Instructional Strategies Observation

This observation compares two very different types of instruction instruction strategies between STEM related topics. The first strategy is project- and inquiry-based instruction the other is a game to demonstrate a concept. In the first class, a class titled “The Physics of Flight,” students are tasked with creating a protection system for a payload on a bottle rocket they will launch at the end of the week. Students are provided a budget, materials and a critical friend who must approve the design before the build. Students must use their knowledge of drag, friction, air pressure and mass (topics of physics) to design their payload protection system to minimize damage. Students who are careful with their design and focus on the prior knowledge built more robust systems.

The project is a long term project where students will revise their plans and rebuild their payload protection system many times as they learn more about the physics required for flying and space. What I like about this project and instructional strategy is that it is very real world. Students have to work within a budget, they need to be creative, their plans need to be approved by a critical friend and finally they can actually build and test their end product and have the opportunity to revise their original plans. I asked a student about what they would do differently, they mentioned that they would not have used such heavy material to protect their payload because the mass is difficult to slow down when the object is falling. They need a lighter protection system to be slower. I think these students are really learning about the concepts of physics in a real world environment. Some students were confident in their protection systems and the teacher didn’t challenge their thinking much after they took their mind off the task. If I were to provide feedback I would encourage this teacher to talk one on one with the students who claimed they were done and ask them about how their learning changed design elements on their product. This would re-engage these students who felt they already knew how to do the activity well. I think that mathematical modeling is one of the most useful applications of math, so I may use the project based strategy to provide a project for my students to apply their math knowledge to the real world.

The other instructional strategy that I observed was a game to unpack a scientific concept. The students were studying the carbon cycle and the teacher wanted to emphasize that particles of carbon get stuck in different areas. For instance, carbon that forms oil will be stuck in the ground for a long time until it is drilled up and then moved through the air as oil emissions. Students played a game were each student was a carbon molecule and they started evenly distributed. Students would roll dice and read a legend to determine their fate as a carbon. Some tabled became very full while others were less full because carbon stays in certain forms longer. Students recorded their fate and then at the end of the game the teacher had students discuss what happened to their molecule. I think this was beneficial since it was an activity where students could move around the classroom and see/feel what a carbon would be in the larger scheme of the carbon cycle. I especially liked that the class debriefed the activity so that those student who could not make the conclusion about the activity could be clued into what learning was supposed to take place. This type of activity could implemented in a statistics unit where randomness can be visualized.

Between these two instruction strategies, I think they were both effective because they had clear goal for the students and were well planned out. Students were able to articulate the goals of the activity and the activity was differentiated so learning could be achieved despite different learning styles. The take away from these observations was that I need to incorporate more movement into my classroom and differentiate instruction with intentional activities for students.


Extra-Curricular Observation

At the end of, or near the end of each academic quarter, the National Honor Society hosts a game night for students to relax and play games, toss a frisbee and hang out with peers in a non-academic setting. The Spanish instructor was the primary supervisor for the event and explained that the game night was a regular event that many students enjoy. About 20 students stayed after school (which ended at 2:00pm) until about 5:00pm to play video games and relieve some stress before returning to work, school or the stressors of home.

I really enjoyed seeing these students interact with one another outside of the classroom. Leadership traits were much more clear and they didn’t have their guard up constantly like they do when they enter a class. Two students stand out in particular that were much different at this event than they are in the class where I teach. One student is a high achieving student and tends to focus deeply into his work was smiling and jumping around. We played a small get to know you game and another game of hot lava. The quiet student demonstrated many leadership qualities which he doesn’t have an opportunity to share in class.

The other student is also quiet but tends to struggle focusing on tasks in class. At the beginning of the year, this student really struggled to complete homework, but has since been improving. At this event, he was interesting to watch as we completed a hot lava activity where students can only stand on chairs and must transport their entire team from one side of the room to another only using the chairs as support. Since standing on chairs is generally unacceptable during the school day, this student felt more comfortable and was determined to help his team accomplish the task. He encouraged others, something he wouldn’t normally do in class, and focused to help his team win.

