Posted in beginner teachers, elementary school, high school, middle school, resources

3 Strategies Every Support Class Needs

  1. What do you notice? What do you wonder?
  2. Math/Number Talk
  3. Number/Problem Strings

If you have not heard of these three ideas, you need to look them up. They have changed how I structure support classes. They have changed how I support students. They have changed my students.

Notice/Wonder – This was introduced to me through Morgan Fierst @MsFierst, Minneapolis public school teacher and 2016 MN math teacher of the year. She used pictures to illicit information and curiosity.  This idea came from Annie Fetter @MFAnnie. I encourage you to watch the video. But the main ideas are 1) it’s a way for students to connect their ideas and thinking with each other and 2) let students know that their ideas and thoughts in math are useful and valuable. This has been one of the best ways for me get all students talking out loud about math.

Math/Number Talk – I use the words math talk and number talks interchangeably, but I know many who don’t. It doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s about getting students to talk about their strategies and ideas. You as the teacher are responsible for modeling their strategies and connecting their ideas. I fell into math/number talks while at a workshop with Terry Wyberg @TerryWyberg, University of Minnesota math education professor. Jo Boaler, professor at Stanford Univeristy, has an online course on how teachers can learn math. We are so good at algorithms and tricks that Boaler was to defunct this and have us learn real math with real concepts.  Fawn Nguyen, math teacher in California, has developed two websites that I use on a regular basis for ideas: and She has tips and more resources, like Jo Boaler. Math/Number talks need to have multiple access points and strategies. Many secondary teachers have shied away from this strategy because of its popular use in elementary classrooms. The video gives a good example of how to do a math/talk in high school. All the students are engaged in the same problem and are looking for various strategies. The most powerful take-away from doing math/number talks has been allowing students to use any and all strategies. They don’t feel that they need to have the most sophisticated strategy for their strategy to be seen as valuable.

Number/Problem Strings – A number string is a set of related math problems, crafted to support students to construct big ideas about mathematics and build their own strategies. Last year when I was looking for additional resources to use in my support class, I found this Math Routines pdf online. Then at MCTM in April 2016, the keynote speaker, Pam Weber Harris @pwharris showed the power of what problems strings could do to introduce or strength student skills and generalizing. I use number/problem strings to build pattern recognition and to build upon what they already know. Too many students shut down when they see a problem they can’t do, but seeing the build up and relationship a difficult problem has with an easier problem encourage and distress my students. As problems get harder students get more confident and actually start to see how “easy” problems can be because they see the pattern and relationship.

If I spend my time only on these three strategies during my 85 minute period, I feel that it’s time well spent. I have seen so much growth in their math skills that I can’t say enough good things. But more importantly to me is the growth in their confidence. They feel like it’s math they can because it builds on what they know. Their ideas and voices matter. They matter, and to me, my students in math support class need to know that every day.

Posted in beginner teachers, elementary school, high school, middle school, resources


With summer just around the corner (or for some of you already here), I’m very excited to spend time on things that I didn’t have time for. Sleep. Friends. Family. TV. Yard Work…not as excited for it. House Projects. Vacation. Reading.

Summer is such an important part of the year for teachers. It’s time for us to rejuvenate and take time to take care of ourselves. Non-teachers may give us a hard time for not “working” all summer, but we know that it’s not what it seems. We may not have to report to anyone or clock in anywhere (unless you teach summer school or a summer program), but we are still teachers. If you are anything like me, you have your summer professional development lined up between everything else that you are doing during the summer. Along with summer professional development, you and I are catching up on latest instructional strategies and best practices through books and conversation we have with our colleagues. Summer may be here, but we don’t stop thinking about our students, our colleagues, and our work.

If you are looking for ways to refresh your teaching and professional self, here are some things I’m looking forward to.

In-Person Professional Development:

Sara Vanderwerf – Minneapolis, MN June 20, 21, 27, 28 – She is offering 4, possibly more, math professional development sessions on her time for a small fee (giftcards, cash…). This is as good as it gets if you couldn’t make it to Duluth for the spring conference.

