Thursday, October 18, 2012


I saw @jreulbach's foldable for order of operations and just loved the idea of using the mnemonic GEMS versus using PEMDAS.

Foldable from

To me it just seemed to point out that multiply and divide are on one level of the steps and subtract and add are on the same level.  The fact that the mnemonic also has a visual shape that goes along with what your problem looks like when you show your work clearly is simply brilliant.  I used to say your work should like an upside-down pyramid, but now I can say show your GEMS!

While I loved Julie's foldable, we have a binder system that I have to follow and resources etc. need to be 3-hole punched and put into the binder section for each class.  So, I made a 2-sided resource for the students to add to their math section.  So far it seems to be catching on.  I had a student today tell me that they remembered to show their GEMS.

SIDE 1 of GEMS Resource

SIDE 2 of GEMS Resource

We'll call this a made4math even though it isn't Monday!  If I waited until Monday, it may never have been blogged!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Grade/Age Equivalents are NOT numbers!

I'd like to share a pet peeve. While reviewing the intake materials on one of our new students, I came across his most recent triennial report in which the report was a canned summary from the Woodcock Johnson computer program (this is a whole other issue for me) and the test scores shared by the special educator were age and grade equivalents.  I could not believe that the ONLY scores this special educator shared were the age and grade equivalents.

My soapbox. Except I wear cuter shoes!

Why was this a problem for me?

Age and Grade Equivalents are NOT real numbers. They look like numbers, they sound like numbers, but they are not numbers. Please don't treat them like numbers. They are impostors.

What can an age or grade equivalent tell you about a student's performance? Not much. Say a student is in grade 8.2 (eighth grade, second month of school) and they earn a grade equivalent of 6.8 on the calculation test of the Woodcock Johnson III.  This DOES NOT mean that this student is 1.4 grades behind in calculation.  Why? Because they are not real numbers, so you can't do math with them like they are real numbers. All you know is that they earned the same number of corrects as the average student in the 6th grade, eighth month in the norm sample.  Chances are that a 6.8 in calculation will fall within the average range for and eighth grader once you look at their percentile score or standardized testing scores.

Say this same student was tested last year and his calculation score was a grade equivalent of 4.2.  Can I say that he made 2.6 grades of improvement in calculation? NO. Why? Because age/grade equivalents are NOT real numbers and should not be treated like numbers.

So why are they used? I think they are used because some people think that parents understand age/grade equivalents better than percentile or standard scores.  I think that they offer a false sense of understanding and it is way more valuable to educate parents on standard scores.  If you'd like scores that really are numbers and can be used to compare for progress purposes, use standard scores.

Repeat after me. "Age and grade equivalents are NOT real numbers."

*steps off soapbox*

Sunday, September 2, 2012

From a Distance


"I cannot judge my work while I am doing it. I have to do as painters do, stand back and view it from a distance, but not too great a distance. How great? Guess."  

I work with challenging students.  All of my students have been identified with some sort of learning disability.  I have students on the autistic spectrum, students with dyslexia, students with anxiety, students with language and writing disorders, students with ADHD, ODD, NVLD and a variety of other alphabet soup.  In addition to whatever their particular labeled disorder my students, like all students, vary in their interest and motivation.

The beginning of every school year is much the same.  Some time in late July or early August I find out what I will (probably) be teaching.  I also get an idea of who might be in my classes.  I start planning, usually in a vague, nonspecific way.  I've learned not to get to invested in those ideas until the end of our training week when I can be slightly more certain of the what and who I'll be teaching.  I over plan for the first week of classes, stressing myself out because I don't yet know the dynamic of my classes and it is always better to have more than not enough.

I can anticipate the cycle of the year.  After the first couple weeks, I'll know my classes better. I'll be shocked at what they don't know. I'll be frustrated about what they didn't retain (especially those I taught last year), but I'll get in a groove and good things will start happening.  The end of the first quarter will happen before I know it. I'll be disappointed because we are behind. I'll be frustrated because I know they can do more.  I'll brainstorm new and different ways to attack their challenges.  And I'll push them hard.  

