Category Archives: Reflection

1 word: scale #youredustory

scale (3)

This word has been on my mind a lot lately.  One of the most awesome things in education in celebrations of success.  A successful teacher, student, school, program, anything.  With all the variables in teaching and learning, it’s often challenging to make significant gains.

When a little bit of the awesome does happen, people notice.  Here are some reactions that seem common:


Admin and leadership:

How do we replicate that experience for a bigger group?

Let’s grow that.

(and within budget)



That’s cool!

Would it work for me?

(my classes are unique)

frustrated student


I wish school could be more like this.

Why can’t school be more like this?

(school is always the same)

I’ve had some great times in the classroom, often working with other teachers to get some of this awesome to happen.  Now I’m in a position to support teachers as a district Math Coach/TOSA.  I get to help them incorporate or expand the awesome.  No matter what I’ll be doing, this concept of scale is sticking with me.  How do we take something and make it fit for the teacher on his/her scale?

Let’s make the awesome work, for each person and everyone.

My Favorite Formative Assessment

So @mathymeg07 posed some questions the other day.  They were good questions, and had some great comments that are worth your time to read.  The first one hit a spot that was near and dear to my heart.

How do you not worry about time?  Or how can I better plan or pace my class time? 

I promise to eventually get to my favorite formative assessment.  First I want to describe how it became to be my favorite.

One of the things that really bugs me about pacing out a class period is doing an activity without a purpose.  I don’t have the perfect answer as to which activities are the most valuable for class time.  In fact I don’t think it’s universal.  The activities must flow with the culture of the teacher and the class.  Two activities that used to bug me were:

  1. Exit Tickets
  2. Warm-ups

Why not Exit-Tickets?

I’m starting with the end here.  And that’s the part that I struggle with the most.  I remember the first time I heard of an exit ticket, it sounded like a hidden treasure.  Then I quickly saw a need to adapt it.  If I could have a class complete a quick write assessment, I needed to be able to look through it (quickly), and address issues of misunderstanding so that feedback would be fresh and current with context.  The exit ticket turned into a quick write assessment I went through as students started some type of independent practice.  I approached students that seemed to struggle with the quick write, or helped redirect misconceptions.

This took too long.  It felt like trying to finish a pile of grading that would grow faster than I had time for.  If I couldn’t assess quickly and address the issues immediately, how purposeful would it be to bring it up the following day, 24 hours after the experience.  David Wees gives some comments on the value of feedback in the moment if you’d like read more.  So I stopped using quick writes as a form of assessment.  It wasn’t a bad activity, just didn’t make sense to me in terms of formative assessment.

What’s wrong with warm-ups?

When we think warm-ups, there’s an inherent purpose.  I think educators understand that purpose of activating prior knowledge or sparking conversation.  Those that stick to the purpose of warm-ups can make this work, and sadly there are instances when a “warm-up” turns into the diluted time filler so that teachers can take attendance.

(imagine finger quoting here, or just look at Dr. Evil)

“Warm – ups”

A standard warm up

Sometimes I fear that a warm-up may serve as just a reminder for what a student has forgotten, or even worse never even learned in the first place.  Then we as teachers feel better about our classrooms because we reviewed it.  (More finger quotes, but you can just imagine them this time).

If we really want to warm-up a student, it needs to be something consistent in content over multiple days, and consistent in structure.  Sadie’s counting circles does this in a pretty awesome way.  A warm-up should help build the student’s confidence, structured in such a way that growth is built in, and it leads into further learning through a strong foundation.

Warm-ups should not be a reminder of failure.

Don’t get me wrong, formative assessment and growth activities require failure in their nature.  However, the activity is then combined with feedback and opportunity for growth.  Failure is encouraged, so long as it is a step in learning, not a finish line.

So what makes a good formative assessment? (and replaces warm-ups and exit tickets)

I was inspired by Dan Meyer and Chris Shore.  You know that I really stole it from them, just like any other teacher would.  Here’s the gist:

  1. Warm-up at start of class
  2. Skill/standard based grading assessment.
  3. Topic is always from week prior.
  4. Success erases failures (formative, not summative).
  5. Difficulty progresses throughout week.Student must pass highest level, or pass multiple times for full score.  Otherwise intermediate score for passing moderate skill level and/or only passing one time.
  6. Developing a question bank takes time, but it’s worth it.

I’m going to address each point on it’s purpose.

