Gamifying My Classes and Balancing Retesting

I know I said I wasn’t going to gamify my classes this year, but I couldn’t help it. Gamifying just looks like so much fun.

I started by picking a Harry Potter theme, spent a month making a bunch of game cards, and then changed my mind a week before school started. I felt confined by the storyline. So, now I need to rebrand all those cards.

I now have a Dungeons and Dragons themed game. On the first day of school, they are going to be randomly sorted into They are going to start in a cave. They were dropped in there by an evil wizard. They are stuck in one part of the cave and they must solve a logic puzzle to get out of the room and to the main part of the cave. This puzzle will be the “Snape Logic Puzzle” from the end of The Chamber of Secrets. — I already bought the bottles and made different versions, so I am using them. — From there they will make decisions as a class about which paths within the cave they want to take. Each path will lead to a different content sub-standard. Before they leave the cave, they will have completed all of the content for the first standard.

We will round out the first three days, with other team building activities and with “Integers” as our first substandard. Students will pick team names on the second day of school and will pick their character type on the third day. They will be able to choose between Mage, Warrior, Ranger, and Rogue.

I am still incorporating ideas from the Harry Potter books, such as the troll fight on Halloween, but I am now going to incorporate ideas from The Lord of the Rings series, the Divergent series, and The Hunger Games series. I am hoping I will make the time to blog about the progress of the game.


My classes will get computer access once a week. During that day, students will have options:

  1. Watch Khan Academy videos for failed sub-standards in preparation to retry.
  2. Retry a failed sub-standard.
  3. Work on side-quests.


I am due back to work on Monday and my student’s will have their first day on Wednesday. I try to remember to update next weekend about how the week went.


Acknowledging the Past, Critiquing the Present, Anticipating the Future

I can’t believe it has been five years since I started this blog and then never made time to really use it. I started out a struggling teacher with classroom management problems, and have grown into an educator with significantly better classroom management, but who still has room for improvement. I would like to dedicate this post as a reflection of where I started, what has changed, and where I am hoping to go as an mathematics educator. This is going to be very, very long and is mostly just for me to curate a reflection in writing.

The Past

I have just read everything I have ever published on this blog. It isn’t much, however I seem to keep the same themes.

Theme 1: I want to be innovative.

In my first two posts, I bemoaned that I was doing the best I could and I wasn’t good enough.  I lost my position at my school because I was unable to meet the expectations of my administrators from isolation. I learned, the hard way, that I need to find people to depend on, even if they are outside my content area, outside my building, or outside my district. In the same breath, I learned that I can’t wait for collaboration to start innovating. I need to innovate my classroom for my students and myself, then, maybe, I can get others on board with me. This lesson was somewhat blunted by a co-teacher a few years ago, who looked at my crazy ideas and decided to go on the journey with me.

So far my most significant attempted innovations have included:

  1. Standards Based Grading: Fall 2015 to Present, which is still a work in progress and will be its own post soon…probably. The short version: I read Robert Marzano’s book Formative assessment and Standards-Based Grading. I, along with that co-teacher, collected questions for each standard and organized them based on level of difficulty. We had a high failure rate and students rarely tried the most difficult problems. I moved away from leveled assessments and into more homogeneous style questions for 2016.
  2. Flipped Classroom: Spring 2015 to Spring 2016, which failed due to a lack of technology in students homes and an over abundance of personal ambition without  factoring in time needed to accomplish the goals. I also did not adequately train students on my expectations, an Achilles Heel of mine. I am planning to incorporate a lesson or two where students create videos during class and other students watch them.
  3. Gamifying: ongoing, but picked up steam Fall 2016. I’ve gradually moved away from worksheet-style assignments and am getting closer and closer to gamifying portions of my class. I have not made the leap yet, but I have significantly increased the number of games and cooperative activities my students play.
  4. Self-paced badge system: Fall 2016. Failed due to me not adequately training students on expectations…shocker.

