help them.

Teach like Donna Meagle

  • Teach like Donna Meagle. In a world of dogs, she’s a cat. I would take Donna’s way of getting the job done, while not having the job consume her. She often treats herself with her Benz, vacation homes, jacuzzis, the list goes on and on. Though playful, she knows how to lay down the law and people take her seriously. She doesn’t put up with BS and she knows the value of treating yourself.

Teach like Ron Swanson

  • When it comes to being realistic, Ron Swanson is your man. He is upfront, not beating around the bush. He tries to keep his personal life apart from work, but throughout the series, has shown his secret love for puzzles, problem-solving, and music. Something that I have learned from Ron is that we need to know when to say “no.” Leslie tries to do everything she can, but Ron knows when enough is enough.  

Teach like Ann Perkins

  • Ann Perkins shows that even if you don’t have the right tools, you can still make things work if you try. For example, Ann falls short on comedy at times, and though Ron and April ignore her, she still tries her best in getting what she wants. She learned the hard way that you don’t need to change yourself to be liked (when she went through the line of boyfriends)

Teach like Chris Traeger

  • Teaching like Chris Traeger will – literally – make you a better educator. He always finds the positive in every situation which I think we need more of in the classroom. Think about Chris Traeger when giving feedback to students. Yes, it is important to critique/question what they did incorrectly, but we need to find positive things to talk about as well. 

Teach like April Ludgate

  • April has a tough exterior and doesn’t show that things affect her. Deep down though, she cares and it will come out at times. It took her awhile, but she found a job that she loves. In one episode, she tries to imitate Leslie Knope for a town meeting, but realized that just because it works for Leslie, doesn’t mean that it’ll work for her. She realizes that she needs to be herself, which I think is extremely important to us teachers. We all have someone we look up to, but forcing ourselves to be exactly like them will not work. We need to be ourselves as well.

Teach like Garry/Jerry/Larry/Barry/Terry Gergich

  • When you feel like everyone is against you, be like Garry Gergich. Though he gets the short end of the stick many, many times, he still gets the job done. Maybe it’s his ignorance, but he doesn’t let negative actions toward him affect him. He also balances work and family wonderfully. Learn from Garry Gergich, and stop caring about how others see you. You do you.

Teach like Tom Haverford

  • Though Tom has had several failed plans such as Entertainment 720 and Rent-a-Swag, he still persisted until he was successful. He always had his eyes on the prize. He learned from his mistakes, and though he was still a little selfish talking about himself, he grew a lot throughout the series.

Teach like Ben Wyatt

  • Ben is constantly reminded of his failure of Ice Town, but still is successful in his endeavors being a city manager and a member of the House of Representatives. Also, he has no shame of letting his inner nerd out, making games like Cones of Dunshire, trying his hand at clay animation, telling his terrible puns, and letting everybody know of his love of calzones. Ben was the “bad cop” in his partnership with Chris, and knew when business meant business.

Teach like Andy Dwyer

  • Andy brings joy in every situation he’s in. He makes you feel like you belong. He LOVES his job, whether it’s shoe-shining, playing music with his band Mouserat, or acting on the Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show (even though he was getting paid the minimum wage). Though he is not the brightest of the characters, he tries, which is admirable.

We can learn a lot from these characters and apply them to our teaching. This isn’t meant as a “pick one and go” because we should learn from all of these characters and channel different characters depending on the situation.

So, who do you channel when you’re teaching?

Thank you for reading.

12/30/17: My Favorite Lesson: Area Formulas

This is one of my favorite lessons because it focuses on conceptual understanding, reassures students that memorization is not necessary, and it makes connections between formulas that students didn’t know were related. A lot of people take formulas for granted. They didn’t just appear out of nowhere; it had to be proven.

I first start with a little non-graded “quiz.” The purpose of this is because as stated in a previous blog post, I strongly believe that when students make mistakes first, it makes the learning much stickier. I ask them for the area formulas of a rectangle, parallelogram, triangle, trapezoid, kite, regular hexagon, regular octagon, and a circle.

I then reiterate the definition of area. The main noun of area is the *space* inside of a 2-d figure, measured in square units. Colloquially when we ask for the area though, we are asking for an amount.  New: through a tweet yesterday from Bobson Wong (@bobsonwong), I learned that I should say “calculate the area” never “find the area” so there won’t be any smart aleck answers of students pointing or circling the figure when we ask about the area.

I write on the board “Wait, ALL area formulas are related to the area of a rectangle?!” and then we derive each formula together.

To find the area of a rectangle, we would multiply the base by the height to find the amount of square units that would fit in the figure. Note: some books may use length and width, but I use base and height to emphasize that these two dimensions are perpendicular to each other.

I then move on to parallelogram to see that we can manipulate the figure into a rectangle. Boom. Parallelogram -> rectangle. (“->” will mean “relies on the area of”)


I have students draw a non-right triangle and ask them how we can use what we know to find the area of the figure. Students would say that we could cut the triangle into smaller triangles and “copy” those triangles to make a rectangle. So boom. Triangle -> rectangle


For trapezoids, I have students draw a non-isosceles trapezoid. Some students said that the trapezoid is composed of 2 triangles and others said that we could copy the trapezoid, rotate it, to create a parallelogram, which we know the area formula. Boom. Trapezoid -> parallelogram -> rectangle


I do the same discovery approach with kite. I draw a kite (with the diagonals) and ask them how we can use what we already know to find the area formula of a kite. Some say that we can manipulate the triangles to make a rectangle with base 1/2 d_1 and height d_2 and others see it as the image below. It surprises the students that we don’t even need to know the side lengths of the kite to find its area. Boom. Kite -> rectangle


For a regular hexagon, I break the figure into 6 triangles, “unroll” them, then place half of the triangles in the crevices of the other triangles to create a parallelogram. In order to find the area of this parallelogram, we need to know the height of the triangle, which we call the apothem. Boom. Regular hexagon -> parallelogram -> rectangle

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(found this pic on http://pediaa.com/how-to-find-the-area-of-regular-polygons/)

I then have students find the area of a regular octagon with their groups. They see that with the same process, it is the same area formula as a regular hexagon (1/2 x apothem x perimeter)! Boom. Regular octagon -> parallelogram -> rectangle

For circles, I do two approaches, one being very similar to how we found the area of a regular hexagon and octagon, and the other “cutting” the circle so it becomes triangular. Boom. Circle -> parallelogram -> rectangle or Circle -> triangle -> rectangle. Check out these animations to see what I mean:



At the end, I have students reflect on their “quiz.” I reiterate that math isn’t about memorizing formulas; it’s about relational understanding.

Thank you for reading.