So you heard about this blog at CAMT

Welcome to the Math by Morrison blog. Cheryl and I started this blog earlier in the spring, but for many of you, this might be the first time you have read one of the posts. I would assume that some of today’s readers heard about this blog at CAMT. I thought it might be wise to tell you a little about what we are trying to accomplish.

Cheryl and I are both educators, and have been for some time. The blog is a way for us to express our thoughts and feelings about education, as well as ramble on and pontificate about a variety of subjects. If you are a teacher (or associate with education in some way) you will hopefully enjoy our stories and observations about what makes a great teacher. We plan on releasing a series of such blogs as we near the first day of school. This should make for some good discussion.

If you are not involved in education, I ask that you give us a chance. While some of the topics are based heavily in education (Assigned Seating Charts – Yes or No?), others are not. At its core, education is no different than most professions. It is based upon personal relationships, and the ultimate success or failure of the educator often boils down to how well we can get along with others. It is along this vein that I would like to write about today.

I have a fill-in-the-blank list for you to consider. I wish I could give the author his/her proper credit, but I do not know where it originated. According to some Google entries, it is attributed to Dear Abby, but who really knows? My father, the mayor of San Angelo, has referenced it before in relation to civic matters. I suppose that many relationships could learn from its wisdom.

The 10 Commandments of a Successful ______________ .

1. Say less than you think. Think before you speak.

2. Make promises sparingly, and then keep them.

3. Never lose an opportunity to say a kind word to someone. A positive word on Monday might          help you on Tuesday.

4. Be interested in the lives of others and make them feel worthy.

5. Keep a cheerful attitude, and always appear positive (even if you are not).

6. Keep an open mind on debatable topics. Remember, discussions are good and arguments are bad. Use common sense on defusing tense situations.

7. Let your virtues speak for themselves and refuse to gossip about the shortcomings of others.

8. Be very careful about the feelings of others.

9. Pay no attention to ill-natured remarks about you. Act in such a way to prove them wrong.

10. Do not worry about what is due you – just do your job to the best of your ability.


So how do you fill in the blank? Teacher? Principal? Coach? Instructional Specialist? Manager? Preacher? Janitor? Groundskeeper? President? Mayor? Parent?

I think the message is clear. Successful people, regardless of their job or position, are successful because they understand the benefit of personal relationships.

Is this a message you think needs to be shared? If so, join the conversation at either or join us on Facebook. Share it with others, and let’s get ready to change the world.





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Posted by on July 21, 2014 in Uncategorized


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The Secret Summer Book Club

I have figured out why kids don’t like to read. This is very powerful information that could change ELA instruction forever. Please only continue reading if you are prepared to use this information for good and not evil AND only if you are up to the challenge of changing your current reading instruction.

We are only two weeks in to summer vacation at my house. Summer of course means spending time with friends. The friend of choice happens to be my son’s girlfriend. Both of these kids will be juniors in the fall. Both enjoy spending time with each other and talking about all sorts of things. I also know other school age people besides those that frequent or live at my house. I am sharing these details with you so that you understand that I have some insight into teenage and even preteen conversations. Below are some things that have happened that help me discover the secret answer to “why do my student’s dislike reading so much?”

  1. I was attending a youth summer kickoff barbeque with my two boys. At this barbeque there were an assortment of young people. I found myself talking to an 8th grade girl about The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. At this point I had no interest in reading the book, I wasn’t sure that she was actually reading it or if she was just a victim of the Hollywood hype of the major motion picture. Since I hadn’t read the book I had no clue. I listened and nodded appropriately.
  2. On a separate occasion I had a conversation with my oldest son. He mentioned that his girlfriend was reading The Fault in Our Stars as well. Hmmm, I was beginning to see a trend. My son mentioned that “we” should read the same book so that “we” could go see the movie.
  3. My son knows me well, I like to read the book and then decide if I want to see Hollywood’s interpretation of what I read.
  4. I am also well aware of the fact that this is a book that would not interest my son if his girlfriend wasn’t reading it first.
  5. On a Saturday morning, my son suggested we purchase our copies of The Fault in Our Stars. As soon as we got in the car, he pulled a book from the plastic sack and began reading to me as I drove. We got to page 7 by the time we got to our house. (Writer’s note: I have not set a good example for my kids – I rarely read for pleasure. For Professional Development, yes.) By the time my husband arrived home from work dinner was not ready but I read the entire book from cover to cover. A few days later my son and his girlfriend finished their books. Then the craziest thing happened: we talked about what we read. Can you believe it? They talked about their favorite parts. I talked about mine. The following things did NOT happen:
  • I did not give them a multiple choice quiz to see which chapters they had or had not read.
  • I did not ask them about themes or symbols or literary devices.
  • I did not ask them to analyze the characters and their relationships.
  • I did not ask about the author’s purpose.