Overall, watching and participating in this after school event really taught me about the multiple facets of student’s lives. They share different parts of their personality through different activities. I feel as though I know these several students a lot better having spent time in a casual environment with them. Additionally, I think we have a stronger relationship. Yes, I’m still their teacher, but they know that I can also have fun, dance and play games. Possibly, the students who attended this event and are in my classes will trust me more when they have questions, concerns or problems they need advice solving. By participating in extra curricular activities with students, I have opened more doors to knowing students better.

Northwest Mathematics Conference (NWMC) 2014

The Northwest Mathematics Conference (NWMC) is a gathering of educational professionals who teach math or provide assistance to math instructors. The purpose if for attendees to gain valuable knowledge around how to teach and learn the latest and greatest instructional tools for math classrooms. All grades and topics were covered, some general educational techniques and others were specific to integrating Common Cores State Standards (CCSS) or other instructional tools into the classroom.


Day 1 – Friday

NWMC Day 1

The linked document are the notes I took on day one of the math conference. These only include a little bit about the sessions and workshops I personally attended, however I obtained many resources throughout the conference and this document include many many references to learning tools.

I will copy the session/workshop title and description and follow up with a few vital learning points.

Marc Garneau & Chris Hunter
(Education Services, Surrey School District —

I See It: The Power of Visualization

IMG_0918What does it mean to “see” the math? We’ll explore tasks that can engage students to reason and make sense of mathematical concepts through visual representations. The nature of these tasks will include concrete patterning, dynamic
graphing, geometric representation, and more.

The session with Mark and Chris taught us about visualization of mathematical concepts, this followed the Dan Meyer’s model for presenting information and creating debate. One of the most interesting pieces of their workshop was the visualization of square roots. Investigating the fundamental ideas behind square roots would help students understand how to simplify square roots. Squares have the same length on each side and a square root is the length of one side of the square. Participants were provided with a packet of multiple activities that helped students visualize math concepts.


Amy Utecht
(Franklin Pierce High School —

Algebra Interactive Notebooks

Come discover the world of Interactive Notebooks. I spent the last year researching and creating interactive notebooks to use with my algebra students. These notebooks include notes, foldables, examples, and journaling. I will share resources that I discovered and we will create several pages that were highly effective with my students.

Amy’s presentation of her Interactive Student Notebooks (ISN) was the highlight of today’s workshops. She provided examples of how she supplemented her school’s textbook with activities to engage students and provide an organization to class notes. Students participated in classroom activities and pasted Foldable’s, worksheets and investigations into her notebook. The students essentially create their own textbook by participating in class every day. The conversation in this workshop provided several ideas for how to manage classroom activities for students who miss class or choose not to participate in activities. Interactive notebooks replicate a scrapbook for algebra learning, although the tools could be applied to any subject area. We ended by creating about three Foldables to reinforce topics in a classroom. Amy says she uses the following blogs most frequently:

IMG_0122 IMG_0914 IMG_0121 IMG_0913 IMG_0915IMG_0119 IMG_0120

Debra Schneider & Alyssa Engle
(Evergreen Public Schools — 1500 SE Blairmont Ave Vancouver WA 98683)

A Free Common Core Aligned Algebra 1 Curriculum

A consortium of school districts in Southwest Washington have design a curriculum aligned to the Common Core content and practice standards. We have rich tasks, fluency practice, formative and summative assessment, and professional development modules.

Debra is a curriculum developer in Vancouver who received a grant to develop a curriculum around the common core for Algebra 1, Algebra 2 and Geometry. These are field tested activities and are FREE for any teacher to use. They obtained an open license to allow teachers to use the information for their classroom without additional credit. They have Algebra 1 published this year, next year they will publish Algebra 2 and later Geometry. This is a cool resource which focuses on BIG IDEAS for students and teachers.

This is a link to the free Algebra 1 curriculum and all related materials, there are a lot of very well developed activities on the site.


Dan Meyer
(Doctoral Candidate, Stanford University —>)

Better Than Engagement

We try to engage students with math games, math rap, real world math problems, and promises of jobs later in life, but that engagement is often short-lived. The presenter will introduce Guershon’s Harel concept of “intellectual need” – a place where students need new math learning – and ground it with practical strategies.

