My Story

As far back as I can remember I always thought teaching would be a great profession.  I even remember playing school as a young child.  However, by the time I got into college, my interests changed and I got my degree in criminal justice and then went on to get a certificate in paralegal training.  I got married soon after college and I worked as a litigation paralegal for the first few years of my marriage.

After two kids and a move from Montana to New Jersey (where I grew up as a child), I became a full-time mom. Fast forward to four kids and still in New Jersey, I knew I needed to go to work full time.  Unfortunately, I knew that it would be impossible to have the summers off in the paralegal field and I didn’t want to put my kids in daycare all summer long.  I asked myself, what else did you like?  Well, I love math.  And if I became a math teacher I could have the summers “off” when my kids had off.  So, I enrolled in the local university to begin my second degree.

After finishing a course in the Philosophy of Teaching, I decided to go to the school I graduated from to see about substitute teaching while I was finishing my degree.  I walked in to the middle school in jeans and with my youngest daughter.  I told the secretary there that I was going back to school and wanted to do some substitute teaching to gain experience while I was finishing my degree. She innocently asked what I was getting my degree in and I said math.  She asked me to stay right there.  Okay… She left and a moment later came back with the principal. The principal asked me into her office.  My daughter sat outside while I went in to chat with her.  When she started to ask me about my philosophy of teaching I realized I was in a full blown interview. Yikes! It just so happened that they would be needing a middle school math teacher for next year.  After two more interviews I was offered the job and I have been teaching at the same school for the past 16 years.

During the first few years of teaching full time, I went to school at night and finished up my degree and then got my teaching certificate .  However, I still didn’t feel like I knew enough to be the teacher I wanted to be.  So I started to look online to see if there was anything there that could help me with my lesson plans.  Was there ever! It just so happened that I stumbled on several great teaching blogs and a MTBoS challenge.  The MTBoS walked me through creating my own blog and getting me setup on twitter.  I would never have done that on my own!

I do not remember the first few blogs that got me started on this incredible journey, but I do know that my teaching has never been the same since I found this amazing resource!  I could not have done it without the help of so many people, most of whom I’ve never met in person.  I still aspire to be that great teacher and through the help of many great people on the MTBoS, I will continue to grow to be the teacher I want to be.


My Favorite Games

I love to play games!  I especially love classroom games that require little explanation, little prep work, games that can be used in a minutes notice, and games that can hold students’ attention.  Here are a few that fit the bill in my classroom.

1. Favorite Test Prep Review Game:  Before every test, my students always ask to play the “Whiteboard Game.”  I blogged about it here.  Students are willing and excited to do an entire class period worth of math problems on a mini whiteboard.  I guess they see it as a game rather than work.

2. Favorite Internet Game:  I haven’t had a class that didn’t like to play Spider Match when we are studying adding and subtracting integers.  I blogged about it here.

3. Favorite End of the Class Game:  If there is time left at the end of the period, I love to quickly make up a version of the Pyramid Game or Race to the Top.  I blogged about it here.

4.  Favorite Spiral Review Game:  This is a game that I like to play after we’ve learned several different concepts in a unit.  It requires a little prep for me, but once I make a version of it, I keep it for future use.  I create five different problems, where the answer to the first problem goes on the line of the second problem.  Each previous answer is used to solve the next question.

To begin, I have students write down questions 2 -5 on a scrap paper.  Since question #1 is missing, no one can start ahead of time.  When everyone is ready, I put up question #1.

When students finish the fifth problem, they come up to me and show me their answer.  I reply with “Yes” or “Try Again.”   To keep students motivated, I will give a dum dum to the first five students with the correct answers.  A lot of times I will extend the treat to anyone who can come up with the correct answers.

#Classroom Tour

Welcome to my classroom!  This year has been exciting because every classroom in our building got a makeover.


Not only was every classroom painted,  but we received new  student desks and chairs.  I like that the desks are flat.  They can be pushed together for group work or be put in rows for tests and quizzes.


Even the teachers each got a new desk and chair!  I love that my desk is magnetic so that I can put posters on the front and a basket of pencils on the side for students who forget to bring a writing utensil to class.


One of the walls was painted orange, while the other three walls are white.  On the orange wall, I have three bookshelves that hold all of the supplies that students might need for class, such as glue sticks, scissors, pencil sharpeners, colored pencils, markers, rulers, clipboards, lined paper, whiteboards, dry erase pens, and paper towels.  This keeps the class running smoothly since students do not need to keep asking me for supplies.  Students use the small middle bookshelf to store their chromebooks on if we aren’t using them during class.