Teachers of Color Coalition – St. Paul, MN August 9-11, 2017 – The Coalition to Increase Teachers of Color and American Indian Teachers in Minnesota unites individuals, organizations and communities concerned about the lack of racial, cultural, and linguistic diversity in the teaching force.


This is Not a Test. – Jose Vilson

The Mathematical Mindset – Jo Boaler

The Problem With Math is English. – Concepcion Molina

Building Powerful Numeracy for Middle and High School Students – Pam Weber Harris

Matherpiece – Greg Tang

*Most of these authors also have professional development all over the country.*

Posted in beginner teachers, elementary school, high school, middle school, organization, resources


I’m always looking for a different way to quickly access student knowledge on an individual basis as many of you are. There are many websites and Apps that do just that, but I haven’t been 100% happy with any of them. I problem I usually have with most of what I find are that it’s hard to type math or use math symbols. If your students are anything like mine, they don’t know how to use equation editors (well if at all) on Microsoft Word, Google Docs or any other word document software. Then there Apps or websites like Socrative, Polleverywhere, and Google forms that don’t do justice. We can see the live results, but students are limited to showing just the answer, trying to type their work, or picking from choices, which none of these show their thinking very well it at all. I also don’t want to pay to use a website because I don’t have the means nor does my school have the means to pay for an expensive limited time website/program. As far as Apps are concerned, I know that there are great ones out there (Doceri, Baiboard, Nearpod, Classflow…), but if your school/district is like mine, all Apps must be approved and preloaded somewhere else for students to download. The approval and push out time take too long especially for an App that I want to use the immediately. Then I kept asking myself what alternative do I have?

I’m not trying to put a negative light on those programs, websites or Apps or my district, but I have had a hard time with trying to incorporate them in a genuine way that promotes student learning. Then a few pre-serivce teachers told me about a new website called I was skeptical because it sounded like all the other websites and Apps I had used before, but I was so happy it proved me wrong. The website did much of what I had always hoped for.


  • free for anyone to use
  • teachers need to create an account, but students don’t have to (Federal Laws prevent students 12 and under from creating any sort of log-in, email required account without parent permission.)
  • all students need is the quickcode from the assignment you created to access it
  • types of questions you can create – multiple choice, show your work (where students can write with their finger/stylus on the screen), short answer, true/false
  • add content like image, text block, YouTube videos, Word documents
  • see all student work at once and see live results as they work
  • easy to use on an iPad


  • students can’t save and come back to their work unless they sign in
  • using the student canvas, it’s not intuitive on how to erase work
  • doesn’t have latex or equation editor
  • can’t print the assignment for students if they don’t have a device

The list of cons have not deterred me from using the website over and over again. Students seem to like it, too. Using the website is like being able to work with all my students at once and addressing the students with most need because I see their mistake soon after they make it. The immediate and direct feedback has been very powerful and the most powerful aspect of this website.

Posted in beginner teachers, elementary school, high school, middle school, relationship building

Connecting with students

One big thing that has been on my mind this year is the relationship I have with my students. I pride myself in knowing my students well, beyond the mathematical skills they display and don’t display in my class. I get to know their family dynamics and remember details about them, but of course, I don’t know this about all my students. When my principal or another teacher talks to me about students of concern, I have details and valuable information to add to the conversation. But I know I’m not different from other teachers in this aspect. We love kids and love our jobs, so we do get to know the students that we see every day for 9 months. We think about them when we get home. We write lessons with certain student needs as the focus while making sure all students learn. We go above and beyond for them.

Relationship building is probably the number one thing that any veteran teacher would tell you when it comes to teaching. No matter the age or subject, the kind of relationship you have with students make a difference in their learning. This really is the best piece of advice and lesson I have learned. I love teaching math and talking about math, but it takes especial people like you and me to love math. Students, at any age, also need to “love” you before they can “love” math. They need you before they need the subject. I know that I am guilty of putting the subject before the students at times due to pressure from state test scores, my love of math, or even keeping pace with the other teachers. Just like you when you decided you wanted to be a math teacher, you didn’t do it for the love of the subject, but some teacher in your past inspired your love of math and your love to teach it.

