This Game Has Broken Up Friendships!


Each time I’ve participated in a @Globalmathdept webinar I’ve learned something I could take back to my classroom and use almost immediately. This past Tuesday, I participated in the “Helping Struggling Students” webinar in which the game “Grudge” was introduced. As soon as I heard it, I knew I had to try it. So the very next day I did.

Feeling the name “Grudge” had a negative connotation, I changed it to “Last Person Standing” and explained the rules to the students.
1. Each person starts out with 3 x’s.
2. Because we were working with solving equations, I would read the equation in word form. Students had to interpret the equations and solve for the unknown. This was done in their math notebooks to capture for note taking purposes.
3. Students were to record only the answer on the white board and hold it up when prompted by me.
4. Each student who solved the equation correctly would have a chance to erase an x on the board.
5. If you lost all 3 x’s you could no longer win. However, you could still play as a “ghost” or “zombie” and erase x’s.
The goal was to be the last person with an x by your name.

Excitement filled the air and the plotting began.


When watching this video, listen carefully to the buzz happening after students have determined the correct answer.

Last Person Standing.

I don’t want it to seem like getting the correct answer was important to me. What was important was what the students were doing in order to position themselves to erase an x. SMP 1: students had to interpret the written equation in order to solve for the unknown (multiply 1/2 by a number then add 6 which is 10). SMP 2: students had to reason about the quantities. I did not teach them procedures for solving equations. Prior to this math review activity, we modeled equations using balance scales. Students determined two ways in which to determine the unknown, guess and check and use known information. The latter prompts the reasoning. For example, when solving 1/2x +6=10 a student explained, “I have to get to 10, so I did 10-6 and got 4. So I know 1/2x has to equal 4. Then I used guess and check to get 8.” We also discussed what we could do to get the unknown by itself. We call it keeping both sides equal. If we remove or add something on one side it has to be done to the other in order to keep both sides balanced. SMP5: students choose tools to use when they needed them. When guess and check didn’t work, they used a different method. For certain questions they recorded the information, others they could do mentally. And for some they whipped out a calculator. SMPs 6 and 7 were in there as well.

Our principal joined in the action during my 3rd academic class (I’m upset I didn’t get a picture). Upon leaving class, students would tell those waiting to come in what a fun game was awaiting them. There were many, “I had so much fun!” But my favorite one was, “Ms. Sexton, this game has broken up friendships!”





It Isn’t For Everyone


Small group rotation that is. It can be uncomfortable and cumbersome for some teachers to setup and implement. And as I learned from one student’s letter, the students have a difficult time adjusting.


I love that my students feel comfortable enough to express their emotions and thoughts about the classroom instruction and environment with me. So I like to compromise when they, 7th graders trying to find their voice, come out of their comfort zone to share with me.

My Compromise
Alternating weeks we engage in small group instruction so those students who feel similar to my student above can get the feeling of “familiarity” in my class. On the weeks we do not have small group rotations, we will work on tasks, play games, and do other practice activities in what feels like a whole group setting. Students will still work in a small table group, discuss the mathematics, challenge each other’s thinking and problem solve.

What I will not compromise is having a stand and deliver classroom. If I own all the information and disseminate it when I’m ready, no one wins.

What Common Core Did to My Classroom


What an inspiring perspective!


One of my favorite colleagues, Mike Fannin, always pushes me to be a better teacher by asking those really reflective questions that there is no right answer to.  Today Mike, a social studies teacher, sent me one of those really fun and irrational anti-Common Core articles and asked my thoughts.  Once my blood pressure returned to normal range I begin to really think about how to put into words what Common Core did for my classroom.

Before Common Core I was a typical math teacher.  I had my curriculum maps and and state standards which read like a skill and drill check list that I marked off one by one whether the kids understood them or not.  I used really “great” methods and math terminology like “butterfly method”, “keep switch flip”, “leave opposite opposite”, and so many more that I would love to forget.  I moved to Kentucky the year…

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Vocabulary in Context


I’m a firm believer in giving meaning to vocabulary terms through context. This year I have yet to give my students a list of vocabulary words up front, have them define the words only to give a vocabulary quiz within the same week. In actuality, I haven’t given a vocabulary quiz at all, well a paper and pencil quiz.

When it comes to vocabulary, I ensure my students have engaged in some sort of task or problems solving situation. Through the process of completing the task or problematic situation I inquire if anyone knows a term for a particular idea. For example, when working with integers on a modified rekenrek, discussed in my Elementary and Middle I Thee Wed post, students discovered a white bead could be aligned with a red bead. This prompted me to ask, “Does anyone know what it’s called when you have a positive aligned with a negative?” The conversation of zero pairs and neutral came to life.

