Teachers, Let’s Take Better Care of Ourselves

I say this every year after a summer of sleeping more, exercising more, and eating better. “This year, I will keep this up. This year, I will take better care of myself once school begins.”

I lie.

Last year, I even made it one of my official professional GOALS, that I typed into a FORM. I still did not make enough time for myself.

But this year has to be different. There is the stress of hybrid, distance learning, or face to face, and the worry about getting sick. I MUST try harder to take care of myself.  We all must. I have seen your tweets and your Facebook posts. I know how you are feeling. I feel it too. We need to be healthier, more well rested, and in good shape, so that we will feel better physically and mentally. Then we can better take care of ourselves, and also our dear students and colleagues that will need our support this year.

I know this, we all know this. We just need to try harder to do this. It won’t be easy, as I have worked more this summer than I ever have in my career.  I do not know what this year will be like. I feel like a first year teacher. And that is stressful. You know what helps relieve stress? Sleep! And exercise!! 

So, I am pledging to myself to do better for myself. Because only then can I be better for everyone else.

  1. I am going to get enough sleep. 
  2. I am going do my 30 minute workout at least 5-6 days a week.
  3. I am going to take 30 minute walks with my dogs a few times a week.
  4. I am going to meal plan on the weekends.

I first typed “I am going to try to”. But then I changed it to I am.

I AM.  And you can too.

Join me.  We’ve got this.


Teachers – You are STILL Enough

I don’t know who else needs to hear this right now, BUT I SURE DID. So I am going to return the favor and tell you. Teachers, you are STILL enough. Whether or not you are making videos, bitmoji classrooms, or researching every available technology for this fall, you are enough. For some people, doing these things is what they need to do right now. For others, it is not. Both of those choices are ok. It is great if you are doing those things, and it is great if you are not. I am not doing those things. And I am enough. And you are enough, especially if you are doing what you need to do to take care of yourself, before another semester of teaching in an actual worldwide pandemic begins.

Last week I found out that we would be going back face to face, with a hybrid model, 50% of the students at a time. Our students will be in school for a week, and then home for a week, with at home students logging on synchronously. I thought it would invigorate me to know, but instead it has me stressing.

I am feeling overwhelmed and anxious about the coming school year. I’ve been having back to school nightmares. I have been short with my kids, and especially my poor husband. I cry easily. But this just isn’t me. I think that many, if not most, teachers are feeling this way right now.

Teachers, it is OK if you are feeling overwhelmed and have anxiety. Every single time I tweet about feeling this way, I have many replies of teachers feeling the same way. So I believe that many more of us feel this way, probably ALL of us. My school is working hard and doing a great job getting us back. We will be 50%, have masks, swivls, and so much support. And yet I still feel this way. And that is ok. It does not mean that I don’t love my job or my students. It does not mean that I am not a good teacher. In fact, I think it is the opposite. It is because I love my job and students that I am worried. I want to do the best job for them, but I feel like I don’t have a complete handle on what I need to do in the fall. And honestly, I may not know until I start actually doing it. I have not done hybrid teaching before, so I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know best practices. And I have a new prep this year. I feel like a first year teacher again. And that is uncomfortable, and scary, especially for an experienced teacher.

I love my work. I have spent most of my summer working through the material for my new prep. And usually, I am especially invigorated and industrious this time of year, right before school starts. But I hadn’t planned for how I am going to teach remotely or hybrid, as I didn’t know what we were doing until last week. As soon as I found out that we were going hybrid, I went to teacher Twitter to ask for suggestions. I got so many wonderful suggestions that I was almost immediately overwhelmed, as I had not done most of the things that so many people were suggesting. I felt paralyzed.

I am reading about teachers who have spent their summer making video lessons for the entire year. I am in awe of the creative bitmoji classrooms I keep seeing everywhere. Other teachers have already used Classkick, Jamboard, Whiteboard, SeeSaw, Flipgrid, One Note … I have done some of these things, but not all of these things, and it makes me feel that I have not done enough. I makes me feel like I am not near enough.

