Stoplight Activity

I used to do a variation on the Stoplight Activity but after seeing this on the Teaching Channel decided to try this method when school started in the fall. One of my former students helped me pick out the “best” place in the room to put the three “lights,” and my students were intrigued when they saw them.

I had the chance to see it in action after a review lesson with my 8th graders on graphing and substitution with systems of equations. Our first quiz did not go so well for many students in the class. I decided to take another day to review using direct instruction and small groups that worked on specific questions they felt were the most challenging.

Stoplight Activity
Stoplight Activity

“I’m thinking more about graphing. I am almost there, just need more practice.”

“Today I learned that you should substitute during a solution problem because they already give you the x and the y.”

“Today I learned I am good at the distributive property.”

“Today I learned that I have been making a lot of simple errors that are easily fixable.”

“Today I Learned how lazy I am being. I didn’t study much, so my reward for laziness has been a disappointing grade. I’m thinking more about improving. To quit being lazy.”

We had a “retake” the following day, and many of the boys did so much better. The first quiz of the year is always hard, and they also needed a little more time to review. Collaborating helped, and I was able to listen to them teach each other during the smaller group sessions. I’m looking forward to using this activity with my other classes.





“If math were weather ….

… it would be a partly cloudy day because sometimes it can be clear and you understand the answer, but other times it is not clear, and you don’t quite get it.”

… it would be foggy because you can’t see through fog and I can’t see through math.”

… it wouthunderstormld be a sunny day because it is always fun to learn new things and feel bright when you do good on a quiz.”

.. it would be a rainstorm because it is crazy and complicated, but if you are prepared, there is a rainbow at the end.”

… it would be the apocalypse because I stink at math and it sucks me up and I feel like there is no way out.”

“… it would be a perfect fall day because math answers have to be perfect.”

… it would be a thunderstorm because math is kinda scary like thunder when you are asleep.”

… it would be a tornado because there are so many moving parts and pieces and can ruin people’s day.”

… it would be sunny with clear skies because even when it is hard you will always find small solutions that lead to bigger ones.”skyscraper-day-fun


This is a question I pose to all my students at the start of the year. I am always intrigued by their responses because it gives me some insight into their feelings about math. I hope to present math to them in such a way that their feelings toward the subject become less fearful (or remain positive) and that their answers to the next “if math were …”  become a cozy cottage instead of a skyscraper towering over them!

IBSC Vancouver 2016


As promised, here is the presentation from Monday’s workshop on High Tech-Low Tech Classrooms. I updated the Interactive Notebooks post below so you can access the tables of contents, introductory foldable and little quiz.

Presenting at the IBSC was a wonderful experience, and I am so motivated for the fall. I attended many great workshops and listened to so many inspiring speakers.

Thinking about Baltimore….

Flipped Lessons — A Starter Guide


Flipped lessons were the second part of my presentation at the International Boys School Coalition conference in Vancouver this summer. Thankfully, Jonathan Bergmann’s book Flip Your Classroom arrived on time!

The hardest thing for me to do when putting together the presentation is figure out how much information to share. It seems I’m always finding new ways to create videos and new platforms for editing and presenting. I tried EdPuzzle. Once. Then I got it confused with EduCanon, now known as PlayPosit, and ended up sticking with it. I actually paid $50 for Knowmia because I loved that it was an “all-in-one” product — videos, embedded questions and student tracking all at your fingertips. Now it’s being canceled. Do I spring for Camtasia and try to learn something new?

My favorite app for creating videos was ShowMe. I started using ShowMe during the 2011-2012 school year; my Algebra students mostly used the app to create their own study guides that we compiled for a final exam review. I loved it until they started charging when they added “allotted hours” to their plan. I deleted a bunch of videos to free up more space but for some reason, I never did get the space back. I have switched to Explain Everything since then. The Classic version was $6. I’m not sure what this new version is — there are more “plans,” and I know I’m not paying a monthly fee. Uh-oh. Just signed into the iPad. Pop up says to “try for free” and is pushing for the “new app.” I’ll have to look into that later…

My students say my videos are “dry” and “straight-forward” but that they prefer it that way. No bells and whistles. Just the facts, ma’am. But I do have one or two who say they are “boring.” I know my lectures are not “boring” (well, I hope not!) but it’s not easy to create showy videos like the MathAntics guy. His videos, in my opinion, are very creatively done! And when I look at my YouTube channel (where my videos are first hosted), the one flipped video that has the most views (1,270 as of now!) is a 50-second video explaining the difference between terminating and repeating decimals created with PowToon. It took me an hour to make. I don’t have that type of time!