Building a strong relationship with students is not easy and may not come naturally, but it’s such an essential part of being a teacher. But how do you do it and be genuine about it?

Weekly Reflections: This is my favorite way to get to know students. In one of my courses, I teach some of the lowest and behaviorally challenging 8th graders in my school. They are assigned homework every day even on test days, but every Friday, their assignment is to complete 3-5 questions about the week’s learning, the class, or themselves. They  know that completion is all I ask for and that their responses will not affect their grades. With that stipulation, they are very honest when given the chance to reflect. When they write, I actually read it, which surprises students, because they think they are only doing it fulfill an assignment point. Through these weekly reflections, I learn more about their learning needs and wishes. I learn more about how they feel about themselves, their classmates, and me. I learn how to be a teacher that can and will meet their needs because they voice it. Some examples of more personal reflections I ask are:

  • Why do you do homework?/Why do you NOT do homework?
  • What do you think of Cornell Notes? (We always do notes in Cornell style.)
  • What was the best part of your week?/What was the worst part of your week?
  • Rate yourself from 0-4, how well did you understand this week’s lessons? Explain.
  • What kind of teacher should Ms. Vang be so that you are successful this year?
  • What kind of classroom should we have so that you are successful this year?
  • What is one math goal you have this year?
  • Describe how you feel about math.
  • What are you looking forward to this weekend?
  • What can Ms. Vang or the class improve on to help you learn better? If nothing, what is something you like about our class?
  • What grade are you getting in this class? Do you think Ms. Vang is fair in her grading?
  • What do you need to do in order to get better in this class? If you are doing well, what is something you want to keep doing so that your grade doesn’t drop?

Because of these questions, I feel that I building a strong trust and bond between my students and I. When they realize that I read them and use them to better our class, they feel that they are being heard and cared for. They acknowledge that I am trying my best to be the best teacher I can be for them. It’s my way to give voice to my students, and through it, I know that I’m being the teacher they need for success. I do have rules for when answering the question. I don’t accept “nothing” and “I don’t know” as answers. I know that students can answer the questions even if it’s artificial, but even those artificial answers become more real as the year goes by because they know I read it. I do have students who choose not to do the weekly reflections or forget to do them, but I don’t worry about it. I just continue to encourage everyone to complete them because it is homework and that I am doing it to help our class and especially me be better.

Posted in beginner teachers, elementary school, high school, middle school, resources

Your own professional development

Professional Development…..what does it mean to you?

We go to meetings and workshops. We attend sessions on how to do this or that. We listen to an “expert” speak. We read blogs like this. But why? For many teachers, it’s to fulfill clock hours or a demand from higher up. But for me, it’s what I relish.

Yes, I do dread some of the things we must do and some of sessions we sit in, but professional development gets my gears in motion. It pushes me to think about that kid, who has A in class, but I haven’t talked to yet that week. It pushes me to try to get to that kid who can barely multiply single digit numbers. It pushes me to think about that colleague said about how to teach slope. Professional development challenges me to do what I have not done yet or what I am striving to be better at.

Every year, I look forward to the MCTM (Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics) conference in Duluth. It’s a little cold and a little too small for this city girl, but I love the feeling of getting the chance to improve myself and to see my classroom with fresh eyes. It also gets me through the rest of the year because May can be a very long month when I have no refresh ideas. I love seeing fellow math colleagues display what they are proud of and share it with the rest of us. I love that I might possibly walk into a session where it gives me the answer I have been looking for. I love that I get to see old tricks done in a new light. MCTM is the creme of the creme when it comes to professional development for me. But until then, what do I do?

I can’t wait for the once a year professional development to inspire me. I can’t wait for it to answer the burning thoughts and questions I have now. Where do I turn? The WORLD WIDE WEB.

