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What Do You Need To Teach Common Core Math?

I have been overwhelmed by the positive feedback from the first Weekly Assessment Pack for Units 1-3. I have also been asked for several more products. This weekend I am working on Assessments for Units 4-6 and those will be released on Monday, but what next? Let me know!

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The Secret to Motivation and Engagement (Part 1)

Every Child Grows Everyday

This is the first in a three part series of how I am able to bring success to my at-risk students that are in my Common Core Algebra class. It includes how I combat overwhelm and help my students succeed. Each post will only focus on two elements of my recipe for success.

“How do I handle motivation in my classroom? The kids are just not engaged.”

This was the number one question from the survey that was put out this summer.

As many of you know, I work with primarily at-risk students. Students that don’t feel good at “school”. Kids who have troublesome home lives and have a high percentage of free or reduced lunch. In a nutshell, kids that don’t always come to school to learn. I have certainly experience this myself and was at the brink of leaving the profession. I have always respected teaching to much to stay as a “burnt out” teacher. This is my story of overcoming.

Feeling Overwhelmed

It is not uncommon for teachers to feel overwhelmed when the state/country has mandated these curriculum that seem like a waste of time compared to the bigger issues our students face every day. Then I began to realize, maybe this is a place students could achieve and feel good about themselves in spite of the outside circumstances. For so many school is their safe place.

But every time I tried something new, students pushed back. I was extremely overwhelmed. I used to think that the students that need the most help, are just one more day behind even while they were in my room. The lack of engagement was my biggest battle.

My solution sounds simple; every student grows everyday. This became my motto. I became obsessed … and successful.

During the last post, we began to look at some of the psychology of how this is possible. This is one of those cycles that is increasingly positive or increasingly negative. Students are engaged because they are learning and they are learning because they are engaged….Wow. Not rocket science. But the opposite is also true, students are not learning and therefore are not engaged….

So how do we prevent the negative cycle and put kids on the positive track?


The first thing I tried was to connect what the students cared about or found interesting to my lessons. This is why the lessons on this site are problem based (or at least not textbook based). That is why during exponents in Week 18, I have them read Dave Ramsey’s article, How Teens Can Become Millionaires. Any connection to previous learning or interest will help with retention (a big topic for another post) and engagement.

…understanding that somebody’s prior knowledge is something that we seriously have to consider, what are the experiences that they’ve gone through or the things that they’ve learned that they can connect and compare with the information that you’re presenting to them. And when they do, it will be integrated into their long-term memory and that’s how they begin to really take action on what that message is.

- Bryan Kelly (whatthespeak.com)

My goal is for all kids to grow, not just the ones that choose to grow. My desire became an obsession to help all of my students grow in their math skills everyday. Even if they did not pass they would be ready to try again with more prerequisites and more confidence inspite of that failure.

 The second obstacle; most of my students often will also have a hard time connecting with adults. To help them understand that we are not so different I will often begin class or any interaction with a story or a comment that we both relate to.

Start with a story. I mean I love starting with stories or start with a question that you know people are going to say yes to.

-Pat Flynn (smartpassiveincome.com)

I know we don’t have time for this…Begin at the bell and don’t let it take more than 2 minutes. You may be surprised how much more you get done in an hour. Students will work harder for someone they feel connected to. Try this for one week and let me know if you see a difference. (See the homework below.) I know I have!

If my lesson can connect both the social and the academic needs for connection, we have a winner! The Unit 8 – Exponents, Livebinder (Week 22) has a great lesson from Yummy Math about Facebook. Perfect! I even had some students want to connect on Facebook, which I graciously declined. This connection was great for getting kids to try the lesson. It was a start!


[Side note: this section has so much great stuff that we as teachers MUST understand, that I cannot fit it into this post. Please go listen to the original podcast now!]

We absolutely must create a safe environment for our students. If they are shutting down, acting out, or are not engaged, we must begin to ask ourselves what is going on? This is extremely hard and it may mean admitting some shortcomings. I know it did for me.

Overcoming years of negativity

Watch how kids behave in other classes. Study what days they are not engaged or not learning. We, as math teachers, have put students in this stressful arena for as long as there have been math classes. We were taught this way and so we teach this way. But we must overcome!

As soon as students feel like a failure at that timed multiplication test, it started. And we must be diligent if we are to overcome all of that. Remember that Algebra is the gatekeeper and that this work is worth it!