This year I decided to use my back bulletin board as a resource wall.  The left side has all posters about fractions and the right side is dedicated to algebra concepts, such as absolute value, like terms, and factoring.  Above the bulletin board is a poster on order of operations.

Unfortunately that leaves little room for student work to be displayed.  Instead, I have had to tape it to the bottom of the bulletin board.


I split up the front of my white board using magnetic borders. I have three sections on the left side for my 7th grade classes and three sections on the right side of my board for my 8th grade classes.  Since I teach six different classes, I use that space to write in the homework and as a reminder to students who have missing work.


On either side of the front whiteboard are small bulletin boards.  I use the extra desks in front of those boards to put the handouts that we will need for the class that day.

And that it my classroom. I hope that you enjoyed the tour!


This year I am being more intentional about my warmups.  There are so many good things out there on the MTBoS, but I decided this year to focus on three specific areas.  The items that I am including in warmups are activities involving numeracy, workbook review, and what doesn’t belong.

In fact, as I create my lessons for the week, I am writing the warmups in my grade book so that I cover each topic at least once during the week.

1.  Numeracy:  When I think of numeracy, I think of adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, integers, decimals, fractions, order of operations, and the like.

I am starting out with Christian Lawson-Perfect’s 30 second challenges.  Rather than have students go on their chromebook, I take a snap short of the problem and put it up on my tv screen. Students work through the problem from left to right without regard to order of operations.  When they have an answer, they raise their hand so I can come over and check their answer.  I tell them it is correct or try again.

Also, I might start using Math Minutes.  I can print out the page and hand it to them as they walk in the classroom.  I will give them 3 – 5 minutes to complete the ten problems and then go over the answers as a class.

2.  Workbook Review:  In each of my classes, students have a workbook that is only used for DO NOWs and end of class review.  It is great to have access to specific problems that are similar to problems that they had for previous homework assignments or for homework assignments that night.  I can quickly pick a few problems from the page and have students work through them individually and have students put the work and the answers on the whiteboard before we go through them as a class.

3.  What Doesn’t Belong? I love this site started by Christopher Danielson!  In these types of problems, there is no right or wrong answer, but it is a great way for students to look for patterns.  It also leads to rich math discussions.  I give students one minute to think on their own about which expression, term, or number they think does not belong.  Then, I have students turn to their neighbor and discuss their answers.  Finally, we go over the answers as a whole class.  I encourage students to use proper mathematical terminology.  Students love, love, love to do these problems!  They are always asking when we will do it again.


Favorite Math Task

What is my favorite math task?  That is a hard question!  I like anything and everything that gets students out of their seats, working in groups, and keeps them excited and engaged.  One such activity that has been incredibly successful with my 7th Grade Algebra and 8th Grade Algebra students this year is 21st Century Math Projects’ Whodunnit –  Order of Operation Skill Building Class Activity.  There are ten order of operation problems of increasing difficulty that I copied, laminated, and hung around my classroom.

On each card is the problem and four possible answers, along with clues to help solve the murder mystery.  As students complete each problem, they can check off the players, last known whereabouts, and methods on the Whodunnit worksheet. The one remaining in each column is the solution.

All of my students are thoroughly enjoying this activity (they haven’t finished yet).  The problems are challenging and they want to figure out the solution.  This is definitely a keeper!


Emergency Sub Plans

I was very happy to see that this week’s topic was on emergency sub plans.  I have been wanting to update my folder for a long time and this gave me the incentive to do just that.  In the past I’ve had several different Math-O games (think math bingo) in there as well as FACEing Math pictures.


However, I think it would be easier on me and my sub if I used Math Minutes.


Then it wouldn’t matter which topics we’ve already covered and students would get a variety of practice.  Classroom management would be easy because all students should be quietly working on finishing the handout in the allotted time.  Students seem to be more focused when a timer is on.  Additionally, the directions are simple and there would be minimal direct instruction.  After the sub passes out the paper upside down to each student. the sub starts the timer and students have 3 minutes to complete the page.  The sub reviews the answers and then hands out the next sheet and repeats the process.

In addition to the Math Minute handouts, my folder includes my homeroom class list, fire drill instructions, and lock down instructions.  I have been fortunate that I have never had to use my emergency plan, but it is always better to be prepared.

Teacher Hack – First Days of School Notebook

This week’s Sunday Funday topic is on Teacher Hacks.  After 16 years of first days of school, this is the first year that I made a small notebook to organize my first days of teaching lessons.  Previously, I would put these lessons in the notebook of the first unit that I would teach.  Since I have five preps, that meant I was making five copies of this lesson and any handouts needed with it to go in each of the first unit notebooks.  What a waste of time and paper!  Each time I came up with a new idea for the first days, I would add it to the beginning of the first unit notebook.  The notebooks were getting bigger and bigger just for the different first day activities.  What was I thinking?!  Now I have one notebook that contains all of the lessons and activities that I have used to begin the school year.  Each year, I can choose from the many ideas I’ve already used or add another new idea without having to make additional copies for each class that I teach.  I guess an old dog can learn new tricks!  Hahaha!!

