Post 3: Trying to keep up with “time” when time is a struggle.

I’ve struggled with the concept of time my whole life. I struggle to get anywhere on time. I underestimate how long everything will take me. It takes me forever to say something aloud that I think will take me a few seconds.

Priority was a foreign word.

Related, I’ve always had trouble prioritizing. Everything. For majority of my life, that was never an issue. If I needed to get x, y, and z done, I’d get it done within milliseconds of their ultimate due time. Writing an undergraduate honors thesis? Done (research done two weeks before due date, written in 3-4 days). If I had to do a, b, and c things together no matter how intense, I would and I could. Taking a 3-day intensive weekend Islamic course the same week as mid-terms? Done. Help curating a photo gallery which required traveling 1.5 hours (one way) weekly for 2 months during my undergrad years and spending a bunch of hours learning how to use GIMP to photo edit while “studying” for Calc Honors, Linear Algebra, and Discrete Math? Done. All-nighters were my life because I decided all duties related to being VP of MSA, no matter how minute, trumped all classes. Sahar never said no to anything. “Sahar could you…?” Yes. Almost always. People asked because I never said no and I knew I would get it done. Everything. Without much compromise.

I got things done. I did them well. So there was no urgency for me to get my ish together.

That changed three years ago, when I started teaching. The inability to juggle everything thrown at me, inability to plan and execute my lessons in the best manner (as I was used to doing everything else in my life), and the inability to say no hit me all too hard. So much stress and anxiety manifested physiologically. My adult acne was at its all time worse and I had stress induced acid reflex and ended up going on meds to put both under control.

multitasking multitask multi-tasking
I wasn’t naive per se. I went through 5 years of undergrad/grad education, 3ish years of student teaching, so I thought I knew what to expect going into teaching. I also knew to expect the unexpected. Countless of teacher friends and mentors told me: you won’t truly understand what teaching is until you’re a teacher.

yes seinfeld true kramer correct
So now 3 years later, time, pacing, getting things done, and being an organized teacher are daily struggles. I’ve learned ways to cope and have grown somewhat. I’ve had to change my mindset about somethings. Perhaps if I have time, I’ll write about that later…


New things in Ms. K’s classroom: WODB and Plickers

This is my third year teaching the same 6th grade curriculum. This is the first year that we’re trying block schedules at my school. This brings up my time with my students to 76 minutes per day instead of 45 minutes. I’m excited to be able to do some of the things that I’ve wanted to do in years past, but was reluctant for a variety of reasons. Feeling like a newb and time among them.

Which one doesn’t belong?

We’ve been having 3 day weeks due to holidays. Even though school started September 9th, my first actual math class (where we weren’t doing advisory or giving benchmark assessments) was on Thursday, September 17. I decided to allot the first 20 minutes of class to have students determine which one doesn’t belong? I first learned about this website at TMC15 and was eager to use it throughout the year.

I posed the following set to my students. My classroom is set up as quadrants, so I had students move to the quadrant that corresponded with their shape. I figured that most students would gravitate towards quadrant 4 (bottom right), but I was shocked that almost all of them chose that shape. In my first block all, but ONE student chose the pentagon. What was more surprising, is that some students refused to accept the reasoning of the sole student who chose the top right shape as the one that didn’t belong. His reason that it was the only shape that “had designs” inside was not mathematical enough for some of the students. Other students responded by going back to the original question “which one doesn’t belong?” and gladly accepted his reason. Thinking back, I wish I had them pause and reflect on what it means for evidence to be “mathematical enough”.

I changed the task for my second and third block. First I gave students 5 minutes to independently decide which one doesn’t belong. Then I assigned quadrants to them. When they moved into their groups, there task was to come with as many reasons why the shape did not belong. The groups that moved to the top and bottom left struggled the most to come up with reasons, but someone eventually was able to share that the top left was the only one where all the sides weren’t of equal length.

We reflected on the this exercise for a bit after everyone settled back in their seats. I asked them what there take away was from this exercise. Students in all my blocks shared that each could have a reason for not belonging or that there was more than one correct answer. There were still a few students who were convinced that there was only one lens through which to look at these shapes and that there was only one right answer. Others acknowledged reasons why the other shapes didn’t belong, but believed there was one shape that didn’t belong more than the other, (the pentagon in this case). I didn’t push too much because that is a notion that has been reinforced for much of their math experience and one exercise was not going to change that. I’m eager to try this again next week with another set and see how it goes.


I’ve decided to use plickers for a quick midpoint check-in. Plickers are essentially “paper clickers” that can be scanned through a mobile device. I tried them once last year, but made them mistake of laminating them with glossy pouches and they were a total waste. This year, I had them laminated on matte and so far I’m happy with them. I was a bit nervous it would take a while to scan them, but here is what I learned the few times I used them:

  • I can scan them by standing in one spot as long as students don’t block each other. To make this easier on me I’ve asked my students in the back to raise them up high, the ones in the middle to cover their face, and the ones up front to hold them low so I can scan in one or two swipes across the room.
  • It scans so much faster than I expected and the students are really excited to get the immediate feedback. I use the graph to reveal the answer.plicker2
  • Yes, it’s multiple choice, but having this immediate feedback is a kick off point for math discussions. In the above example, it led us into a discussion analyzing student error.
  • Use “live view” (love live view!) to keep track of which students have been scanned. As soon as their card is scanned, their name is checked off. Now I know after my second swipe, I need to focus on scanning student #14’s card.