But as Sara VanDerWerf and Elizabeth Statmore recently reminded me, I AM enough. And you ARE enough too. They reminded me that in these unprecedented times we cannot expend our energy comparing ourselves to other teachers. Just like in pre-pandemic times, we do not have to do ALL of the things to be enough. Self-care, kindness, and support to each other is what we ALL need to get ourselves mentally ready for this unusual school year. So then we can figure out how to do the things that work best for our classrooms.

I am also scared about getting sick, or one of my students or colleagues getting sick. I haven’t seen my parents since February, as my dad is an 80 year old diabetic, so I’m being cautious. And once I go back to school, I definitely won’t be able to see them. I’m sad. I am so, so sad. I miss my parents. I miss my old life. I don’t like wearing a mask, but I always wear one. I’m so mad at people who don’t wear masks. I’m upset about many things right now.

So please teachers, give yourself a break right now. Hug your family. Take long walks, or do what ever it is that brings you peace. Breathe. We have a busy fall in front of us, and we need to be rested in order to be ready. When the time comes, we will do an incredible job for our students, like we always do, even if we have to work many extra hours each day. We are professionals. Trust yourself. We have got this.

iPad Palm Rejection Hack + An Awesome Cheap Stylus

I was using a great locker shelf hack that I saw somewhere on the internets. I highly recommend this set up! But when my internet was running slow it was lagging. And with five people online all day, it was lagging quite frequently, especially during class times. So, I NEEDED to get the iPad thing figured out.

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My handwriting is atrocious when I try to write on my iPad because I can’t put my palm down to write. I thought the Apple Pencil with palm rejection could save me, but my iPad is too old, and thus not compatible with either Apple Pencil.

Screen Shot 2020-04-23 at 10.53.48 AM.pngPalm rejection hack? A half glove where you cut out the first two fingers and thumb, or even a SOCK you cut a hole in. However, for just $7 you can buy a nice half glove that’s already all cut up for you! 😂 It fits great and works really well!

Screen Shot 2020-04-23 at 10.50.54 AM.pngNext stop, a great, inexpensive stylus. I’ve had trouble writing with my iPad since I got it, so I’ve tired every stylus out there. The Apple knockoffs w Bluetooth work and write well, but they make a clicking sound that not only drives me crazy, but is picked up when I’m recording instructional videos. I don’t like the rubber tips, as they are large and don’t slide well across the surface of the iPad. I finally found this amazing fiber stylus for only $14 that I love! It also has that fine tip end with the disk it you need it.

** Note: If you have an iPad Air 2, screen share is found by swiping from the top right corner. That took me forever to find. It’s been a long month….

Screen Shot 2020-04-23 at 10.50.00 AM.pngMy house isn’t set up for ergonomic teaching, and my back has been KILLING me after a couple of weeks sitting in a chair that was too low, at a “desk” that was too high. Thanks to Jenn White I reinflated an underused exercise ball to sit on.  Then,I bought this small inexpensive desk with an adjustable height top, and wheels! I can sit or stand at it! I love that it is small, but has a place for storage where I am keeping my binders as I roll it around the house. 


This online teaching thing is kicking my butt. ❤️

Feedback INSIDE Desmos!

Desmos JUST released a new feature that give teachers the ability to give feedback to students INSIDE Desmos activity builder!  This will be such a helpful feature now that we cannot interact with our students in person, and especially for classes that are only able to do asynchronous distance learning.

Please note:

** Your students MUST be signed in to the activity, with either with a Google or Desmos account, to be able to go BACK into an activity and read the feedback. **

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Yes! It works on previous activities!  Just today I went into our last activity and added some feedback for students to look at on our first day back. I figured it would be a great way to review, and ease into distance learning.

The feedback is very easy for students to access, as it puts all of the feedback you give them in one place, and they can click to go directly to the screen.

