Fall morning routine

I love the GRWM tag. There’s something nosey and completely satisfying about studying how people get ready for their day. It’s a glimpse into the rest of their life, their mental state, their personality.


Photo credits

My morning routine changes with each season. I would love to have so much time on my hands that I can film and edit a GRWM, perhaps some day, but for now, I’ll just describe a typical workday morning routine during the months of October-November.

5:00 AM – Wake up alarm. I might actually wake anywhere from 15-30 minutes before my alarm actually sounds. I might also fall back asleep for another 15-30 minutes. I would like to be part of a sleep study at some point to figure out what is going on with my sleep cycle. But my alarm is so early because I like to give myself that wiggle room to get out of whatever stage of sleep I’m in properly. I just feel so much more refreshed for the rest of the day that way.

5:30 AM – Slide out of bed, put the electric hot water kettle on. If I feel like a hot breakfast, like toast or eggs, I’ll put that on as well before heading to the bathroom. I tend to buy whatever is on sale in terms of toothpaste and mouthwash, but I’m pretty particular about skincare. I wash my face with this Neostrata cleanser combined with this Foreo Luna Go. I started using the Go this summer, and because it isn’t rechargeable and is only good for 100 uses or so, I wanted to use up its battery before I went back to my Mini. Then I’ll use this, this, and this, in that order. My pores get clogged super easily, so I try to go light on products in the morning, although I do layer up on the Innisfree Soy Bean Essence.

5:45 AM – By this time, whatever I had going on in the kitchen is most likely done. I’ll put the final touches of breakfast together and then open up my laptop and put the news on. Lately, I’ve been watching the previous night’s PBS NewsHour.

6:10 AM – This is probably my favorite time of the day. I like the discipline of routines, but I also get bored easily. I make this work for me by letting this be whatever I need it to be. If I need some exercise, I’ll do some pilates. If I need to clean and pick up around the house, I’ll do that. If I got home late the night before and didn’t let Chin out to play, I’ll do that. Writing, journaling, reading, coloring, small chores like watering the plants, doing the dishes, making the bed, cleaning out my school bag, wiping down surfaces…whatever tasks that would clear my head and help me to focus on the heavier stuff, I’ll do that.

6:35 AM – Time to make myself look professional! I use this, thisthis (in the color sand to conceal and then later in light to highlight), this, this, this, and this. Also in that order. It sounds like a lot of products when I list it out, but I do it all super minimally. I also put my clothes out the night before, so I can get from lounging mode to 看人 (‘see people’) mode in 10 minutes or less.

6:45 AM – I’m out the door to carpool with a colleague. Spare the air and collaboration all at once!

7:25 AM – Our usual ETA to school. I unpack my bag, put away finished grading in the to-be-returned box, make the final touches to that day’s lesson including preparing any materials that might be needed, and then finally open my email to work on replies and Google Drive tasks until students start coming in for tutoring or when class starts at 8:45 AM.

What’s your morning routine?


A few dot talks

Math 8 Intervention – aka ‘Boosters’ – is on my teaching schedule for the 2nd year in a row. The class is a math elective (although not really), and the students in it are hand-selected in conjunction with their counselor, math teachers (current and previous) using a variety of testing, grades, and behavior data of both the qualitative and quantitative kind.

I have 10 students in Boosters so far and I have them during 1st period and advisory. Math skills are very much lacking, and my job is to bring them up to speed enough so that they can be independently successful on their own.

I use a pre-teach model for intervention. Meaning 60% of the time, I teach them that week’s most essential lesson(s) a couple days prior to when they’ll see it in their regular math class. We get to go slowly, since its such a small group.

30% of the remaining time, I do things that boost (get it? harharhar!) students’ basic number sense skills and reteach concepts they should have seen in previous grade levels. I got around to starting dot talks last week, and we do the routine a few times a week.

Here’s a slideshow of the first two times we did dot talks:

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I came across students double counting the dots for the first time ever. It was so interesting to me, that I just kinda let it happen during the first time with dot talks.

The second time with dot talks, we focused on just one set of dots and wrote numerical expressions to represent each.

The third time with dot talks (not shown), most students got the idea that you shouldn’t double count the dots by making more than one endpoint or vertex on each dot. But one girl just kept going with it, making more and more complicated shapes and seeing all sorts of things in the dots, double and triple counting everything.

