Weekly Warm Ups to Engage Students

I gave this PD at Curriculum Day for our teachers with the goal goal of giving teachers ideas for engaging students in warm-ups each day. The various approaches of problem solving, reflective thinking, and visual learning challenges students to think creatively. Each day is a different theme that differentiates for students and will help hook students at the beginning of class. Click the links and read below for resources.

Warm Up Training Powerpoint

Word doc Warm up Template

Below is the explanation of warm ups, but you can find the Word Doc here.

Mental Math Monday

  • This day is great because it requires little to no prep on your part. The goal of this day is to simply get kids thinking about math and working on building their arithmetic skills.
  • We suggest just calling arithmetic steps out loud and having students follow along to what the answer is in their head (i.e. start with the number 4 and have students add 2, then multiply by 3, subtract 12, divide by 3, add 15, and then record their answer).
  • The level of difficulty can also be adjusted easily for the level of class you teach or the topic you are covering. For example, if you are in a Geometry class working with right triangles you might add in squaring or square rooting numbers.  Another example could be in a Pre-Cal class having students do the trigonometric values from the unit circle.
  • Depending upon the level of difficulty you are suggesting with the problems we would recommend keeping it to under 5 problems that way the warm up does not take up too much class time.
  • An “I chart” or “X factor” can be used in an Algebra I/II class to help students start working on factoring skills.

Think it Through Tuesday

  • This day is about having the students work on problems that require more thought or comparison and estimation.
  • The website, http://www.estimation180.com/ has problems on estimation already created for you.
  • This is also a good day to put up a really challenging problem over the topic you are discussing in class or have discussed in class to allow students to try and work their way through the problem without the stress.

Which One Doesn’t Belong Wednesday

  • This day is about getting students to compare given information and practice writing justifications in a math classroom. The students will be given 4 choices and be asked to determine which image does not belong with the others.  The students are then required to write an argument as to why that image does not belong using complete sentences.
  • The website, http://wodb.ca/shapes.html has already created several examples for you to use in your classroom.
  • The students really enjoy this day because it allows them to choose an answer that cannot be counted wrong provided they create a valid argument for their answer choice using complete sentences.
  • This theme also lends itself to topics you are covering in class currently or as an introduction to a new topic. It can let you know what information students already know and what they are familiar with.

Throwback Thursday

  • This day is exactly what it says, a throwback. It is intended as a day to either put up a problem over previously taught material to ensure that students still recall that information or to check in with students on the week.
  • The problem you choose to put on the board can be something from the beginning of the school year, last year, or even last week. One way to use this day is to put up a problem over something taught that they will be building on with the lesson that day. For example, if you are teaching the substitution method in your Algebra class today, then you might want to put a problem about solving a multi-step equation.  Another example might be to have a warm up problem on factoring or simplifying radicals if you are teaching students to solve quadratic equations by completing the square in your Algebra 2 class.
  • If you choose to check in, consider asking questions like “what is one thing you learned this week” or “what is something you are proud of.” You can students write these on half sheets of paper or notecards. For us, we allowed math and non-math answers as they wanted to tell us things they learned in German class or how they won their Friday night game. They are a great way to learn more about your students and check in with them academically and socially.

Favorite No Friday

  • This day is designed to incorporate the strategy of Favorite No shown to us last Curriculum Day. The teacher puts a problem on the board along with their favorite wrong answer they received from a student.
  • This is a great way to review common mistakes with the class and have them practicing higher level thinking from Bloom’s Taxonomy.
  • The students enjoy finding the mistakes that others (or they) have made.
  • This can be your favorite no from the last quiz, test, homework assignment, or even last year’s STAAR test.

These warm up themes allow you to have structure at the beginning of each class period that do not require a lot of prep on your part.  It also gives you the freedom to choose what you would like the material of the warm up to cover.  The students enjoy knowing what class will look like every day and that each day is a little varied from the day before.