1.  You have to TURN on the feedback option in Desmos Labs. Click on your name in the top right corner > Desmos Labs. Then check all the Labs you would like to have.

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2. Once in an activity, click the text box at the top of the screen to leave feedback.

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3. ALL of the feedback is in one convenient place for your students. And they can just click on the “Go to screen 3” to look at the screen or edit their work.

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I am planning on putting a Feedback screen at the end of each activity where students can ask questions once they finish an activity. I am so excited to be able to answer my students questions, right in the activity!

Thanks Desmos!  💚

Assessments Using Desmos Webinar, March 25th at 12:30PM PST

Please join me on Zoom tomorrow, March 25th at 12:30 PM PST for my Assessments Using Desmos webinar!

I will talk about test integrity, grading, giving feedback, and how to create self-checking slides with computation layer. How to give feedback inside Desmos (NEW FEATURE!!) will be covered as well.

The session document is located here and webinar will be recorded if you aren’t able to attend. Note: It usually takes about a week to process and publish the recording.

I looking forward to seeing you there!  🙂


Link: https://zoom.us/j/159450515

Desmos Activities for Distance Learning

I’m still on “Spring Break”, and we do not start online learning at my school until March 26th. I am glad that my school community has this time to process, as I am not ready to think about online learning yet. I don’t know what online learning looks like for my school yet. And I think that some students may crave the structure, but that others will need compassion, and space.

I do not want to assess my students. I am sure that they are feeling the stress of uncertainty just as I am, and I do not want to add to their stress. I want kids to feel connected to each other, especially if they need that. I would also like to mix up my students online learning, so they they are not just watching online videos and doing practice problems. I would love for their online learning to be creative, and not too monotonous.

Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 3.32.41 PM.pngI plan on using Desmos Activity Builders that connect students to each other, like Point Collector, and especially activities that contain Gallery Slides. A Desmos Gallery is a screen at the end of an activity where students get to create their own challenge for their classmates. And then their classmates pick each others challenges to solve.  I feel that doing these galleries will not only allow students to be creative, but also feel connected to other students. I plan on encouraging them to reach out to the “creator” while working on a challenge, or providing feedback after.

I’ve created a Collection of Desmos Activity Builders that contain gallery slides here. I am sure there are more I am not aware of! Please let me know and I will add to this collection. I would love to know how it works out for your students, and the ways that you are incorporating galley slides, and all Desmos in general, in your online learning. Enjoy!

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How to Easily Make Instructional Videos on iPad or Mac

Last month, I started making short videos for my students after one of my precalculus students told me that she would LOVE it if I would make math help videos. I have made short videos for our test review, new topics we have gone over, and answered homework questions. I am still very new, and still learning. But my students have really appreciated it. They tell me that they like to hear me explain it again, instead of searching for and then watching other math videos when they need help (or missed a day of school).

Then, at our last faculty meeting, our head of school told us that if we were not comfortable getting in front of a screen for students, either recording ourselves or going online for instruction, then we needed to get comfortable, just in case. Immediately, my teacher bff texted me…IMG_735B135651F7-1.jpeg

So, I made a video to teach her how to make instructional videos. Again, I am still very new! I know there are much better videos and methods out there. But the good news is that I have been able to make many videos, very easily, and in short time. What I do is not difficult, or complicated. And that is important to me as I do not have much time to spare (#TeacherTired). So, I thought other tired, overworked teachers may appreciate knowing how I make videos quickly and easily.

Mac: I use QuickTime to screen record on a Mac. QuickTime is already on all Macs so this is very easy to do right away! I only use this method when I want to screen share and record my voice. There is no writing. This would be great if you wanted to give a lecture using your Mac and a PowerPoint.  (Example below).

iPad: I use my iPad and the app ExplainEdu for almost all videos that I make. I love this app because I can add pictures, videos, pdfs, included clipart, and even a browser  to screen share. I can write, hi-light, use a laser pointer, and draw shapes that the app will recognize! The app is $13.99, but was worth it as there are no other hidden charges. The Explain Everything website has video tutorials that are probably much better than mine! 🙂  

My school does not use Google Classroom, so I save the videos onto my iPad, because then I can upload them to Google Drive or YouTube. If you want to upload to YouTube you just need to create a free account.

