Category Archives: Teaching

Earning Badges

Our Head of Middle School, Chip Houston, issued a blogging challenge to the whole school faculty.  We were to blog 10 times in 12 days.  I’ve made it and earned a blogger badge! I didn’t think I’d really care about the badge, but I realized I do care.  It’s like the badges on my Fitbit.  At first I thought they were silly.  Then, I wanted more and more badges.  One time, after a big hike at Lake Tahoe and getting 125 flights of stairs, I was determined to get the next badge for stairs.  I hiked up out of the parking lot to the road so I’d get more flights of stairs.  My hubby drove the car alongside me in case I decided I was done.  The park ranger stopped to make sure I was ok and that my hubby wasn’t a creeper! ha! Then, when we got back to the hotel, I had surpassed the 150 flights and was so close to the next one, that I walked the stairs up to my room.  All to get to the next badge level.

I’m now wondering how badging impacts students.  Do they care? Do they want badges like I want badges? Do you have to be a competitive person to want a badge? Because, I’m a pretty competitive person.

Thanks, Chip, for inspiring me & challenging me to blog!  I’ve learned a lot about myself and now have archived some important learning for my teaching.

Assessment, Grading, & Reporting Thoughts for 2016-2017

One of my favorite educational topics is assessment.  It astounds me how little time is given to assessment, grading, and reporting in Teacher Ed programs when it is something that is of major importance in our job.  I have been a user of SBG for many years and have posted on it previously here, here, here, and here.  Below is my initial brainstorming for next year.  I welcome & encourage feedback! How do you grade and report? Does your department or school have requirements you must follow?

Mathews 2016-2017 Assessment Thoughts

IB 7 point scale – think I will need to convert to 100 pt scale due to Power School and parent/student understanding since I’d be the only one doing this.

One idea (Sources at bottom of this post give excellent IB descriptors): Note: I was reading that in the UK they start with 40 and move up instead of like the US starting with 100 and moving down. This makes me think of my “write your name for 50 points” as a way to circumvent the US 100 point scale which means less than 1/3 of available points are actually passing grades.

IB 100 point
7 100
6 90
5 85
4 75
3 68
2 60
1 40


  • Trend in grades vs. average in grades?
  • Tests, projects, and homework quizzes are only grades in powerschool
  • Tests have an overall rubric grade, not that each question is worth a certain number of points.
    • This is part of what will require a conversion to a 100 point scale
    • Could I use Haiku for the 1-7 scale & feedback, and then put in powerschool the 100 point conversion?
    • Students may request to retake a test.  This will be true of all tests, except the final exam.  There will be substantial work required to prove a student is ready to sit for the test again. Re-test will be on a specific date/time only, and will be outside of class.
  • Homework quizzes will also have an overall rubric grade
    • Due to low % of students completing homework, I will institute HW quizzes. HW quizzes will be short (2-3 questions) after something has been in the HW more than once to make sure students are understanding the practice work.  Questions will be taken from or very similar to the HW.  This will be a low % in the gradebook, more of an accountability piece for students (which I hate, loathe, detest).  Pop quiz or not pop quiz? Maybe both?
  • My typical SBG quizzes will be formative and without grades – potentially do the heat sheet or rubric grades in Haiku
  • Tests must be cumulative.
  • How would this fit with current math team grading guidelines?  My test grades would be higher than the % range, though would fall within the combined test/quiz % range.  Would it be acceptable if I’m prototyping, so mine is slightly different than others?  I will be teaching two stand alone classes, does that help?  Need to talk to math team about this and get their feedback.
  • How do I want to include the descriptors for behavioral items?  Would that be a standard way I would write mid-term comments; comments address the work habits rubric (1-4 scale – see the Leading school through Transformation Change link)?  Could I somehow meld the work habits and MVPS mindsets or the 4C’s work done by iD?  The source below about MYP grading has some good details about work habits descriptors and rubrics.
  • How much of this do I want hammered out before school starts and how much am I willing to allow student choice/voice/agency?  Does a syllabus have to be finalized on the first day of class?  Or can a teacher and students have a framework and figure out the details together?  Is it more appropriate to have Hon PreCalc have more voice & choice than Hon Alg 2 due to age & maturity of students? Scaffolding to learn how to make those types of decisions?  1st project of the year – create an ideal grading schematic? Would too many go traditional because it is what they “know”?
  • What if I use a 0-4 scale instead of 1-7?  Students and parents are more familiar with those scales.  I’m thinking 0, 1, 2, 3, 3.5, 4.  I have descriptors from my SBG rubric but I could do a combo of those descriptors and the IB descriptors.
0-4 Scale 100 point scale
4 100
3.5 92
3 85
2 70 or 75 (Would this be different for Hon vs. CP?)
1 50 or 60 (I like 50 better than 60)
0 0


