Google Level 2 Certification

One of the items on my summer check list was to complete my Google Level 2 Certification. After many frozen windows and a loss of over 30 minutes of testing time and a higher amount of stress than I wanted:


this happened! Woohoo.

ISTE is this weekend and I hope to post about what I learn and who I meet face to face (Matt Miller here I come!) Instagram is usually my personal account, but you can follow me there to see most recent pics. new-instagram-vector-logo

I still have quite a list for summer and only the month of July left. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

ramblings, Uncategorized

That’s a Wrap

That's all folks

Students left my building yesterday for summer. I have last day teacher stuff today then I leave for summer too. This is the first time in 16 years that I haven’t taught summer school, so this summer will look a little different for me. I read a tweet last night (couldn’t find it today of course to give credit) that said start planning for August in May. That’s my goal. I’m putting my list of things to accomplish on this blog to hold myself accountable. We’ll see how well I did come August.

  • Start planning more conceptual/hands-on lessons
  • Find and make some 3-Act math lesson
  • Have practice choices so students always have a choice (thanks @alicekeeler)
  • Make #hyperdocs to support my flipped classroom
  • rethink HOW I do flipped classroom
  • Create more digital #BreakoutEDU to introduce or support learning concepts.
  • Coordinate our #SJSDEdWeek
  • Present at #elevateEDU
  • Meet with some schools to help the utilize tech FOR learning
  • attend #iste2106 (WOOT!)
  • Finish reading: The Classroom Chef
  • Reread: Teach Like A Pirate, Ditch That Textbook, Drive, The Innovator’s Mindset, Fair Isn’t Always Equal
  • Read: On Your Mark, Learn Like A Pirate, Hacking Assessment
  • Enjoy my kids
  • Make a few quilts
  • Paint my bathroom

Wow, that’s a long list. Everything (except for the last 3) on that list stems from my reflection over this year and how I can improve learning for students.


  • Standards Based Learning was a huge success. Student’s mindset towards learning improved SO much, we had more success than ever before (and our students still came to us way below grade level). And as a side note – state scores did go up.
  • I continued the student data tracking and reflection piece and saw student ownership of their learning increase significantly.
  • I increased the amount of activities for students, some tech some not, and saw engagement increase.
  • I stopped giving homework and started allowing students to practice when they needed and how much they needed. Students started asking for more than I would ever have given them.
  • We convinced admin to allow us to continue working on semester 1 standards through semester 2 and had an additional 20 students pass.

Growth Mindset

I call this year a success and look forward to 2016-2017!

Difficulties Doing Something Right


Thinking & Learning

How do we get students to think, to focus on learning, to seek out learning, to want to learn?  This is a conversation that my husband, a secondary principal, and I had on our 4-hour car ride this weekend.  We are both learners.  We love to learn new information and seek out people to learn from.  I don’t see this in most of my students.

In the scavenger hunt activity that I posted, students needed to look at images and decide which one would answer the question.

student: Mrs. Tolen, how do I know what it’s asking?

Me: What are you clues?

Student: Can’t you just tell me?

Me: Yes, but I’m not going to.

Student: But that’s you job.

Me: No, my job is to teach you to learn. Tell me one thing that might give you an idea about what this is asking.

Student: UGH!

Willing to Learn

It’s exhausting to do this day after day.  I had hoped by 3rd quarter that students would start taking an initiative.  Standards based grading has helped them identify what they need help with and they’ll tell me what they need help with but they still just want me to tell them how to do it.  I’ve talked to them about brain based research, about how THEY need to process the information to learn it.  They want the path of least resistance.

Star Wars
via starwarsintheclassroom.com

We’ve created this issue.  Start here stop there, do this then that, create this and here’s my example to copy…  Students who are most successful (based solely on grades) are the ones who can regurgitate information quickly, copy a project precisely, and complete assignments the first time even if they didn’t completely understand.  When you ask these students to use this information in a new situation, create something unique, or to explore something they may never have seen before, this is when true intelligence rises to the top.