I am so glad that despite setbacks, some of which were pretty severe, I haven’t stopped wanting to be an innovative educator and have not gotten stuck in the rut so many educators end up in.

Theme 2: I am inconsistent.

When I’ve started a new innovation in my classroom, I haven’t adequately prepared students for the change and I didn’t adequately support them during their transition period. I gave a few days of modeling and explaining and I expected them to get how it worked. I expected students to watch their flipped videos for homework, take notes, and return ready for conversation. On the third day after we flipped. I must be mental. I had students my first year of Standards Based Grading who had no idea what a “2” meant…in April. My classroom management has been pretty fluid since the day I walked into my first classroom on my first day. I have gotten better, but I am still quite inconsistent. That isn’t fair to my students who need to know exactly what my expectations are and where the line is. I keep moving the line. All I know is I don’t want to be the teacher who shouts. More like Professor Snape’s volume and emphasis with Professor McGonagal’s tone. Tough love without the violence. This is the one thing I most need to work on.


The Present

I am on my fourth co-teacher in six years. He and I disagree pedagogically, so I am more on my own now than I was a few years ago, but that’s okay. I feel more equip to handle the isolation now. My administrators have hinted that I should offer a training on Standards Based Learning. I’m not quite ready for that yet, but I will probably be ready in the near future.

Current Innovations and Improvements:

  1. Standards-Based Grading continued: I am getting more into Standards-Based Learning. I am starting to locus less on the assessments and more on the learning. I am reorganizing and tweaking all of my assessments from two years ago so I can use them next year. I am mixing the questions and not ranking by level of difficulty. Students will be graded with an attached rubric. I am also going to continue with “Take It Till You Make It” Quizzes. Students have answers checked and quiz returned. They keep correcting quiz, individually, until all answers are correct. I need to be better at having something for finished students to do. I am also working on a different system for students who need to retest.
  2. Gamifying: I am creating more collaborative activities and mini-games because worksheets are boring. I still have limited technology.
  3. Providing Cornell Notes: I am providing note sheets for my students this year. I am also going to devote time to helping them keep their notes organized. This is both to save time and to lessen the “why aren’t you taking notes?” struggle.

The Future

I went to the ISTE 2017 conference in San Antonio, Texas last week. That conference further solidified my desire to further gamify my classes and include student voice and choice into my classes. I might incorporate student conferences into my courses this year, but it is more likely that I have enough changes going on this year to keep up with already. I probably will not create a game arc this year either, but in the future I can figure out a way of getting the mini-games to sync up to a low-tech semester arc game.

Making My First Flipped Lesson

I had to miss the last two weeks of school for a family emergency. Before I left, my students were struggling with factoring quadratic equations. I think that is a good place to start. They’ve had a break from it, so their old errors won’t be so fresh, but it is also something they’ve seen before. I found this video on youtube that does an excellent job of explaining the concept.

I also checked  the video on my phone and it displays well on a small screen.

I will display this powerpoint throughout class. The first slide is for when they come in. I’m expecting some excitement – I’ve never allowed cell phone use in my class before.

I think this lesson will take two days. Let’s see how it goes.

Planning my First Flipped Lesson

I started following Kirk Humphreys (@kirk_humphreys) on twitter a few days ago. He has a flipped classroom unlike any I’ve ever seen. His students have taken complete control of their learning. They even decide how they will be assessed (sometimes). I have been researching for several days and decided that Tuesday, I am going to introduce my students in my Algebra I class to flipped lessons. I am not sure what is going to happen.

My students will watch the video on their phones (computers are all being used for the state test) and take notes in class. I will then have a student go up to the board and show the class what s/he thinks s/he understands about the topic in the video. When finished, the student will pick another student who will do the same thing. The other students are to listen, question, correct, and try to understand what is being presented (They have already been trained to do that). When students are satisfied, I will display:
“Prove to me that you know these standards by giving me examples and solving them to prove your understanding. You may make your own problems, find your own problems, or look up your own problems. You may collaborate with others, but you must turn in your own product, a I need to assess you individually. You may use any way you like to prove to me you understand the standards.” (credit for everything in quotes to Kirk Humphreys).

