Philosophy Without A Home

Educator on education

A disorganized pile of folders on a shelf

October 2, 2015
by dendari

Intentional Classrooms


This first part is already a couple of weeks old, but I get a bit busy and can’t get back to my writing.

A disorganized pile of folders on a shelf

A disorganized teacher leads to disorganized students

Another week done at the middle school. I’m trying to get back into the swing of things of teaching. I realize that as a person I really don’t have a lot of organization. I do have some, but I don’t. It is kind of funny. What I mean is I don’t have any sort of organization skills, but I learn them or steal them. Going back to decorating my classroom again, I had so much trouble with it, not because I thought I wanted it to look pretty, but what I really wanted was to create organization for my students


Now a month into the school year I am realizing that I don’t have a good system set up and that hurts me and my students because we, the students and I don’t know what to do next. This is very important a classroom setting. We need organization to fall back on for those times when we finish early or just need to change tracks.


Most classrooms it is the same, come in the class do bell work, finish bell work jump into worksheets  or a short teacher led session, or better yet come into class work on project, take the project and share it with class in this way, what do I do if I don’t know how to do the project, How do I just ask for help or learn something new without asking the teacher. Where can I get more information. How do I teach myself. How do I work with my peer. etc….. That is the system that I don’t have set up in my classroom.


(editor’s note, I’m glad to say I’m getting more organized, but I’m trying to be intentional about it. I’m trying to make something that works for me and enhances the learning of my students)




I love edcamps, free conference, free breakfast, free lunch, how can you not like that. Plus no boring speakers. What it is, is a bunch of educators who come together to talk education, except because we don’t know each other’s students we never fall into the teacher’s lounge trap of focusing on behaviors.



EdcampIllinois (Schedule and collaborative notes here) was hosted by Maple Middle School in Northbrook. Some new folks organizing things and they did a great job. My favorite session was the Breakout Edu session. The game is simple, lock a box with three or more locks that use a variety of changeable codes to open. Set clues around the room, and the object is to get into the box before time runs out. Locks can be opened with numbers, words, or patterns so that students can test math, English, or whatever. (Not to mention the great team building exercise).


The next weekend was EdcampChicago. I’ve been going to this edcamp since the beginning and even helped organize a few over the years. (Schedule and collaborative notes). The first session for me was How to use twitter and blogs to inspire math. For most of the hour it was just me and another teacher so we had a great time-sharing people we follow on twitter and blogs.


My second session was Building a Culture of learning. Awesome stuff here. Because of this conversation I’ve been doing “My Favorit Know” as part of my warm up,  it has been great. All I do is take a picture of a common mistake from yesterday’s exit slip and put it into my presentation, then as a class ask why that was such a common mistake, or what s/he might have been thinking. We talked of ways to build a growth mindset and build collaborative groups, but you can read about that in the notes above.


I finished the session by attending a flipping the math classroom and makerspaces in the middle school. Oh, and winning a $500 document camera. Thanks Lumens.


It has been a busy few weeks at school (and on the weekends) I just haven’t had much time to write and reflect. I will do better and keep posting about once a week. The one thing I want to do is to be more intentional about what and how I make changes. I’m very good at following plans, and I’m very good at stumbling through life pretending I have a sense of direction, what I’m not always good at is purposefully planning so that a specific outcome is achieved. Yet, this is the basis of a lesson plan/unit plan.

Time to turn up the professionalism.


September 9, 2015
by dendari

Drowning in a Puddle

It has been seven or eight years since I have been in a classroom alone. The changes are drastic, but some things never change.


As a SIG school we are meeting and documenting everything. We are testing; Common Formative Assessment testing, Pre-testing, Post-testing., AIM testing, MAP testing, and PARCC testing. It’s a lot of tests. Sure I’m an anti-testing teacher, but I also see the value in knowing where your students stand in relation to what you are trying to teach. And while some of the tests I am required to give may not be worth the paper it is printed on (or the energy wasted in lighting up the pixels) I appreciate being forced to think so often about whether my kids are getting what I’m teaching. It can be easy to get caught up in how well you deliver the lessons and forget that the point is not the delivery but the reception.