Classroom Organization

This week’s challenge is on organization.  I tend to see myself as an organized person, a trait I need to keep my sanity.  Here are a few of the ways that help my classroom run smoothly.


A shoe hanger is a great place to store calculators!  The calculators are numbered and every student gets a number at the beginning of the school year.  Any time we need to use the calculators, they must only use the number that was assigned to them.

Unit Binders:


I have a binder for each unit.  Each binder is broken down by lesson with all of the handouts and supplies needed for that lesson.  The lesson shows my powerpoint screen, followed by the common core standards associated with the lesson, and then what my lesson looks like.  I include questions that I want to ask, specific problems that I want to go over, handouts or worksheets that I want to use, workbook problems that I want students to try, and the homework assignment.  I have this binder open on my rolling cart during the class.  I keep a pen handy to jot down any ideas I might have at the end of class, so that I can make those changes for next year.

Absent work:

Whenever a student is absent, I make a copy of my notes and attach it to any handouts that we used in class and put it in the file folder attached to my desk.



I keep all of my supplies organized on the bookshelves so that students can access rulers, scissors, glue, markers, etc. whenever they need them.

I’m sure I have more organizational ideas, but that’s enough for now.

Classroom Management

I think I speak for most teachers when I say that behavior management is a topic that not many teachers want to think about, but all teachers have to deal with. We want students to enjoy coming to our classes and be engaged with the lessons so that we can do what we love to do, which is to teach math. Yet, in reality, not every student likes math and students come with all sorts of baggage that gets in the way of learning. Consequently, they act out. So what do we do? After 16 years of teaching, I wish I had a complete handle on this, but I don’t. What I do know is that when kids are acting out, learning is not going on. When students are sent out in the hall, learning is not going on. When students are sent to the principal or dean, learning is not going on. So, my goal is to keep students in the class and try to bring them back into focus. Usually, I try to handle small infractions while I teach.  If possible, I will walk over to a student who is not on task and tap his or her desk or shoulder while I continue with class discussion. If I have to, I will quietly tell him or her to focus again. My last resort is to have a student sit outside the door until I can have a short conversation with him or her.

I don’t like having a bunch of dos and don’ts for students to remember. Rather I have summed up my expectations in one word: RESPECT. Within the first few days of school, I explain what I mean by that. First, we need to respect others in the classroom. I want to keep a positive attitude in the class and I want the classroom to be a safe place to ask questions and make mistakes without classmates laughing at them. Second, we need to respect supplies. For that, I explain that students are to sit only on the chairs, not the desks, write only on their paper, not on other students’ papers or on the desks, take proper care of their textbook, and put supplies back where they found them. Finally, we need to respect learning. That means students need to come into class with a positive attitude, be prepared and ready to begin when they walk through the door, and bring the required materials to class.

And I try to be the first one to model these expectations. I try to walk in class with the right attitude, with the required materials ready.  I want to be an encourager and show them that all students can do math. Not every class goes as well as I expect it. But each day, I start with a clean slate and do my best by leading by example.

First Day of School Plans 2017

I thought I had the first day of school figured out.  Then I started reading the Sunday Funday blogs on everyone’s first day of school activities and now I’m not so sure what I will be doing.  There are so many great ideas, but there is not enough time to incorporate them all in those first few days.  Since my school doesn’t start until August 30, I have a bit of time to finalize my plans.

However, I do know that I don’t want to start with the rules and expectations on the class.  I want the first day to be doing math.  I like the idea of starting out with Sara Van Der Werf’s 100 Numbers to Get Students Talking.  After watching Thom Gish’s video, I think I will start out having the students use pencils just so that they don’t see the pattern of numbers right from the beginning.  I will probably do three rounds of this activity.  Then I will take out a big poster board and have each student answer the question, what does good group work in math look and sound like?  We will discuss this as a whole class and hang it up so that we can refer back to it throughout the year.  Finally, I will assign her daily practice ( I love her idea of calling it daily practice instead of homework!), What is Math?

Day two will run similar to Sara’s post entitled, What is Math? What do Mathematicians Do? Hopefully this will set the groundwork for what is expected in my class: collaborating with classmates, staying on task, noticing and wondering, and articulating your thoughts in written form.

Here’s to a great year!