Thursday, December 20, 2012


We are in the midst of the whirlwind that is exams! I remember being a student and wishing that I was on the other end - a teacher. As a student, I would spend hours and hours on end preparing for exams, and I would get stressed and anxious.. even in college. Now that I am a teacher, I have found out that it is not all sunshine and puppy-dog tails from this perspective either. I worry about the load on my students and all of the exams that they have to take, projects that have to complete, and speeches that they must give. I remember being in their shoes, and as a teacher I definitely try to maintain an outlook that they have way more than just my subject that they are working on. I remember asking occasionally "Why do my teachers seem to think that their subject is the only one?" Keeping that in mind, I believe my exams to be very fair. I provide class time for at least 2-3 days for them to work, review, and ask questions. They get lots of practice problems with answers and solutions to check. I believe my tests to be the "best of the best," so my exams should encompass what I deem the most important - no tricky questions or real stumpers.

How do other high schools proctor exams? At my school, we have three exams on Wednesday and two exams each on Thursday and Friday (with Thursday and Friday being half days).

Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year! Take this break to recharge for 2013 and the exciting things that it will bring!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tech Tip: Khan Academy


Wonderful website with videos, tutorials, and examples for many mathematical topics!

Tech Tip: Dr. Math


There's tons and tons of archived questions as well as the ability to ask a math tutor for help! Fantastic website!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tech Tip: Wolfram Alpha


In one word, it is: AWESOME! It shows lots of representations for various problems and can help students all the way up to high level mathematics courses. Check it out!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Parent Teacher Conferences - Top 5

My district does two rounds of Parent-Teacher Conferences on a Monday and Wednesday from 4:00-7:30pm. The first set of conference days are usually in mid-November and the second set come mid-February.

I truly look forward to parent-teacher conferences. With upwards of 120 students, I find that they are a great way to continue to build rapport with families. To me, I find that support from home makes a major difference in a child's success... not in every circumstance, but in many. Most of my conferences are with parents whose child has an A or a B, but there are definitely some that are coming because their child is struggling. Either way, it is a great chance to talk with them and provide some suggestions or answer their questions.

I always like to give parents all kinds of details, suggestions, etc. and over the years have created a small packet that I give every parent that I meet with. There's different material depending on if it is the November or February round, so here's my Top 5 for November Parent-Teacher Conferences.

1:: Cover sheet - What have we done so far in 1st Quarter? What are we going to do in 2nd Quarter? Details about ways students can get extra help. Ideas for studying specific to my class. Screenshots of my class website with key information highlighted.

2:: Grade sheet - Our grades are "live" and online, so parents/students are able to see grades as they are updated, but I also like to provide this cumulative sheet for reference.

3:: Article on How to Study Mathematics - If I have heard it once, I have heard it a thousand times from kids: "You can't study math." I beg to differ. Yes, you can... I did. So, I always follow-up with suggestions.

4:: Math Anxiety - Some students experience a great deal of math anxiety, so I find it helpful to provide information about overcoming it as well as strategies to use when experiencing it.

5:: Stress - Many of my students feel a lot of pressure relative to their grades. I use this opportunity to provide information about minimizing or coping with stress.

I would love to hear what you do for Parent-Teacher Conferences!!!.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday's and Football

There's nothing like fall... and football! There's all sorts of ways to help build school spirit, but I would say school events rank among the best. At my high school, Football Friday Night serves as a major draw for the community, staff, and students to all come together and cheer on our team! There's a student section that is coordinated by seniors with a theme for every game. How fun!

"Are you coming to my game tonight?" or "Did you see me make __ play?" ... those are the questions of the day to me regularly. I do my best to attend as many events as I possibly can throughout the year. Not only do I go to support my students that participate but to show that we are a team (even for those who are cheering with me). Students notice when you come. For some, you may be the only one there cheering them on. For others, you may be the first person outside of their family to show them support. It means a lot to them... and to me. I have always preached that I am not just in teaching for curriculum's sake, but I am in education to teach beyond the walls of my classroom.