I think back to the two weeks before school when I was doing my new teaching induction. I thought at the time what they were doing was great, and it was. It’s just that we spent a lot of time talking about adult things and not classroom things. We talked about the procedures for classroom management, district procedures, technology, copiers, etc… What we didn’t talk about was learning in our classrooms. We didn’t talk about curriculum, lesson planning, engaging students, formative assessments or any of that stuff.


Perhaps, after 15 years in education decorating classrooms, deciphering curriculum, and building engaging lessons shouldn’t be something that stumps me. But there I was less than  a week before school asking on twitter for advice on decorating my room. (And misspelling mathchat)


I do want my kids to do most of the decorating, I want them to show off the work they do as a group in the classroom, but I also can use the walls to create engaging learning spaces. I have the:


tape word wall,

and the:

tape box of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

tape box of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

I think I might do a quote wall as well. Most of it is empty at the moment, but slowly the kids are filling it up. I started with base vocabulary words from NWEA, but then asked the students to add their own. then I asked them to translate into Spanish. I just have to remember to build time for this into lessons. It can be one of the things you do when you finish your work early.


School has started and I don’t have time to craft decent lesson plans. I’m sure I’ll get used to all the work, but at the moment almost two weeks in the school year I’m still in survival mode.


It was nice having time to decorate my room, create a substitute folder, and learn some other things, but with the start of school what I’ve realized is I needed to take time to go over the curriculum more. Our first two weeks before school would have been more useful if we had sat down with our instructional coach and really hammered out a strong first two weeks or a month of teaching. An overview of the first unit. Not too detailed, just something like; here are the essential questions for unit 1, here are the standards that will be taught each week, here are a few ideas for lesson plans, etc…


Building procedures in the classroom are extremely important, however teaching procedures, like teaching anything else, has to be done within context. If my first couple of lessons of the school year are review lessons, I can spend more time in the lesson practicing things like, getting into and out of transitions, moving around the room, answering questions as a group, etc…  For me teaching is a procedure and I have a hard time visualizing exactly how I want my room to function until I’m actually designing the lessons and putting them into practice.

August 27, 2015
by dendari

Being a Teacher – That first Monday

I know many people who read this blog are already in education, but for those who aren’t let me give you my first Monday


I woke at 5 so I could do a bit of exercise and breakfast before school. I got to school a bit  past 7 and went to make copies for the day. I did try to make them on Friday, but I couldn’t.


The copy room was like a rugby scrum as teachers jockied for paper and position, then the secretary came in a jumped the line. I gave up and walked away. I only needed a couple of copies for small group instruction.


Later I learned that they put paper in at 7;30 AM so a lot of teachers make copies then before the daily ration of paper is gone. I have a box of paper, I just didn’t expect to have to use it this early in the year.


At 8 the students enter the building for breakfast.  When they are finished they head to their grade level hall and wait until announcements at 8:30. Official duty starts at 8:10. I sometimes feel a bit like a prison guard as the students are asked to sit 2 X 2 in the halls. Girls on one side boys on the other. Students read talk or play video games, teachers talk and keep order. I try to practice rewarding positive behavior by giving away Eagle bucks.


My first class starts right after announcements and I’m teaching from 8:30 to 12ish, back to back to back to back. It’s a tough stretch and that first day my calfs were so sore I could barely sleep. I’ve almost got the hang of it, but this is my major weakness as a teacher. My plan for the day has to be ready, I can’t really make mid-course corrections, or a few extra copies or anything like that (no bathroom breaks). Luckily for me we have a schedule that requires common meetings and plannings.


After that marathon teaching session. I have lunch, plan (I made copies for tomorrow and I didn’t have to use my own paper), and PLC (Professional Learning Community) time. PLC is team time, but the change in name requires actual PLC rules, plus we are a SIG (School Improvement Grant) school, meaning we have to keep records of the everything. Then I teach one final class before the end of the day.