Twitter: It is a great wealth of knowledge full of people all over the world who are willing to share. I am not an avid Tweeter (is that the word for people who Tweet?), but when I need something new, I turn there. Math celebrities like Dan Meyer @ddmeyer, Christopher Danielson @trianglemancsd, Andrew Stadel @mr_stadel, and Fawn Nguyen @fawnpnguyen, to name a few, have inspired me to use photos, videos, music, technology, and the internet in my math lessons. They don’t only inspire but create practical instructional ideas and activities that are ready to use. Join and find other math teachers like you who want to inspire. Join discussions on best practices. Get advice on what to do next when students already get it. Your fellow math teachers have a lot to share on Twitter, so join, even if it’s just for professional use. Follow me while you’re you are searching through Twitter. @mctmCONNECT

Blogs: There are many great ideas floating out there from actual teachers, who have tried and true tested activities. They are the ones who provide answers for when I am in need of a great slope activity or just a great problem solving activity. I have learned organizational skills and management ideas from bloggers. I read about what they like and dislike about certain websites or technology. They are my professional circle when I can’t articulate what I want but know what I need when I see it.  Some of my favorites are:


Pinterest: I never thought that I would be into a site like Pinterest. I was not interested in using it because of its addictive nature. I was really wrong. I found so much on Pinterest that I had to start my own account. I have a board dedicated to math and education only. Note-taking ideas and foldables are of abundance. Creative math “decor” and student made projects have transformed my classroom from a dull and empty (typical) secondary math teacher’s classroom to one that is vibrant and shows off student work. I have never had all my walls and even parts of my windows covered in work from students or posters I created for students. I have a rational number line, created by students, and see the benefit it has provided my students. Pinterest is a place to find and “steal” from teachers who have awesome ideas.

I may love learning and reading about teaching on the internet, but nothing beats professional development where you can discuss and debate with fellow teachers. You may not feel the same way I do, but find a personal purpose for that professional development. As you sit there through another session, by choice or not, use the following to push yourself beyond the days or hours of professional development:

1. Use it immediately and not just file it away. Decide how you use what you just heard/learned to change your next lesson.

2. Find a colleague to share it with especially if they were not in attendance.

3. Make a new friend during the professional development if you are there with a bunch of strangers.

4. Introduce yourself to the presenter if what they said or did really hit the nail on the head.

5. If possible, walk out of the session if you know it’s not for you. There is nothing worse than to sit through a session that you don’t find useful or helpful. I know that this is not always possible, but then you just do what #1-4 said. 🙂

How are you pushing yourself to learn from others and yourself?

Posted in beginner teachers, elementary school, high school, middle school, resources

Adventures into creating a flipped classroom and the lessons I learned.

I know that flip classrooms are not a new concept, but it’s still a booming idea in education. It is an idea to try when you are ready to push your class beyond lectures and notes. I haven’t made it very far yet, but I have learned a lot from my experience so far. Some of these lessons were learned along the way and others were prompt by a lot of reading, questioning, and research into flipped classrooms. Just a quick background on my class setting: urban public middle school, accelerated algebra students in 6th-8th grade (we allow mix grade classes like in high school), 47 minute classes.

Lesson 1: The videos can’t just be the recorded version of the class lectures.

In a normal class lecture, gestures, facial expressions, and student interactions are a large portion of learning. Those aspects of learning are taken away and must be made up for by your teaching experience. You must anticipate student questions more so than in the classroom and try to answer them on the video as you teach. Gestures, like pointing, need to be seen via a mouse pointer or some sort of animation. Students still need the visual and dynamic learning because videos can become very static learning.

Lesson 2: Teach them how to watch the videos and what they should be doing while watching the videos.

The idea of teaching students how to watch and do during the video didn’t occur to me until I saw a presentation on flipped classrooms. I thought that they would just watch the videos and take the notes on there, but I am so thankful that I showed them how to watch the videos. First, I walked them through how to find the video link (which was on my class website space that my school provides for me). I had been using my website already to post answer keys, notes, and Khan Academy videos, but most students weren’t using my website and didn’t know how to get to my website. Secondly, I gave them advice on how to watch it and where to pause. You need to give them permission to pause and rewatch the video because they think that they must watch it all the way through.

Lesson 3: Tell them why you decided to flip the class.

