Aug 16

31 and counting…

Back to school backgroundSo today I officially started my 32nd year as a teacher.  I have said that, as long as I’m having fun and not exhibiting signs of losing my mind (no comments please), I’ll keep at it.  I’m hoping that someone lets me know before I’ve officially stayed too long at the party.

Even after 31 years, I still don’t sleep the night before the kids come and I still feel like I’m attending a great reunion of friends at the beginning of the pre-school work week.  I would definitely miss all the relationships I have with both kids and adults if I left.  I also really enjoy learning new things and am constantly searching out new opportunities to learn.  I’m sure I could search out those opportunities if I didn’t teach but they are always presenting themselves in my life as a teacher.  My fellow teachers know exactly what I mean here!

So, you might ask, what’s the problem… sounds great!  And it is great!  But, like almost anything, there is downside for me.  They say that the first step in solving a problem is admitting that you have one……..Here goes……006CFD531000044C-3512147-image-a-1_1459151551854

I say YES a lot and then find that I’m overwhelmed.  And, yes (there I go again), I’ve had 31 years to figure out how to NOT do that – so far I’m failing that learning target.

Its just not in my blood.  I’m a helper.  Its just who I am.  So the purpose of this blog post today….

  1.  To get these thoughts down – Shelli Temple, here you go.   Thanks for the push!


      2.  To ask for HELP!!  So, other than learning to say NO more, what kinds of things do you do to create better balance in your life?

What goals do you set for yourself that help you maintain your sanity?

What habits do you have that you find help you relax and not stress out?

Where do you draw the line and say …nope, I’m taking a break?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  I absolutely LOVE my job but I often say I wish it was less hectic.  Turning to my online PLC to help me find ways to make that happen.

Happy New School Year to all!

Apr 14

Sum it Up! – Complex Numbers

I have been very lazy about blogging this year – even though I promised myself I would be better.  I seem to never feel that what I’m doing or the experience I’m having is really that interesting or different.  Lately though, I have run across a couple of activities that I found particularly successful for my kids and that my kids seem to enjoy so I thought I’d share one more.  Just to be clear – none of these are really my creation – I’m not that creative – but are “borrowed” from others.   Love how the MTBoS shares!!  This one is an adaptation of Cheesemonkey’s (@cheesemonkeysf) placemat activity described HERE in her blog – Cheesemonkey wonders.

What I did….

I changed the problem cards some because I wanted to include some more basic adding and subtracting ones and some division ones.    I did start using the placemats in my first class but quickly realized that they really weren’t using them so I punted on that with the remaining classes.   My kids are in groups of 4 so it worked perfectly to have them in their groups and just do their work on the desks (my desks are perfect white boards.)    Just like Cheesemonkey, I had the kids add up their answers and check their work with me before they could move on.

Here are the problem cards and the placemat template.

How it went…

It was a great activity – the kids struggled just enough and quickly figured out that they had to help each other to find their errors.  Once group decided that they would rotate their cards when they didn’t get it right the first time.  Working each others problems helped them find errors.  Another group made it a norm that you had to work out the whole problem on the desk so everyone could see and then they’d help find errors.  The discussion was FANTASTIC!  Just like a previous activity, they begged to finish it the next day and commented on how much they learned.   I will definitely look for ways to use this again!

Apr 07

Unexpected Win – Rational Expressions

I teach two levels of Algebra 2 – academic and honors.  The academic kids are just a little behind where my honors kids are currently – they just need a bit more time to absorb, practice and really pull all the concepts together.  So, as I was starting the rational expressions unit with my academic class, I spent some time searching for some activities to help scaffold the concepts a bit and to also try to find something that the kids might enjoy – rather than just a worksheet.  Well, I really didn’t feel overly successful in my search.  I had done speed dating with my other class but my academic class wasn’t quite ready for that.  Then I hit pay dirt.  I ran across this worksheet from a school division in Texas (thanks Birdville schools.)  I’d love to give the teacher credit but I haven’t figured out who wrote it yet.  I liked the scaffolding that this provided for my kids and it was somewhat “game” like.