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All the Instructional Strategies from NTO

I, along with the secondary math specialist team, just finished giving a 2 day training full of learning with our new to the district teachers. I want to thank my coworkers and say that with their hard work and collaboration, this was an incredible PD that has inspired me for our year ahead. The PD was for a group of secondary math teachers new to the district and first year, so it was very diverse group and it was exciting to hear everyone’s voice. I wanted to summarize our instructional strategies we used during the PD as a reflection for myself and hopefully a way to share with others for use in their classrooms and/or PDs. I am going to describe the first activity and then group the others by category.

We started the morning with a Collective Intelligence Resume. This was an awesome way to highlight the strengths and backgrounds each teacher is bringing to their classroom and campus. If you follow me on Instagram (@taplinsteaching), I have more details.

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Below are the strategies by category that we used throughout the PD. Click the links for more description and student materials.

Grouping Strategies

  • Playing Cards for Seating: Teachers got a card when they walked in and found the same card taped on a desk to designate their seat for the day.  These also were a way for us to cold call during the training.
  • Travel Partners: To create partners, we had pictures of four locations (Sydney Opera House, Great Wall of China, Paris Eiffel Tower, and Taj Mahal) on a handout they kept during the PD (would be great inside student interactive notebooks). We played music, had teachers walk around and when the music stopped they met and wrote down the name of the person closest to them for a specific location. Then throughout the day we called upon those locations for pairing. Screen Shot 2019-08-09 at 11.42.10 AM

Summarizing Strategies

  • 3-2-1: On sticky notes teachers wrote 3 things they noticed, 2 things they wondered, and 1 question they had after an activity. Then, they posted these up on big chart paper to read and discuss. This gave structure to a summary and also showed a way to increase writing.
  • Table Top Tweet with a Think and Throw: We posed a question to summarize an activity, teachers wrote a response, crumpled the paper, and when everyone was ready we told them to throw it across the room. Then, teachers picked up a paper next to them and wrote a hashtag to summarize the one they read. This was so fun…who doesn’t love throwing paper across the room!?Screen Shot 2019-08-09 at 2.49.03 PM
  • Bingo with a Blackout: Teachers individually learned a row or column of an activity and then met up with partners around the room to discuss and get blackout of the whole paper. Teachers really enjoyed this as they got to talk to and learn from others. If I were doing this with a class I would structure it so that they had a set amount of time with each person and scaffold the worksheet to where they are not just writing down answers, but really explaining and understanding the process of the answer.
  • Think-pair-share: Given a question, teachers thought independently, paired to discuss, and then shared out. I love doing this as a way to give processing time to students as well as a safe way to share thoughts before sharing to the entire group.
  • Shape Your Thinking: Teachers responded to activity with a handout that had a diagram of a triangle- 3 important points, a circle-anything circling, and a square-anything squared with them. This was a fun visual to use to wrap up the activity.

In Class Activity Strategies

  • Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces (VNPS): I also explain these more on my Instagram page, but We used these for open ended math problems, goal setting, and group work. These allowed us as facilitators to see work more easily, groups could “spy” on each other, and allowed for movement. Screen Shot 2019-08-09 at 2.51.18 PM
  • Gallery Walk: With the VNPS, we asked teachers to gallery walk to see other’s work and provide positive feedback on sticky notes. I loved seeing teachers learn from each other and value each other’s work. Screen Shot 2019-08-09 at 2.54.57 PM
  • Jigsaw: For this strategy ask groups to number off 1, 2, 3, 4 in home groups. Groups read (or perform a task) in their numbered groups. Groups become experts and then go back to their home group to explain and teach their section. This was a great way to allow participants to become both a learner and a leader. It divides the work up in a different way than a typical direct instruction lesson would. I often used this in class with geometry concepts such as volume or surface areas of 3D: See here.
  • Question Ring: We gave groups a ring of questions to facilitate conversation. I liked this as it gave structure yet flexibility to group conversations.
  • Chalk talk in 4 Corners: We posed 4 questions (write one “a-ha”from yesterday, what are you looking forward to today, using an emoji how did you feel about yesterday, and using an emoji how do you feel today) and hung them up on the wall in 4 corners. Teachers responded silently to the question and to others. Chalk talk is a great activity to make for a safe environment of communication as well as increasing writing. The four corners aspect was a little different than the protocol so click the link to read more, but having the corners helped to vary the questions, give choice, and allow for movement in your classroom.
  • Sorting: Given Hattie’s Visible Learning Strategies, teachers sorted them into levels of achievement. By having teachers predict first, then check, I felt like the engagement was a lot higher than if we had just given them the answers. Screen Shot 2019-08-09 at 2.53.39 PM


