Being Student Centered

Being student centered is hard work. Sometimes, I hate it because it is exhausting. Study hall is a flurry of questions and noisy group work. I have to circulate to make sure everyone is on task. Groups of students want to draw out concepts on the board. Everyone wants retakes and has questions about # 34 on the homework. Exhausting. Some days, I just want to make it independent work and no one can talk so I can get some work done. I know it is best for the kids this way, but some days (especially during Teacher Appreciation Week), I just wish they would appreciate me and give me the courtesy of letting me sit at my desk. (Also, sometimes, I get tired of hearing my own name…)

Teaching is not convenient, nor is it relaxing. It is hard work. It is endless questions and retakes. It is “how do you do the quadratic formula again?” (or worse, “the quadratic formula? Whats’ that?”)

When I see a student working on a math problem that was not assigned, or a student trying to solve a pattern for the nth term, even when it is 8th hour and they had my class 3rd…it sort of makes it worth it. 

We love kids. Thats why we do it. We love their triumphs, and the failures that allow them to fall forward. We love their energy (even in May when it can be a little too much energy for my liking). They are why we do what we do. Seeing them succeed, write a college entrance essay…and get in, or make an awesome spread for the yearbook. Perhaps finally get a passing grade on that concept they have retaken 6 times…

The look on their faces…that is why we do it. 


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Lesson Makeover

I am working on my Master’s Project and I am working with the science department to help integrate the iPad into their classroom instruction. In the process, I am hoping to measure the increase of their confidence after doing some 1 on 1 professional development. So far, the responses have been really great. Students are more engaged, teachers feel that they are getting better discussion, and 

Biology Class:

Slide 1: Definition of entomology: the study of bugs. 
(teacher talks about definition, cites Webster)
Slide 2: Characteristics
(teacher talks about characteristics)
Slide 3: Examples/Pictures
(teacher talks about examples and pictures they selected.
Slide 4: Habits
(teacher talks about habits)

(silence from students)


Part 1: What is Entomology?
(students research the topic on the internet, rows compile a “top 10 list” of words that define “entomology”, send them to teacher via email)
Part 2: What are the Characteristics?
(while teacher makes a word cloud of “top 10’s”, students try to find the grossest bug on the internet. Curiosity ensues…it got pretty gross…)
Part 3: Discussion
Teacher posts word cloud over the projector, class discusses “top 10’s”…students interested because “hey, that was my word!”. Opportunities to discuss examples and non-examples provided.
Part 4: Examples/Pictures
(students show their examples over the projector – they are hideous – discussion about the given traits that make them gross/interesting/beautiful/crazy. Examples and non-examples included. Student choice, voice and interest involved. Discussion about traits/habits and general “insect stuff”. 

It went pretty well. Students are still talking about the difference between “that huge beetle” and “that awesome larvae”, as well as why that spider is not an insect…




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I just watched the Keynote to the CUE 2014 conference by Dan Meyer. It was an awesome reminder of the framework that we should use as teachers to guide our planning. Using perplexity and inherent questions to guide class discussion fosters real investment from students in ways that simply giving them the “punchline” can fall short.


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PD for PBL

Started working with the staff on PBL and this question:

“How we are going to make the leap from consumption to creation in the classroom?”

@adambellow and @justintarte offered this analogy:



Get your chef hats out, kids.

 How do we get our teachers there? 


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“Not a hint, just how do I do it?”

I showed my geometry students how to bisect and copy angles and segments. I also showed them how to make an equilateral triangle. (and therefore a 60 degree angle)

I gave them this challenge:


“No, no, what is the answer?”

“But, thats not how to do it, I want to know how to do it.”

Statements like these. Students want the formula or the process. I want them to evolve. To think. To wrestle. They did.

It was pretty cool. With little to no instruction, (except to point them to the strategies of bisection and copying angles of the previous class) most were able to overcome their fear of “but you didn’t tell us how to do it” and challenge their brain to think about angles, constructions and problem solving.

It was kinda cool.

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Pizza Hut Sliders

Student A: “If you use pizza, I actually pay attention”

Student B: “Did you factor in gas money into the price of the pizza?”


