CMC North

Earlier this month, I attended the CMC North Conference with some of my colleagues. Super Colleague always talks this one up, so perhaps I entered it with a much larger idea of what it was than I actually came out with.


I get what they are doing with the heart logo, but it’s not the prettiest logo in the world, is it?

Not that the conference wasn’t great. Dan Meyer was the keynote speaker on opening night. And it’s always fun to discuss ideas with other people. But two of the 4 sessions I went to left me a bit underwhelmed. My colleagues and I decided to divide and conquer, so none of use went to the same session for the most part. I must be really bad at picking sessions.

The first one I went to was nothing new to me. Or at least the first half was nothing new. I tuned out after awhile.

The second session was a lot more exciting. I decided to go to an upper high school session, rather than my normal middle school/lower high school grades crowd. I learned a lot about the pentagon at this session, and renewed my appreciation for accented, yet clearly spoken English.

My third session I shared with Super Colleague. I went because the presenter was a fellow Aggie and I wanted to know what he had to say about assessments geared for a growth mindset. It was very thought provoking. [And I actually tried it out when I got back to school. More about this on another post.]

The forth session was completely not what I thought it was. Even though I left with something I could use in my classroom, it was only because we were coincidentally on the same topic at the time.

In the end, my favorite part of the weekend was being in Monterey. It was just nice to get away. The work-school-home routine was getting a bit too routine.


Reminder: Change scenery every so often. It’ll do a person good.

Vlog #1

Clearly, I need to update my camera equipment.

Filmed on a Canon PowerShot A3100. Edited with iMovie 9.0.9 and YouTube Editor.

I probably need to update my video editing software as well.

New hobby discovered.

T-Break, 2016

I know I always say this each time a school break occurs, but the feeling has been the one emotional constant for me in recent memory:

I love no school weeks!

Perhaps it’s because of this that I’m so into lifestyle vloggers? In any case, it’s been a restful, productive few days of recharging. Since Thanksgiving break started – and for me, I define ‘started’ by the moment the last bell rang on Friday – I’ve:

  • Finished grading all homework, quizzes, and tests! YASS!! This whole new resolve to stay on top of the paperwork is working out for me really, really well.


  • Did all my laundry! Folded and put it away properly as well, not just tossing it on any clean horizontal surface and letting it sit there until the next time I wear it. Not that I’ve ever done that…ahem…
  • Visited home. Made dinner. Cleaned and organized, and shared my free Netflix account with family. It’s nice to hang out with family. They are the ones that know me the best, and put up with me the most, and are always ok with sharing.
  • Contacted friends in far away places. A little jealous that a couple of them are currently in New Zealand and Iceland. Just another quarter or two and my bank account would have recovered from two international trips, bridesmaids duty, and grad school tuition…and then the personal travel planning will recommence!
  • Wrote my masters project proposal. Need to revise it before submitting, but I’m essentially done. Yay! One more assignment to go: If only the Photoshop class instructor would actually let us in on what this last assignment is going to be…


  • Binge watch Gilmore Girls in preparation for Nov. 25th’s release of A Year in the Life. It’s so weird that I’m currently older than Lorelai was at the first episode of season 1. WEIRD.
  • Reignited my love affair with panettone.

There’s 6 more days left of Thanksgiving break. There’s plenty left that I would like to do, but if school were to start again tomorrow, I would be happy with how I spent my time off. I girl can’t ask for a better break.


Some thoughts

I finally learned how to properly de-seed a pomegranate. Will be eating as many of these as I can during the season for them.


The Crown is my current new show obsession. Thanks for the 3rd free month over the past 5 years, Netflix!

Presidents do not have as much power as some may think they do. But that doesn’t make the terror of deportation that some of my students are facing currently any less real.

Trying to be a better friend by scheduling more hang-out time. But must be 1-on-1, at least I until my social, outgoing muscles have had a break from the daily grind.

Principal called meeting to address emotions. The solutions that would soothe these emotions were not taken. Emotions are still not addressed.

Forgot to go to church and help out with Operation Christmas Child today. Oops. I’m such a flake.

On the other hand, I enjoyed a day of productive grading, cleaning, cooking, and getting myself mentally prepped for the week of school before Thanksgiving break.


Apples and peanut butter are awesome.

When did Royal Dansk cookies include a coconut one in their line up?! And who am I going to give all these coconut flavored cookies to??!! Anyone? Help, please?