  • Which one Doesn’t Belong: Teachers chose one and first wrote, then explained why it doesn’t belong among the others. This site is organized by category and helps build justification skills as well as previewing or using vocabulary.
  • Open Middle: We gave teachers a sample question and it was so exciting to watch the engagement and celebrations when they solved it correctly. This site is organized by subject and also includes a Depth of Knowledge matrix to help scaffold and extend learning.
  • Estimation180: I showed teachers this website as a great tool for number sense, reasoning, and estimation.
  • Desmos and Desmos Activity Builder: This is another great resource not only for a visual calculator, but also for hands on activities and challenges that are enriching and powerful in asking students to explore, justify, and write.
  • Lead4ward: In addition to the strategies already linked, Lead4ward has an entire Strategies Playlist to draw from. The app is really helpful tool for checks for understanding and sentence stems. Through the app and online you can find field guides and resources for planning.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

  • Optimistic Closure with Dice: To close day 1, we gave teachers 6 numbered prompts to answer such as one thing I learned today was, someone I was able to help was, something I enjoyed about today was…etc. Teachers rolled a dice and answered that corresponding prompt on a paper to turn in as an exit ticket. This helped us as feedback for the day and close in an optimistic way.
  • One Word Whip Around: Everyone shared out one word that summarizes their thinking. We used this after reading a passage about classroom environment and after our hashtags from the Table Top Tweet. It was a cool way to hear everyone’s voice and what they found important. This would be a cool way to end a lesson for the teacher to hear what students found valuable and/or how they felt about it as well as allowing all student’s voice.

For the GoogleDoc Playbook version click here

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SEL in the Curriculum

I have been working on writing curriculum for our district and after attending a couple trainings for SEL, I realized it would be the perfect fit to incorporate some intentional SEL practices. So, I wanted to give an update of the work I’ve been doing and partnership with my district’s Student Leadership and Well-Being Department. I am excited for this to “go live” for my district’s teachers in July and to see it used in classes.

We are using the Algebra II curriculum I am overseeing to pilot this initiative for our district, and then build from there. If you are reading this and not familiar with SEL competencies or practices, read my first SEL post here. As we began to write, we thought it was important to help teachers understand that this isn’t one more thing to add to their already very full plates. Instead, this is something many already do, and for those that are not familiar with SEL practices, we wanted to provide quick, low-prep ways to ensure our students are seen and heard in the process of their learning. So, we decided to write our SEL component in Stage 3 (the Learning Plan) of our Understanding by Design curriculum framework. After writing a learning target, success criteria, and a formative assessment idea, we created a way for teachers to use an SEL competency that would fit best with the unit of study.

Since Algebra II has 10 units of study, we started detailing Welcoming Inclusion Activities coupled with the signature practice of self-awareness in the first two units. The next two units incorporated Optimistic Closures that used self-management. We discussed that if students are self-aware in their behavior and growth mindset, they can then manage those in schools and in life settings. In the next few units, we focused on Engaging Strategies with social-awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Therefore, as a student progresses through Algebra II, they will build their SEL abilities within each of the three practices in a seamless way that connects to the content.

An example of the Absolute Value unit using TEKS 2A.6E Solve absolute value linear equations is below:

Learning Target Success Criteria
I can solve absolute value linear equations.
  • Isolate the absolute value by doing the inverse operation.
  • Set the quantity inside the absolute value equal to the positive and negative quantity on the other side of the equal sign.
  • Solve for the variable in both equations.
  • Check your solution graphically and algebraically.
SEL Competency Definition Indicators 3 Signature Practice Example

Below are examples for you to use and adapt for your own classroom

Self Management The ability to demonstrate self-management skills to regulate emotions & behaviors related to school and life success.
  • Demonstrate the ability to manage emotions
  • Demonstrate the ability to organize and manage productivity, time and resources
  • Set, monitor, adapt, and evaluate goals to achieve success in school and life
  • Demonstrate honesty and integrity
  • Demonstrate the ability to show perseverance in the face of frustration and challenges
  • Demonstrate the ability to identify and manage stress
Optimist Closure:

One Word Whip Around (pg 46):

Since absolute value is a new function for Algebra II students, this quick activity can provide formative feedback for students and teachers.