Dan is an educational profession who is teaching teachers to remove the “Real World” from the classroom because it doesn’t work. He claims that students will better understand the idea if we turn the dial down in education and ask very fundamental questions on a basic level. This is a unique way of thinking and is highly inquiry based which leads students to valuable discussions. I took some notes on his lecture although he is famous in the math community for his TED talk which emphasizes a very similar message as his lecture at NWMC 2014. (


Day 2 – Saturday

NWMC Day 2

Again, the attached document if for day two of the conference and note I took during the conference. There are a lot of pictures in the document above. These sessions mostly had more visual elements to them. Again, I will comment on each session for important points and provide resources.


Nancy Wisker
(Dinah Zike Academy —

ScafFolding Interactive Math Journals via Notebook Foldables®

In this fast-paced session discover how to transform basic classroom materials and scafFOLD your math instruction using 3- D graphic organizers known as Notebook Foldables®. See the possibilities unFOLD and depart with a mini composition book filled with immediately usable ideas.

This course taught teachers several visual aid and organization strategies to build concepts for an interactive notebook. Foldable’s can be independent of a notebook page or can be pasted in. Some of the topics were elementary and were silly for high school students, but other tools could be easily adapted for any classroom or topic.


Katie Akesson
(Cavelero Mid High School —

Implement Standards Based Grading into your grading NOW – Including CCSS!

Have you heard about standards based grading and are now ready to do it? This workshop will provide easy, practical strategies to implement standards based grading into your grade-book starting now – even include CCSS.

Standards based grading is important for showing students where they are struggling and where they are excelling. Providing an area in the grade book is important to show parents which areas to work on. Additionally, this talk provided some ideas for classroom management. Katie teaching in a school district where students need to receive feedback on their homework, however the problem with collecting, grading and redistributing papers is a tedious effort on the part of the teacher. Students complete homework as requested and earn a daily score, homework complete (1 pt) or homework not complete (o pts.). At the end of a 1.5 week period, the class has a quiz on a characteristic homework problem. At this time, Katie collects homework packets from the past week and grades a the homework quiz and homework problems. The students may use homework notes on this quiz.

The primary focus of the talk was standards based grading. Katie shared her approach and grading scale for students for tests, quizzes and projects. Students can earn up to 55% by making an effort. Providing student points for effort encourages work, but does not deteriorate their grade to the point of no return. Students can revive themselves from a bombed test or misunderstanding. Incorrect thinking still results in a non passing score, but they still have a chance at learning the information and encourages continued effort.

Another take away from this talk was the style of grading for tests. Each test contains several standards, a grade is assigned to each standard and that is placed into the grade book. For one test, there may be up to four grades. For example, the grade book may read Chapter 4 Test: Solve Equations, Chapter 4 Test: transformation equations and so on. This allows students and parents to really focus in on problem areas.


Tom Reardon
(Fitch HIgh School / Youngstown State University —

The Great Applied Problem and Several Other Outstanding Individualized Assessment Activities

Creatively implement these exceptional activities into your classroom – Geometry through Calculus. Discover how to create individualized problems – unique to each student – and how to create individualized answer keys including all intermediate answers to easily assess these individualized problems.

This lecture was provided to help teachers provide challenging problems, primarily focused on the higher level math classes such as precalculus and calculus to create individualized problems. The secret, a spreadsheet with the answers. While Tom grades based on correctness of each step along the way, each problem should be displayed as an organized piece of work. Tom also talked about classroom strategies when presenting these challenging problems to his classes. He allows students to work together and carefully watches as students work to problem solve. He takes a hands off approach and lets the students figure out the problems.

He provided resources for us to use in our classroom through his dropbox.


Overall the math conference was excellent, I learned about many application tools which aligned with my university learning. I would highly recommend professionals to attend this event to learn about what other teachers are doing in their classrooms. After many sessions I walked away with great excitement about how I could implement this in my classroom, even adjust the procedures of the classroom for my internship to help students needs. I would have liked to see more research being contributed to some of the lectures (such as Dan Meyer’s Lecture) however I think many of the presenters at this conference were genuine in their interest to help students and improve other’s pedagogy for teaching math.