In the end, I had to just tell her point blank that even though her shapes were fantastic, it was making the numerical expression very complicated. We needed to simplify the shapes so that the double/triple counting doesn’t happen and so we don’t need to adjust for it in the numerical expression by subtracting.

I’m not sure if that’s what the original dot talk people would have done, but I did convince the student to keep it simple. And thereafter, her number sense during regular math class has become much more clear and concise. Is there a connection? I don’t know. But dot talks are pretty awesome.

What are your experiences with dot talks? Do your students double count dots like mine did? How did you deal with that?

Gradescope: A first glance

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Growing up my parents taught me to buy quality on two things: cars and technology (and I suppose cars is a form of technology). Spending most of my adult life in the California Bay Area continued to fuel my value for technology.

However, these parts of myself are in constant battle with my minimalistic side. I don’t have a TV, because I can watch everything I want to watch online. I don’t have a tablet because my smartphone basically acts like one. I haven’t gotten into the whole Nest/Alexa/Google Home trend because my home is small, and old, and has other more urgent needs in the update department (like all of the flooring and lighting).

When Gradescope came into my consciousness, it intrigued me to no end. Grading has always been my Achilles heel when it comes to the job of teaching. Math naturally has a lot of student produced paperwork. It’s barely 5 weeks into the school year and I have 27 assignments in my grade book. I’m super slow at grading – it takes me a little over an hour to deal with all of the homework assignments from one day. It’ll take anywhere between 3-6 hours for me to grade, comment, and record test papers. I readily admit to losing student papers, making typos, and making grading mistakes.

So the idea of Gradescope sounds like the perfect solution to my grading problems. I can scan them in batches, so even if I lose the hardcopy, the digital copy is there. And – it’s already happened this year – when a student sneakily edits their test to turn their answers into the correct one, I can always look back on the original scan to see if they are lying to me or not. Grading becomes more consistent as well. The build-able rubric helps me keep track of how I’ve graded the previous question.


I really want to love Gradescope. And I’ll probably always scan student tests from now on, even if I don’t use Gradescope itself. But there are several things that I found rather annoying:

It took forever and a day to set the whole thing up. And then I STILL did it wrong because I didn’t upload my rosters with separate first and last names. Which means that I can’t sort students by ABC order unless I delete the entire class and re-upload the roster again.

The default setting subtracts points from the total, rather than counts up.I’m not fond of marking negative values to begin with. The culture I have in my classroom is to look for, then praise and reward, what is correct; valuing that over penalizing for what is incorrect. I took a grad class where we studied the research about how negative points discourage students from looking for and fixing their mistakes, while positive points end up helping students learn more from their mistakes. That class shaped the core of my teaching philosophy so the fact that Gradescope automatically uses negative points kinda is a turn off, even if the settings can be changed.

And I did change the settings. And I thought I changed it so that counting up is now my new default for each class, but I ended up having to do it every single time I upload a new test to score. I might have changed it wrong, and there’s a way to make it an automatic default, but by that time I was just frustrated with it and needed to step away from it for awhile.

For certain tests, I’m actually quicker and more accurate at grading on the hard copy than on Gradescope. Especially the short tests like our essential standards tests. Even the chapter 1 test was easier to grade by hand, because we had broken up the test into two shorter parts. Perhaps I’m more practiced at grading by hand, and not enough practiced at grading on Gradescope. I’ll have to try again with another test to be certain.

The feedback I want to give students isn’t as meaningful to them. I teach middle school, which means my students may treat their Gradescope feedback differently than say, a college level student. My students tend to just see the score and then stop looking at the rest. Which has led me to never write a total score on anything I give back to students anymore. Instead, I tally up their points on a separate roster and use that to enter points into my grade book. If I send students a score and a rubric of how I scored them, they may or may not know what I mean. But if I circle the exact point of where their mistakes were, or write comments like “Are you really sure 9=0 is a true statement? REALLY?” then it provides the type of feedback I want my students to focus on. I wish there was a way to overlay marks and comments onto the PDF scan in Gradescope. I think I would like that feature more than the rubric.

The work-arounds for grade based on standards is a bit convoluted. There should be an easier option for standards based grading. It should not need me to hack the rubric so that it fits what I need. Especially if the hack takes extra time to set up.