We talked about the book the way adults talk about what they are reading. We discussed the main points of the book and how we felt when Gus or Hazel did something and how those actions of conversations made us feel. We talked about what we thought may have happened if the book had ended differently. I shared that I was not sure I wanted to see the movie because I didn’t trust film makers to make the movie the way that I had seen the book in my head. My son’s girlfriend stated that she had watched an interview with the author and that he had been pleased with the way the movie had turned out. She said that she wanted to go see it for that very reason.

We then discussed other books by the same author. I asked my son’s girlfriend if she had read others. She said that she had read another one and gave me a brief synopsis. It did not interest me. She then suggested that we all read An Abundance of Katherines by the same author. I couldn’t believe it, they were forming a book club and I was being invited to be a part of it. Then, just like any well-meaning teacher, I almost ruined it.

I began to think about a wonderful opportunity to create a book-study for teachers in my district to use with their students for the upcoming school year. I could feel the wheels turning in my head and my eyes began to light up. I was so excited, I decided to share my fabulous idea with the kids. They were less than impressed. I asked them why they didn’t like my idea. My son said, “Mom, it was a good book. I don’t want it to be ruined by having to listen to it being read to me by some monotone voice on a cd.” I remembered my son reading the Hunger Games series not too long ago. I could hardly keep his nose out of the book. Then school started and his teacher assigned him the newest book in the series that he had not read during his summer vacation. The teacher suggested that he read it to get his Accelerated Reader points. I bet you will never guess what happened next. Yup, I got a phone call from the teacher telling me that my son didn’t want to read and had not earned his points. The book sat unopened.

I decided not to create a Literature Unit.

Moral of the story: Kids like to read. They even like to talk about what they read. What they don’t like is listening to a voice on a cd read it to them, answering questions that they feel are unimportant to them and their understanding of the book.

So, my question to you is what do we, as ELA teachers, do with this information? How do we teach them to evaluated literature and determine its importance and relevance to society? Are we really doing that now? What can we do differently?

—- I can’t tell you my name or they will know I told you their secret 🙂

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Posted by on June 20, 2014 in Uncategorized


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First Day of Summer School

Welcome to our first day of Summer School here at MbM!!!! We are so pleased you have chosen to spend some of your summer learning and reflecting with us.

Let’s call roll. Who is here today? We want to know a little bit about you. In the comments tell us your first name and your city. If you are an over achiever you can earn bonus points by telling us something you are planning to do this summer.


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Posted by on June 11, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Summer School


You all deserve a vacation. Bryan and I hope that you will spend the next couple of months relaxing, unwinding and recharging. We also hope to remain part of your day. We would like to invite you to join us for Summer School. Wait, don’t close your browser, keep reading.

Don’t worry this summer school doesn’t require you to get out of bed early, stay up late, attend classes, heck, you don’t even have to put on pants. The only requirements are that you:

1.) tune in as we share things we’ve learned or things that are on our mind about instruction – we may have questions that only YOU can answer.

2.) provide feedback in the comments section of the blog. We want you to share questions, success, failures, near misses, overwhelming successes and anything else that is on your mind about instruction. (If you aren’t comfortable posting to the blog, then chat us up on our Facebook page.

Please don’t panic about the feedback, this is a safe place on the Internet – no one will be rude or mean. (If they are they will have to stay after school and do something unpleasant)  We won’t  share anything you write (good or bad) with your Principal. We just want to make sure that this blog is a living, breathing Professional Learning Community. Ok, I am going to stop begging now. 🙂

Be sure to tune in Wednesday for the first day of our Summer School Series.