Even thought it is hard in our busy lives to go to the sporting events, attend the school musical, sit in on a club... it shows compassion and caring. Students notice.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

House System

Last year, my school started what we call the House System. The student body was randomly divided into one of eight houses consisting of students across grade levels. Also, let's just say statistics were involved in an attempt to also divide amongst GPA, athletes, art, etc. to maintain a equitable balance. There's about 150 students per House. In addition to dividing the student body, staff also got split into the Houses with the goal that there was a staff member from each discipline in every House (some Houses had more). This means that we have about 10-12 teachers in each House as well.

SO... what is so special about it?

#1 - Time
We meet every day for 30 minutes. Four houses meet in one grouping while four eat lunch, then we all switch. It helps with overcrowding in the cafeteria too... an added bonus!

#2 - The general schedule:
Monday - Announcements via School News and other general messages
Tuesday / Wednesday / Thursday - FLEX Days - Students get to pick which room they go to in our House (Community, Technology, Group Study, Quiet Study, etc.) Any students with D's or F's go to Student Support where they get more individualized mentoring from a House teacher and student mentors that have applied. Students on IEP's or 504's get to meet with their Case Managers.
Friday - House Day - Games, events, socials, team-building, clubs

#3 - Class Officers and Student Council
Each class has an officer in each House, so there are 8 from each grade level. Student Council has a similar breakdown. These elected student leadership meet once a month to do their specific tasks and once a month with the administration as a task force. These meetings usually fall on every-other Friday.

#4 - Clubs
You heard it right... we traditionally DO NOT have after school clubs. The only after school activities are usually sports, arts, or class leadership. Thus, every student in our school is in a club. Clubs range from table tennis, to movie club, to National Honor Society, to board games, to STEMgirls, and more... there's at least 50 or more... all led by staff!

#5 - Opportunities
My House is one that directly links with the special education department. Hence, my House room consists of regular education students interacting regularly with special education students - playing games, talking, etc. Nothing has melted my heart more. A big ole football player playing a matching game with a student who has Downs Syndrome... or a group of girls talking with a student who has Autism about his love of movies. It is so very rare to have this interaction, and I have seen a tremendous impact on all of us as a result. There is no difference - we are all the same.

Yes, the House System has seen its ups and downs. However, now that we are into Year #2, I am confident that it will only continue to evolve and benefit kids. After all, we strive to Do what is best for kids. All the time. No matter what.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Spirit Week!

It's Homecoming Week, so we are in full spirit mode! Our daily themes are {drum roll}...

Monday - College Spirit Day
Tuesday - Ugly Sweater Day
Wednesday - Powder Puff / House Spirit Day
Thursday - Pajama Day
Friday - School Spirit Day

The teachers, in my department especially, get REALLY into spirit week! We absolutely love to get involved, and the students get a big kick out of seeing us all dressed up too! 

Does your school have Spirit Week? If so, what are your themes!?


Friday, October 5, 2012

Happy Teacher Day!

"Teachers, I believe, are the most responsible and important members of society because their professional efforts affect the fate of the earth." - Helen Caldicott

Thursday, October 4, 2012


To all of the teachers out there... you truly are a hero!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Open House

Open House was a week ago for us! I really enjoy this whirlwind evening as a way to meet parents and give them a glimpse into my classes.

As a high school teacher, there's typically a few things I make sure to do/cover at Open House:
  • I always have a handout or newsletter that gives some general points of interest. Most of the details can be found on my course syllabus too. Items that I include: my education/degrees, my district stats (how long I have been in the district, what course(s) I have taught / am teaching, extra curricular involvement, etc), my website and a list of items that can be found on it, course topics (typically chapter titles), course description, grade breakdown, and a short letter about support from home.
  • Some years I have passed around a page for parents to "sign in" on for my records. This year, I experimented with giving each parent a small slip of paper to fill out and turn in as they left. The slip asked for their name, student's name, their email, course, and a spot for questions/comments. I was able to reply via email back to any questions/comments/concerns. 
It is my mission to accomplish 3 main things at Open House (keep in mind I only get 10ish minutes for each class):
  1. About me - I like parents to see my personality and learn a little more about my background.
  2. Grades - In my experience, parents like to hear firsthand about how grades are calculated and what is expected.
  3. My portal/website - It is important to me to highlight the many resources available on my portal.
Another Open House is in the books, folks! Onto the next big event...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tech Tip: StarBoard

I am very fortunate to be able to teach from a StarPanel (also known as a StarBoard) in my classroom. If you ever have a chance to use one or get one for your room, it has changed my life!