*2 min activity, can be repeated daily

Link to Playbook 


The Playbook, which will be linked when complete, will detail more specifics about the examples we are providing to teachers. The activities in it will be from CASEL as well as personal teacher entries that have been used with success in classrooms. I look forward to seeing and hearing how this goes with teachers and students as we bring this important focus of SEL to light with our curriculum.

If you have any ideas that you think should be included as we work on this, please reach out to me!

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Cultural Shifts

We spent some time this morning analyzing cultural shifts in our work using the Solution Tree document below. I really liked thinking about what successes I had this year and what growth could still be made in my work with PLCs, with teachers, and with professional development culture.

As I am working on writing curriculum, I am excited for the shift “from providing individual teachers with curriculum documents such as state standards and curriculum guides…to engaging collaborative teams in building shared knowledge regarding essential curriculum” (page 187).

I also have found myself moving “from the expectation that learning occurs infrequently (on the few days devoted to professional development)…to an expectation that learning is ongoing and occurs as part of routine work practice” (page 189). I have continued to seek out more PDs, explore Twitter regularly, and reflect upon these to improve myself and discuss ideas with teachers.

One thing I want to continue to grow in is “from teachers gathering data from their individually constructed tests in order to assign grades…to collaborative teams acquiring information from common assessments in order to (1) inform their individual and collective practice, and (2) respond to students who need additional time and support” (page 188). I want to help teachers find more authentic ways to answer this PLC question #3 and support these students who need differentiated learning when they still don’t understand.

Finally, as I plan PD I want to work to move “from assessing impact on the basis of teacher satisfaction (“Did you like it?”)…to assessing impact on the basis of evidence of improved student learning (page 189). This means following up more with teachers after PDs, being in specific classes of the teachers who attended, and creating a measuring tool for PD effectiveness.

I want to challenge teachers, PLCs, campus leaders, and school administrators to take a look at this document to celebrate your successes this year and then identify shifts you want to make next year. I think it’s important to focus on the shifts that are in your zone of control. What shifts did you make in your classroom/PLC/organization that make you proud? How did you do it? What goals do you have for next year? How will you make those shifts? Who can you work with to make these happen? What are some first steps to get you there?

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Source: https://www.mccsc.edu/cms/lib/IN01906545/Centricity/Domain/259/culturalshiftsinaplc_2.pdf

Do Ink Project

I had so much fun working with a teacher on an end of year project using Do Ink which is a green screen app. Before I start this post, I want to say thank you to the teacher I worked with and the IT specialist who helped me understand the Do Ink app. The teacher I planned this project with had her students create posters on a topic and solve the problem using multiple representations prior to telling her about Do Ink. When I presented her with the idea of using Do Ink to communicate their ideas it seemed to fit perfectly with using their posters as the background image and talking points. So, I created a student handout for instructions and processing what students were going to say in their video (we used steps 3-7 of this handout and used the teacher’s original task instead of #1 and 2).

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 11.28.51 AM

Here is a video (above is just a screen shot) of a student explaining her poster (by the way, this was the first time I had seen their finished products since I came in on the filming part and you will notice a couple mistakes such as step 1 and the graph being quadratic not exponential in this example. When I saw these in the moment of filming, it was a great chance to talk through finding errors and justifying why and how we can correct them before turning their work in. She also is media released so I could post here). Below are some things I learned from the process:

  1. If you’re reading this and thinking you don’t have a green screen, think again! All you need is large green butcher paper or a green sheet. Also, double check with the library at your campus…I found out each of our campuses have them and they purchased 5-10 Do Ink apps (they cost about $3 each).
  2. Having students write a script before is really helpful. Students felt more confident and were more precise in their mathematical language when they were prepared with what they were going to say. When you are filming this is a great opportunity to hear students process their work, make sense of the math, and communicate their learning. See the student handout that I created for the some ways to help students write before they speak.
  3. Some students liked being in the video together in pairs. So we decided one person would ask questions to prompt the other person explaining their poster. For example, one person might say, “what was your topic about?” or “how did you use your graph to solve” etc.
  4. I really enjoyed having students learn the app. They had fun playing around with the sizing and position of their videos and it gave them ownership over the finished product. I had several students ask me to email them, not just their teacher, their project…I love that they were proud of what they created!