I learned that there is a class set of electronic clickers somewhere in the building, but I like the fact that I don’t have to pass/collect the plickers. It saves time. The students put it in the flap of their binder which never leaves the room. I’m able to give every student their own plicker which I wouldn’t be able to do with the electronic clickers. I’m planning on using a sound cue that indicates, “It’s plicker time – take ’em out” and another to tell students to put them away. We’ll see how this goes and if it doesn’t work out…I guess I’ll have to try out the electronic clickers.

Edcamp in the Classroom

After reading about Justin Aion’s Edcamp experience in the classroom, I was prettying psyched to try it out in my own classroom. +1

I shared my idea with my coworker and she too was ready to try it out the following week. +2 for Edcamp.

I sent the link of Justin’s blog to my math team and my principal immediately responded with great enthusiasm. Danielson 3C (student engagement) +100 points for Edcamp.

Amongst many other conversations and student midterms the idea got put on the back burner. And then it resurfaced today.

One of my classes was going to work on their quiz corrections today. This class is usually co taught, but my coteacher was scheduled to grade the science midterms. So with one less adult in the room, the cries of Ms.K became too much to deal with, too fast. And so I remembered Edcamp.

I brought out the sliding whiteboard, wrote down a list numbered 1-16, and had teams come up and put their names next to any question they received a 3 or 4 in (which means they mastered that particular standard-SBG). Then I told students when you’re stuck on a problem, those are the students you need to turn to. If you’re one of those people on the list for a particular question and someone asks for help, you need to explain your thinking and strategy.

And so edcamp began and it was great!!


  • Student-student interaction. FTW! 
  • My students were really engaged. I believe I had 95% of the students engaged and on task for about 90-95% of the time.
  • It made students accountable to one another. Whenever students asked me for help or if they were stuck, I just pointed to the board.
  • I was so proud to see some of my low ability students actually “teaching” and explaining concepts to my higher ability students.
  • Even though I had the data, I quickly saw which outcomes (standards) students have mastered and which ones I would need to address at some point during reteaching week.
  • It freed me up to check-in with those who really needed more guidance.
  • It was really helpful for some students to have access to a whiteboard and markers. So I had them use the one on my easel and the one on the back shelf. Next time I might consider having the mini whiteboards as materials for them in the beginning.
  • There was one student who lost his quiz when I handed it back.  Luckily, my co teacher had prepared some work–so i had him work on it during the edcamp.  But I wonder how he can still be involved with the edcamp process.  what about a student who was absent the day before.  
  • False information: this time around we used quizzes that had already been graded–though it is still possible that even a student with a 3 on an outcome explains it incorrectly. What if students are working on tasks that have not been pre-checked.  It helps that I co-teach all of my classes, so one of us can check in with the groups.  
  • Off task students were a concern, but I did go over the expectations and said we’d return to our seats if the expectations of Edcamp were not being met…and of course I always add, and I know that will not be the case because you all have the ability to meet these expectation. 
  • Next time I do this, it will probably be with my co-teacher in the room, and I think that this is a great opportunity for one of us to take some low inference observation notes, especially on the strengths of students ability to explain their thought process.  
  • There were a few key questions that most of the students did not get a 3 in, so I need to cut off Edcamp at a point and address those particular questions. This time I didn’t since I do have reteaching week and thought I would address them then.  
I’m excited to try it again! 

Using “I Notice, I Wonder” for the First Time

Last week, I wrote about the general structure of my classes anchored in the “discussion protocol”. One thing that I mentioned was that prior to students exploring a particular question, we give them a couple of minutes to read and understand the question.

The questions have been pretty short that I feel pretty comfortable not having a teacher guided section where we make sense of the question as a class.  Having a co-teacher for all my classes also ensures that when we make our rounds, my co-teacher and I can make sure that students actually have a good sense of the question.

However, I’ve had my heart set on using  “I notice, I wonder” after I read about it on a few blogs since delving into the #MTBoS.  I was so happy excited, no, no…I’ve got it: EXUBERANT when “I notice, I wonder” would fit wonderfully in a lesson I was preparing, especially since I do have so many students who are not on reading level or are beginner ELLs, do not have confidence in their math abilities, seem lost when longer questions or situations are thrown at them and don’t know where to start.

Goal of the lesson: I wanted students to be able to describe describe different strategies for finding the GCF.  Up to this point, students had been listing the factors and finding the common factor. I expect students to continue doing this, but at the very least I wanted them to be aware of other approaches.

I had students do a series of quick 2 minute think-pair-shares and then jotted down their thoughts on the board.

Analyzing Strategies


So much stuff

The Results

I really wished I had saved my chart from the smart board!

  • I had a lot more students than usual participate voluntarily. I had to resort to the Bowl of Destiny very few times.
  • The “I wonder” questions naturally led to the students delving deeper into the prime factorization strategy which was really foreign. (Example: I wonder why Derrick thinks prime factorization will help him find the GCF? I wonder why 2 x 2 x 3 is written differently  than the other numbers?)
  • In fact I used those last two questions as the focus questions for the rest of the period so they could really make sense of the prime factorization strategy before answering “Does this work for other numbers?” It also forced them to go back into the text because they don’t read everything!!
  • Students came up with their own questions and I had them answer them. There seemed to be more “buy-in” to explore the question of a peer rather than the “questions the teachers ask me to explore.”
  • This also made me realize how selective the students are towards reading in math. As I went around I asked, “I wonder what Derrick and Sasha trying to do?” So many of my students had skipped over the first part that explains EXACTLY what Sasha and Derrick are doing and just focused on the numbers and making their own hypotheses about what those numbers meant.  So I wonder if reading aloud together would help?
  • I learned just how valuable talking about a problem/situation can be to make sense of it.

I’m currently working on my next unit plan and I’m looking forward to using this frequently in my classroom.