My daily team consists of a first year teacher who spent last year substituting, a SPED resource and an ELL resource. They are great people who are willing and happy to dive in and do what it takes to teach. They help me with my planning difficulties. Each day has a slightly different topic as not all team members can make every meeting and Mondays are spent with Science to help us connect our lessons. I just wish we had common planning time as well, an hour is just not enough time to work together. We at least have time in math to divvy up the lesson planning responsibilities for the week. The common lessons are helpful for me and the students. I feel a bit bad because I haven’t been able to stay late and half the team is at school until 7PM very night.


The Science team is a good match. They are a bunch of overly organized, newish, teachers. Most of the 7th grade is new to the building and most of the teachers are in their first few years of teaching. The first meeting was mostly getting to know each other and the students, but we did look at last year’s MAP scores and get a few thing out of the way. Near the end of the meeting the Math coach visited, she had this 1,000 yard stare as if she was just overworked already and we haven’t even had students for a week yet.


It has been a bit frustrating the first week because we are trying to figure out the thought process behind the curriculum they built last year and no one has been there to help, but after seeing the look of exhaustion on the math coach’s face at 1:00 on a Monday I knew our she has been too busy to work with us yet.


As a math department we are kind of figuring it out and finding more flexibility than we first thought. We can really make this curriculum our own, but getting through the first week is more about survival than planning for the future.


After my respite with adults I teach one last class and the students leave at 3:30. We kind of push them out of the halls and wander outside to make sure everyone leaves in an orderly fashion. New duty schedules were posted on Wednesday.


I’ve been trying to keep on the students during the day to clean up after themselves and the last class has the responsibility of putting chairs on desks. I spend the first 10 minutes after the students leave cleaning my room and writing the objective on the board for tomorrow. Today I graded the AIM test for the EPIC class (Response To Intervention, a state mandated program to give student extra help in their areas of need, but I would prefer a more low key homeroom type program). I packed away the exit slips to grade at home and started to leave, but found my partners at the copy machine trying to get ahead of the game. I gave them my ream of paper. (I expected paper shortages, but not this early in the year).


At home I corrected the exit slips, still not happy with progress, and reviewed the lesson plans for the week. Now I’m writing this. Next I’ll review my classroom student information system to see what medical, psychological, and educational notes there may be on my students.


I’ve been in education for 15 years. When I first started there was none of this required collaboration stuff. We had a tight group in my first building, but for planning and paperwork, I was basically on my own. Over the years I’ve been to a lot of team meetings and for the most part they ignore planning and concentrate on students. In defense most of the meetings tended to be grade level meetings not subject meetings. The problem is when the focus is on students and not teaching the discussion revolves around student behavior and nothing productive gets done.


This sounds odd writing it, but I prefer the focus to stay off of students and stick to classroom teaching. The funny part is for a lot of the last few weeks I have heard the word compliance and flinched almost every time. I don’t want to teach students to be compliant, I want to teach them to learn. In actual practice, though there is a lot of focus on compliant behavior, mornings in the halls and a heavy focus on classroom procedures.


This is one of the weaknesses of the reform movement. The students and teachers are all expected to be compliant. We have a ton of paperwork and required things to be done. Like creating common assessments (9 per quarter), common assessment data discussions, etc… It’s all good stuff that good teachers do, but somehow it doesn’t feel exactly natural. Like we are expected to go through the motions of being a teach in hopes that someday that will be true.


I don’t have a problem with data collection and using it to steer classroom instruction, but right now this isn’t feeling as authentic as it could. On the other hand I also feel like I might be learning a thing or two about formative assessment that I might not have wanted to know. We’ll see. This data collection and use is something I’ll be looking  at during the year, if I can find time to reflect on it.

August 20, 2015
by dendari

The First Day

It seemed like forever, but the day finally arrived. the first day of school. Traffic was crazy around the school as fresh-faced teenagers started showing up.


No uniforms this year, well the teachers all wore the same school t-shirt, but for tomorrow no uniforms for anyone, just a fairly loose dress code. (teachers are more restricted than students).


Not a lot of math on the first day either, mostly rules,, but I did manage to sneak a mention of Fibonacci. I think I’ll show this tree on Thursday.


On the first day Students learned to write on desks with dry erase markers. I promised to talk less. We took tours of the building.


Tomorrow we talk a bit about numbers. The task tomorrow will be to draw a Venn Diagram of all the groups of numbers then know. (Natural Numbers, Whole Numbers, Integers, Rational Numbers, Irrational Numbers, Real Numbers).