Summer Reading List from a Nerdy Math Teacher

Reading is one of my favorite past times.  During the school year, it’s difficult to do as much as I would like, because teaching.

I have created my “dream” reading list for this summer. Most are about math teaching, a couple about theology & faith, one required by admin, and one just for pleasure.


All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – started last summer and never finished!

Theology & Faith:

Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind by Mark Noll

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll

Required by Admin (all K-12 Ts are reading this and writing one PBL Unit by August):

Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning by John Larmer, John Mergendoller, and Suzie Boss

Math Teaching:

CPM Algebra 2 – piloting this year, correlating to our learning outcomes

CPM PreCalculus – piloting this year, correlating to our learning outcomes

What’s Math Got To do With It by Jo Boaler

Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler

Accessible Mathematics by Steve Leinwand

On Your Mark by Thomas R. Guskey (not math, it’s about grading & reporting)

What are you planning to read this summer? I need more pleasure reading books and would love suggestions.

Integrated Math vs. Traditional Pathway

I’m on a “STEAM Team” at my school for the next year.  We are looking at ways to include more STEM/STEAM offerings and what kind of changes, if any, we should make in our Science and Math curriculum.  I’m the math teacher representative on this team and my awesome colleague, Dr. Brande Jones, is the science teacher representative.  Brande and I have been talking quite a bit about both integrated science and math.  She already teaches her Bio classes in an integrated manner, including Chem as that is natural to her, she is a BioChem major.  However, this isn’t done formally at our school, nor throughout the science classes.

I have been interested in Integrated Math for a while, especially since that is how the majority of countries teach math.  The State of Georgia implemented Integrated Math a few years ago, and it didn’t go well.  I’m working on trying to find out why it wasn’t successful.  This article from Education Week (2014) helps a bit and has a quote from the Fulton County Superintendent that makes it clear the planning was done poorly.  A 2015 Education Week article states that West Virginia has given up mandating Integrated Math as well.  However, it doesn’t state why it failed.

Our math consultant tweeted a few ideas as to why Integrated Math isn’t always a success:

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How about you?  Do you have experience with Integrated Math – good or bad?  How have you seen it implemented well? poorly? Thanks for any insights!

What’s Homework (Individual Practice) Got To Do With It?

For the last 4 years I’ve taught primarily 9th and 10th grade students at an Independent School in Atlanta.  Before that, I was at a parochial school in Northern California.  Both situations have allowed me some latitude in trying new things, including grading and assessment.  I’ve been doing SBG for about 5 years now.  That has also meant moving to not grading homework, even for completion as is common for math teachers.  This past year, I did grade homework (only 5%) for my Algebra 2 CP class as another teacher also taught Algebra 2 CP and we wanted our grading to be similar.

A problem of practice that we both encountered was a small percentage of students actually even attempting their homework.  While there are always a few students with this struggle, I have never seen it so large, including with my Honors classes.  It was common for both of us to arrive at class and no more than 1/3 of the students had attempted their homework, both in the CP classes and Honors classes.

When I would ask students about this, the common response was that they had homework that counted for more of a grade in their other classes, so that was their priority.  Even though they would acknowledge that doing their individual practice work would greatly help them in understanding the material and on assessments, behavior didn’t change.  They would rather not do the homework, see how they did on a quiz, and then retake the quiz over and over if necessary.  As expected, this created a horrible cycle for them and me.  I didn’t assign a lot of homework, I mostly stuck to Steve Leinwand‘s 2-4-2 recommendation for a total of 8 problems.