I'll blink and it will be Christmas. I'll be tired and grateful that it will be time for a break. I'll be a bit disgusted with the continuing struggles in my classes.  I'll brainstorm new and different ways to motivate the couch potatoes and I'll try another way to attack those concepts that still elude us.  We'll come back from break and I'll push them hard. We'll review and revise and practice and prepare.  Then there will be midterm exams. I'll be pleasantly surprised at the improvement of some students and angry with myself for the confusion of others.  

I'll brainstorm new and different ways to try to help them understand, to connect with the material, to become more independent students.  And I'll push them hard. Sometimes they'll push back and tell me they hate math and tell me they can't do it. So I'll be gentle and push them hard with soft hands. 

And this cycle will continue until we are somehow past the unending days in March, through another break and start in April, and have reached the end of May sliding into June.  The whole way pushing hard and expecting more than they want to give sometimes.  And I will catch myself still being disappointed that I couldn't do more, that it wasn't enough.  Then will come the end of the year graduation and awards ceremony where we celebrate the achievements of each and every individual student.  

Then I get the opportunity to step back. To remember where we were in late August and to see where we ended in June.  Then I get to be amazed at how much we accomplished and how much was learned and how much my students grew as learners over the school year.  And for the moment, I can appreciate the beauty in what I get to do each year.

And then I'll start brainstorming how I can do even better next year.

Monday, August 27, 2012

I do not think this means what you think it means...

Going into my 15th year as a teacher in my present school, I have participated in many, many professional development sessions.  We have 5 days before each school year, 2 full days during the year, and an hour and a half every single Friday.  While I can't say that every one has been essential, meaningful, and valuable to me, I can say that for the most part as a participant I feel my school's PD generally has the best of intentions to be purposeful and relevant to the school's needs and the needs of its students.

Tuesday's afternoon session was an exception.  This session was as out of place and as wanted as okra in the Northeast.  On our schedule it indicated that the topic of the session was on Bullying (awareness and prevention - not how to be a better one).  The presenter was from the outside world (i.e. not my school). This generally perks everyone up as novelty is preferable to the same typical voices that present our PD (mine include).

I was almost immediately confused. I really couldn't tell how the presenter was going to work from his introduction into bullying awareness and prevention.  Well, he didn't. He never touched on it.  The presentation turned out to be on peer-led conflict resolution.  After a half hour my brain finally shifted out of "this is supposed to be about bullying prevention" and opened to actually listen about what was being presented.  While in theory much of what was presented seems like it might work in a larger, public school setting I really couldn't see how this process could work with the systems we already had in place and with the language/cognitive challenges of our students.

The one bright spot in the training was the playing roles of students from (actual) scenarios we had contributed. My favorites included:

  • the poorly received assistance from an avuncular upper clansman and resulting hurt feelings
  • the vainglorious drama-seeking-center-of-attention-hogging-mean-girls and their rotating exclusion of each other
  • explosive-red-head and his paranoid response to what he thought was name calling, but turned out to be an unrelated discussion about an orangutan and his red butt
And the best
  • Hemmingway-esque student with economic use of words and understated style of speaking tries to help low-energy-work-avoidant student take responsibility for his actions.  This particular scenario caused our outside presenter to become so frustrated with the lack of resolution being brought about that he declared "this kid needs help desperately" and the entire role playing group laughed and said "ya think?"

I'm thinking I probably will not find and everyday use for this particular training, but I did come out with a few labels/terms that may help me articulate some problem solving in the future.  My favorite term was in the materials on what escalates conflict.  Conflict archaeology is when a student throws in stuff that happened from the dawn of time causing an increase in the complexity of the current conflict. This often derails productive conversation because they are no longer discussing the present issue. I have been victim to this.

Maybe our presenter doesn't know what Bullying Awareness means.  Or maybe some lines got crossed and he misunderstood what he was asked to present.  Either way, I'm thinking we will be having some professional development on Bullying Prevention and Awareness as this is a state required topic to be addressed yearly.  Perhaps it will be the same day we review procedures for blood-born pathogens.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What's in a name?

New Blogger Initiative

A group of experienced folks in mathmagic land decided that it would be awesome-sauce to help kickstart others into the world of blogging and put out a challenge. I responded to that challenge committed to the new blogger initiative to help get me on the road.  Each week for four weeks newbs like me will respond to a prompt (or prompts) emailed to them.

This week the prompt I picked was: Where does the name of your blog originate? Why did you choose that?(Bonus follow up: Why did you decide to blog?)

I originally set up my blog last summer (2011), but as I generally feel more comfortable keeping myself to myself, I really never got up the gusto to actually put anything out there.  My original intention was to use my blog like a personal journal of sorts to help reflect upon what was happening in my classroom.  I thought that by documenting what was or wasn't working in my classroom, I would be able to improve upon my practice.  Also, I felt that the act of writing (typing) things out might help to clarify my thinking.  
image from

With the intention of the blog really meant for personal reflection, I wanted a name that incorporated that idea and was mathy as well.  The blog is like looking in the mirror at myself and looking at the reflection with a critical eye.  This idea made me think about axes of reflection in geometry.  And so a blog was born and named.  

And that was all the blog was for a loooooonnnnnggg time. It wasn't until Made 4 Math Monday that I actually put anything into the blog.  I felt that I had been lurking and reading and benefiting from the marvelous mathtwitterblogosphere and that perhaps it was time to contribute something back to that community. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Magazine holders and Binder Clip Labels

It's been a very busy week.  Along with some changes in my job and some new job titles I have a new office.  I will be coordinating all the testing of students and of course all the testing materials.  I inherited a crazy mess and with the help of Pinterest (here and here) have tidied it up.


It did not occur to me to take a before picture until I had emptied most of the shelves, but these two shelves are pretty representative of what was there.


The top two shelves were organized using magazine holders from Ikea.  At 5 for $1.99 they were a steal.  I made labels in Photoshop elements using digital scrapbooking paper.  I love the coordinating, uniform look of them!


Underneath I organized materials using a Fellowes literature organizer.  Each cubby is labeled with a binder clips.  We use alternating forms for many tests, so year 1 is green and the alternating year is blue.    Tests without alternate forms have black binder clips.  I used Avery 5366 file folder labels and modified the word template so that they were only 1.25 inches wide (the width of the binder clips) and then I trimmed them with scissors.

In addition to the clearing of the shelf, I've also cleared out and organized a file cabinet full of stuff.  It feels much better now that everything is organized!

Edited to add:  The other great thing about using the binder clips is that the last copy of any form is clipped to the shelf so that no one can claim they "accidentally" took the last one.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Made 4 Math - Digi-Organization

I finally found out my schedule for this coming school year.  It is more special educationish and less mathish than my schedule has been the last few years.  But with that information in hand, I was able start getting my stuff organized for the upcoming year.

Each year the school provides a planner/gradebook like this:

I attempted to use it years ago, but it did not work for me. I've made paper templates for a planner and used them with limited success.  I thought about developing a database in Access to manage these things, but it was too much and I gave up. I tried out Planbook software, but it was just too much stuff and not quite what I wanted.  I have been using an excel spreadsheet for my gradebook and I've mostly liked it.

For this week's Made 4 Math Monday I decided that what I really want is for my planner and gradebook and all my notes and organizational thinking to be put together in one place and the only way to make that happen was to make it myself.  Enter Bento.  Bento is a super simple database program. It is not a relational database, so it is limited in what is can do.  I like that it is simple and that it has iPhone and iPad versions. I'm thinking if this works successfully I will probably buy those and work out how to have the data sync/share appropriately.  I downloaded the free trial of Bento, but will have to pony up the purchase price should I actually implement this as my trial period expires before school starts.  So far I like and dislike the simplicity of the program, but think I might find it useful.

I have done some preliminary work and here are some screenshots of what I have so far.


My launch-off point is the view of all the tables I created and put in the 2012-2013 School Year folder.  

Daily Planner

We have an 8 period day (plus a period for lunch).  My planner form has space for all my classes (some periods I teach two different courses) and room to jot down plans/meetings/to dos for my preparation periods.  Sizes were adjusted for the typical amount of space I figure I'll need to jot down the overview of what I plan on doing.  Preparation periods are slimmer, content classes beefier.  I've created records for each day of the year and included important calendar information in the notes section.

Quarter Long Range Planner

My school requires us to complete a long-range plan for each quarter to submit to the principal so that she knows generally what each class should be doing should a parent or LEA (Local Education Agency) call to enquire about what a particular kiddo is working on.  This form provides a space to generally describe what will happen each week in the first quarter in a class. I've already created a record for each class I'll be teaching.

Daily Notes

I'm not sure how useful this particular form will be, but I wanted a place to record random tidbits, things to remember, and notes to myself.  I have a feeling this will go by the wayside once I get overwhelmed, but I'm going to give it a try.

Objective Data

As a special educator, I need to keep data on student progress on their IEP goals and objectives.  This form gives me a space to record objectives and data each quarter.  I have a feeling that I'll need to enlarge the data boxes as time progresses, but for now the arrangement felt pleasing to my eye.


I am least satisfied with my Gradebook template.  This is where some of the limitations of Bento are annoying me.  It limits in the spacing of the cells and limits in the types of calculations it performs. Also, since it is not a relational database I can't have it automatically take values from one table to be used in another.  For each assignment, a student receives an initial grade.  It is my school's policy that students fix or error repair grades that show poor understanding or poor quality work (less than 80 percent generally).  During the first quarter I average their initial score with their improved score.  This average is the grade that counts.  On a positive, I can export the data to excel, so if I hate it and it is unmanageable, I can always revert to the excel gradebook I have used in the past.  I'm giving this a go because I really want one central place to keep all my data.

I don't know if any of this is helpful to anyone else as one of the major reasons I've created it is that the many unique quirks of my particular school make using others' stuff unwieldy.  We have an eight period day, my largest class is 9 students this year, I teach two classes some periods, and I have job responsibilities outside of my teaching that I need to keep track of.  All of this compelled me to customize.  I'm hoping it will work for me!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Binder Clips and Drawer Organizers

Made for Math Monday #made4math

Project 1: Scrapbook Covered Binder Clips.

The first project I did this week was to make scrapbook paper covered binder clips.  I'm a sucker for binder clips and pretty things. This was a natural combination.  The first time I saw this was when my principal gave me a giant one as a gift a few years ago.  I also pinned a few on Pinterest this week (here and here).

So the first thing I did was raid the desk downstairs to find that I am a hoarder when it comes to office supplies.  I had a ridiculous number of binder clips!  I had two sizes, I think they are medium and small.

Then I raided my scrapbook supplies. Again, I have a ridiculous amount of stuff given that I transitioned from paper scrapping to digital scrapping somewhere before I had my second child.

Supplies: Binder Clips, Paper, Scissors, Mod Podge & a paint brush

I cut the scrap paper into rectangles of 1.25" by about 2" for the medium size and .75" by about 1.25" for the small size.

Then using a small paint brush I coated the binder clip with Mod Podge.  I carefully applied the paper, tucking it into one end and then the other.  I smoothed the middle part last.

I now have a bunch of pretty binder clips!  The container is a reused medium apothecary jar from Kringle Candle.

Project 2: Drawer Organizers for my Desk.

So, this is a picture of my top left desk drawer before.  I was going to only do this drawer, but then I decided that the center drawer must be done as well. I forgot to take a picture of the center drawer, but believe me it was WORSE! (I found a keyboard for my Palm m500 which came out in 2001ish)  

Supplies: Cardboard boxes (cereal boxes, copy paper box, K-cup boxes, etc), Packing tape, Scissors, Wrapping Paper, Mod Podge, & Scissors

I started by measuring the dimensions of the two drawers.  Using those dimensions I created the outside box.  The deep drawer was made from the lid of a copy paper box and the shallow drawer was from an Ikea box that held a slipcover.  

Then I laid out my stuff in the boxes. Onces I liked the arrangement I made compartments from the assortment of boxes.  I used the packing tape to attach them to each other and to the larger box.

The last step was to cover it up and make it pretty.  I used a roll of wrapping paper from the dollar store and Mod Podge.

Organizers Covered

Organizers Filled
I must say that I enjoy opening the drawers to see how tidily arranged all my things are.  I don't know that I'd do this project again; it took way longer than I had anticipated.

Still in the works for next week is some digital organization.  I don't know what I'm teaching yet, but I'm hoping I'll know by then so I can tweak my organizers.

Monday, July 16, 2012

File folders, duct tape, and scissors. Oh my!

It's another Made 4 Math Monday!