My iPad Video Recording Method:

  • I do much of the work in advance of recording, to cut down on recording time.
  • I take screen shots of each example problem I want to explain to my students.
  • I put each problem on it’s own page.
  • I annotate by adding formulas we will need or things I want to hi-light.
  • When I am all finished, I record. This is where I work out the problems for my students.
  • I upload my videos to YouTube
  • I add the videos to playlists I have created.
  • Sometimes I will embed the videos into PowerSchool on the “Math Help” page.

How I Make Instructional Videos

Using QuickTime to Screen Record on a Mac

Example of a screen cast I made for my students, How Desmos Can Play the Sound of Your Graph!

Again, as I am new, I would LOVE tips from anyone who is much better at this than me!  If you have an app you love, please include it as well! 

Law of Sines and Cosines and Desmos Geometry!

I do Standards Based Grading and I don’t grade homework. All of my students grades are based on assessments. Recently I have been giving my students graded assignments. I try to design them so that they take the students through different types of problems and have a reflection. I let them work with each other, check their answers with Desmos, and come to see me for help if needed. I’ve only done two this year, but many of my students really liked them. They said that the stress was lower than on assessments because they could ask me questions. They also liked working with each other and being able to check their work. After the graded assignment, I usually give another assessment, and I have noticed a large improvement in grades, especially from students who usually score lower on assessments. Students tell me that the graded assignments really helped them learn and understand the topic better.

This chapter I gave them a graded assignment on vectors and the law of sines and cosines. They have already learned the ambiguous case  with the law of sines, and some students seemed to be relying on memory, but I could tell they really didn’t understand what was going on. So I decided to have them finish constructing a couple of triangles, and to take them through the ambiguous case with law of cosines.

Today I gave them an activity builder where they had to do an ASS triangle with the law of cosines, and helped them learn how to use the Desmos Geometry tool. I want them to be able to check their answers on their graded assignment with Desmos Geometry. I haven’t used Desmos Geometry with students yet, but it was really fun today! Plus,  I love that they learned a new tool.

If you use this, I would LOVE feedback!  🙂

Law of Cosines AB using Desmos Geometry– I loved how some kids actually made the ONE triangle instead of the two separate ones.

Triangles Graded Assignment, docx

Triangles Graded Assignment pdf

Standards Based Grading – Guest Post by Taylor Gibson

This post is written Taylor Gibson, who teaches at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. Taylor has been using standards based grading (SBG) in his classroom for several years, and shares his SBG system with other teachers every year at the Teaching Contemporary Mathematics (TCM) conference held by his school.

Two years ago, I attended TCM and heard Taylor Gibson talk about how he has implemented SBG into his classroom. I had been curious about SBG for years, and even did a blended SBG model in my middle school classes at my previous school. Hearing Taylor explain it so clearly and enthusiastically was inspiring. When Julia Finneyfrock and I decided to try SBG the following year, it was his model that we started with. So, instead of trying to explain his method, I asked Taylor to guest blog for me. Thank you Taylor!

Standards Based Grading – by Taylor Gibson

Standards-Based Grading has dramatically changed the way I use assessment in my classroom over the last few years. Simply put, it allows your assessments to be both for learning and of learning. Instead of assigning points for each problem and determining how many points a student earns for their response, you instead align standards (or learning objectives) to each problem and decide holistically if students have demonstrated mastery in each standard based on their response. I’ve chosen to report mastery on a scale of 0, 1, or 2 with 0 being no mastery demonstrated, 1 representing partial mastery, and 2 representing complete mastery. While numbers are used to report a student’s level of mastery, these are not meant to be totaled to determine a score for each assessment. Instead, a student receives a small cover sheet with a score for each standard, as shown below:


The light white numbers in the scoring column indicate what problem (or parts of a problem) I will look at to make a decision on mastery. Once score, it will look like: 


This level of feedback provides students with feedback specific enough for them to look at just the cover sheet and know precisely which topics they need to work on.