Vocabulary moments happen like that often. One of the best parts about it is, students record the term in their word wall, located in the back of their notebooks, with a definition developed by one of their peers. It is in language they understand and connected to an experience they’ve had. It also becomes a part of their math language as we continue to apply the idea of the terms. The definitions are reinforced this way.



Our class word wall. All terms introduced this school year are defined by students with examples provided by students. Those written by me are terms defined based on students background knowledge.

Cool Games to Reinforce Vocabulary Developed Through Context
1. Vocabulary Swat
Record 4 vocabulary words on the board in a 4 quadrant manner. Call two students up to the board to stand on either side on the diagram. Provide an example or definition of one of the terms. Students try to be the first one to smack the correct term. Using fly swatters adds a level of excitement to the game.

2. It’s On The Word Wall
For this game, students number a half sheet of paper from 1 to 4. You secretly select a term from the word wall and give students 4 clues to determine the exact word you’ve chosen. The first clue is always, “It’s on the word wall.” With each clue, you want to get a little more specific to the characteristics or definition of the selected term.
Clue 1: It’s on the word wall.
Clue 2: It’s part of a whole.
Clue 3: It can be determined when converting a rational number to a decimal.
Clue 4: It never stops repeating.

3 Things I Learned from Hitting a Wall


Last Thursday I hit a wall. After two weeks of working on writing expressions within small group rotation, I realized the kids were still missing it. Well actually, it was I who was missing it. With quiet time and prayer, reflection and conversations with my husband, I learned 3 key things.

1. I need to listen to what my students are saying.

My husband challenged me to ask my students what they felt was working for them and what wasn’t. When I inquired their opinion of small group, the responses were enlightening.

Students expressed they struggled with using Edmodo for numerous reasons. From login fumbles to computer hiccups to not understanding the layout fully which caused frustration among many.

Not understanding the purpose of games was shocking to me. Although I felt I had discussed their purpose it still was not evident to the students. When I compared playing the games to completing 10-20 practice problems, many lightbulbs turned on.

The biggest aha moment was when the students said, “when we’re doing independent work we need someone right here (patting the desk next to them) to help us get there it!” Even with a mini-lesson and modifying the tasks, it still wasn’t enough for them to think through it without explicit guidance.

Solution: Be explicit with connections. List the learning targets for small group instructions so students know which one they are practicing. Showing them how the mini lessons connect to the independent practice by literally showing them the task ahead of time. Once the mini lesson is finished, I’ll show them how it is setup just like the task. My hope is that it’ll begin to build their confidence in the idea of “oh this is familiar or I can do this”. Gradual release…
And vary the technology. If they’re frustrated with one aspect, they’ll begin to surf the web for other things.


2. It can take more than 21 days to break a habit.

It’s been 7 years of procedural teaching, where the correct answer was the only thing you needed to know. 7 years of synapses pathways carved out in their brains from doing the same thing over and over again. Although I knew this, it wasn’t until my quiet time that I finally accepted that fact.

We’ve been engaging in tasks, doing Number Talks, implementing the SMPs and yet they revert back to their old way of thinking. The bible says to change the way you thinking by the renewing of your mind. This renewing has to be daily and it takes time.

My goal of October to have students at the point of those who’ve had conceptual teaching for years had come and gone. The picture I painted in my mind had been splattered with red paint. It was time to paint a new picture.

3. I lost sight of the ultimate goal.

When I reflected and thought deeply about what caused my break down, I had a hard reality to face. In that moment, I cared more about what the naysayers would think rather than why the kids weren’t getting it. Ugh…

There are many teachers out there who believe if a student understands the procedure, they understand the concept. They feel conceptual understanding is pointless and look for opportunities to say “I told you so” when other practices seem to fail (purely my opinion). In my head there was someone watching me in the dark shadows ready to jump out and say, “Ha! Your way doesn’t work.”

Solution: Refocus on what’s important. They’re farther than they were at the beginning of the year, so you know they will continue to grow from where they are now.

I Waited Until Connections to Cry


As much as I hate to admit it, I wear my emotions of my sleeves. When I’m passionate about something it makes it extremely difficult to mask how I’m feeling. So during 1st academic today when I heard my voice crack as we worked through writing expressions, I mentally talked the tears back.

It’s a hard realization when the celebration you had one week becomes completely overshadowed by students unwillingness to pause and think and make sense of what they see. I mean it’s November, we’ve had at least 3 months of tasks, guiding questions, reflections, rubrics and more. Yet as I stood in front of my students I made mental leaps of whys and hows and what the’s.

Two classes down. During planning time I sat at my kidney table going through work samples submitted by students. Two teammates walked in questioning if I were okay, prompting the tears I had been holding back to overflow my downcast eyes. The feeling of failure tormented me. All those negative thoughts that my ego had been warding off filled my mind.

What do you do once you’ve done all you can do? What do you do when you feel you’ve failed at the one thing you believe you’ve been put on this Earth to do?

You cry, wipe your tears and try again…