I think that is what we are all after. Kids with responses that have to do with the activity. 

This was kinda easy for them:

This was kinda hard:
(Well, interesting, at least)







They ended up making unit rates and pricing pizza per square inch. They even compared the first two in terms of pi to determine that the second was a better deal based upon the “number of pi’s”. Then I wrinkled it with composite area and a different price. It was way better than blackline. 

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“This is how I feel in math class”

So, I just had a student show this to me in my math class. She prefaced it, “this is how I feel in math class”.


I watched it. My heart sank. I asked her, “what about this is the way that you feel?”

“The last part. Where he is like…uhhhhh..yeah, I get it.” She continued, “Usually that is me and I just wait for [my table partner] to explain it to me.”

This is one of the students that is “good at school”.

Am I doing this right if that is how she feels?


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Closed Captioning

I had this idea. I wanted a great little video that showed a polygon (pentagon, hexagon) being broken into congruent triangles and flying around, then fade into a close-up of one of the triangles and  BAM! the formula appears, the area is found and the recently solved-for triangle with area reassembles with its duplicates to fill in the total shape. 

 Two hours later…I found something close.

Only one problem.

It is in Spanish.

So…I improvised. I had them do a “closed captioning activity” where they took the video in Spanish and made a tutorial set of instructions on “how to find the area of a polygon” using a set of screenshots that I put together and a 1:15 clip of this video

 I allowed them to re-watch as many times as necessary and I circulated to facilitate discussion of the concept. It was pretty awesome. They got the concept without words and they owned the process.

Here is how it worked: 

I had them watch 0:45 to 2:00 ( this video) and fill out the slides below (in groups) as they watched.





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Two Truths and a Lie

There is a game that my wife introduced me to that is called “Two Truths and a Lie”. You tell a group three statements about yourself, two truths and one lie. The more cunning and believable the better. 

A bad example:
1. I am a teacher.
2. I am a guy.
3. I am a multi-millionaire.

The group would guess which is the lie and they would probably guess #3. 

Here is a good example:

1. I have two degrees.
2. I went to two different colleges.
3. I have aspirations of skydiving someday.

A little sneakier, but it is still 3 that is false. I have no reason to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, but a group may not know that.

We were talking about verifying solutions to equations and I did this activity “Two truths and a Lie”. I used the game as a small group ice-breaker, giving them my personal example and after about 5 minutes, I let them loose with a set of 7 problems spread around the room. Here is an example:


I used a Google Form (distributed by QR code) to track responses. Here is a screenshot:


I will look at the data later to see how well they did. I had them work in partners, but report independently. They got a chance to talk about the process and argue over solutions, which was alright with me. 

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(Digital) Curriculum

Me and the digital curriculum:

I have a job. I teach math. I also dabble in the world of teacher technology integration. I have a love/hate relationship with it.

Things I love:
1. I love that technology opens doors for exploration and makes the world accessible to kids. 
2. I love that each student at my school has an iPad, I can expect a basal level of tech-savvy-ness, well, at very least, I can expect internet access at school.
3. I love the autonomy that I have to plan lessons and integrate technology as I see fit. 
4. Browsing Blogs. I love seeing other teachers make really cool stuff. Like the ones here. and here, and the list goes on. I get the opportunity to research them and integrate the technology that they use. 

Things I hate:
1. Questions like, “how do I turn this on” and statements like, “that thing never works for me” (when I have had it work before).
2. The number of ideas I get from other teachers that I do not have the time to honor with the proper execution in my own classes. 
3. Finding activities post-facto that would have been awesome. 
4. Doing kids a disservice by not providing them with something that helps them grow in some way. 

All that being said, I did a presentation for the teachers at my school about ipad integration, but it has become a motto for me for anything that I do in my classroom (at least, I aim for it to be for everything). It is a list of priciples that is being shaped by my research and reading, as well as the need for problems to be complex and engaging in this ever-changing world of technology and 1-to-1 thinking. 

Here is a summary:


I am trying to add to and tweak this list everyday as I work with kids and try to help them become lifetime learners. 

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