I tweaked it a little to include some basic simplifying ones.  Here it is…. the tweaked version.

I ran the original  on colored card stock thinking I’d cut it up and have them sort.    I didn’t have a chance to cut them up before class so I just handed them out to the kids and said… “hey, cut them up, sort them and write your answers on your answer sheet..”     My kids went… “Why?   Why can’t we just do them on our sheet and match the letters.”    DUH!  (I think they secretly hate sorts but just cooperate to be nice.)

So they went at it… and I mean they went crazy working those problems.  They wrote their work on their answer sheets and then looked for the answer on the original – crossing it out when they found it.  (This led to me putting the originals in sheet protectors so they could mark them with a dry erase marker.)  I mean they WORKED, worked and worked some more.  They discussed together, they compared answers, they found each others mistakes.  It was AMAZING!!  When they didn’t finish, they begged to finish the next day.  I was blown away – what seemed like a worksheet to me was a puzzle to them.  WIN, WIN, WIN!   Why?

So, of course, I had to ask why?  Their responses –

“The answers were there so I knew I could get it eventually.”

” Having the answers and steps took some pressure off.”

” I could figure out my mistakes when I could see the steps in between.”

“Working the problems with the steps and the help of my friends made it easy!”

“Having the steps shown helped me understand.”

“I’m still struggling with factoring, so having them factored helped me get to the answer…. and my factoring got better too.”

Will I use it again?   Already did – created one for addition and subtraction too!   Still not completely sure why it was such a win… but I’ll take it!

Here are the links to the word version of both.

Simplifying, Multiplying and Dividing Rational Expressions

Adding and Subtracting Rational Expressions

Mar 05

Can an activity be a success and failure at the same time?

The short answer – YES!   Now for the longer answer….

Anyone that’s taught Algebra 2 knows that the rational functions unit can be a challenge for students – “WHAT Fractions with letters in them!  You’ve got to be kidding me, Ms. Burke!  Do you really hate us this much?”   So we’re in the middle of that unit…. and kids are, of course, avoiding the “home math enjoyment” I’ve been sharing with them.  They were in desperate need of some practice that didn’t involve me showing them or explaining.  THEY needed to practice and explain.  So enter @k8nowak and her speed dating activity.

Now full disclosure here – even though I had the great privilege of working with Kate last year at CHS, I never tried this activity.  For those that might not have heard about the activity it goes something like this…..  Each student is given a problem on a small card to work.  They work their problem and check their answer on the back.  If they need help, they ask the teacher for help.  Once they are done, the students are split in half and seated across from each other.  The students exchange problems and work each others problems.  If they run into a problem, they consult the “expert” sitting across from them for help.  Once they have each completed the problems they exchange back, stand and all shift one student over – change partners.  Exchange problems and it keeps rolling.  Here’s Kate’s much more detailed explanation.

I just didn’t go there….It seemed like a lot of work – setting up the room etc.  This year, it dawned on me that I could use the counters in my hallway as our desks (saving the rearranging of my room ) so I decided to give it a whirl and I was desperate for something other than a worksheet.  I was smart enough to try it first with my easiest class.  You know what I mean – the class that just goes with whatever and won’t fly off the handle.  Thank heavens!

2016-03-02 15.45.05

Lessons learned – 

  • Don’t turn 20 teenagers loose in the hall count on them dividing themselves up evenly.
  • Don’t wait until you go into the hallway to have them work their first problem.
  • Remember to encourage the students to become “experts” on their problems – think about what their classmates may ask.
  • Be persistent about NOT helping once they start working in partners.
  • Don’t believe that your students have any idea how speed dating works (thank goodness!)  You will need to help them shift the correct direction the first time.
  • Gauge the difficulty of your questions carefully.  You probably want to try to find problems that are of somewhat equal difficulty so students will finish about the same time.  I just grabbed the problems I set aside from last year and some were definitely harder than others.
  • Don’t necessarily think you’re going to get through a lot of practice.  Especially the first time or if your problems require more steps.
  • Create an answer sheet for them to record their work – hold them accountable (I actually did do this!)