Don’t forget, participation is part of your grade. 🙂

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Posted by on June 9, 2014 in Uncategorized


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The Same But Different

Bryan and I have been busy tutoring. Bryan was working with students who needed to take TAKS and I was working with students that hadn’t passed the first round of fifth grade reading STAAR. I was asked to provide intervention and Bryan was asked to tutor – we both performed the same type of tasks, so why were they called different things? Are tutorials and interventions the same thing? That is the topic of today’s Mail Bag. I wish that I could tell you that this question came from one person but it didn’t. In fact, it seems to be a common misconception.

He said

Most schools realize the importance of some form of intervention. The state has weighed in with its misunderstood and often ignored SSI concept. If a child has educational gaps in the 3rd grade, that will hamper his ability to succeed in subsequent grades. Sound too logical to come from the state? Well, it did. According to Austin, the two grades that are gauged for SSI (Student Success Initiative, by the way) are 5th and 8th. However, as a former high school teacher, I can assure you that intervention is necessary in every grade! Cheryl would say the same from her elementary background, as well. But what does it mean to intervene on the behalf of a student?

For a formal definition of intervention, be sure to catch the next blog entitled “Intervention Pyramid”. For now, let us look at a very broad view of this educational concept. Little Johnny obviously does not understand what is going on in class, and his scores (benchmark and previous assessments) have red-flagged him for the campus intervention plan. So now what? Math is especially dependent upon intervention, since many concepts are built upon previous concepts.   We need to fill the gaps that exist in Johnny’s knowledge, or he will continue to struggle for years to come. So we call little Johnny in (as well as several others in the same situation) during our assigned intervention time. We now have a decision to make. Do we……..

1) Reteach the same lesson we did in class today?

2) Go over homework from class?

3) Pull out some old worksheets from years past?

4) Fire up Study Island?

5) Find an old workbook from our files?

6) YouTube Video?


Hopefully you realize that the aforementioned ideas do not actually in and of themselves constitute intervention.   They might be a part of an intervention program, but are not intervention. We need to find where the gaps are, and then fill them. It might be as simple as re-explaining a concept, but most likely not. We might need to get more creative in our instruction and think of other ways to deliver the instruction. Manipulatives might be used, as well as some other non-traditional methods of instruction. Remember, little Johnny is probably not the most motivated student in school, and he is being asked to spend additional time in math, a subject in which he has already been proven to struggle. Intervention is not tutoring, and tutoring is not intervention. It is time to think outside-the-box!!

She said

Tutorials often happen after school for an hour or two a week. with a group of students who are struggling with an objective. Objectives are big ideas and concepts made up of tiny student expectations or skills. Tutorials generally happen after a summative assessment has been given and students did not do well. Remember, summative assessments are assessments of learning given at the end of a unit of study. Interventions are immediate and based on formative assessment. Formative assessments check for understanding throughout the unit of study. Interventions should happen within the school day maybe even within the lesson cycle. Intervention focuses on individualized and intensive remediation that targets the student’s skill deficits to prevent even more severe problems from developing.

The dictionary definition of intervene is to “interfere with the outcome or course especially of a condition or process (as to prevent harm or improve functioning).” That is exactly what we as educators want to do. We want to change the outcome by finding out where students are and preventing further misconceptions. Interventions happen immediately and for a significant length of time. Plan on intervening at least 3 times a week for 30-45 minutes each time. There are different levels of intervention but I don’t think there are different levels of tutoring. Intervention is fluid because student needs change. A good rule of thumb is if you are “intervening” after the learning/teaching then you are tutoring. If you are “intervening” during the learning/teaching then you are actually doing interventions. If you are monitoring the progress of your students during the intervention time period, then congratulations, you are doing interventions correctly.

I was not intervening with students during the last two weeks. I was tutoring. There is a difference. The difference is much more than can be explained in one blog post but hopefully this gave you something to think about. We will be spending some time talking about the two teaching activities for the next few weeks. Please feel free to post a question in the comments.