One of my favorite times of the year is conference season. We get a short teaching week, the PTA holds a soup dinner for the staff, we all gather in the library (for 8th grade teachers, that is) with a bunch of munchies and work at a large table altogether in between our conferences appointments. It feels like a large family gathering over 24 hours.

The actual conferences are typically positive and productive. Our goal is for the student and family to walk away with an action plan; to feel supported by the school and that they CAN be successful, even if they are not right now. That’s why it’s nice all the subject matter teachers can be there. It’s nice to hear that my students are super stars in social studies even if they are struggling in math.

This year, I had 15 conferences and all but 2 showed up (1 was 45 minutes late, but whatever). I’ve always wondered if we should offer them a snack for being there. But the conference is only supposed to be 20 minutes each. Maybe we don’t want them to linger.

I also made a tutoring appointment on Friday morning with one of my accelerated students. He’s been struggling and we needed to take the time to teach him how to help himself. Thank goodness of online books and resources. How did struggling students learn before streaming videos to re-watch over and over again? Perhaps they didn’t. Perhaps they also had more variety when it comes to areas to be successful in as well.

Even though I like conferences season, I’m glad it’s over. It takes hours and hours to prep, plan, coordinate, and confirm these and I’ve been pulling 12 hour days at school all week. PLUS a bunch of normal planning and grading once I do get home. It’s insane and it’s not sustainable.

But that’s the story of a teacher’s life isn’t it? It doesn’t have to be. More than once, people will ask me, ‘Teachers have to work a lot, don’t they?’ and my reply has always been, ‘Teaching is as much work as you want to make it.’

Apparently, I have a tendency to want to make it. Not always a good thing. But it pays off when parents are crying tears of gratitude, and when students feel like they are being seen and heard.

How to keep up with grading paperwork in 6 easy steps

Heeeeeey October! My favorite season is finally here, weather-wise. Today was the first rain of the fall/winter season. I opened my classroom for movie watching at lunch time and we watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was super fun, and they were super good about cleaning up after themselves, so I decided that we can do it again next rainy day and continue where we left off in the movie.

Today, my co-department chair and I took a newbie math teacher to task with GRADING. She was drowning in the paperwork, and her system just didn’t work. We use an online grade book, which is also our primary communication device with the families of students – and when you have gaps in your grade book…let’s just say it was a very NOT GOOD situation.


Her previous methods of collecting, storing, grading, and passing back papers:

  • Volunteer student collects homework and tosses it in an inbox. ONE SINGLE INBOX. For all 5 of her classes.
  • Without sorting, she grabs a handful from the inbox and enters scores into the grade book, switching between students, classes, and assignments as is from whatever handful she grabbed.
  • These papers are then placed in an out box. WITHOUT ANY SORTING BY CLASS.
  • Passing back papers was non-existent.

This system created an inbox of a random assortment of ungraded, un-scored papers. Tests mixed with homework, periods mixed with other periods, assignment types mixed with other assignment types. This has been going on since the first day of school. I knew about it, and I’ve tried to help her, but no amount of telling or showing was enough.

I finally intervened yesterday by going to her room, looking at the physical results of her system (piles on the floor, overflowing inbox, papers everywhere), and pressing her with questions. I took 5 papers from the top of her inbox and took a look at them. Each one of them was from a different period, was a different assignment, and from different students.


It had to stop. We worked on setting up a ‘To Be Returned’ filing crate, a ‘No Name’ bin, and then started to sort the inbox yesterday. Today, we finished sorting the inbox, placed all of the outbox papers in the ‘To Be Returned’ filing crate, sorted by period. I made her work on her inbox and enter scores as I sorted. It’s not entirely done yet, but it’s miles better than before.

Which made me think: As difficult as grading is, teacher preparation programs don’t really train you in how to do it. Only your master teacher does. And if you haven’t had a master teacher yet (this newbie teacher is an intern), then you really don’t know how to handle the masses of paperwork.

So. Here’s how to keep up with grading paperwork in 6 easy steps. These are all things I personally do.


Do not let it pile up. Don’t wait. Don’t procrastinate. Schedule time into your daily routine by carving out the time – enter a stack of homework scores into your grade book every morning, lunch time, and after school. Hunker down, close the doors, eliminate distractions, make some coffee or tea (and have a snack ready), stay up late, get up early. Just. Get. It. Done.