  1. I still did a “warm-up”.  I was able to take attendance and other administrative duties as needed.  I let the kids talk every day, (except for the summative experience on Fridays).
  2. Students were completing quick assessments on discrete skills.  Dan gives his opinion on Standards Based Grading, which this is a derivative of.  It differs in that the quiz is the same for every student on that given week.  However, a student can return to any skill/standard (outside of class time) up until the day of summative grades at semester end.
  3. Letting the students wrestle with a topic for a week meant that they were now ready for an assessment experience with it.  This delay and the numerous attempts also gave flexibility so that students could work through absences and keep current with content.
  4. Growth, it’s a mindset.  We need to encourage it by rewarding effort and encouraging multiple attempts.  Students would trade and grade papers Monday through Thursday with guided feedback from the instructor.  I would model correct and incorrect responses based on what I had observed from walking around the room after taking attendance.  Students would write in feedback for each other in colored pencil/ink.
  5. I wanted to have some incentive for students to continue practicing and growing in each standard/skill.  Friday would be the most challenging presentation of the exercise.  In order to receive full scores, the student had to perform on that level.  Passing on Monday or Tuesday still received partial credit.
  6. These formative skill assessments often were drawn out of sample questions from high stakes standardized tests, standards list like these (1,2,3).  Writing the questions took significant time.  Knowing that my students were retaining foundational skills, and learning that growth gets rewarded were invaluable to me.

I have lapsed from time to time in implementing my Skill of the Week Assessment.  This last year I was much more experimental, trying multiple activities and formats.  Given that CA had no state test for Spring 2014, I felt a desire, and even need, to try new things without any pressure from standards on a standardized test.  I learned, however, how significant the Skill of the Week was.  My students missed it, because they thought it helped prepare them for material and gave them good feedback on how to identify and self correct errors in calculations.  I don’t regret experimenting.  It was a necessary part of my growth.  But I do plan to find every opportunity to get meaningful, formative assessment back into the classroom.


Remember that epic yoga ball fail.  With opportunity for growth, and appropriate feedback, you may eventually get something that looks like this:

I plan to update this post later with resources and samples of slide decks for the Skills of the week I used.  Those should replace this text here at the bottom.  I’d also invite others to share resources and/or methods they’ve used in successful formative assessment.

Here is a link to a folder with a sample of slides I would use:

What’s Your Short Term? #JulyChallenge2014 4/31

I just spoke with my brother, @jakebutler, just catching up on the latest. We eventually go into a conversation about concept development, and how it accelerates as history progresses.  The gist was something like Moore’s law applied to the topic of impactful ideas.


A standard long term example he posed was the idea of language and documentation, tracing from spoken, to written, automated, then digital, and now multimedia.  The next big thing comes faster than the last, and sometimes it feels like we’re always playing catch up.  My brother works for an awesome company based out of Boston that focuses on a lot of the social aspects of healthy living, especially in the realm of technology integration.


He told me that they have long term goals, but when it comes to comprehensive and detailed planning, each of their sub teams never looks further out than 2 weeks.  We started applying this format to technology in general and I in turn added the context of education and #edtech.  For the most part, I would argue (as would my brother) that successful technology enhancements have gone away from the secret projects behind closed doors that take at times years to reach a level worth any public reveal, and instead have more of a micro step process.  Upgrade a few things, and often.  The short term plan to update and implement smaller, more frequent changes has been a necessary adaptation to the accelerating progress of technology in general.

As teachers are upgrading their curriculum and technology for near future integrations I think we need to consider the value of this short term cycle.  Instead of having an entire year planned out to the day, we can maintain long term bench marks with the intention on updating our planning through small frequent upgrades.  I doubt that teachers trying to implement formative and interactive technologies in the classroom would have predicted the introduction of @peardeck (read more here).

This hard for an educator to manage.  We already have plenty on our plate between and the hard requirements and soft skills necessary to achieve them.  If a teacher truly wants to match the current culture of technology and conceptual progression we need to have an appropriate design for our planning.  We need to anticipate the change and build in the flexibility so that we can adapt on the fly.

I don’t know if I’d take it as far as this guy…

…but refusing an adaptive attitude is assuming we can predict the future of every step in growth of our students.  And that sounds silly.


I’d love to hear how others have integrated this adaptive planning, with small frequent updates, into their classroom planning (tech and non-tech contexts)

Start – Stop – Continue 1/31#MTBoS

Just read about a blogging challenge for the month of July.  I tried this with #MTBoS30 and only got up to 12.  This time around I’m going to divide and conquer across four blogs I have various levels interactions with:, DailyDesmos, and #ggbchat.