Let me know if you end up trying Do Ink and how it went!


This Month in Classrooms

Here is my second edition of “This Month in Classrooms.” I hope this can provide some insight into the great teaching I see and also give anyone ideas they could implement in their own classroom.

I started this month with an opportunity of walking classes with an education consultant, Kelly Harmon. She focuses her work around learning targets and success criteria and so it was really interesting to understand more of how I can help teachers write these to achieve higher levels of cognitive learning. In math, it was cool to see that a lot of teachers already have success criteria on their notes by providing students with steps for accuracy and understanding. This will help teachers understand that learning targets and success criteria are not new, but rather we can be amping up our “we will” statements to synthesize and process learning. Furthermore, walking with her really helped me differentiate classrooms that had high levels of engagement and debrief how and why they were like that. She told me a huge nugget of information that to reach knowledge utilization (the highest level of rigor on Marzano’s taxonomy) and produce this engagement we must be asking our students to first hypothesize and then prove their learning. Math lends to this well, but we have to be willing to let go and ask our students, “what do you think and why” before simply telling them what to do. Our learning targets and success criteria should reflect the thought process we want our students to do to achieve high levels of thinking with cognitive complexity and student autonomy.


At another campus in Algebra I, I loved this strategy of allowing students to present their work and their thinking by passing the microphone to students and projecting their calculator to the Smart Board projector. It was so cool hearing students explain their thinking and walk through their process in their own words. The teacher later told me how happy she was to hear that students were working the problems in ways that she hadn’t even explicitly taught them.


I really liked this simple, low prep review game I saw in another class this month. Students completed a traditional review in pairs, but were asked to stop and check every 2 problems. If they got both correct, they got to fill in their initials in one spot of 1-100. At the end, the teacher would randomly draw a couple numbers and that pair would win a prize. I liked that there was immediate feedback of accuracy rather than having students check their answers at the very end. Also, students were motivated to do as many problems as they could to have a better chance of winning.


In a calculus classroom, I saw some amazing projects about volume cross sections. The attention to detail and creativity on these were impressive!


Lastly, I was super excited to see an idea I had shared with a campus last year being implemented this year: entry cards. I love this because every student is asked a question before entering the room. It can serve as a refresher or a preview, and it is something different and more engaging than a traditional warm up. Furthermore, it gives the teacher an idea of where their students are as they are coming into class and providing an opportunity to address misconceptions in an authentic, immediate way.


Thanks to all the teachers who let me visit their classes and see the great things ya’ll are doing!

To see Volume 1, click here.


Be the Reason

I’ve been thinking a lot about Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and the value it plays in school. A few months ago, we had a training on techniques and strategies from CASEL, and it has started to weigh on my mind in two ways- in my role as a teacher support in planning and classrooms as well as personally as I think about my own son going to school soon. I think a lot of elementary teachers are natural when it comes to SEL, but sometimes it gets lost in middle school and high school. Most secondary students are shuffled to 6-7 classes a day and from the second the bell rings they are often talked at, instructed to sit down, and stop talking. This is not every teacher or every classroom, please don’t take offense at anything I say in this post, but I think as educators we need to be reflective about not only what we are teaching kids, but also how we are teaching them. Additionally, I am a complete advocate for consistent and strategic systems such as posting on your board each day the materials students should have out and ensuring students learn routines, but again we need to be aware of how our students are doing, not just what they are doing. Moreover, in secondary land, if there are 7 classes a day you might dread a class…just saying. I’ve been there, but let’s be reflective. Why are you dreading this class? Have you tried changing your mindset? Have you tried creating a new environment? Are your structures simply about getting work done, factory-like, with little to do with the whole child? If so, something might be missing. The moment I started adding SEL (without knowing it was SEL) into my routines I saw an immediate change in my students and myself. It’s about the kids and YOU enjoying what you do every day, every class. I hope this post can shed a light on building our students up, fostering a positive classroom environment, and being the reason your kids come to school.