I tried to email results to my students and the email never went through. I’m sure there’s a way to fix this too, but again, when I got to it, I was so frustrated that I just ended up not dealing with it.

Technology is supposed to make a task lighter, less time-consuming, more automatic, and provides added value and clarity. As of right now, I’m not entirely sure Gradescope does that for me.

What’s your experience with Gradescope? Got any tips and tricks for me to use it more efficiently? Leave a comment if you do!

Fall 2017 – reflections

Friday, September 22 was the first day of fall for 2017. It also marks the 4th week of school. It’s been a bit of a crazy turn, which isn’t unusual I suppose, but I had a couple of pathetic ‘feel-sorry-for-myself’ days this past week, which wasn’t fun at all. Some of the pathos stemmed from going-ons as work. Others from some very odd, and very out-of-character thoughts about life in general. Perhaps the change in weather just makes me a bit nostalgic for my own childhood. Perhaps the press of grown-up cares and worries have brought me down. In any case, I need to brain dump a bit. Pen and paper hasn’t inspired any outpouring of the chaos in my head, so I’ll thump it out on the keyboard instead.

職業病 (Cantonese ‘jik yip baang’)

I had a discussion with an old roommate about this Chinese phrase ‘職業病,’ literally ‘profession illness.’ We were at a loss of what the equivalent English word is. The closest translation we could think of is ‘when the skills and habits of a job seeps into day-to-day life.’ For example, at a recent small group Bible study, I couldn’t help but dream up of certain activities that would have made that night’s study a bit more interactive and engaging for everyone, not just those who are into the Socratic Q&A thing.

It’s a double-edged sword. The moment I’m ready to put down my teacher hat for a bit is the moment I’m requested to be one in a non-school setting. It means I get things done and organized when other people need my help. It also means I don’t get to get my own stuff done because other people constantly need me for this or that.


Last Sunday, I had lunch with a couple of my childhood/youth friends from my hometown. One of whom was a friend that I held a certain grudge with. About 4 years ago, she had treated another mutual friend in a very coarse and very selfish way, and it was very hurtful to the mutual friend. And when I called her out on it at the time to ask her why she was doing that, she then attacked me. I felt wronged, and I said some sharp things back, which I’ve apologized for the very next day. But she replied that she didn’t want to speak to me and didn’t accept my apology, and wanted me to not speak to her until she initiated again.

So I didn’t. And our friendship (which wasn’t terribly strong to begin with, now that I think about it) ended. We saw each other a couple of times after that: at dinner that another mutual friend set up, and then she worked at an elementary school at my district for a little bit. She did reach out after awhile, asking me if I wanted to go to certain church events at her own church. Or if my school still did our annual clothing drive, as she had some clothes she wanted to get rid of. I replied as politely as possible, but no further.

Our mutual friend (different from the one who was hurt) who set up this lunch on Sunday doesn’t know about the argument. I’m not even sure if she remembers. She certainly acts as if she doesn’t. I didn’t think I had forgiven her, even though I tried so hard to for so long. There were certainly spurts of time when I’ll suddenly be reminded of the incident and then I’ll get so angry that I would stomp around and punch things. And then time passed, and I wouldn’t think of it for months at a time.

Then I saw this post by Blogilates just this morning, and I realized that I have completely forgiven her now. I was apprehensive about that lunch on Sunday. I arrived super early to get my bearings and settle my thoughts too. She arrived next, and I greeted her cautiously. Not warmly, but also not unfriendly either. When our other friend arrived, and I greeted that friend in a much different way, I think I saw something flash across her face. Perhaps the memory of the last time we truly spoke anything to each other.

And all the anger in my heart left. I just felt sorry for her. As we chatted and caught up, I read between the lines and speculated at the stress she had in being released from her job,  the loneliness involved when her husband has to be away for long hours for work and a brutal commute, the pressures of living in a neighborhood rife with a ‘keeping up with the Jones’ culture, and the entirely different pressures she must have as to why they haven’t gotten pregnant in the 4 years they’ve been married. She hid it well. But there was enough under the surface for me to feel confident that at least 3 of those 4 things are true.

So I released those negative feelings from so long ago. And I didn’t even know it until they were replaced by something closer to empathy.