This aspect alone of changing your reporting system would be a great help to students. However, the biggest impact for students is that these scores can change over time if they demonstrate a different level of mastery later on in the course. For example, in the include score sheet the student earned a score of 1 on the standard Rec.C.2. Should the student reassess on this standard, either on another in-class assessment or an out of class reassessment, their new score replaces the 1 in the gradebook. Likewise, if a student earns a 1 on the standard Rec.A.3, it would replace the 2 they earned on this assessment. This mechanism results in the following positive outcomes for students:

  • Any score earned on an individual assessment doesn’t need to be permanent since students can request a reassessment in the future. I’ve found this greatly reduces student stress and anxiety when taking an assessment. No more tears when a quiz or test isn’t going well!
  • It provides an incentive for students to take their feedback from early assessments and seek additional support to remediate their understanding in areas in which they haven’t yet demonstrated mastery (encourages a growth mindset)
  • It provides an incentive for students to really learn material, not just cram for a test, since they know that a learning standard may be on a future assessment in a week or two, and that getting a 2 today doesn’t exempt you from having to show mastery again to keep your 2.

At the end of a grading term you can decide how to combine the mastery scores in each standard and convert to a course-ending grade.

Some common methods:

  • The % of standards mastered (score of 2) is the grade in the course. For the above example, the student mastered 11 standards out of 12, resulting in a 92% in the course.
  • Average the standard scores together and score to a percentage. In this example, eleven scores of 2 and one score of 1 yields an average score of 1.92 or 96% in the course.
  • Create your own cut scores for each letter grade based either on number of standards mastered or average score on all standards

Moving to a system like this requires repeated explanation of the system to: students, parents, colleagues, and administrators, but I firmly believe the benefits far outweigh those costs. It’s a complex and nuanced process to get right, but there’s a lot of flexibility for implementation to make it work for your students, classroom, and school.

Taylor was also gracious enough to share the Powerpoint from his presentation, as well as standards in different content areas with us. As in most areas of education, standards are an ever evolving process, and are often tweaked from year to year.

Recommended Further Reading in Standards-Based Grading:

About the Author

Taylor GibsonTaylor is the Dean of Mathematics at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. He’s previously taught in Dallas, TX, and Atlanta, GA before moving to Durham, NC. Taylor’s professional interests are in standards-based grading and interdisciplinary coursework between mathematics and computer science. Outside of the classroom you’ll find him running with the cross-country teams in the extreme North Carolina humidity.


How Do You Use Rocketbooks?

This spring at NCTM, the amazing Bill Thill introduced me to his Rocketbook Wave notebook. I loved what he was doing with it in class, and ordered it right away! But of course I haven’t had time to play with it until now.

My initial thoughts for using the Rocketbook were pretty simple, I want to upload solutions to problem sets into a shared folder for my students. This morning I tweeted out for more ideas, and Mr.Brennan sent me a fantastic Rocketbook Hacks video from the Sons of Technology.  After watching their video, I am bubbling over with ideas!

My students told me that uploading their work to PowerSchool was a pain, so I love the idea of using the printable Rocketbook pages to help make this easier for them. Maybe I can give each student a template to keep in their binders, so they can easily upload any of their work. I would love for students to be able to upload their One Sheets to share with other students.

I did the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek club this past year and loved how it helped me get organized.  I plan on making my “To Do” lists in sharpie on the first few pages of my Rocketbook.

I would love to hear how other math educators are using this in their classroom before I get started creating folders. Please comment to let me know how you are using Rocketbook! Thanks in advance!

Julie Reulbach