Feel free to add a snapshot of your diagram in the comments.



August 14, 2015
by dendari

Weeks One and Two ‘No Math for You’

Week one and two at my new job, though technically I still don’t start until Monday.


The district I’m working for is one of the lowest performing districts in the state. It has been for quite some time. My first job as a teacher was at this district fifteen years ago and the reputation was bad then. Four or five years ago the state removed the elected school board and since then basically it has been run by a charter school company. Though it isn’t a charter district and the local union is still strong.


I can’t really comment on the changes that have been made because I don’t really know, but I can tell most of the administrators at the schools and the district office have changed. Whether they were fired or left on their own I have no idea.


It has been very nice starting two weeks before the students at my new school. We are in the second year of a School Improvement Grant (SIG). This means our school will be leading a lot of programs, but we will also be expected to collect a lot of data.


The first week was just for teachers new to the district. Three half days helping us get comfortable with the district and some of the procedures. Of course it still wasn’t enough and there were a boatload of suggestion at the end of the third day, but the concept is great and the practice was useful, even for an old goal like myself.


Over the weekend the principal invited all staff, old and new to her house for an informal get together. I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet everyone in such a relaxed atmosphere.


This second week was 2 1/2 days of work in our schools. A full day on NWEA reports. Half day of getting to know each other, co-teaching and PLC planning, building substitute folders, and a few other things including an excellent ELL role play. A teacher taught a lesson in German to blank stares and then taught it again with some ELL support. It was probably the biggest eye opener of the week for most of us.


So far, two weeks in, I still haven’t seen the math curriculum or taught a lesson,  but I’m feeling fairly comfortable with my co-workers. I’ve also been trying to decorate my room, but I’m not very good at that. My walls are still mostly blank.


I want to put some inspirational quotes on the walls, but just a few. I would rather the students choose some of those and put them on the walls. I also don’t want to put math posters on the wall, because I would rather my students made those posters and hung them. So for now My walls are blank. It kind of felt wrong at first so I asked on twitter. the response was basically the same.


What I wouldn’t do for some whiteboard paint everywhere in the room.

August 11, 2015
by dendari

This is the End – On to New Beginnings

A couple of years back I was in a large district with a mentor who was very high up the food chain. If I had been patient I would have earned a vice-principal or director job soon enough. But of course I am me and I’m kind of an idiot. I went on a lark of an interview and was lured away.

In my defense I was frustrated because the job I was doing was being ignored by just about everyone except my mentor. Then in my interview I felt I was going to work with two kindred souls. People who had very similar educational philosophies. I really thought I was going from a place where I was undervalued to a place where I could make a difference.

I’d really like to spend about 1000 words defending myself, but in the end it doesn’t matter. I made a mistake taking the job and three years later the school district decided to move in a new direction. The hardest part was that last month when all the teachers were gone and the tech crew basically took away all of my access (they were afraid I would sabotage something before I left).

Next week I start a new job as 7th grade math teacher.I’ll be back at the school district I started in 15 years ago. I am excited and nervous. It has been a while since I have been in the classroom full-time. I’ve also never felt I was the best teacher. I know how to teach, I’m book smart that way, but in actual practice I’ve never been satisfied.

My goal this year is a lofty one. I don’t just want to be a good teacher, or even a great teacher. My goal this year is to be teacher of the year. I’ll need your help to do it. If anyone still reads this blog. I’ll need you to encourage me to reflect on a regular basis, I’ll need you to comment and push me to do better. I’ll need you to celebrate my successes and yes, even hand out constructive criticism. And for that I thank you in advance.

June 3, 2015
by dendari

My Last Week in Tech – Technology Innovation

This is one of my favorite teachers, and this boat school is an innovative solution to a seasonal problem. One might wonder why we don’t have these innovative schools in America. Probably the same reason we don’t go out back and teach in the dirt with sticks. we just don’t have to. Schools are designed to maximize  the teaching we do. Could there be a better design, possibly, but not for the teaching we do currently.