At the end of class, I will assign another video, this time for homework.

To accomplish this, I need to have both videos available to students in an easily accessible place before class on Tuesday. I’m thinking Google Drive. I will also have small whiteboards, wall white boards, graph paper, colored pencils, and graphing calculators available for students to use during class. I’m excited!


I joined twitter in 2011, but hadn’t really used it much. I never tweeted anything. I didn’t really follow anyone. I had not looked at it at all in years. I tried, halfheartedly, to do the math twitter blogosphere thing without using twitter. I occasionally found interesting lessons from bloggers. I’m making an effort to be an active member. There are several reasons for this.

  1. I am losing my love of teaching. I need to reignite it. My district’s forced testing regime has ruined my flow. My evaluations have incorrectly labeled me as Ineffective or Minimally Effective every year and the state won’t fix the errors. Many of my colleagues are disheartened and are giving in. I need to look outside my school and my town to find others who still love their job. I actually started looking for another job last month. It took an intervention from my fiance to remind me why I started teaching in the first place.
  2. SBG without SBL doesn’t work. I started grading my students by standard. I started spiraling their homework and tests. I didn’t change the way I teach. I just had more specific data that showed that they were not retaining information. I felt like a failure, but didn’t know how to fix it. Other math teachers in my building are seeing the same things in their students. I don’t want to just say “that’s the way it is”; I need to change.
  3. I need to feel like I’m part of something greater than myself. I have felt so alone with everything that is going wrong in education. I didn’t think anyone could make it better. I was tired of trying to make it better by myself and then getting crushed by the state evaluation. I need a network of people that are positive and inspiring.

I started being an active member of the twitter part of #MTBoS 3 days ago. Today is my first blog post (on a blog I made years ago and haven’t used in years). I am officially a Math-Twitter-BlogoSphere-er. Wish me luck.

New Student Work Organization Idea

Well, I didn’t come up with this. My partner teacher at my new school (That I LOVE by the way) uses this method to organize student work. It seems to save a lot of time. I will do the following tweaks for my own classroom.

Each table gets its own folder. Each class period gets its own color.


Students turn in their work to the right side of the folder. I grade the assignments and place them in the left side, where students collect them. Absent students retrieve worksheets and handouts from left pocket. A team mate writes the absent students name on assignments.


I start using these on Monday. We’ll see how it goes.

A new outlook on teaching…

This was my favorite week of school I’ve had in a long time. Last Friday was a school dance. I got to dance Gangnam Style with a group of my students. The turn out was great and the students were great! Monday I helped 6th graders make cupcakes, On Tuesday it was a Poetry Slam. Students sang, read original poetry, and read favorite poems. Other teachers and parents sang spirituals and read their own original poems. So much fun. Then honor society induction on Thursday where I had 8 students see their hard work paid off. Then yesterday was the talent show. My students performed an Irish dance routine, modern dance (think jabbawockeez), and sang beautifully. There were even great skits between acts. It was awesome!

After this year I really needed this to see why I want to stay a teacher! I really started doubting my abilities and resolve, but with the support of my friends and regular “choir rehearsals” I think I will be okay. A new principal, a new school, and a new appreciation of starting the year off strong. We’ll see how it goes…

Graph, Table, and Equation game

I made an activity for my students to review for a test on converting between graphs, tables, and equations. I gave each student a blank template divided into 12 pieces. This consisted of 4 problems each with a graph, table, and equation. Students made up their own problems, checked with me, and then cut the page into 12 pieces. Students then traded with another student. They then matched the graph, table, and equations together. The kids that knew what they were doing enjoyed the activity. Unprepared students struggled.