So… you can tell what didn’t go well. (Gosh… that list looks long!)  Some of those were …DUH…of course that went badly.  What was I thinking?   What did go well?  Well, we had some productive struggle!  The students worked hard to get those answers on the back of the card.  They weren’t complete experts at their problems so they had to work hard to get through.  I was pretty persistent though – I made them help each other and only gave limited suggestions.

The verdict – it was successful!  An even more successful with the other two classes where I fixed a few of these things!  The kids felt accomplished and got that practice I wanted them to get.  And even more successful, because as I have told my kids, we all learned something, even me!  We all grew some synapses in our brains because we all made mistakes!

Thanks Kate for sharing – we’ll speed date again soon!!


Oct 25

Domain and Range – $25,000 Pyramid Style

Anyone remember the $25,000 pyramid?  That show where one person faces the board of words or phrases and has to describe them well enough for the other person (facing away) to say the word.  This lesson is similar to that idea – only with graphs of functions! And yes, it was just as fun!!

This is a lesson that one of my PLC members, Hank Sohn, developed and shared with us.  He doesn’t blog so I asked for permission to write about the lesson for him.  He wanted to be sure I mentioned that he completely “borrowed” this idea from ones online.  As we all know, sharing is caring!  So this is not necessarily unique, just an adaptation of others excellent work and ideas.

Domain and Range – UGH!  Somehow doesn’t seem that difficult to all of us but is super hard for Algebra 2 students to grasp.  They just struggle really interpreting equations and graphs to make sense of it all.  In my many years I’ve tried teaching it several different ways, all with varying levels of success.  Basic notes telling students about domain and range, Sketchpad examples of “squishing” a graph to the x and to the y… you name it, I’ve tried it.  Because of that limited success I’m always open to something new.  At this point in Algebra 2, we’ve taught composition, inverses, and function families.  We’ve mentioned/reviewed the vocabulary of domain and range but not specifically discussed them.

This lesson starts with students in pairs – back to back.  One student has a blank graph and the other student has the graph of a function or relation.  The student with the graph begins to describe the graph to the other student while that student draws the graph.  They have a few minutes to try drawing the graph before they can check to see how they’ve done.  They trade places – one drawing before describes now and visa versa – and try another. Originally we’d planned on giving some points and making it more of a competition but they didn’t really seem to need this. They had a great time trying to get it right and were super excited when their graphs turned out looking the same.  We did this through three or four graphs before we moved on.  The graphs we used are below.


Once we finished playing we debriefed by asking the students what words they used to describe their graphs.  We got the ones we wanted – highest, lowest, point, furthest right, left, hill, valley, flat, root, intercept etc.  We also got some unique ones – whip (perhaps from the whip-nana dance craze!), wave, swoop.  The class had a discussion about which words seemed most useful.  We used those to bring them around to domain and range.  That discussion moved over to a more formalized set of notes covering the basic examples and a sort below.

These notes adapted from these.

Would love to hear how it goes for others.  So far our kids seem to be doing better than I’ve experienced in the past – A WIN!


PS – One thing I’d change or add – some discontinuous graphs – rational functions with asymptotes – for them to draw.  I’d also include those in the notes.

Oct 24

What do I make?

When I tell someone I’m a high school math teacher, usually one of two things happens.  They tell me how much they hated math and how bad they were at it or they make a comment about how they could “never do THAT JOB” and usually includes a look of pity..   I’m not especially surprised at the  “I hate math” or “I was never good at math” statements.  Somehow it seems to be okay to say that you’re bad at math but we’d never want to say that we can’t read.  Its the other statement and particularly the look that bothers me. Pity…. really… you feel sorry for me. Well let me clear a few things up.

First,  maybe you couldn’t be a teacher- I don’t know you.  It does require the patience of Job, the energy of that
battery powered rabbit, the ability to make a million decisions every hour, passion, curiosity and a commitment to
OTHER people’s children that is a rare thing.  Secondly, because of all of those things, its not a JOB, its a calling.
And yes, its hard!  But for all that difficulty, comes lots of benefit.  So, what do I make?