The one I have is made by Hitachi, but there are many out there!
It comes with a pen to use, and you write on it just like you would on a tablet. I am able to pull up PowerPoints, Word docs, websites, anything ... and I just start writing. You can change colors, insert images, play interactive games, etc. and it hooks directly to a projector so whatever you do is seen by your students instantaneously! I personally like this better than the SmartBoard, but they both function very similarly. All that I do, I save to a PDF, and upload to my website! It's perfect!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tech Tip: Power Point

I teach mostly from Power Point slides, and I receive many questions about where I get the backgrounds from... {drum roll}

Highly recommended!!! :) My students LOVE guessing what the new one will be each day!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bulletin Board #3

On to my last "bulletin board." I am very fortunate to have a white board and a Star Panel in my classroom that are used as my primary way of teacher. SOOOOO... in reality, my 3rd bulletin board is really a chalkboard and I have converted.

The border, quotes, titles, etc. are all mounted with this amazing supply...  I cute the business card magnets down to size. They are super easy to apply (peel and stick)... voila!

On the left side, I placed a bunch of quotes relating to kindness, respect, and paying it forward. I am a major quote collector, and I worked really hard to find profound quotes from notable people. Each quote is laminated with magnets on the back.

In the middle is a section for NEWS! I update it once a week or so with notable events or activities going on at school. Some items I include: games, theater/arts productions, assemblies, speakers, college visits, etc. It is also a great place for general school announcements.

On the right side is my spot to highlight birthdays. Sometimes birthdays tend to be unintentionally forgotten because it is high school and most teachers have 120+ students on a given day. This is my way to remember birthdays and individually recognize my students. I want them to feel remembered. At the beginning of the year I either print (from our grade book program) their birthdays or have them fill out their birthdays on an information sheet. Then, each month, I update this portion of the board with the date in chronological order followed by their names.
Thanks to Pinterest, each student gets a pencil and a sticker on their bday! :)

The news and birthday posters were bought from a local school supply store. I laminated them, and they are 100% dry erase worthy now! :)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Bulletin Board #2

I stumbled upon this awesome invention... dry erase paper!
Available at or your local school supply store
I don't peel off the backing, rather I staple them directly to my bulletin board (see below). Even better - I have been able to make a set last for a whole year! Major cost saver... who doesn't like that?!

It took me awhile to determine the best way to post daily objectives and homework, and this is my fix! I have one dry erase paper per day per class. It's as easy as can be to write up the details for the week and erase on Friday. LOVE IT!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Bulletin Board #1

Even as a high school teacher, bulletin boards can make a BIG difference to send a welcoming message to students. The challenge is to try to make the bulletin boards not look "elementary-themed". Here's some examples of how I decorated my bulletin boards this year...

Starting with my color scheme--
black background and these boarder/accent colors!

Then, comes what to put on them --

I usually change these one a month or once every few weeks.

Also changed every month or so.

Puzzles or problem-solving questions are on each pencil, and the answers are inserted into Library Book Envelopes hidden from view until the students are ready to check their answer

Comics that I have collected over the years.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tech Tip: Schoology

Schoology is a great tool for spreading learning beyond the classroom! While schools are able to purchase use of Schoology to integrate with their grading/attendance/etc programs, it is also completely FREE for teachers (and also FREE for students) who do not have that option!