CASEL identifies three “signature practices” for SEL instruction in classrooms which include welcoming inclusion activities, engaging strategies, and optimistic closures. Many are simple and quick ways teachers can check that they are fostering a safe and valued classroom. Here are some ideas I have pulled from CASEL and ones I did in my classroom that really made an impact.

Welcoming Inclusion Activities: 

  • Greet students by name at the door (there are some specific teachers I think of right off the top of my head that I work with who do this EVERY single day and I can see the respectful rapport they have with their kids because of it). I know emails come, papers stack, and life happens, but if you make this a habit every day and every class period you are gearing up for a great start to class and bringing your attention to what matters that moment, your students.
  • Whole group greeting activities (this may sound cheesy to high school teachers, but kids love and need these. I used to ask my students questions like, if you were the weather today, what would you be and why? If your day was a movie, what would it be and why? I didn’t do it every day and I could have been better at it…in fact I know one teacher who intentionally planned these questions every day and wow, his room was an inspiration to me. You can pose these whole group to share out or just share with a partner/table group. You don’t have to spend more than a couple minutes, but the payoff of knowing how your students are feeling and will respond that day is huge. Imagine knowing a kid is having a bad day before you start the lesson or conversely, what an awesome way to start the class celebrating something from a student that can set the tone for the lesson.
  • CASEL has several quick strategies here (https://schoolguide.casel.org/uploads/2018/12/CASEL_SEL-3-Signature-Practices-Playbook-V3.pdf). I like the Greeting Frenzy and Four Corners. Read over them and try them out!

Engaging Strategies: 

This is all about letting kids talk, work together, and engage in meaningful conversation. A lot of teachers fear what will happen when they let their kids talk, so rows start being the norm and direct instruction takes over the majority of the class period. But our kids need to communicate to dig deeper and learn from each other, and it’s our job as educators to encourage that in a safe and purposeful way. Below are some ideas.

  • Think, ink, pair, share. This is a common practice I used and I see a lot of teachers use, but it should never be overlooked. I like that CASEL added the “ink” portion to this protocol to ensure students are able to write about what they are thinking. It’s so valuable to let students have independent process time, conversation, and voice in the classroom and a protocol like this perfectly captures it all.
  • Lead4ward has an amazing list of strategies called their Instructional Strategies Playlist geared for all grade levels. I really like the Careless Clueless and never underestimate the power of a snowball fight (see Think and Throw)!! These may be new and stretch the structure of your class, but try it, I think you’ll see and hear great things!
  • CASEL has more quick strategies here (https://schoolguide.casel.org/uploads/2018/12/CASEL_SEL-3-Signature-Practices-Playbook-V3.pdf). I like Pass it On. Read through and try some out!

Optimistic Closure: 

CASEL explains “optimistic closure is not necessarily a ‘cheery ending’, but rather highlights an individual and shared understanding of the importance of the work, and can provide a sense of accomplishment and support forward-thinking.” I love this because I think SEL is not about the dichotomy of separately supporting a student’s emotional well being and their academic learning, but rather blending these two to solidify learning and progress a student’s knowledge.

So to summarize and emphasize, SEL should not be in addition to your workload but rather incorporate and enhance the good teaching you’re already doing. In a few weeks, I am attending another training by CASEL on working SEL into your PLCs. I am excited for this because I think if teachers feel SEL in their own practice, it will seamlessly transpire to students.

Here’s a quick checklist I made while you’re planning to ensure you are including SEL:

  • Am I greeting my kids at the door each day, each class?
  • Do you know the general (or individual) energy of your students before starting your content?
  • Are your students talking to each other?
  • Who is asking the majority of the questions?
  • Did the bell dismiss your students or did the learning?