So the neuroscience behind this basically shows us that the information from the five senses goes to the center of our brain first and then it decides what part of the brain to
go after that point. Now, we’ve got this default system that’s part of what they call our primitive brain, and that’s the amygdala. It’s this tiny little pea-shaped portion of our brain and this is responsible for emotional outburst. So if we get ambushed or somebody pushes our buttons, this get set off. And when that gets set off, our bodies are flooded with adrenaline. And when this happens, we can’t think straight.

- Bryan Kelly

We can overcome the negative forces our kids come to class with each day. It takes practice and diligence, but the payoff for you as the teacher, and your successful students is priceless.

This is a three part series and I am hopeful that by the end of the series you will have some concrete tools to build on. And while this may sound fluffy, it is all backed by research of how the brain works. We will be building on these tools, but no matter how great the lesson, worksheet, or activity is at meeting a goal, it is for nothing if students are feeling stressed or unconnected to your class. Please take a minute to read the homework below and let me know what you think. I will see you back here next week!

Homework for the teacher:

Just like our math students, we need practice.

Part 1: For one week, work to create a classroom where you are connected to your students. Create lessons, make comments, do story problems that connect with the students as humans. While doing this it will build an emotionally safe learning environment for your students. Watch for students that are acting out. Are there common themes on these days. Sometime we are the trigger, often not, but if we can find at least a few tricks that will calm and allow students to think clearly we will all be ahead!

Part 2: For one week, do one thing that helps students feel safe. Perhaps greet them at the door with a smile, affirm them, keep a calm demeanor, send an email home, anything that you would appreciate will often be appreciated.

Please let me know in the comments if you are trying this homework and how it goes! I would love to know how you helped your kids feel safe this week.

Are your students problem solvers? One more quote for motivation…

The research has shown us that if we’ve got ten options to solve a problem and this alarm goes off and we get flooded with adrenaline, we lose eight of those ten options.

-Bryan Kelly



I love to listen to Podcasts. Podcasts about teaching, marketing, parenting, presenting, curriculum and web design… I can’t get enough. It really is ridiculous.

One Podcast I have learned so much from is Pat Flynn’s, Smart Passive Income. I was on a road trip and I listened to quite a few episodes. You may be asking yourself why I am listening to a marketing Podcast, but stay with me.

The content in the marketing podcasts is exactly what we must be learning to be great in education these days. We, as the teachers, are no longer the holder of the knowledge; kids can siri just about anything. We are the motivators, the ones that help students see the great in themselves. We must learn to teach, motivate, coach, and inspire in the most efficient and effective way possible.

As I began to listen to The Smart Passive Income #105 podcast, I keep thinking… EVERY EDUCATOR should listen to this!!!! (Yes, stop right now, and go listen to this!)

This is a quote from Brian Kelly from Whatthespeak.com while being interviewed by Pat Flynn from Smartpassiveincome.com during this episode.

So the bottom line is, in order to keep the attention of our audience, we want them to be learning and this whole process of learning while you’re participating as an audience member in the presentation is key. And when you do this, your audience will then be primed to take action on the message, the ideas, whatever it is, maybe you’re selling something that they will take action on this if you incorporate these five principles that we’re going to go through.

- Bryan Kelly

This really resonated with me. How am I going to be sure every student grows everyday? How do we ensure that we challenge those that are ahead and meet the needs of those that have fallen behind?

This is a big picture question, let’s simplify it a bit.

In educators terms, how do we differentiate our instruction for every student? In marketing terms, how do I make sure the audience is learning? Either way, this is the key to getting engagement.


In the next few posts we will be looking at the more specific solutions to getting people (students) motivated, how to keep their attention, and improve overall opportunities for us (as educators) to influence student behavior and success.

Please take a moment a leave a comment below, I love to hear from you!



Back in the Classroom

Welcome Back!

Well, it has been a while.

I have forced myself to take a month and enjoy teaching again. Reduce the demands and distraction and enjoy being with my kiddos. I took the time for change and created some things in my classroom to fit this year’s student. I have thoroughly enjoyed September!

Last year, I took a year to consult for a private firm. What an amazing opportunity to work in so many great schools. I learned so much about elementary classes and different disciplines, but mostly, I was wanting my classroom back so that I could implement all the great things I was seeing around me! The opportunity to learn about education from outside my classroom was eye opening.