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Posted by on May 15, 2014 in Uncategorized


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The Hay is in the Barn

I recently received some bad news. An administrator I have worked with in the past had a stroke. This broke my heart, for he was just a few years shy of retirement. I hear he is improving, and has returned in some capacity to work. Then I heard worse news. A teacher I have worked with also had a stroke – and she is way too young to be dealing with this. Now I know bad news is part of life, and there is no telling what underlying causes there might be for such medical emergencies. However, I just cannot help but think that the stress that all of this high-stakes testing has created played a part. Just got word last week that another administrator I know met the same fate. If these people were in another line of work, would this have happened? I cannot answer that question, but I am starting to see an increase of stress-related incidents happening with our teachers and administrators. I pray that all will recover.


It has been several years ago, but I still remember a line a football coach I used to work for was known to say. As we walked off the practice field on Wednesday, he would say “Hay is in the barn!”. That was his way of saying that the planning and preparation was over, and then only thing left to do was to play the game. We had a rule – if a play was to be run Friday night, it had to be taught to the kids and put on the practice script no later than Tuesday. There was to be no last minute changes to the game plan, no special trick play added on Thursday afternoon. After all, the hay was in the barn. This always gave me a great sense of relief, and gave my mind time to clear before the actual game. Maybe we need to put the hay in the barn as far as STAAR is concerned.


Most districts are doing the best they can. Administrators and teachers are well-trained, and planning is at an all-time high (one of the benefits of standardized testing, by the way). We know what we are supposed to teach, and to what level. Oftentimes our students are not prepared for the rigor that is necessary, so schools have instituted all sorts of intervention plans. The entire school and community feels the pressure, and some great things are being done to help our students succeed. I am not suggesting that we stop doing these things, but I do think we need to realize that we as educators can only do so much. When it comes time to test, I hope we can all hold our heads high and say “The hay is in the barn”. The results are going to be what they are going to be, and then we try to fix what went wrong and prepare them for the next round of testing. Like we used to say in Little League -” I will do my best, and always strive to win”.


I do not want to hear of any more teachers or administrators having stress-related health scares. I know there is pressure, but I hope we can handle it. Did you pick up on the fact that Coach always said his now-famous line on Wednesday, a full two days before the game? I think he knew what he was doing. Too many schools are pushing the panic button in the spring and teachers are being overwhelmed in the days and weeks leading up to the test.   I say the hay has been in the barn since about spring break. That is what I learned as a young teacher – teach whatever you want them to remember by spring break. There will not be enough time for anything else to sink into long-term memory after that. Sound familiar, veteran teachers?


Now I know that STAAR has changed some things, and we are being asked to cover more material in the same amount of time (and the material is more complicated, to boot). But please do not let yourself get caught in the trap of trying to do too much and end up getting less results. I also want to offer this encouragement to teachers and administrators: take care of yourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually. We need to be at the top of our game, and that cannot be done if these things are neglected. Hang in there!

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Posted by on May 2, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Super Jake (Part II) and Kryptonite

I have been called to tutor for the next few days prior to the second administration of STAAR. My job is to give the kids that little push they need to get just a few more questions right to be considered passing. There are so many things that need to be addressed after writing that sentence. But, the main purpose of my writing today is to follow up on what Bryan talked about Monday in Super Jake Part I. He fully intended to write the follow up that he eluded to, but I arm wrestled him to finish out the series. I am not sure if I won or lost but here I am finishing the Super Jake series.

Jake wore a cape to identify himself as a Superhero and to evoke his super powers but, what if Jake didn’t wear the cape? That’s right, his powers didn’t work. Not wearing the cape is Jake’s kryptonite.

Wearing the cape = super powers
Not wearing the cape = no super powers/kryptonite

If Bryan were writing this series finale, he would talk to you about the fundamentals of content. Those of us teaching in Texas are well aware of the TEKS and what they are. And, no matter your feelings about the TEKS, love ‘em or hate ‘em, we should all be able to agree that they address vertical alignment. The vertical alignment is the important part; it’s the superhero cape. The TEKS allow teachers to see what was taught the year before so that this year I can build on that foundation. The kryptonite, is the clock.