What are other ways you incorporate SEL in your classroom? Which “signature practice” is your strength? Leave a comment to continue the conversation!



What is SEL?



This Month in Classrooms (Volume 1)

As an instructional coach, I have the opportunity of being in several classes and seeing some really great teaching and learning. I often post pictures with on Twitter, but I am going to dedicate some posts to highlight and celebrate in more detail all I am seeing each month.

One teacher I work with uses Desmos and creates her own activities for students. When she does this, every student is engaged in the process. In fact, one day I was there she paused the activity to debrief and I heard students say “NOOO,” which was such a fun validation of their engagement. If you haven’t explored Desmos, I encourage you to…there are a lot of FREE resources and bundles by course/topic.

Another teacher consistently uses multiple representations when teaching concepts. Last week, her lesson explored roots of quadratics and she asked the students model their answers with the equation, the graph, and the algebraic solution each time. I loved this method to help students make connections between the visual representation and the algebraic process.

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Another teacher uses powerful questioning with her students each day. I have never seen anyone give so much autonomy to students through the use of questioning. Her class is so student centered as she regularly questions students to have them lead the conversation of learning. Additionally, she often has her students share their work under the document camera instead of explaining things herself.

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Last (but not least), one teacher used a GoogleForm as a pre-assessment to group students and calibrate their knowledge from the day before. I loved how this was a quick way for the teacher to see where students were and then allowed her to target and differentiate her instruction that day with groups.

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So, this month in classrooms…

I saw: engagement through technology and multiple reps, strategic grouping, and smooth transitions.

I heard: engagement through silence at times and voices at others, questioning, positive attitudes about math.

Stay tuned for Volume 2 of This Month in Classrooms later this month!

UbD Reflections

I recently attended a training on Understanding by Design (UbD) and had some big “ah-ha” moments that I have been thinking about. Several years ago I also went to a week long UbD seminar in which I wrote and published a UbD unit through Trinity University.  I learned an incredible amount there (if anyone gets the opportunity to attend with a Trinity colleague, DO IT!!), but I still feel like I have a lot to remember and expand upon as I deepen my knowledge of UbD. We are in the middle of refining our district curriculum and as it models a UbD template, we are carefully tuning our Transfer Goals, Understandings, and Essential Questions before moving on to Stage 2 (Performance Assessments). So, below is some synthesis of my learning in these three areas.

Transfer has been a bit hard for me to grasp, so I called the presenter over to our table to discuss a bit deeper. I finally understood when she said that transfer is what we want our students to be able to do when they graduate. Then she asked, after 13 years in our district, what is our goal for every math student to be able to do when they leave us? That’s big! This made me think, and she confirmed, that because Transfer Goals should be developed and deepened over time, they could be consistently written across grade levels. How cool would it be for a kindergartener to read and see the same goal for themself that year, in 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd, all the way to their senior year in high school!? How successful would you feel knowing every year you are working towards the same big goal and you will achieve it by the time you graduate? Students do see these with our state Process Standards (for example 1.(F) states the student will analyze mathematical relationships to connect and communicate mathematical ideas) and this is the same description across every single grade level TEKS. Right now we put all our process standards as our Transfer Goals in our units, but do we need to pick the ones that actually apply to that specific unit? I’m not sure. Do we create new ones that are in student friendly language? If these are our broad goals we want students to master within their educational career, how are we as teachers communicating them to students…they’re written in our curriculum, but are we being explicit to students and how can we have them have ownership/buy in over them?

Understandings came to light when the presenter had us think about something we know and understand as well as something we know, but don’t quite understand. For example, a lot of what I know but don’t understand is technology based…I know a text message I send on my iPhone will reach the person, but I don’t understand the Cloud and how it got there. My husband is a basketball coach and during this March Madness time, we have been watching A LOT of basketball. He truly knows and understands the game. Often times before an announcer describes a foul or talks through why a shot attempt was missed, he says exactly what happened. He knows the plays and he understands not only the rules of basketball, but also the intricacies of the skills and how they work together to see the big picture of the game.  To enable our students to reach understanding we have to help our students see the big picture and why/how things work together. To do this we take a set of skills (TEKS) and combine them into one understanding. They should be written as, “the student will understand that…” They are uncovered over time and connect ideas and concepts.