I’m still learning. Today I stumbled on a lesson through “tes” and “blendspace” and need to take a look at that, and I’m already working on a math vocabulary component to my class through ThingLink.


Here is some research I need to parse through once I come up for air. I’ve found a wealth of information from Jonathan Bergmann, one of the two “founders” of the flipped movement. I’m almost done reading his book (co-written with Aaron Sams) and highly suggest it.

Students like flipped video homework assignments.

In this Bergmann post, I need to read more about the 46 percent of principals who expect new teachers to know about “flipped” classrooms. There’s so much to learn …


Interactive Notebooks – A Starter Guide


Presenting at the International Boys School Coalition this summer in Vancouver has forced me to start it so I can showcase some of the templates I’ve used for our interactive notebooks (aka spirals). Here are the templates I promised!

Curious about interactive notebooks?
You don’t need a lot of supplies:
⦁ spiral notebooks

I have used these from Staples but switched to Universal’s recycled spirals because they are sturdier.

⦁ tape or glue
⦁ scissors

I keep their supplies in red bins that they get for their tables as soon as they walk into class. We like to call it “setting the table for math.”


The bins are filled with:
⦁ two highlighters
⦁ two pencils
⦁ four or five colored pencils
⦁ rulers
⦁ three pairs of scissors
⦁ glue sticks
⦁ tape
⦁ laminated multiplication chart through 15 (just in case)

I am often torn over the notion of “teaching them math” or “teaching them responsibility.” If they have a pencil, I can teach them math. If they don’t, and I don’t let them borrow one (or if there are none to borrow), I’m teaching them responsibility. But, I can’t teach them math because they cannot take notes or do practice problems.
Last year, I was able to teach them more “math” because the pencils that were borrowed from the red bins usually were returned. This year, however, I taught more “responsibility” because the pencils were not returned and I simply ran out!

Back to the notebooks!
Two key components to the interactive notebooks (aka “spiral”)
Introduction to the spiral via the foldable
Table of Contents

–  With the date

–  Without the date
–  Little quiz on the foldable

CaptureSpend at least a day completing the foldable with your class. I like to “guide” them as we fill it out. Letting them “think” they came up with the “rules” is great. The student-friendly language also sticks with them for the quiz they will take the following day.
The two blogs where I learned the most starting off on this journey are “cheesemonkey wonders” and “Math = Love”

Here is where I first read about these notebooks
There are SO many resources out there – even as I was searching for the very first blog I found, I came across so many others that I had to stop reading and just bookmark them all to Diigo. Later, I need to check out the MTBos (MathTwitterBlogsphere – so cool!) – where do these people find the time to do all this?

Welcome to Math Magicians!

Math Magicians – where math just turned magical! Nicky and Brandon came up with the name of this blog three years ago when they were students in my Algebra 1 Honors class. That’s the sticker they made for me! Who knew then that this blog would ever see the light of day? Thanks to Evan, one of my sixth graders, for creating the mathmagician logo! He’s an incredible artist.

Einstein_MagicalAfter a year (or two) of dreaming and procrastinating — and with a lot of encouragement from our tech guru JJ VanEss and some of my Schoology friends, I’ve finally started to blog. Presenting at the International Boys School Coalition this summer has forced me to really get it started so I can showcase some of the templates I’ve used for the interactive notebooks.As JJ says, this blog a way to showcase how I (try) to have students engaged in math and realize a practical understanding of when and how math works in the real world.

Schoology is a wonderful online learning management system. I’m sure someone thought of this first, but it reminds me of “Facebook for schools.” It has that social media feel and is great for individual classrooms. What I love most about it is the groups you can join. The groups I belong to include: Math, Flipped Classrooms, STEM, Digital Curriculum and EduGamers. I feel this is my personal professional development organization and have learned so much from teachers in those groups. Not sure whether EdPuzzle or PlayPosit (formerly known as EduCanon) is better for you? Post a question in the Flipped Classrooms group, and you’ll receive tons of replies. Need some resources for factoring quadratic functions? You’ll get some help. And s big thank you to Carolyn on Schoology for also challenging me to get this blog done.