Technology is thought of as a disrupter in education because it comes into the design we already have and makes it possible to change. Many people see this change as computers teaching students. it isn’t.


For about 100 years there has been a belief among behaviorists that if we could build a smart enough machine, that it could take the place of a teacher. Many believe and have believed that computers will fill that role.


Tools like Plato have been around for about 40 years and they haven’t disrupted schools. Actually, it has been assimilated. Massive online courses were going to disrupt education. The year of the MOOC was 2012. It was the ultimate school choice. It hasn’t disrupted higher education. Instead is seems to be morphing into a college prep for connected students, at least in America. It has been assimilated and is coming to high school.


The reason these tools have not disrupted education is because they don’t actually make any changes in education. When we look at technology in education if we are looking at completely upending our entire system we are looking for too much. The change, the disruption, is more subtle.


The real disruption with technology in education is the ability to transform traditional education. The R in SAMR. The “goal directed transformation” in the Arizona Technology Integration Matrix. Some would go so far as to say it is a transfer of power from teacher to student. I would say it is taking the responsibility of learning off of the shoulders of the teacher and putting it squarely onto the shoulders of the students.

edit –  I realize the title might be a bit misleading as this post was written to be a follow up to a notification to the teachers I work with that my position has been eliminated. Thus my last week in tech with them

May 22, 2015
by dendari

My Week in Technology Integration – Success Story

Good Advice


“Learn a new skill, take a break.” Advice from the longest-serving teacher in her building. “Kids need a bit of down time to process the skill they just learned, don’t force them to practice over and over until they hate it.”


The Freshman English class is almost finished with Romeo and Juliet. From my 30 minutes in the class it seems the students have done:

  • Active reading
  • Guided questions,
  • Discussions (online and offline)
  • A movie,

Can we cover this play from any different angle? Maybe they need a Google survey?   Seriously, they were better at decoding Shakespeare than me.


I created a list of tech tools to use in the classroom, I know it seems long, but it is barely a fraction of the stuff created for teachers. Please, take a look.

Success story


Almost three years ago when I started this job. One of my first mistakes was telling a teacher she was using technology wrong. The next day her principal called and gave me an earful.


Luckily for me, she asked for some help putting spelling words on the web. We talked about options and ended up meeting every week after school talking technology and education.


Each week she had a list of questions and we usually never got past the third question, getting sidetracked not by the technology, but by how it integrates with teaching. She is now the proud owner of a grade level website designed to enhance learning. More importantly she is more comfortable trying new things in her classroom.


This week she introduced a tech tool to her building staff. She didn’t teach the tool, she taught a lesson using the tool.

Picture of computer, laminated card, and worksheet

I love the combination of tools to meet all needs


Way back when, she was asking the computer to teach, afraid to interact too much with a tool she didn’t understand. Today she teaches using technology. Is she a computer expert and able to fix your computer? No, she is a teacher who uses technology as a tool.


I seem to have a bit of dust in my eye now. Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.

May 8, 2015
by dendari

My Week in Tech Integration – Discussion

Classroom Action

The school year is coming quickly to an end. I’m trying to get some summer thoughts moving. One of the things I want to do is get an idea of how comfortable teachers are with the actual tech skills you need as a classroom teacher. I’ll probably send out a survey soon, I’m waiting for the boss to approve it.

The other thing I need to do is get an idea of what sort of PD you might want to come to over the summer and when best to present them. Please let me know in the comments or via email, but I also have this on my survey.

I was watching some students take a practice test earlier this week. They were using technology (phones mostly because they were juniors and seniors and didn’t have Chromebooks).  What if we combined Padlet (Middle school teachers had a lot of fun learning and playing with this tool, 6th grade, 7th grade, Exploratory) with a phone or screen capture tools on a computer, to solve the practice problems and post them to a Padlet for discussion.

The discussion should not be about who is right, but how elegant is the solution? Why would you choose one method of solving the problem over an other? Etc….

A lot of the stuff I saw on the internet this week had this theme of a debate or discussion.

For an example, using math debate in classroom

I remember a blog post years ago about using bell ringers to create a debate. The teacher would collect bell ringers on index cards and grab one that was wrong (not telling who it was of course) and put it on the overhead and discuss why or what thinking could have led to the wrong answer and how to correct it.