What is so special about Schoology?
- It looks just like Facebook (and operates similarly too)
- Students receive a "newsfeed" with highlights from courses on Schoology
- Dynamic Discussions, Posts, etc.
- The ability to "like" items or share comments
- Mass announcements

Monday, August 20, 2012


Ok, I will admit it, I have a bit of an obsession with office-related supplies. My newest purchase for this school year is... a laminator!
Already it has been used to get all sorts of items ready for my classroom! I wasn't sure how much I would use it, but I am super surprised! HIGHLY RECOMMEND! Mine is by Scotch, and I got it at the Back-To-School Sale at Target for $29.99. I have heard that you can get similar ones for even cheaper at Costco! All you have to get is the laminating pouches and you are set! Even though it will laminate up to 8.5x11", it is totally worth it! Go get one - you won't regret it!


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tech Tip: Classroom Website

At my school, teachers are encouraged to maintain a classroom "portal" or website to adapt to education in this day and age. My portal serves as a primary part of my class, and I recommend my students check it at least once a day. Not only does it help parents stay in touch with what is going on in class, it tremendously helps with students are absent. They know the portal is the first place to look.

Things I keep on my portal:
  1. Announcements
  2. Calendars 
    1. Learning targets
    2. Daily notes (with my actual handwriting)
    3. Homework
    4. Answer keys, when necessary
  3. Textbook links
    1. Extra practice
    2. Online textbook
  4. Helpful links that I have collected over the years about a variety of topics both subject specific and more general
  5. School news
  6. Department news
  7. Parent tips and links
  8. Countdowns
  9. Extra credit submission forms
  10. Blank power point slides that they can print prior to class to allow them to focus upon the content instead of feverishly writing
I strongly recommend the use of GoogleSites to maintain a classroom website. All you need is a free gmail account. My school uses Google as our platform, so our email, portals, docs, etc. are all integrated; however, you can always create a free gmail account devoted solely to your classroom. After having created many GoogleSites over the years for both myself and others, I find it to be extremely user-friendly.

No matter what platform you use to maintain a class website, it has paid off ten-fold for me in a number of ways. I find that my students are MUCH more accountable and responsible. They appreciate how I tentatively plan in advance so they know what to expect (especially if they anticipate an absence). Parents like that they can get online and see the notes to better help their students at home if they have questions. In the world of "connected-ness" I would say, give a classroom website a try!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What's In Your Bag?

Every year there is one thing that causes SO MUCH excitement. SO MUCH research. Something that I must do... put together / organize my teacher bag! I have to admit, most years this also includes buying a new one! What pattern? How many pockets? How can I better stay organized!?

This year, I will be sporting the "Vera" bag by Vera Bradley. After much deliberation, I decided on the "Indigo" pattern. Check out the other awesome Vera Bradley bags here -

Things in my bag...

:: Color folder jackets from Staples - these are awesome to keep different periods' grading separated while minimizing any chance of losing things.
:: Ink Joy colored pens for grading - I don't like to always grade in red, so I usually change up the color pretty regularly.
:: Stickers - I have been stunned by how excited my high school students get when they have a sticker on their test. I buy stickers in bulk! It cracks me up how they will carefully peel off the stickers and put them on a binder or folder. Even my seniors... :) These Dr. Seuss ones were a big hit!

:: Binder Clips - I am a little obsessed with "fun" binder clips. I clip EVERYTHING (even if I am putting it in a folder). I haven't lost student work yet ;)

:: Flash Drive - My flash drive is my life. I don't save anything to my actual school computer it always gets saved to my flash drive. Best invention!
:: Portable External Hard Drive - You were probably thinking that I was pretty risky just saving my "stuff" to my flash drive, but have no fear... I also carry a portable external hard drive that I back the flash drive up to regularly. It's just a tad bigger than the size of a digital camera and is super lightweight. Highly recommended!

:: Calculator - As a math teacher, it is a must :)

:: Perfume - Never hurts to reapply halfway through the day.

:: Advil Liquid Gels - Ah-maze-ing! Who doesn't get the occasional headache at work?

:: Notebook - I am known to make lists or take notes all of the time. Often I resort to my notebook if I need to do some math, want to make a to-do list, etc. Comes in handy when technology is not always available.

:: School keys / ID - A must.

:: Snack - I usually throw some almonds or a granola bar in my bag along with a bottle of water.

I'm sure I am forgetting a few things that I put in my bag, but these are the biggies!

What do you put in your school bag?