Thankful for…

It’s been over 3 months since I’ve had a free weekend to myself. This past summer, and this first month of school have been the most socially eventful time of my life. Ever. I didn’t get nearly enough hermit-mode time for my satisfaction – but I did get just enough to keep me going. Which I’m very thankful for.

Five different people, from different circles of my life each commented on what a blessing it is to be so connected with such a wide variety of people. They said it’s a sign of how much I’ve meant to others. And I’m thankful for that too. This is going to sound horrible, but let me explain: I feel a bit reassured when people that I’m slightly jealous of myself in their turn tell me that they envy my life. They envy my freedom, the ability to go and do whatever I please without a husband to check-in with or kids to tow along. That I’m welcomed everywhere because I can say yes to all sorts of things, which is encouraging to the people who do the inviting, which spawns more invites when constant, consistent, and polite ‘no, can’t make its’ dry up all that and then creates a drift and eventually a parting of ways.

And here I thought I was saying ‘no, can’t make it’ too often, with the excuse of being super tired from work, or overwhelmed with grading. The grass is greener, no?

Reading: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child


For my flight back from summer traveling, I treated myself to a book at the airport. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was on sale at the Relay store in HKIG terminal 1, so it was a no-brainer decision.

I knew about the story, and I know how it ends – I’m a sucker for spoilers! – but I wasn’t expecting how much parts of it touched me. Talk about cutting onions.

Polyup! – User testing panel

A few years ago, I participated on a teacher-fellowship with IISME – now called Ignited. I learned a lot that summer – mainly I learned that the cubicle life isn’t for me. It still isn’t, but perhaps I’ll try it again sometime.

Ignited still sends learning opportunities to its alumni. Two weeks ago, they invited me to be on a user-testing panel for a brand new ed-tech start-up. It was only 3 hours, and I got a $150 Amazon gift card for my time, but I also learned a whole lot.

The ed-tech start-up ended up being Polyup, a new app that gamifies ‘modding’ – for modification. Modding was a new word for me, but they explained it pretty well. Modding is changing what already is in order to fit whatever needs you need it to be. Chefs and bakers are modders. So are designers, crafters, and of course coders. I like to think that teachers are as well. I was thoroughly impressed with the app, but you should go and experience it for yourself.

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It was the user testing panel experience that intrigued me the most. We were asked to give our honest feedback about the app website, the sign-up process, and the features and use of the app itself, from both the teacher and the student’s point of view. A lot of the work I did for my Ed Tech Leadership masters came back up to the surface. If interface design and user testing is this interesting, then I’ve got another pathway outside of the classroom to explore.

At the end of the panel, we were asked if we would be interested in further partnership with Polyup. Of course I signed up. And I’m really hoping they contact me back.

How to long-range lesson plan

This year, I’m experimenting with a digital lesson plan book. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing so satisfying as a paper planner, especially a minimalistic, but quality Muji one.

But I’ve struggled with keeping a paper lesson plan book for the past 2-3 years now to the point where all the pages from spring break to the end of the school year were empty. From what I can identify there are two reasons: A) I know what I’m teaching fairly well now and have pretty much all the lessons, except for the homework page and problem numbers, committed to memory, and B) I’m rather good at winging a lesson now, even if it’s a fairly new activity I’m trying out.

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In addition, the need to have some sort of easily accessible/searchable document to keep past lesson outlines has increased in urgency. It was must easier to share pacing of lessons, assignments, and test dates when there’s once central document my colleagues and I can use and refer back to. My district issuing all teachers a laptop has also helped.

A digital plan book also helps with long-range planning. I use a new tab in Google sheets for each chapter of our Math 8 book. Each tab basically has the same format:

  • Intro for each chapter – includes chapter title and a list of the essential topics within it
  • Pacing – the section number (if it has one) and title for each day’s worth of lessons
  • Materials, homework assignments, and other notes
  • Hyperlinks to resources used within a particular lesson
  • Assessments given

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It worked out really well last year when I was building the skeleton for my digital plan book. Now all I have to do is make a copy of the previous year’s plan book, rename it to this year, and then make edits/shift around lessons and dates as needed. Woot!

How do you organize a lesson plan book? What kind of items do you include in it? Leave your comments below!