I made modifications throughout the year to try and change this negative cycle.  Change #1 was to require students to fill out a form for a retake and do 3 separate learnings to be eligible for a  retake.  This didn’t make many changes to the cycle and students, quite frankly, lied and made up the separate learnings.  Next, I changed it so that if they wanted to take a retake, all the homework for that unit needed to be turned in.  So, they just stopped doing retakes altogether.  Again, this isn’t the result I was going for.  I tried having students coming in to make up homework during Enrichment/tutorial, but not all would show up.  Additionally, I don’t think I should need to force my students into doing their homework and take away my time from the students who really want my help.

How do others handle this? How do you motivate students to do homework? This cohort of students has similar struggles in other classes – how do we encourage change across the board for a cohort that has a lack of motivation?


Interleaving and spacing practice

How might we help students with learning and remembering without giving them 30 of the same math exercises each night? 

This is a question that I had pondered for a while.  I really enjoy reading about cognition, so in addition to my cognition book for grad school, I was also reading “Why Don’t Students Like School?” by Daniel Willingham (@DTWillingham) and “Make It Stick” by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel.  The topics of interleaving and spacing practice kept coming up.  While it is more difficult for learners, it helps increase the “stickiness” of what they are learning.  Willingham states, “But something else does protect against forgetting: continued practice” (p. 117).

Interleaving is the opposite of how most math teachers assign practice work.  Typically, math teachers assign massed practice – students work out examples that are all on the same topic.  Interleaving is mixing up the topics. This is much harder and slower for learners initially.  From Make It Stick, “…research shows unequivocally that mastery and long-term retention are much better if you interleave practice than if you mass it” (p. 50).

Spacing is what it sounds like, spreading out practice instead of cramming.  If you will study for 3 hours, it’s better to space out that 3 hours instead of doing it all at once the night before a test.  You will forget less and remember longer by spacing.  More from Willingham, “If, on the other hand, you study in several sessions with delays between them, you may not do quite as well on the immediate test but, unlike the crammer, you’ll remember the material longer of the test” (p. 119).  Spacing is for the long term.  As a teacher, I want my students to remember for the long term.  The math they are doing in my class will continue to be built upon in future coursework.

Catalyst for change

Even with reading about this in 3 different books, I still hadn’t made any changes to the practice work I assigned to my students.  Then in November 2014 I attended the NCSM Regional Conference in Richmond, VA and heard Steve Leinwand (@steve_leinwand) speak for the first time.  (If you’ve never heard him live, I highly recommend rectifying that situation!)  Steve also spoke about spacing, interleaving, and giving students no more than 8 practice problems per night.  That was it, I was sold.  I couldn’t escape that I was being directed to change my assignments.  I try to have one major takeaway from any conference that I implement immediately – changing how I did practice was done my first day back at school after the conference.  I told students what I was doing and why.

Here is how it looks (typically) in my classroom.

New Unit:

Day 1 – 8 problems – 4 are low-level on the new material, 2 are medium-level on review material, 2 are high-level on review material

Day 2 – 8 problems – 4 are low-level on the new material, 2 are medium-level on Day 1 material, 2 are high-level on review material

Day 3 – 8 problems – 4 are low-level on the new material, 2 are medium-level on Day 2 material, 2 are high-level on Day 1 material

This pattern repeats throughout the unit.  It cuts down on end of unit review time because we’ve been reviewing all unit long.  Additionally, we use ALEKS & I would assign some exercises on ALEKS that were review.  I could see details of each student with each topic and use the weak topics as our warm up the next day in class.  New this year: our math team has agreed to have all unit tests include some amount of material from previous units.  We are hoping this shows students the importance of remembering what they’ve learned.

If you want to read more on this, I recommend the 3 books listed at the top of this blog post.  In addition, read anything and everything by the incomparable Henri Picciotto (@hpicciotto). He has an excellent post on how he lags practice.  I haven’t done lagging that way, yet!  Finally, you may want to check out the #eduread thread on Twitter.  A conversation I had there last week inspired this blog post!