2. Have a place for everything. Put everything in its place.

Plastic 5-drawer rolling carts, filing crates, stackable paper trays. Label, label, label! Make the labels pretty, and eye-catching. Any student will know that you put to-be-returned papers here. Any sub that comes into your room will know to put any collected work into that drawer.

3. Group papers by type and period.

Put the stacks in order by period, by due date. Keep tests and homework separate. Binder clips, rubber bands, file folders. These things are your friends. Use them even if the drawer you use for 1st period holds nothing else. Because at some point or other, it will hold something else.

4. Train students how you want the work to look like.

I know that when a stack of papers looks similar to all the others, it’s way easier to keep them organized, even if I end up running out of binder clips all of a sudden and mixing up stacks in a drawer.

Is there a specific heading? Assignment numbers? Page and problem numbers? How do students number the problems? How do students layout their work so that you can read it easily, but also conserves paper? What do you expect all papers to have? Do you consistently mark off points if these things don’t occur? Do you reward and recognize the students who do what you expect them to?

5. Put student helpers to work.

One of the best methods I use to learn all my students names are to pass back the work myself. I remember where they sit. I match a face to the name, and the name to the work. I get a chance to speak to students, even if it’s just a short ‘Good job on this one’ or ‘Make sure you redo this and resubmit it.’

But after I learn all their names, I relinquish the paper-passing-back responsibility to a student. Usually the ones finished with their appetizer problems. Train them to do this. What should they do if they don’t know the name? What should they do if the student is absent? When can they stop passing back papers? Where do they put the left-over papers that need to wait until next time? They can do it.

I also have student TAs or CJSF volunteers every so often. These students have a homework rubric in front of them and score the papers for me (although now, I stamp them in class, so my TAs only score the papers that didn’t get a stamp before in-class homework check). My TAs retrieve the papers I want them to score from their proper place (see #2 above), record the score on a paper roster, and place them in the proper place again (#2!). They leave the roster for me, and then I go into my online grade book and just plug them in.

For the really trustworthy, solid TAs, I let them also grade tests. They are only allowed to mark the correct problems, however. Any thing that doesn’t match my key, they leave for me to take care of. When I’ve taken a look at it and scored it, the TAs get it back and tally up the points. They also do the roster thing again.

6. Let technology be your friend.

If you have an online or electronic grade book, there’s no real need to have a paper grade book as well (which is what this newbie teacher was doing…). Back up the info every so often of course.

My school’s online grade book – and most electronic grade books, I’m sure – have an ’email grade reports’ function that will send grade reports to students and families. It may also have a ‘send email’ function where you can type in a message to be massed-emailed out to all your students and families. The whole point of the internet is for communication, at its heart.

There are other tools as well. Here are some:

QuickGrade is a free online percentage calculator. You set the number of problems (or points) and it’ll chug out a chart with percentages. Super nice if you want to write the percent on each paper. But to be honest, I no longer do this. My students are in my math classes. They better be able to calculate their percentages on their own!

Grade Scope is a new tool I learned only last weekend. Scan your papers, score them digitally, keep a rubric digitally, and give the results digitally! I haven’t tried this yet myself, but I’m going to very soon.

Grades (the app) is something a student showed me and I think it’s awesome. It’s an app that links to most online grade book programs and shows students what will happen to their grade if they turn in that assignment, or get this score on a test. There’s a slider button they can control. Saves time when students quit asking those ‘What grade will I have if I ____?’ questions.

Go Formative is a web based formative assessment tool. It has many functions, but the one I use the most for math is scanning a worksheet, creating an assignment, having students show their work and answers with the drawing and text tools, and then scoring them right away. It’s a good record of what students know at that point in time without a bunch of half-sheet exit tickets floating around, needing organizing. Great for keeping track of participation assignments.

How do you keep the paperwork manageable?

Goals 2016-2017

Writing goals has become super enjoyable again recently. I did it all the time when I was a student, and even past that. But the last year or two has been fairly goal-less.

Until now.

I wrote a new List of Things to do Before My Next Birthday on my birthday this year. I’m keeping a list of dishes I would like to bake or cook, and I also wrote three goals in my Binder Reminder as a sample SOAR lesson.

One of my goals is to keep up with grading by inputting everything from homework to quizzes and tests into the grade book within a week of the due date, and then returning assignments to students right away. So far, I’ve been on top of it! Yay!


Homework graded and recorded for the week!