TEKS /knowing what to teach = super power
Clock/ lack of time = kryptonite

In math, concepts and content are introduced with models and concrete manipulatives. But, that takes too much time. Unifix cubes are hard to control and kids just make towers with them anyway. So, well-meaning teachers speed up the teaching process. They don’t do it to intentionally hurt the student’s mastery of the concept. They almost feel forced to speed up because there are class pictures to be taken, and an entire textbook to finish, a Christmas program to attend, a PTO performance to practice for, Mother’s Day projects to assemble, and oh my goodness, the Principal just announced that there will be a fire drill sometime today. All of these things are crammed into the school day and the teacher knows that she must get everything in the TEKS covered. So they skip the models, manipulatives and processes and go straight to “this is how I do it”. Then everyone is left scrambling to fill in the gaps days before the Standardized Test Administration.

Content/Concepts to mastery = super power
All other events of the day/year = kryptonite

Like I said earlier I was called in 8 days before the second administration of our state test. I only get 7 instructional hours after school because one of the days is the District Teacher Appreciation Celebration. While I am certainly no super hero and I am not claiming to be but I am expected to “save the day”. Monday was my first session. I talked to the students and we worked through some activities. I had disaggregated their data the week before and knew what areas they struggled with. At the end of the session, my students left saying “this was cool. Can’t wait until tomorrow”. These kids already had super heroes, their classroom teachers. These kids did great with the stuff I brought for them. (I will be sharing my planning strategy and lessons in later blogs.) They know their skills. Their teachers have done a good job. These kids have super powers. But, I also discovered their kryptonite. Want me to tell you what it is?

VOCABULARY can either be a super power or it can be kryptonite. These kids knew how to use context clues. What they didn’t know was the meaning of the words in the answer choices.

So what does Super Jake do to overcome the powers of kryptonite?