Finally, Essential Questions, are maybe my favorite to think about because these lead to really engaging and intriguing questions that the teacher and/or students can ask. An essential question should be open ended and does not have one single answer. As they are revisited throughout the unit they spark further questions and justification. I am excited we are bringing these into our units and want to help teachers find ways to not only spark discussion with their students, but also keep them alive and visible throughout the unit.

Because so much of this UbD template is not only for the teachers in their planning, but also for the students to take ownership, dive deeper, and make meaning of their learning, I am continuing to wonder how we make these visible throughout the unit. One colleague mentioned they used to post Understandings and EQs around the room to refer to. Does anyone else do UbD consistently and have ways to display/refer to them in a meaningful way? How do you help students wrestle with the ideas throughout the unit? Leave me your thoughts and ideas!

Source: Dr Sandra N Kleinman, MAC McTighe & Associates Consulting

Student Centered Coaching

I just got back from a 2 day conference by Corwin about Student Centered Coaching (SCC). When I got this position as a specialist, our district had just started learning about SCC and had a goal of having us enter a cycle with a teacher. However, because I came in the middle of the year, I wasn’t quite sure how to do this, and I am thankful I got to go to this conference to wrap my head around it all, solidify my knowledge, and further myself in the idea of SCC. I loved hearing from Diane Sweeney herself as she has a genuinely encouraging tone and is full of passion and knowledge. After big days of learning, I like to write to synthesize my learning for myself and if it can help anyone else reading this, that’s an added bonus too. So, here we go:

Student Centered Coaching Definition: An outcomes based approach to coaching that focuses on student learning. 

Key Quotes and Thoughts: 

  1. Coaching should not be about “fixing” teachers, It’s about student learning and should build on the strengths of a teacher.
  2. Coaching should not be one more thing we have to do, how do we frame it so it’s not? Always be thinking…what about the kids?
  3. Learning targets and success criteria are necessary for teacher clarity (“Students can hit any target they can see and that stands still for them.” – Steve Ventura

Providing Strengths-Based Feedback:

  1. The coach and teacher engage in a conversation that flows from starting with clarifying questions, to value statements, and finally uncovering possibilities through questions and discussion. In both of the following I started with the Notice and Naming coaching move.
    • I tried this with a teacher today during her conference 2nd period after I was able to be in her 1st period. It really helped focus our conversation, affirm good practices, and maximize results for the next class period.
    • At the conference, I was a little worried of how I could fit in feedback conversations like this if the teacher or I didn’t have time during lunch or conference. Today during lunch, a teacher asked me to observe their 6th period class and it actually gave me the perfect opportunity to try it out in a short time frame since I wanted to provide feedback for their next class. During passing period, we were able to talk using these three stages (clarifying questions, value statements, and uncovering possibilities) to lead to some changes for the next class. Of course I would love to talk during a conference or lunch to have more time and less sense of urgency, but I know it’s possible and resulted in positive reflections/additions.

Visible Learning 

  1. Teacher Clarity: .75 effect size. Learning Targets and Success Criteria are integral to increase teacher clarity and they need to be revisited during the lesson by both teachers and students.
  2. Collective Teacher Efficacy: 1.57 effect size. Definition: The belief of teacher groups about the collective ability to promote successful student outcomes.
    • In our PLCs we can work to ensure we have collective teacher efficacy by writing clear goals (.68 effect size and PLC question 1), providing feedback (.7 effect size and PLC question 2), RTI (1.07 effect size and PLC question 3). (additional source I researched after the conference: http://www.steveventura.com/about/efficacy.php)

Lastly, in Steve Ventura’s keynote speech he outlined several qualities of inspired and passionate teachers including developing relationships, providing feedback, engaging in dialogue, providing challenge, managing so learning is the focus not behavior, using a wide range of instructional strategies, and valuing expertise over experience. As a coach, I hope to focus my conversations in a way that cultivates the strengths teachers come with and motivate teachers to move students further using these qualities.