Storytelling in my classroom

This year I am teaching Algebra II and AP Statistics, and I have been given the opportunity to be a team leader for the Algebra II teachers.  So far I have felt worthless…

The Pre-AP teachers are much more experienced than me and have been at the school longer.  They have made it clear that they do not want to meet with the other teachers.  The other on-level teachers are new to the school, but not new to teaching the subject.  From what I can tell, they are doing a great job.  So how do I lead them?

I am facing two large obstacles from being an effective leader.  One is obvious and fixable.  I need to be more proactive in my planning of lessons and preparedness for meetings.  We meet as a team regularly, and I have the power to set that agenda.  We should be talking about our common assessments and how our learners are doing.  Instead we often are stalled by conversations about what resources we have for the next day.  I can change that.

The second obstacle is vaguer and the inspiration for this lesson.  I love telling stories to set up my lessons.  They are my hook, but they also anchor my lessons and give me references for future lessons.  I talk about my personal life.  I talk about my theories about zombies.  I complain about my childhood.  How does that translate when I share my lessons with other teachers?  More importantly, is storytelling an attribute we should be training our teachers in?  We tell teachers to be more enthusiastic, even if it is not in their personality.

This post is my first contribution to  I know that what makes my classroom distinctly unique is my storytelling, and it torments me.  I want to “give back” and “pay it forward” and so on in more ways than just showing people how to use their technology.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

When a teacher becomes an artist


I was recently reading a book about productivity, and I happened upon two quotes that have really stuck with me:

The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second.  This means blocking off a large chunk of time every day for creative work on your own priorities…


No one likes the feeling that other people are waiting – impatiently – for a response.

These quotes happen early in the book, and part of me was ready to put the book down and move on.  This is a book for artists, for people who don’t have seven hours every day already scheduled for them.  What does this have to do with teaching?

Of course, I know that isn’t true.  The reason I left a desk job to become a teacher is because I had a passion for making math known, and if that can be done without creative thinking, then we need to stop trying.  In fact, most of my summer reading has unintentionally centered around the idea of a teacher’s being challenged to be more creative.  I believe that to grow as a teacher, I must be challenging myself to be a creator every day.  That is easy to say now, a month removed from the classroom, but if I forget that in September, I am cheating my students out of everything I can give.

Everyone needs to read Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.  Amazing stuff.

If my students are not hooked, who is to blame? Nothing offends teachers more, it seems,  than telling them that students think their class is boring, but I know that every lesson I can do is not as engaging as it could be.  So first, I recognize that I am part of the problem.  Now, is that something that I can change, or are my students stuck with that lesson because I am who I am.  Dave suggests (demands?) we ask the question “How can I make this lesson outrageously entertaining, engaging, and powerful so that my students will never forget it and will be desperate to come back for more?”  Wow.  Am I asking that question?  Because like Dave says in the book, I am not going to find the answer to that question without first asking it.

As teachers, we must be artists.  Our goal as we grow is not only to become more efficient, better classroom managers, or more comfortable with technology.  We must be creating a year-long experience for our students.  We must forget sometimes about deadlines and all of the people waiting on us.  There is no better time than today.  You will still have emails, papers to grade, paperwork to take care, and meetings to attend tomorrow.  Today, find a way to be creative and make something meaningful for your students.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Using 4 Pics 1 Word for math vocabulary

My students and I are hooked on a new mobile game called 4 Pics 1 Word.  It is a simple concept: Four pictures are displayed that all represent a certain word.  Sometimes the connection is obvious (gum, yellow, ball), while others are hard to determine (raw, overkill, nirvana).

4 pics 1 word_1

2 ideas for using this in the classroom:

1.  Warm-up or Review on the board

Pictures can be displayed in a similar format to the game on the screen, and students can respond with their answers.  Responses can come through BYOD or just on paper.  With a deep enough deck of slides, this could make for a good game.

4 pics 1 word_3

2. Student-led Puzzles

Instead of on the screen, what if students were handed a card when they entered the room with one of the 4 pictures or 1 word.  Then, they can find the common themes and assemble the pieces together on posters.  Also, they could use these as cues on where to sit and get quick random seating.

4 pics 1 word_2

So, far, I have only used this as a warm-up with my classes, but as we review geometry terms in Algebra II, I see using this more.

How do you use this and other mobile games to connect with students?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Changes in linear graph exploration

I take so many great activities from math teacher blogs.  I know I need to start giving back.  Here is my first attempt:

This last summer I had a chance to work with Algebra I remediation for the end of course exam retakes.  Most of the work we did in  the limited time was skill based, but I still wanted to move past the worksheets.  On this day we had 2 hours to talk about changes in m and b on linear functions.  This was the last lesson of the week, and the following week concentrated on solving linear equations (with 1 or 2 variables).

Students were given a workmat and 3 different sets of cards.  The first set of cards had an assortment of linear equations.  The next set had different verbal descriptions of changes in slope.  The last set had verbal descriptions of changes in the constant or y-intercept.

Students enjoyed the random aspect of the problems, but some students also wanted to seek out different cards that were more challenging


Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Writing My Own Job Description

My first year of high school teaching was at a small private school.  At the end of that first year, my wife and I decided that it was time for her to start graduate school.  As a result, I left my teaching post after only one year.  I returned to teaching three years later, but I always look back and remember the end of that first year.

It was painful.

Every job has restart moments.  Every role we play in life gives us chances to improve.  At the end of one year of teaching, I had so many thoughts of how I could improve as a teacher, how I could better connect with students, and how I could make classroom more time more effective.  

I am now entering my fourth consecutive year of teaching, and I could not be more excited.  This year brings some of the biggest opportunities (and challenges) I have faced in my career.  In reality, I have a mixture of notebook pages and post-its with all of my ideas for the new year, but I can trim those down to three major points:

1.  Use class time more effectively

I feel like I am an expert at talking about classroom management techniques, but implementing them is another issue.  I write beautiful lesson plans that tie everything together, but then I am unable to find all of the pieces on each individual day.

This year I will…

    • Start classes quickly and minimize beginning of class distractions with well taught procedures.
    • Be more firm in addressing classroom disruptions as they happen.
    • Stay engaged with my students.  Don’t relax when just because they are self motivated.
    • Use exit tickets regularly, have students self rate themselves, and share the class results.

2.  Work with parents consistently

Like many new teachers, I have phone phobia.  I’m not sure why.  Parent phone calls almost always go great.  Instead of even trying though, I wait until all I have to offer is bad new about their child.  That must change this year.

3.  Be a leader

Part of this has been decided for me.  I have been appointed algebra 2 team leader, which is really exciting, but I have never taught algebra 2 at this school, and many of the teachers on the team have more experience than me.  Right now, I am trying to figure out what my strengths are and how I can use them to facilitate productive team planning for this year.  

That is pare of the reason I have started this blog, and I am trying to be more active on Twitter.  I have always lurked behind the scenes.  I have been reading many of your blogs and twitter feeds for years without leaving a comment or joining in any discussions.  I have been given amazing ideas, and while I always give credit, I have never been able to move my peers to joining these amazing online communities.  My hope is that by encouraging my team to read my own blog, I can introduce them to the unlimited research and resources that are available to them.

I am thankful for the new blogged initiative, and I am looking forward to many more exciting posts in the future.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments