Silver Linings

It is hard to believe that this school year closes out in three weeks and it is challenging to describe this year in a brief statement. While the school year end is near it has also been a good time to reflect on a few positive changes that have happened.  Before turning our backs on this year it might be beneficial to see if there is a silver lining.  That potential silver lining has nuggets that will help with planning for a more usual 21-22 school year.

Here are a few ideas to ponder:

  • I am still planning on using digital platforms like Desmos and Nearpod to engage learners in review and math exploration.  Although screen time will be minimized compared to this year, I have found that teacher-paced digital decks have potential and the data that is collected in the process pays dividends for planning.  On multiple occasions I have found myself taking screenshots of student work or quickly writing a note in the chat about a certain element of a student’s response. 
  • Every year I find myself thinking about how to curate a more organized library of resources.  This year has encouraged me to be more critical in how I organize my Desmos decks.  I have been using mainly Sheets for this and am hoping to be able to quickly retrieve this resource for certain skill next school year.
  • Along with the curation of materials, I believe local assessment practices have improved this year.  Since all assignments are online many resources moved from paper-based to digital.  A large chuck of time has been dedicated to that this school year.  My math unit tests have decreased in overall length which I think is a good thing and are more constructive in evaluating students’ understanding of the material.  Questions that were not clearly aligned to a particular standard were eliminated in favor of tasks that were more robust. I cannot remember the last time the tests were re-evaluated and I am glad that my team analyzed them with a more critical eye before digitizing them.
  • I have said this before and I continue to see the importance of having a brief “meet and greet” time as part of the daily schedule.  Checking in with students and allowing them an opportunity to discuss what is important in their lives helps create a better learning environment.  This year most classes have started with morning meetings or something like that to offer a listening ear to students as they traversed this long school year.  This has become even more important as students came back to school for in-person learning
  • One of the highlights his year was being able to meet with students’ parents over Zoom.  The limited time on video has increased the effectiveness of these meetings and has also provided an opportunity to meet where transportation/timing was not ideal.  I am hoping this is still offered next year along with professional development opportunities.

As I write this, boxes are sitting in my room ready to be filled up as I am moving classrooms again. I have to decide if items are worth putting in a box for reuse.  While doing this I should keep in mind that there are a few silver linings that I would like to keep for next fall.

Reflections and Takeaways

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The school year is coming to a close. This Monday would’ve been the last day but the midwest weather had other plans and an additional three days were added to the schedule. Classroom walls are starting to look bare and teachers are packing away their things for the summer. Boxes and labeled containers have started to accumulate in classrooms as some teachers know that they’ll be moving classrooms.  As I pack up my room I’m reflecting on this past year. Here are a few takeaways and potential changes that I’m contemplating over the summer.


Takeaways – I’ll keep these winners for next year

  • Give out study guides at the beginning of a unit

After reading Making it Stick last summer I decided to give out my unit study guides at the beginning of a unit.  It takes my classes around 1-2 months to complete each unit of study and I used to give out and review the study guides (basically chapter reviews) the day before the test.  This year I gave them out during the beginning of the unit and students worked on them throughout and then the class reviewed them together the day before the test.  I had to make a trade-off seeing that students would need to complete them at home or if we had extra class time, but that didn’t seem to be an issue.  Also, I gained about an extra day of instruction per unit by using this so it ended up being a winner in my book.

  • Create an agenda slide for each class

For the last couple years I’ve used an online planner to create my plans for each class.  I’ve found it helps me with organizing the structures of lessons a bit more and allows for a quick copy and paste to a slide for students to see.  The goal is in the left corner and it’s something that the class reviews each day.  Most of the students look at the activities for the day and then take out the materials that might be needed.  This year I had a handful of students with special needs and this visual cue seemed to help with anxiety related to the expectation for that particular day.  Plus it helped keep me organized, which is why I did it in the first place.  Do I always follow the agenda – nope, but it’s there to provide structure and an expected outcome.

  • Use math routines more consistently 

This year my 3-5th grade classes used math routines from day one until the end of the school year (counting these last four days).  I also used them during test days. There’s something important about starting with the math and the students expecting to start the day with a specific task.  My third grades used Estimation 180, fourth Who am I, and fifth AlgebraByExample.  It became part of our daily routine and I believe it helped with cycling through concepts and skills throughout the school year.  I plan on continuing to do this next year.