super jake via las vegas

He puts on his cape. What do we do as educators to help our students overcome theirs? We have to purposefully teach vocabulary in context. We have to read with them and to them. We have to encourage them to read and collect words. My job is to help you do just that. So, stay tuned for engaging vocabulary strategies to use with your students.

~~~ Cheryl with some help from Bryan

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Posted by on April 30, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Super Jake – Part I

This is a picture of my three-year old son Jake.

Super Jake

Yes, he is wearing a cape. Actually it is a Lightning McQueen blanket, but he thinks it is a cape (wait until Part II to see his Viva Las Vegas cape!!). Jake loves to wear a cape – he wears it around the house, at church, to ball games, at the grocery store – wherever he goes, life is always better with a cape. Jake calls it his “super”, and once he dons his super he suddenly has super powers. He can fly (like Superman), become invisible (like Randall on Monsters, Inc.) and create ice (like Elsa from Frozen).   Do you sometimes wish for the innocence of children?

Now a very well-meaning person (who, incidentally, does NOT have children) recently asked me why I allow my 3-year old son to run around wearing a cape. To me, the answer was obvious. “If he doesn’t wear his cape”, I said with a serious tone, “his superpowers won’t work.” Duh! So if you happen to see a monster or a bad guy, it will be up to kids like Super Jake to foil their diabolical plans. That is why I allow Jake to wear a cape.

I started thinking about Jake and his super, and before too long a thought entered my mind connecting this phase with the world of education. I think we are expecting kids to quit being kids way too early!

This will be a two-part blog, for this thought is going to take two totally different directions. For Part I, let us stay very broad. Part II will be based more on “tek-nical” matters, as my friend Lisa Horton would say. But for today, the message is clear for all, especially elementary teachers.

LET KIDS BE KIDS! Is there anything wrong with letting a 3-year old run around wearing a cape? Who cares? Now if he still has a cape at age 10, then I will be concerned. As a young child, I want him to retain that innocence for as long as possible. Kids grow up fast, so as parents we better appreciate every silly moment that comes our way. So how does this relate to education?

I understand as teachers that you are under the gun as far as state mandated testing is concerned. Trust me, I know how districts pour over every available piece of data to determine success or failure. Teachers are working harder and smarter than ever (a benefit of high-stakes testing), but many have forgotten what it is like to be a kid. As I observe classes, I am shocked at how many times I hear the phrase “this is how it will look on STAAR” or “we have to know this for STAAR”. This occurs in elementary classrooms at a remarkable rate. Learning for the simple joy of learning has been replaced by beating kids over the head with “STAAR, STAAR, STAAR and more STAAR”.   If I get sick of hearing about it, how do you think those poor 3rd, 4th and 5th graders feel about it? Many kids at that age will go to great lengths to avoid letting their teachers down, and because of this are getting stressed out. LET KIDS BE KIDS!

I am certainly not suggesting that we blow the test off (or opt out, as some parents have done). I believe as educators that we should do a better job of transferring the information without prefacing everything by saying “on the STAAR test…”. I would like to see us teach more like – I can feel an 80’s reference coming on….wait for it….wait for it – Mr. Miyagi. Remember “The Karate Kid”? He taught Ralph Macchio the skills he needed without him even realizing it. Wax on, wax off.   Paint the fence. Boom! Get into the competition and those were the skills he needed. Kids need to appreciate learning instead of being forced into learning something simply because it will be tested.   In short, I wish that the acronym “STAAR” would be banned from classrooms. Both the teacher and the kids know the test is coming, but the constant reminders every 3-4 minutes are getting out of hand. I think we need to let kids be kids.

I spoke with a teacher the other day who has been around for a good while and has seen things come and go. She reminisced about the old days when test prep in the elementary grades consisted of something like this the day before the test:

“Kids, tomorrow we are going to take a test. Make sure you go to bed early and eat a good breakfast. Do your best!”

I think there is wisdom in her words. Teach what needs to be taught, but without the cloud of STAAR hanging overhead. As teachers, it is our responsibility to know what lies ahead and prepare our students to the best of our abilities in the limited time that we have them. Other than that, let’s allow kids to be kids for as long as we can – there is plenty of time as they get older to ruin their joy of learning!

Standardized Testing said no child ever

– – – Bryan

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Posted by on April 28, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Challenge Accepted

Bryan issued a challenge and I am never one to back down from a challenge. The challenge is Greatest Hits. So I am going to step out on a limb and give you what I think my top-ten list or Greatest Instructional Hits would be.

  1. 15 minutes – I broke all of my lessons, activities and direct instruction into 15 minute blocks. This means that if my rotation was one hour long I planned four different things. Some things ended up being shorter or even taking longer but 15 minutes was the goal. This was for me as much as it was for my kids – if I got tired of doing the same thing after 15 minutes I knew my kids did.
  2. Movement – I have a hard time sitting still. Yes, I binge watch shows on NetFlix or Hulu. But I am usually crocheting while I am watching those silly shows because I like to be busy. This was true in my classroom, we moved a lot.
  3. My movement was to monitor group discussions or independent work. I even used moving around the room as a classroom management piece. Some students just needed to know that I was close in the event that they needed quiet redirection.
  4. Student movement – as a general rule we moved from our desks to the carpet and back several times during the course of the school day. If we had been sitting for too long, no matter the location, we did a silly dance or stretched. First graders loved the silly songs and dances. Fourth graders did too but they wouldn’t admit to it. 🙂