Big takeaways:
  1. Interactive Student Notebooks, similar to what we do in class, but modified to provide more structure. Essentially creating student created textbooks in a journal.
  2. Dan Meyer presented about introducing mathematical concept in an engaging way that doesn’t necessarily have application, but makes students think about an interesting question. This provided some resources for unmotivated students who don’t typically engage in classroom activities alone.
  3. Standards based grading, breaking down assessments and assignments into chunks of what we want students to understand and enter these into the grade book separately. This allows students and parents to clearly see which concepts the student is struggling to understand. So when Student A gets a 75% on a test, he may have gotten 100% on combining like terms questions, but 60% on factoring trinomials.
  4. Graphic organizers for less organized students or students who are more into art. One class structure is to teach organizational tools and study tools to students who need them.

Micro-Teaching Reflection

Micro-Teaching Lesson Plan

[1] O1 – Offer an organized curriculum aligned to standards and outcomes. This program standard means that teachers will be thinking critically when writing lesson plans and will make sure that students are learning relevant material which meet state and national requirements. In teaching, curriculum should be easy to follow for maximum student understanding. [2] The attached document is lesson plan for my micro teaching lesson presented to the MTMS Cohort. The accompanying picture is a sample of student work from the micro teaching lesson. This lesson plan demonstrates my understanding of planning collaborative learning and inquiry based learning activities. Asking good questions and facilitating a collaborative learning environment increases student engagement and ultimately increases learning (Borich, 2014).Micro-Teaching Student Sample Work

[3] Within the lesson plan, I include questions which help students engage with the lesson and informally assess understanding. Students were also encouraged to work in groups where they could discuss their misunderstandings. The lesson clearly states the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics and the lesson aligns the learning activity with the learning target which helps students learn math concepts prescribed by the standard. [6] After teaching the lesson, I reflected on improvements I could make to improve the lesson or better achieve the learning targets. I would scaffold the learning more, my understanding of vocabulary relating to sets and subsets is strong, yet often times students do not have such deep understanding. I worked to scaffold the lesson with some vocabulary, although, if I were to teach this same lesson again, I would use direct instruction to introduce vocabulary and concepts and then use the activity to help improve understanding by allowing structured freedom. I would conclude by providing more independent practice. [5] The result for the student is that when lessons are highly organized and scaffolded well, their learning improves. The student will retain more taught information if we guide them towards independent thinking. [4] In summary, by constructing this lesson, I learned about scaffolding well, using student inquiry when teaching a lesson and the possible challenges associated with gauging student learning. [Extra Learning] An additional learning point during creating the lesson is how easy it can become for teachers to use powerpoint slides to dominate classroom instruction and how dangerous it is to overload students with words on slides.

Reference List:

Borich, G. D. (2014). Effective Teaching Methods: Research-Based Practice (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ.: Pearson Education, Inc.

Characteristics of an Effective Educator

According to the US Census Bureau in 2011, more than 79 million people were enrolled in school between nursery and college, that’s 29.6% of the US population. Since a major portion of the populace is engaged in school related activities, it’s essential to look at the characteristics of the 3.3 million educators who teach students every day.

Particularly for secondary school, effective educators are well versed in their content area. They should have deep background knowledge to challenge the most curious student with engaging material but also the ability to break down challenging concepts into elemental chunks. Mandating attendance means all students are present and educators should know how to make their subject relatable. From experience, engaging presentations, activities and lessons foster growth. This is the result of differentiated teaching, changing styles to keep the classroom experience engaging. Most importantly, effective educators show their students they have faults. Being vulnerable in content knowledge can be an opportunity for a teacher to show their students that they are constantly learning as well. Teacher too often don’t ask for help fearing of being ostracized by students.

Teaching is a daily presentation, effective educators come to work with tenacity (the determination to work with challenging students), patience (to serve students in a healthy learning environment) and flexibility (to face challenging situations with grace). These three dispositions are essential for all educators to find success working with students. With an engaging teaching style targeted at all levels of students, the ability to make mistakes in front of students and strong dispositions, these traits combine to be the characteristics of an effective educator.