The three most important things I learned:

  • Positivity is more important than content – After seeing hundreds of classrooms, the teachers that enjoyed their students saw more growth than those that had awesome understanding of the content. (Attitude)

Simply, kids must feel safe to learn!

  • Kids need meaning – While I have always been a proponent of allowing kids the opportunity to learn in an application based classroom, this has been reinforced with a vengeance. Students must have a desire to learn. This is more and more true in today’s world. (Retention)
  • Let them move at their own pace – Students will accomplish more than we imagine if we set them free to learn. Get rid of the idea that you must walk them through the curriculum page by page…there is simply not enough time for that! (Time)

This year is off to a great start. I cannot wait to share more details with you!



Algebra 1 Livebinders

LiveBinders for Algebra

Livebinders are a great way to organize your content!

I hate finding a great lesson and then looking for it the next year and I can’t find it anywhere. So when I found Livebinders a few years ago, I found the best solution for me. (While there are many tools, I have found that choosing one and sticking with it is the key!)

As you know, when I began organizing my lessons around the Common Core I used the Dana Center’s resources. My next step was to create an Algebra 1 livebinder for each unit and find the best lessons, practice sheets, and assessment examples for each unit and start sorting.

These livebinder folders for Algebra 1 have been out there for some time, but I believe that they have been harder to find with some of my updates. So, due to popular demand, here they are for you.

Do you use Livebinders? If so, would you be willing to share? If not, would you appreciate a tutorial? Let me know below.

Pinterest is also a hot topic. If there is interest, I was considering setting up Pinterest Boards for the Units that we could post (FREE) content to.

I would love to hear from you!

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Week 28 – Polynomial Operations

Polynomial Operations

Unit 11 – Week 28

Day 136 – Polynomial Operations (add, subtract, distribute)

Day 137- Polynomial Operations (multiply more difficult problems)

Day 138 – Special Products

Day 139 – Putting it all together

  • Review WS – Kuta software (Great Questions for a “Race at the Board” or other game.)
  • Story Problems and Applications (Regents)

Day 140 – Assessments

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Week 29 – Closure


Unit 11 – Week 29

  • Identify sets that are closed under operations and those that are not. (A.APR.1)
  • (N.RN.3)

Day 141 – Understanding closure with Rational Numbers

Day 142 – Understanding closure with Polynomials

  • Shmoop has a short practice sheet along with some suggestions for teaching this concept.

Day 143 & 144 – Using the “Finger Rule” to multiply 9s 

  • Using the following article from Mathematics Teacher 2002 to gain an understanding of number theory. There are great assignment ideas at the end of the article. I plan to use different ones depending on the ability of my students.

Day 145 – Assessments


Real-data Graphing with Gapminder (Updated)

If you have not seen GapMinder yet, it is a must from every math and history teacher! Stop and watch this now.

I was introduced to this amazing graphing software about a year ago at a conference, and I was so excited to play with it and use it in my classroom. But the how was a bit vague… Unfortunately,  the craziness of getting back to my classroom after three days out distracted me from the goal of figuring it out.

Well, the Common Core placing statistics back into Algebra 1 pushed me forward. I am so grateful. I want my students to understand numbers in the context of the larger world around them. And this is the perfect tool!

I created an Introduction to Gapminder activity and a line of best fit activity. You can find more statistics lesson plans in Unit 4. Be sure to take a look!

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What is GapMinder?

If you have never heard of it before, feel free to take a look at the video below. Please know that the great part about the software is the depth of the data. You can change the x and y axis to reflect data on world health, environment, family size or GDP among others. You can change the countries to be shown by selecting them from the right or select them all. It really allows a teacher to meet the needs of their students.

The Lesson Plan

I created a task for my students to complete while taking their first look at GapMinder. This will take place in my Modeling Linear Data Unit. It was an introduction to the program helping them to understand the notation and symbolism. It also incorporated the mathematics of independent and dependent variables, creating a table from a graph, and understanding how to read a graph. For my students, class time must be structured to be valuable as I am still in training mode and this was the perfect way to achieve discovery and structure in one step.

Thinking Ahead…

I am really excited to see what my students do with this software. While I was playing with this software I changed the y-axis to number of children and left the x-axis as GDP. It was amazing to see in numbers the history I thought I understood. I have so many Bosnian students that escaped the war in their country. To focus on Bosnia and see the turmoil the war caused on their country was extremely powerful. I can see the history teacher using this to track the main players in WWII. You can identify the major dates or even show them the graph and have them research the reasons for the discrepancy in the graph. All very powerful.