For post 1 of 31, the theme is a derivative from others and it focuses on the past, present and future goals with 3 items for each of the Start, Stop, and Continue theme.


  • Desmos API:  I am so excited about this one.  I’m a huge fan of @geogebra and @desmos (and pretty much any other dynamic math visualization tool).  After an open invitation from Chris Lusto, I’m excited to learn from others.
  • Books: I read one book this summer so far.  Looking forward to the next.  There’s something about the raw nature of a book that balances out my passion for and interaction with technology (my wife would probably say it leans more toward addiction).
  • Cross Curricular: Late in the year this last season of school, I spoke with a science teacher about integrating geogebra applets into a physics setting.  There’s too many overlaps with math and science NOT to exploit the potential collaboration opportunities. With the CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practice we are also seeing an increased focused in constructing arguments, organizing evidence, and making sense of problems.  These type of frameworks lend to collaboration with Humanities.  This conversation of cross curricular collaboration is too far overdue.


  • Driving (as much as possible): My car, a lovely Buick that has passed from my grandparents, to my great aunt, and now onto me, is nearing it’s end.  I only live 6.5 miles from work.  There is also a Super Target less than a mile away.  I like to ride my bike, and I feel like I don’t show it the love that it deserves.  Time to stop driving (when possible) and start riding more.
  • Frustrations with Growing Pains in CCSS: There is plenty of argument and frustration with the changes in education.  Progress and growth doesn’t jive well with those who have established systems in place.  Education is a continual evolution that I’ve learned to embrace.  Those that resist this change often take plenty of shots at new ideas.  I will concede that new ideas without proven track records can be a gamble.  However, I feel that the mantra, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has little place in education.  I feel it’s better to apply a growth mindest and look at education as “Don’t knock it till to try it.”  Learning that something doesn’t work is still learning, and that should be our focus, learning.
  • Playing Candy Crush: Level 140 has been stuck on my phone for a month.  Seriously, why do I continue.  I’m done.


  • CCSS: it’s not that I have to re-learn math, or teaching, or learning.  This label is probably overused if nothing else.  I look at recent transitions in education, especially in math, and am glad for the increased coherence and creativity.  My most recent ambition is learning more about the progressions.
  • Geogebra:  Recently a group of colleagues and I started a #ggbchat on twitter.  I’ve only been using this software for about a year, but the potential has only grown the more interactions I have with it.  I plan to get more organized with my work, especially in ways that makes the applets more user friendly for students.
  • #MTBoS: OHHHH, EMMMM, GEEEEE.  If you’re reading this post, hopefully you’re already aware of the gold mine that exists out there on the net.  Get plugged in, buckle up, and try not to blink.  You will be overwhelmed, and it will be awesome.

So now, your turn: What do you plan to Start, Stop, and Continue?

Unlock the door. #MTBoS 11 of 30


In #slowchated a while ago the topic was on Change.  Inspiring change, cultivating change, and the purpose of change.  I remember going through a course on leadership and psychology that was focused on the text Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution.  The discussions often overlapped with the concept of thinking outside the box in order for change to be possible.

Example from parenting

(not from experience, no kids yet):

Son keeps locking himself in room to try and avoid interacting with family.  Parents want their son to interact more and stop being so evasive.

Remove the locks.

The answer is simple, but it breaks a rule that wasn’t even a rule.  There’s a lock on the door.  It was already there, so it must be a requirement.

I feel like this is how educators and learners get stuck.  That’s how it was, so that’s how it should be, and that’s how it will continue to be.  The educator I started out being is only some arbitrary portion of the one I am today.  How did that happen?  I’m pretty sure I didn’t just do what everybody else was doing.  I also did do the same thing that I did the day before.  Often times I had an inclination that a lesson could have gone a different way, an activity or assessment could have been more authentic, or there may be an alternative to what I had tried in the class.


What are we so afraid of?

Why don’t we try new things or different things in the class?  Maybe it’s a matter of effort and exhaustion.  Maybe it’s discomfort with what others may see as failure.  Maybe we would rather be safe than sorry because the development of the youth in the class is at stake.  I don’t know what it is, but I’m more afraid of thinking that this is how things should be for the rest of my life and I might as well get comfortable with it.

Too Much Change?

Is it possible that change actually turns into chaos?  I would say yes.  In fact, this year has probably felt more like chaos than progress.  That is, until I start to reflect on what has been accomplished through interactions with others.  Blogging, tweeting, GHOs, and meet-ups have been huge stabilizers for me.  Sharing experiences with others and learning from others experiences supports taking these leaps of change.