  5. Randomization – I had the cup of Popsicle sticks so that students didn’t know when they would be called on so they better pay close attention.
  6. Technology – I am a bit of a computer nerd. I loved using technology with my kids. Many of my lessons used technology for instruction. I also encouraged students to use technology to demonstrate mastery. My favorite project was teaching my students Claymation.
  7. Talking – My classroom was loud. I did a lot of partner talking. This was an easy way for me to “hear” if they got it.
  8. Knee to Knee and Eye to Eye – This was my favorite strategy to use with my students during writing. We all sat on the carpet with our Writer’s Notebooks. Students sat knee to knee and eye to eye to share their writing pieces. This took a lot of work to get students to give good quality feedback and to get boys to work with girls and vice-versa but it was so worth it.

This list is getting tough…..

  1. Think aloud – I tried to model what thinking “sounded” like. I especially used this in Math and Writing. This strategy first sounds like you are just talking to yourself and your kids will look at you like you are a crazy person but it’s worth it. It is a great way to show students how you work through problems and where it takes a little mental work.
  2. Feedback – I struggled with this and I knew it. So I did a lot of “trade and grade”. This allowed students to know how they performed on an assignment as soon as it was turned in. It also allowed me to address items of difficulty on the spot.

I feel like I am really reaching now……

  1. Anchor Charts – I LOVE chart paper!!! Add some markers and I am in hog heaven. I used anchor charts for everything. The Fire Marshall wrote me up every time for either the anchor charts hanging all over the room OR maybe it was the “illegal” microwave I had in my classroom. 🙂  Anchor charts serve as reminders or touchstones for students to “remember” what we are learning.

Thank goodness this list only has to go to 10.

  1. Post-it Notes – If I can’t have chart paper then give me Post-it Notes. I used these for EVERYTHING. Students got them to identify certain parts of text or to write down questions that they thought of during their reading. I used post-it notes to write down anecdotal notes that I used for creating student groups or for tracking student progress. I used Post-it Notes to plan my questions – I would write down the questions I wanted to use with a certain text whether it be our read aloud, or the reading selection that the lesson was based on. As I planned the lesson I wrote down the questions I wanted to ask and placed them in the “text” in the place I wanted to ask the question.

WHEW!!!!! That was rough. I am sure your list is much better than mine. Let me be perfectly clear, these may not be the BEST strategies but they are the ones that I used. In fact I didn’t use all of these all of the time. And, I had to work at using these strategies before I considered them to be worthy of my greatest hits. I would love to see what you all came up with.



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Posted by on April 25, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Greatest Hits — Challenge

Inspiration can come from the strangest of sources. For me, a trip to the local Wal-Mart did the trick. Now I don’t know about your store, but ours has a huge bin in the music department that sells $5 CD’s. Most are of the “Greatest Hits” variety, where the music of popular artists has been assembled. Just tonight, I saw some Grateful Dead, Randy Travis, Johnny Cash and many others.   Imagine how fun it must be to be a producer on the Johnny Cash collection. How could you possibly narrow his music down to the ten “Greatest Hits”? Not all artists are that fortunate, though.

One “Greatest Hits” collection really caught my attention. Are you ready for this? The Greatest Hits of ……….. Rick Springfield. Are you kidding me? Rick Springfield?! Go ahead – I challenge you – without any help, name the 10 Greatest Hits of Rick Springfield. No, in fact, just name ten songs by Rick Springfield. Anyone that can email me a list and is willing to sign an affidavit stating that no outside sources were consulted in the gathering of this information will receive an autographed copy of my unpublished book when I finally get it finished. Please keep reading, for this is not the Greatest Hits Challenge that the title alludes to.

I consider myself a child of the 80s, and I also have a pretty fair amount of useless trivia. This is all I can come up with: Jessie’s Girl (the obvious choice), Human Touch (fairly well-known), and Don’t Talk to Strangers. Sorry, but I have never heard 70% of the “Greatest Hits” attributed to Rick Springfield. I suppose the words “Greatest” and “Hits” are relative terms, but really – The Greatest Hits of Rick Springfield? You never know about the internet, so if word of this blog ever gets back to Rick Springfield, then I apologize. At least you have the fact that my wife had a huge crush on you back in the day to hold over my head.

I got to thinking about the classrooms I have been in over the last few years. I have seen some great teachers, some average teachers, and some not-so-great teachers. Imagine if they were asked to write down a list of their Greatest Hits in their classroom. What are the strategies and activities that are used in class to achieve student understanding that define their abilities as teachers?   Would it be difficult to pare down the list to ten, or would you have to get real creative like the Rick Springfield CD and have to stretch the definition of the word “Greatest”? To be honest, I am afraid that some teachers would have real difficulty identifying ten distinguishing characteristics that occur in their classroom.

Here is the “Greatest Hits Challenge”.   Teachers: I challenge you to write down a list of the ten best activities, strategies, games, et cetera that set you apart as an educator. If you cannot get to ten, then write down as many as you can. Now, I want you to do two things with this list. One, keep this list handy as we talk about different ways to engage your students. Refer back after a month, and see if you can add any new tools to the list. Refer back again at the end of the semester and the end of the year and see if you have grown as a teacher. Two, email a copy of your list to me at I promise not to use your name, but would love to share some of your ideas with other teachers.

So there you go, the first ever Math by Morrison blog challenge. I hope you will participate. Invite your friends to participate. This could be your PLC for the year, if done correctly.

— – Bryan

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Posted by on April 23, 2014 in Uncategorized


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