  • Instructional Balance

My classes this year have been much more balanced as far as math instruction is concerned.  This year I used Desmos, Quizziz and Nearpod more frequently and relied less on problems from the text book or worksheets (making sure to state that there’s nothing wrong with a worksheet).  Having that interleaved practice and time to discuss topics with partners has benefited students as they apply their math learning in different situations.  I’ve also changed the sequence in which some math topics are taught and gave students more time to explore concepts with manipluatives first before diving into more of the abstract.


Potential Giveaways – I might change these for next year

  • Homework

Ugh.  That sticky issue of homework has come up again.  This year I gave students homework around 2-3 times per week at the beginning of the year.  I slowly started giving less and ended up with 1-2 times per week during Feb-May.  I found that it was beneficial for those students that completed it, although the students I wanted to complete it rarely brought it back.  Also, I found myself giving homework to increase the amount of time in my math class – not a good reason.  A few years back I decided to give students links to the homework incase that they forgot it at school.  It still wouldn’t be completed.  I’ll still be giving homework next year, but I’m thinking of changing the format to be more of a retrieval practice model.  What that looks like will depends on the next couple months.

  • Projects

My students completed a couple different projects this year.  In a few instances I believe the time in which students worked could’ve been more structured.  I’d like to create more of a daily schedule for these projects and include time where students “check-in” with the teacher to ensure that we all finish.  Unfinished student projects feel like a failure and I’d like to limit these.

  • Grade Less and More Accurately

Next year I’d like to have specific points within a units to formatively check how students are in relation to the standards.  These won’t be formally entered into the grade book, but used for students to reflect on their progress and for me to look at where I need to emphasize my instruction.  I used a reflection tool that was helpful for my third graders this year and I’m planning on extending it to other grade levels.  Who thought emojis could be so powerful?  Also, every year around this time I wonder if the students’ grades actually reflect where students are in relation to the standard?  Sometimes yes, other times no.  At some point in time my district will be consistently using standards-based grading, but we’re certainly not there yet.  I’m hoping that this will help students and parents to see where students are on a continuum compared to the expected standards.  In the meantime, we still have the letter system that parents and students have grown so accustomed to and expect to see when the report cards are delivered.


Events that spurred growth – I’d like to continue to seek out these opportunities

  • Conferences

This year I had the opportunity to co-present at IAGC on the the topic of math routines with my colleague Cheryl. Most of my learning came in the time creating the presentation and discussing potential ideas.  The conference was well attended despite the extremely cold temperatures.  I had a sub for the day but ended up not needing them since school was canceled – go figure.  I also had the opportunity to travel to Wisconsin and attend WMC to present on feedback routines.  I was only able to attend one day, but it was great and meeting many members of my PLN face-to-face was amazing and long overdue.  Special shoutout to Adrianne , Sonja , Mary and Chris for being so welcoming and I enjoyed our conversations.

This past week I received confirmation that I’ll be able to attend all three days of NCTM in Chicago.  I’m in the process of putting together a couple proposals and look forward to meeting, sharing and learning with colleagues.  Attending conferences and meeting with other educators outside of my district brings a different perspective.  That different perspective and ideas is refreshing and helps me think of ways to improve my practice in ways that I didn’t think of before.

  • Book studies

Last year I participated in a Making it Stick summer book study and it was a great experience.  It’s one thing to read a book solo and another to read it along with other educators.  There’s an accountability piece that keeps me reading and more critically analyzing what I’m taking away from what I’m reading.  I’m looking forward to Culturally Responsive Teaching And The Brain this summer.  The book arrived at my doorstep about a week ago and I’m looking into diving in with my highlighter next week.

  • Podcasts

I recently started listening to Podcasts and have found a couple that I’ve been sticking with over the last couple months.  These podcasts help me think about practices that I could improve and just gives me a different perspective in general.  Right now I’m listening to The Cult of Pedagogy, Estimation 180, The Creative Classroom and The Minimalists.  I’m sure my list will change over these summer as more non-education related podcasts enter my queue.  I need to have more of balance with the types of podcasts I listen to but this is a start.