Common Core Standards

I am working on creating lessons using this software to help students understand box and whisker (S.ID.1) , correlation coefficient (S.ID.8), central tendencies(S.ID.2), and line of best fit (S.ID.6). I can see the outliers (S.ID.3) being very powerful as well with this software. I am very excited about the possibilities.

How will you use GapMinder?

Please share below how you think this software can be used in the classroom. I would love to hear from you!
**This blog post was featured on Free Technology for Schools.
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Pi symbol clip artDon’t you love when you find something that makes your job easier?

Not only that, it does exactly what you have been looking for to solve a problem in your classroom. I have stumbled upon a couple of those lately and thought I would share them here.

Shortcuts to those symbols we always need and use would be a great place to start. I found this on accident while searching for π day ideas. I always found it a time waster to stop typing and “insert symbol” and what if I was not in word, but, let’s say Blogger, instead. There had to be a better way to do this!

Well my online searching paid off. The alt key has the answer. Here are a few examples. Click here for a more complete list.

Hold down the alt key and hit… (Use your number pad, the numbers across the top will not work.)

  • 227 for π
  • 243 for ≤
  • 0215 for ×
  • 0247 for ÷

Equations for Google Docs is a great resource for adding mathematical equations to a document. This site is easy to read and shows you step by step how to add equations to any Google Doc.

How to Write Mathematical Equations, Physics Derivation, Chemistry Formula in Word 2007 This is an extremely detailed account of how to use word 2007 to insert equations. The screen shots are great for anyone beginning this for the first time.

LaTeX shortcuts in equations within Google docs helps those that do not want to stop typing to insert an equation. It allows you to type things such as sqrt and it will automatically change it to the correct notation. What a time saver! If you are interested in a more detailed description of LaTeX, you may appreciate this site.

Math Characters – This is a list of common math symbols that you can copy and paste anywhere. So easy! Love it!

In Microsoft Word the ctr shortcuts can be quite useful. It includes many of the Greek symbols that can be hard to find. I really like this link because it is quick and easy and I don’t have to read through a bunch of jargon to find exactly what I am looking for. This one is printed and on my wall for reference for all those times I am pressed for time.

Formulas for open office is a great resource if you use Open Office. It has many options depending on what you are most comfortable with. I really like that they show you how to use their presentation software as well.

web equation from Vision Objects is an amazing tool. This must be listed as my favorite and easiest to use. If you can copy and paste, you can use this amazing feature. Be sure to bookmark it, because the hardest thing about this is remembering the web address. You simply hand write the equation you need with your mouse and it converts it to the equation you want, ready to copy and paste.

host math is another easy to use site, a lot like web equation without the writing. Just click the symbols you need and it will convert it to LaTeX, Tex, AMSmath or ASCIIMath notation.

This one from SciWeaver is great as well. But on top of this text to latex tool, they have an assortment of productivity tools that most of us would find helpful. Be sure to take a look around.

Teacher Activity: Mathematical Expressions in Microsoft Word. This is a homework assignment that is given to pre-teachers. I appreciate the step by step directions that are very clear. I also love that they show you how to create your own shortcuts for those symbols you use the most.

Please comment below if you have any additional tips.


Systems and Quadratic Formula Lesson Plans

Unit 12 – Week 32

Common Core Says…

Modeling links classroom mathematics and statistics to everyday life, work, and decision-making. Modeling is the process of choosing and using appropriate mathematics and statistics to analyze empirical situations, to understand them better, and to improve decisions. Quantities and their relationships in physical, economic, public policy, social, and everyday situations can be modeled using mathematical and statistical methods. When making mathematical models, technology is valuable for varying assumptions, exploring consequences, and comparing predictions with data.

As we create our quadratic formula lesson plans we need to be sure to give our students context. Understanding a student’s needs to be able to connect the discriminant to the end product can be very powerful for many students.

  • Use the quadratic formula to solve quadratic equations
  • Be able to identify which process is best to solve a quadratic equation
  • Solve a system of equations containing one quadratic and one linear function

Day 156 – Deriving the Quadratic Formula

Day 157 – Quadratic Application Practice

Day 158 & 159 – Systems of Linear Quadratic Equations

Day 160 – Assessments