Hum…..Many of you may have seen this video – What do Teacher’s make? – its great!  I highly recommend it. Yep, I feel like I make a difference and every now and then I get reminded about that difference – that ripple in the water –  and that reminder is so much better than any big check anyone could ever send me!2013-12-11 18.31.27

The last few weeks, I’ve been reminded and I honestly wanted to use this blog so I would remember when maybe I’m not having as great a day.  First, a current student emailed and asked me if I knew any CHS alumni that had “cool” jobs (they wanted to interview them for the school paper.)  I didn’t remind her that I had a pretty “cool” job but did send her a rather impressive list.   Here’s just a few of the “cool” jobs my “kids” are doing – working with teachers through The Math Forum, associate director of the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, members of the band Parachute, Stanford researcher developing clean water sources in poor countries, an engineer for Exxon Mobile, a police officer reconstructing accidents (using lots of Geometry), developer at Google, interactive graphics editor TIME magazine and of course at least four are teachers with one more in the wings.  There are many, many more – plumbers, carpenters, administrative assistants, tech folks, moms and dads – all making their own impact.

Then last night I got to spend the evening with a bunch of my kids – the class I sponsored.2015-10-23 19.31.11 They are, of course, not kids anymore but in my eyes they’ll always be my kids.  I couldn’t be more proud of them as adults, as “my kids” and now as my friends.  The hugs, the old stories, the connections – it was an amazing evening.  I look forward to keeping those connections for many
more years to come.

2015-10-23 20.11.10So, I’m a teacher.  I’m not bringing home a huge pay check.  I probably won’t own a beach house.  But I have made my ripple in the water – hopefully for the good.  If these kids are any indication, I’m the winner.  Pity me – everyone should envy me!  I’m looking forward to the day when someone says – WOW, teaching, that must be an amazing way to spend your day!   It is!  Thirty-one years later, I’m still having fun and I’ll keep at it as long as I am.  It is truly a gift!




Sep 10

Algebra 2 SBG Learning Targets – Virginia Edition!

Ok… I’ve fallen off the “one blog post a week” bandwagon but hope to jump back on this weekend!

In the meantime, I’ve had several folks ask for these so I thought  would go ahead and post them.  These were definitely a collaborative effort between several teachers at my school over several years (including Kate Nowak – @k8nowak – last year!  We miss you Kate!)

I am in Virginia which is NOT a common core state so these may not be appropriate for someone in a common core state!

They seem to be constantly a work in progress so please feel free to ask questions, make comments etc.

Sorry for the tiny picture here.  I’ve tried to make the learning targets big enough to read but feel free to download to see a bigger version along with the success criteria or use the link below to get a copy for yourself.

Here is a link to a document that will allow you to make a copy for your own use!