Where do I start?

Write it down.  Talk about it.  Be social about it.  Journal.  Locking yourself up in a room for 7+ hours a day won’t get you to change.  Break the locks and start looking for others that are trying to break out as well.  Start small or jump in, but however it may be:

Toilet Seat Do Something

Outlier for Too Long #MTBoS30 8 of 30

This was me:


We are doing a unit on statistics in Integrated Math 1.  So far, I’m loving it (way more than I thought I would).

When I thought of basic statistics appropriate for High/Middle school, my mind wandered toward mean, median and mode.  I could work with these concepts decently enough.  I even understood how they were similar yet different.  Only now that statistics is a larger part of the CCSS curriculum am I taking it more seriously (better late than never).  We (myself and other integrating math 1 teachers in my district) are doing a unit that includes the basic descriptive statistics.  Now we’re working our way through linear regression and my appreciation for the content is increasing, in a concave up sort of way.  I’m see the big picture, or at least starting to.

First, we had covered the basics of descriptive statistics at the beginning of the school year.  We included some fun activities getting data from various things the students were involved with.  Recently we reviewed the content courtesy of some awesome practice via Khan Academy.  Yesterday and today the topic was correlation.  We focused on developing intuition and applying such insight toward predictions.  We used a great activity from @yummymath to try and make a prediction for how much the lifetime gross of Amazing Spiderman 2 will be.  We were able to also incorporate @desmos into the work to get some more pretty graphs.  Early next week our content team plans to continue with this topic going further and using some data from the students in the classroom.

The awesomeness today came from multiple students having the conversation about the strength of the correlation in a data set was only so-so because there were a few outliers that weren’t close to our guess for a line of best fit.  One student even used language like, “it’s not that strong cause it varies too much off the line.”  I didn’t prompt them to do it.  Nobody did.  They came up with half or more of the academic language without me defining it for them.  The students covered nearly all, if not all, of the CCSS SMPs with very little explicit direction on my part.

I feel slightly ashamed to not have had this appreciation for statistics before.  #facepalm  If you’re not including statistics and probability as a large part of your math curriculum, please ask yourself, “Why not?”  I consider myself a math geek and now I’m gaining a better overall understanding of how Stats ties in.  The support and opportunity it provides with math modeling and critiquing the arguments of others is invaluable.  I used to think that statistics was too “fuzzy” for me.  Not anymore.

Ed Goes to Camp

My students ask me, “What do you do for fun?  Like, what do you do when you’re not teaching?”  I know they think that at 7am I just appear at the school,  and sometime around 4 or 5 in the afternoon, I disappear.  It’s either that or I have a cot size bed in the closet, and a George Foreman grill in my desk.  Students know that teachers put in extra hours, but anything that happens outside of the 50 minutes of class time is completely off their radar.

So what do I do during my time not at work?  This last month I went to EdCampIE and EdCampMurrieta.  First of all, if you don’t know how this whole Ed Camp thing works, check this out before reading further.

One of the sessions I participated in focused on the topic: Curriculum Design, What are You Doing?  The idea of scaffolding for teachers with new curriculum was tossed back and forth.  Should we try this Rigorous Design Model, Understanding by Design, and probably some other branded research based model of how to teach and learn.  Administrative reps from various school districts seemed to all be asking the same thing: What do teachers need?  This is a great question.  I feel like the discussions I’ve been primarily involved with has more of the focus, “What do students need?”

runnin on empty

I’m about to get selfish, but it’s for a good cause.  Teachers invest a lot of time into their students.  We plan, implement, assess and repeat.  Educators seem to race through the assess portion, at least as it pertains to our role in the learning process.  Do I adjust what I’m doing based on how the students performed?  How do I know if what I did actually worked?  Wait, we have a holiday this weekend?  Finally, a chance to recharge.  Wait, is it Monday again already?

It can get so hard to keep up that we pass by the whole assess and reflect portion.  It’s practically required for beginning teachers with induction programs like BTSA.  After an educator reaches a more permanent status, cruise control is tempting.  Repetition toward honing a practice to be better is great, but is there ever a finish line that says ,”Good enough.”  We as educators model this to our students.  If we lose motivation to learn and improve, why should our students do anything different?

“But where am I going to get the time, Butler?”

Time spent reflects one’s priorities.  I’m not saying give up on your other priorities.  I am saying consider if an EdCamp is worth yours (by the way – did we mention it’s free besides the time it costs you).

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