Today without an overhead I might ask students to put the answer on a Padlet or document camera anonymously and then pick one to discuss.

I’m seeing more and more centers, maybe I just wasn’t paying attention before. The devices are one of the centers.

See this one girl. She is concentrating intensely.  This activity is writing practice so no you can’t substitute with technology.


These other kids, not so much.


This is a good lesson, that is why I choose to feature it. It is great to bring in leveled work for practice, but we can do intense creation on the computer as well. Yes there is a tech hurdle. We can work through it, we should work through it. If we never ask our students to do intense creative work on the computer we are short-changing our students and ourselves as teachers.

From the Web

We think we know how we learn, but there is a lot of undiscovered territory out there.

One thing we do is attempt to find patterns so we can do things automatically, without thinking. Like riding a bike.

What if you changed what it means to ride a bike?

As I was watching this a 3rd grader says, “I saw you watching Smarter Everyday. …  I’m subscribed” Be warned you’ll have to be smart if she’s in your classroom next year.

It turns out that there is an #etcoaches chat. I’ll have to try to participate next month. here is the storify from last week.

I really wanted to point out a few highlights.

  1. Most coaches estimate that only 5% to 15% of our teachers actually implement what we introduce.
  2. While superficially introducing a lot of apps in a short period of time is popular, no one thinks it is a good strategy. Instead we need to carve out time to let teachers play and practice using apps in actual lessons. Then we need time for the coach to follow-up, and create individual goals for each teacher.
  3. Trudacot is a great way to look at your current lesson and determine how well technology (or learning) is integrated.


Finally, Google Education on Air, two full days of speakers on education. An all-star cast including, Michelle Obama, Michael Fullan, LeVar Burton, and others.

April 25, 2015
by dendari

My Week in Tech Integration – Formative Assessment

Classroom Action

Several teachers have been using during RTI. A great way to get that math practice in while working with a small group.

All of these researched based help usually say something like students who put in 75 minutes a day have shown improvement in math. Well if you practice 75 minutes a day on math of course you are going to get better. That isn’t to say the program is not useful, just that it is not trans-formative. It is a tried and true practice with just a bit of an edge because the work adapts to the level of the student instantaneously.


There are of course many similar programs out there, depending on what you want at a teacher could determine the tool you use. However, all should have at least some way to sign in and track the students, so that we know if they are actually learning or not.


Put your favorite tool in the comments or go to this survey and put it there. Some of my favorites are:


Presentations to students – getting interactive

Wouldn’t it be nice to integrate formative assessment into your regular teaching? I know it’s easy a quick half sheet of paper and boom an exit slip. But then you have to grade everything and what if they didn’t understand the first thing you said and so were lost for the entire class period.

Some folks will create a quick Google form (like the one above, you can add videos as well) then use something like flubaroo to automatically grade it. The problem is that is still separating the discussion from the assessment.


Enter the web app Blendspace. It is a product one of the elementary teachers showed me Wednesday. It is a very simple way to add content and make quick multiple choice quizzes. Students don’t need an email to sign up so it is appropriate for the elementary crowd.


However, the questions are limited to multiple choice and sometimes you want students to be able to write or draw and answer. So here is a list of a few similar tools. Nearpod, PearDeck, Socrative, SmartBoard clickers, Classflow, and Junoed.


Of course the middle school teachers noticed the educreations app. Similar to the Show Me app and the Doceri app (more of a presentation tool). All of these are iPad apps which require an iPad and a way to get the iPad onto your projector, which can be done with Air Server.


Stuff from the web

Portfolio defense to graduate high school

From Envision academy charter schools.

Cool blog I found two great posts.


Most people will like and probably use the first one right away, but the second one is great for technology. When you start asking “How do I create curriculum with multiple ways to learn the same content?” My mind goes immediately to technology. I might share one way to learn content in class and then offer a couple of youtube videos on my web site for further help. So when students don’t quite get what I explained in class they don’t have to rewatch my same lecture a million times and hope it finally sinks in, they can watch alternative explanations and hopefully one of those sticks.


Cool kindergarten classroom