Aug 22

First Three Days

Our pre-week activities ended this Tuesday and kids came back on Wednesday!  Yes, finally kids on Wednesday!
We run a mixed schedule of blocks and singles so this week we came back to two blocks with a singleton day on Friday.  The blocks allow us to run an “advisory” of sorts that we call “Black Knight Time.”  CHSThe goal with advisory is to provide our kids with another point person that they can turn to if they need help.  We’ll check grades, help with making connections with teachers etc.  First quarter its mainly a study hall.  After that we hope to use it or remediation – having students report to other teachers for targeted interventions.  The study hall piece is my biggest challenge right now.  This week the kids didn’t have much to work on so it was tough to keep them from using it more as a social time.  I’d love ideas here… I’m probably a little more laid back than I should be!
2015-08-19 08.18.09
Change your words, change your mindset – “borrowed” from Sarah Hagan at
I teach all Algebra 2 all day – different levels.  I have two Algebra 2 academic sections and 3 Algebra 2 Honors sections.  I took a bit of a jump outside my comfort zone with my day 1 activities this year (yes I’m the teacher that goes over the syllabus) by completely stealing from Julie Reulbach (@jreulbach ) at  I Speak Math.  I have to say…. it was AMAZING!  We discussed what they thought Math really was, how to study, and focused on making mistakes, developing a growth mindset and making the information stick.  I was still able to introduce pieces of how class would run but also felt like I was well on my way to developing some relationships and helping them see the goals that I have for the class.  If you’d like to read more about the activity, hop on over to Julie’s blog.  Here’s the link to her post.  I have to admit that I’ve avoided ideas like this in the past because I thought I’d be “wasting” a day.  Harsh I know.  Now I wish I had done them earlier.  So worth the time.  My kids got a great intro to some pieces of class while also hearing right away that I want them to collaborate, make mistakes and still persist.  I think it will pay off with serious benefits later.
Since it was a block day we also started some problem solving by doing some noticing and wondering around the problem Eating Grapes from my friends at The Math Forum. simply-orange-and-purple (1) (Please check them out!  I’m so excited to see what their collaboration with NCTM will bring!)  They were a little rough with the noticing and wondering but we’ll work on that.  They really wanted to focus on just the math things – which is great – but I really wanted them to broaden their thinking.  Noticing and Wondering will be making a regular appearance in my classroom this year.
On Friday I wanted to hit a few more nuts and bolts so we focused on navigating our Canvas page and reviewing Standards Based Grading.  About half had been in a class that used SBG before but were still fuzzy on how it worked.  I, again, stole and edited a Prezi Prezifrom a colleague, Theron Cross (actually stole it last year) and used that to introduce SBG.  It seemed to help them understand a bit better.  We also did an activity requiring them to sort/grade some student work in order to help them get a feel for what a 2 looks like etc.  I didn’t get to spend as much time here as I wanted but they really got into it and it seemed to help.  My teaching intern created the problems and “work”.  A PDF of the files are below if you’d like to use them.  We actually created two samples that we decided were both 4’s.  One had slight mistake.  We wanted to get at the idea that small mistakes might not mean you don’t understand the concept.
I really loved this activity and would absolutely do it again next year!  I think it really helps them to be able to see the differences!
Next week – we get down to some business working with patterns and starting our unit on sequences and series!

Aug 17

Once a week blog…

So I recently blogged… mainly because my head was too full of things I couldn’t sort out but also because Annie Fetter (@MFAnnie) pushed me a little.

9512385457_1845cfcab3_qThen, without thinking about it much, I said – OUT LOUD on twitter – that I was going to blog once a week.  What was I thinking?

So… we’re at the end of week one of school for me so here’s the week one blog.

I had a really good summer – at least by my standards.  Didn’t really go anywhere but got lots done around the house so I didn’t get my usual – “UGH, I have to go back to school” blues.  I was as ready as I was going to get.

This summer we’ve had some construction going on in our school so many of the rooms weren’t ready on day 1.   That meant that day one back for teachers meant some short meetings and then hunting down various places in the school to work.  Honestly, it was kinda fun.  Forced folks to see each other and work together rather than hunker down in their rooms.

Week one also means lots of meetings and professional development here.  Our PD this year has been mainly focused on our fairly new learning management system, CANVASlogo_instructure.  I’ve been in on the pilot for a couple of years now and really like it.  The division has been great about rolling it out in a way that teachers aren’t feeling too stressed.  Because I’ve been in on it for a while, I did a lot of teaching this week.  It was great to see our teachers really excited about it.  Even those that weren’t super excited were at least not too stressed!  I’ve had lots of questions come my way and been thrilled to be able to answer most.  I also had the opportunity to work with one of my CTE colleagues that I don’t get to work with much.  WIN-WN

I finally got into my room on Friday and, like Sarah (@mathequalslove) I concentrated on just making it neat.  Kids arrive on Wednesday so I still have a couple of days to pretty it up!  Just have to steal some pretty ideas!

This year I’m teaching Algebra 2 and Algebra 2 Honors – both of which I really love.
41ckcnLp1jL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_If you read my last entry you know I’m still using SBG and INB but hope to do more problem solving.  I have a student teacher from the University of VA and am working with three colleagues from my department on both courses.  I love collaborating with others and am super excited having so many folks to work with.   Three of us met today – yes, on a Sunday – and planned our first few days of Algebra 2.  The fun part – ALL about mindset and “Making it Stick”!  I’m a little nervous about it… very different from my usual day 1 … but also excited.