My students like yours are probably ok with the normal notes and class lectures. I had to convince them that it was a good alternative to class notes and lectures because it helps everyone learn at their pace. I had to explain that the videos contain the more basic notes so that we can tackle more challenging work together instead of having them do it by themselves. It also gives them a chance to do homework in class.

Lesson 4: Provide time in class for those who forget to watch the video or don’t have a way to watch the video at home.

i teach 47 minute classes, so I don’t have a lot of time to play with. After the daily warm problems, I give students 15-20 minutes to watch the video either on their own device and headphones or via my projector. I put one student in charge of pausing and replaying the video for those watching it on the projector. If students already watched the video at home, they spend the time doing homework. I circulate the room helping students with homework. At this point, about half of the students are still not watching the videos at home, but I feel that students are still getting used to the idea of watching and taking notes at home.

Lesson 5: Create a calendar or a plan


I typically print out a unit sheet for the students that contain the standards, homework due dates, and test date. For the first 3 videos, I had confused my students on when to watch which video because my instructions were not clear. For the latest 3 videos, I made a to-do calendar, telling the kids exactly which video to watch on which night. Students were less confused and were able to watch the videos in a more timely manner. You do not have to create a calendar or sheet like I do, but organization is important. Creating a calendar for yourself is important because it keeps you from confusing students and yourself. Flipping a class takes time and being prepared. It’s hard to “wing” a video like you would on an in-class lecture because the video is not like a normal class lecture.

Lesson 6: Find a place to host your videos

I had stored my videos on my Google drive and just shared the link with my students, but as we discovered, this didn’t work well for students who wanted to watch it on their phones/iPods. Youtube was not a viable solution because probably like your school, Youtube is blocked. I found that Teachertube was my best option because it’s free, not blocked, and exposed students to a website that had educational value. Teachertube is a little slow on the school wi-fi, but it’s been a great host.

I have created 6 videos so far and about 2/3 of my students like the flipped classroom concept. They feel that it fits their learning better. it has given me more time to teach concepts and help students gain a deeper understanding because we are able to spend more time on the more complicated problems.

I know that I will continue on this adventure and continue to learn more about creating a more successful flipped classroom. It’s been a lot of forefront work, but I do think that it has been worth it. I feel that I’m catching more students and losing students at the same time, but right now, it’s a good decision for my students. As we hit more complicated and newer mathematical concepts, it may possibly change how my flipped classroom looks and sounds like.

If you have flipped your classroom, comment on this blog with advice and lessons you have learned. if you have not flipped your classroom yet and want to, comment with questions and wonderings you have.

Posted in beginner teachers, elementary school, high school, middle school, resources

Throw-Back “Virtual-Mentor”

The “Virtual Mentor” is a long running newsletter series written Ann Sweeney, a Mathematics Professor at St. Catherine University.  A full archive can be found here.

April, 2009

Recently, I have had several of you ask me about the algebra requirement for 8th grade.  If you are going to the MCTM Spring Conference in Duluth next week, you will have a wonderful opportunity to learn lots more about what 8th grade algebra is and how to help your students be successful learning it.  I just downgraded the program for the conference from the MCTM website at and found all sorts of wonderful workshops and sessions.

If you are like me and can’t attend the conference because of your broken ankle, there is information available for you, too, on the MCTM website.  At you will find a link to the 2007 MN Mathematics Standards, as well as a link to FAQs about them.  MCTM’s Algebra Task Force has done a wonderful presentation explaining the new algebra standard and you can download their presentation.  In case you missed the Matt Mentor article about 8th grade algebra, you can find it on the same webpage.

If you are headed to Duluth, don’t forget about the MCTM CONNECT session on Thursday evening, April 30 from 7 – 9 PM.  Meet with other new teachers, education students, experienced teachers, and MCTM CONNECT committee members.  Have a fun time having dinner, and learning about the conference and how to make the most of your conference experience.  You’ll also be in line for lots of give-aways and great door prizes while meeting and networking.  It is not too late to sign up for the connect session.  You can RSVP to me letting me know your name, level of licensure and school district (if teaching.)

Have fun in Duluth everyone.  I look forward to joining you next year.