If I use this activity again I think I should do it over 2 class periods. I think pairing students up, so there are 8 problems per pair to match would make things more interesting too. Something to think about next year.

The positives of losing your job…

I know I said I would be positive this post, but I haven’t felt very positive lately. My current school decided they didn’t want me back next year. I feel like I’ve learned a lot this year.

Since I was released, I have been contacted by a principal at another school. She seems pretty interested. I have also been reading up on classroom management strategies where I don’t have to yell ay my students. I’ve been reading Tools for Teaching by Fred Jones and a book series by Rick Morris. I’ve been trying it out on my current classes and things have improved.

I have also been coming home at a decent hour. My dog has been so excited. I have also found time to exercise some and I’m getting more sleep.

We have a new administrator (in-training) who has actually been helping the teachers out. Things have definitely gotten better; I just won’t be back.

I guess I can be positive after all.

Disillusioned but Eager

Hello. I am a disillusioned middle school math educator that needs a fresh start. I am hoping that this blog will help me get out of the depressing funk I’m in that makes me not want to come to work. I want to some ideas for lessons that are not “sanctioned”, and I’m hoping to get some feedback. I desperately need to get out of the book. I am also hoping for some classroom management ideas that I might be able to use in a middle school classroom. I am most hoping for someone to brainstorm classroom management strategies with me so I have a chance of regaining to respect of my current class. This year was really hard for me, but I’m hoping to use it as a learning experience.

Here’s an idea of what I had going on this year:

1) Last year, (my first year) I taught at an alternative high school. The students were very motivated to succeed. All of them. Those that weren’t didn’t stick around long. I was allowed to pick appropriate and engaging activities. I did not have a textbook. If I ever had any problems, administration helped me out. I found out that the students I taught increased almost 15% on the state test. Whoo!!!

2) This year I work at a middle school that was in desperate need of math teachers. I informed the principal when I was hired that I would need support in classroom management. I have not received any. Students I send to the office are sent back. Students I send to the hallway are brought back in.

3) My department head has not been helpful. I asked her for help several times a week for the entire first 4.5 weeks (we have report cards released every 4.5 weeks). Her way of helping was to remove all the grades in the first grading period and telling me to start over. She came in and told the kids that I messed up and we were starting over. Ugh! I stopped going to her for support. (She basically told me that I was not cut out to teach middle school a few weeks ago)

4) I was assigned an advisor that has not advised me much.

5) I had to learn how to teach with a textbook. The book is student centered and requires students to think about why concepts work and requires then to develop the concepts, which I love. I was not trained to use the book and got behind fast. And stayed behind. Especially when I started over.

6) I am still (9 weeks from the end of school) trying to figure out how to teach this age group. I have been inconsistent. I have tried too many management ideas. Just to be clear – I do not blame the kids. I would have acted like they are acting if I was teaching me then. It seems like elementary strategies are too … elementary. Secondary strategies (which are the only ones I know how to use) take too much for granted. My current students are too crazy and hyper don’t have the self-control, self-respect, or organization skills I was used to. I know that is where I messed up to start with. Fun activities for the first week didn’t help either.

7) I have not been allowed to observe other classrooms except during my very short prep period. The teachers I want to observe are at other schools.

8) Since I am on a PGP I can’t move to any other schools.

I don’t know why it took me so long to get on here. I have heard of the miracles of the mathblogosphere and am following a lot of great bloggers.

I want the rest of my year to improve vastly. I bought Tools for Teaching by Fred Jones. I hasn’t come yet, but I’m hopeful.

Lastly, I refuse to “get bitchier” to get my kids to do what they need to do. I have been more stern lately and I’m trying to be more consistent with my rewards and consequences.

There has got to be a better way.


Sorry about the length and the negativity. I am just really stuck. My next post I will dig deep and find things I love about my school and my students. I promise. 🙂

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