So – week one done.  Kids come this week (secretly can’t wait – hunted down some at pre-school band practice last week!)

The big question?  How long can I keep up this weekly blogging thing?
photo credit: IMG_1043-2.jpg via photopin (license)

Aug 05

Keep, Change, Start and Stop – Pondering the beginning of a new year

Seems I only post once a year these days!  At any rate… here’s where my mind is going right now.  Hoping that writing it down will help my mind focus a bit more!   I am quite anxious for thoughts, comments and ideas – so please feel free!! You all are my PLC!  I’m depending on you to clear my fogginess!

Keep – 

Standards Based Grading at all levels – I can’t begin to describe how liberating this process has been.  My kids love it – they know exactly what they need to work on and they really appreciate the opportunity to improve.  I love that I can look at their work with new eyes.  No more – “should I take off a point for that silly error?”  Looking at their work from this perspective has actually helped me focus more on their overall understanding and less on the individual pieces.

Math Forum Problems of the Week and peer-to-peer mentoring – I actually simply-orange-and-purple (1)want to use these even more this year.  Hopefully add them to my academic level (maybe this should have gone under “change”.)  My kids last year reported that the peer-to-peer mentoring really helped them understand and better express their mathematical thinking and I saw a big improvement in their writing from the beginning of the year to the end.  (See our presentation materials on this project HERE!)  Super excited that NCTM has partnered with Math Forum too!  Anxious to see where that partnership will lead!

Change – 

Interactive Notebooks for my academic level – I’ve used INB for the past two years but this year I let them slip.  I didn’t check them as often and that didn’t force kids to keep up.  I also want to add in more practice within the notebook as opposed to on separate sheets of paper.

– kids just don’t do it…. at almost any level.  How can I changeit so they might actually do it?  How can I limit it so it seems more doable but also gives them enough practice to solidify ideas and (unfortunately) procedures?  How can I set 418602591up homework to spiral content?   I think practice over a longer time would help the content “stick” better – just my thoughts.

Grading homework – Do I grade it?  Not grade it?  Kids assure me that if I would grade it they would do it – that’s a bunch of hogwash?  Do I give them just a work ethic grade for it?  Check it only if they want to reassess.  Or focus on classwork in their INB for a work ethic grade?  I know …lots of questions that I think we all have.

Group work – perhaps this should be expand instead of change.  I already do some of this but I want to expand it.  Similar to last years goal of “Talk less.”  Perhaps using Math Forum problems, Exeter problem sets, classwork and homework review as the bouncing off point for this work.

Start – 

A review at the beginning of the year – preferably one that doesn’t suck!2015-08-05 10.15.31

Interactive Notebooks in my honors class – How do I approach this with my honors kids?  Many already know how to organize at least somewhat.  How do I not make this seem like an “elementary” task?  I’m really drawn to this idea but want it to be a great resource for them but not make a ton of more work for me.

Big Blue Button Hangout office hours – I want to use our learning management system, Canvas, to host some Online office hours for my kids in the evenings.  Can someone add some hours to the day?

Stop – 

Homework review in class – spending 10 – 20 minutes reviewing homework that many kids haven’t done is just a waste of everyone’s time.  They aren’t getting anything out of watching/listening to me solve problems.  They need to solve problems.  I think I’m going to provide answers and give them 5-10 minutes to review in groups.  Perhaps having them decide on 2 or 3 problems that they want to review and assigning them to the groups to present.

As I mentioned previously, I have so much running through my head that its a little overwhelming.  I have lots I want to start and change but I know, from more experience than I care to admit, that I can’t do all of these.  I must prioritize and focus otherwise I’ll do none of them well.   HELP!  Kids come back in two weeks!  Can’t wait and I’m not ready all at the same time!

Again – would love your thoughts, comments and ideas!!




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