For this week, I played with file folders and duct tape to make a hanging pocket folder.  This was inspired by this Monday Made It post.  I originally started with regular file folders and then had issues with how far to spread them out and measurements and other OCD-it-won't-be-perfect issues.  My intended use for the hanging file was for half sheet forms that we access daily and I just couldn't get the spread to work and look aesthetically pleasing.  Instead of scrapping the idea, I decided instead to use the slash pocket file folder separators that we use in the kids' three-ring binders at school because we have bunches and then I used the holes to help align how far they were separated.

I used 3 slash pocket folders.  I aligned the holes and then carefully flipped them over and used clear packing tape to tape them together.

I measured the diagonals.

Then I cut lengths of duct tape the size of the diagonal.  After, I cut the tape down the center to make two thinner strips.

I made marks a centimeter to the side of the pocket opening and then drew a line connecting the marks.

I lined the duct tape up along the line and then folded it over and tucked it behind the pocket opening.

I then covered the top, bottom, left, and right with the duct tape. I measured an inch around, drew lines and used it to line up the duct tape before pressing and folding it behind. I'm thinking that I will hang this one horizontally.

I made another intending to use it for full length sheets, but was not as excited about how the full length sheets fit. (Left and right side were only taped with 1/4 inch duct tape exposed to accommodate the width of a full sheet of paper) I was also not too excited about the way it looked with multiple colors. I tried to fix that by add the additional duct tape stripes, but it wasn't doing it for me.

So I repeated the process, but spread the folders out more.  This time I aligned the top of one folder to the bottom of the folder opening.  I liked the result much better.  (The folder color choice was made to coordinate to the three forms we use.)
I'm not sure how I'm going to hang them, as I don't know what I'm teaching or what rooms I'll be in yet.  So who knows if they'll be going up on cinder block or bulletin board? I think I may punch holes and use Command Hangers.  I'll post pictures when they finally find a home.

I also made pretty pens like @druinok did for the first Made 4 Math Monday.  I followed these directions along with druinok's measurements of .75" by 3.5".  Like @misscalcul8 I am matchy-matchy and had to use paper that coordinated with the pen color. I LOVE THESE.  What's awesome is that these pens will easily be identified as MINE!

I've got a couple other projects in the works, but they aren't complete enough to share yet.  I downloaded a trial copy of Bento and have been working on some digital goodness to keep me organized this coming year.  I've also been plotting some desk drawer organization, too.  I guess they'll have to wait until next Monday!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Starting a Blog & Made 4 Math Monday

So, I've been inspired to finally start a blog.  A great group of math tweeps have been posting ideas for their classrooms and I felt compelled to offer some ideas in return for all the awesomeness I have been stealing!

1.  Flash Cards

This past year I used Two Plus Two Is Not Equal To Five by Susan Greenwald to work on improving math fact fluency with my elementary leveled remedial math class (we were working on approximately 3rd grade level math skills).  This particular group could not even add on 1 to another number with any kind of automaticity.

What I really liked about this book was the way that it introduced a strategy (they called it a trick) with a name like number +1, or doubles, or in the middle.  The trick or strategy pointed out relationships in groups of facts and also gave them a label to attach to that strategy.

For my class, I made flash cards using index cards and a variety of colored sharpies.  I sent the card packs home with the kids to keep practicing over the summer.  The idea of making them again for next year seemed like a ridiculous amount of work.  Inspired by Made 4 Math Monday, I investigated and discovered that our color laser printer will print onto 3" by 5" index cards.  For the back I printed labels that include the answer and the name of the strategy.  I think they came out brilliantly and now I can print a set any time I want!

A copy of the file I made is here.

2.  An organizing folio

After viewing lots of the organizational ideas, I also thought I'd share something I made a few years ago. I made a folio to keep those papers I need to access often (school calendar, meeting lists, advisor lists, etc).  The holder is a Vera Bradley that I bought at Barnes & Noble. (From a quick search, it doesn't seem to be available anymore.)

 I pulled the notepad out of its backing and stapled in page protectors with the opening down.  I take this with me to everything like most of the teachers in the building take their planbook.  On the left hand side I keep a stash of small index cards and use them to write to dos and then put them into the slots at the top.