Standardized Minds

This is what employers want.  They want thinkers, not drones, they want new ideas and innovation. I don’t know the easy button answer to my first question:How do we get students to think, to focus on learning, to seek out learning, to want to learn? I know we need to change what we are doing with students. We need to get rid of standardized testing, GPA, class rank and anything else that focuses on a grade and not on learning. We need to create a culture where students want to learn, where their first response is to think about a solution, and simply copying what someone else has done is just not good enough.    We need to keep asking questions and stop always giving answers.

I’m going to end with Einstein – a great thinker who impacted our world. He didn’t consider himself intelligent but he did consider himself a learner.



literate but not in math

Our focus in education for quite awhile now has been on literacy in reading.  It was a need, a need that we have and continue to address.  So before I begin this monologue, please hear me say we need to support reading.  It’s important.

So is math! A student also needs to be literate and fluent with math. Yet we don’t support math like we do reading.  We don’t provide interventions for math like we do reading. We pass students to the next grade even though they are not proficient in the skills and competencies for the grade they are leaving.  They can read so they pass.

We are harming students.  It’s negligence on our part as educators. What happens to a student who doesn’t master their multiplication tables in the 3rd grade? They struggle with long division in 4th, but they pass.  That lack of success (because we don’t want to say failure) compounds year after year, making a student believe they are stupid, that math is hard, that they can’t learn math.  But at that point in their education it’s ok if they can’t learn math, they haven’t had to so far.  They can pass to the next grade and the next and be grossly deficient in math skills.  Then they arrive at high school, where grades matter and courses must be passed to graduate.  This is how they come to me.

via http://project-collage.com/2015/08/15/what-about-the-other-kids/

The expectation when they arrive in my classroom is for them to learn Algebra 1. Seems simple enough.  Our curriculum is good, it’s aligned to our state standards, it’s vertically aligned with other grade levels. Oh, but students haven’t had to learn this wonderfully aligned curriculum. They passed from grade to grade because they could read.  Here is the task we’ve actually been given.

Algebra 1 hole

We are supposed to bring students out of a learning hole that is 3 or 4 years deep and help them climb the tree to learn Algebra IN ONE YEAR.  They haven’t had to learn math for a long time and now they have to learn multiple years of math to be successful. I use data and standards based learning.  I can show that my students are making progress.  Sometimes I only take them to the top hole and we sit in the grass. Yes, that means they don’t pass Algebra 1 the first time, but they learned.

So the argument I’m getting is, if they’ve learned why don’t they pass?  My answer: because they didn’t learn Algebra 1.  We never made it to the tree, we only sat in the grass and we celebrated that success. If we pass these students, we are as negligent as those before use.  We are perpetuating the problem.  If they pass to Geometry and Algebra II, they will be right back down in the hole we were trying to pull them out of.

People keep asking me what the solution is and I keep giving it.  WE NEED MATH RTI IN ELEMENTARY AND MIDDLE SCHOOL.  We need to make sure these students get the support they need to be successful EVERY YEAR, not wait until Algebra I and hope I arrange a miracle that drags them from the bottom of the pit to the top of the tree with the snap of my fingers.

Help our students, support our students, show them they CAN learn math from the beginning. I want them to be successful too but you are sending me an impossible task and setting our students up for FAILURE, and not the kind you can learn from.

I’m climbing off my soap box for now, but even from the ground I will continue to advocate for RTI in math.  It’s time our focus is on literacy in more than just reading.


METC, ramblings

#metc16 Sharing My Voice

Wow, my brain is on overload after the METC conference in St. Charles, MO.  I’ve been inspired by George Couros @gcouros & Rafranz Davis @rafranzdavis to share my voice not just my creations.

I set up this blog a few years ago to share content and tech ideas from my classroom (and I fail at keeping up with that sometimes). I was encourage by Sean Nash @nashworld, our technology coordinator at the time, to share what I was doing in my classroom.  I will always be grateful to Sean for that push.  I love helping other utilize tech to enhance the learning of students.

What I have been neglecting is my voice that focuses on learning.  I share this voice on Twitter through edchats like #DitchBook with @jmattmiller, #SBLchat and #MOedchat. I share my voice in person with anyone who doesn’t run from me (and sometimes my “passion” is a little too strong and they do run).  I don’t share this voice about my passion for learning here.  I plan to change that! Everything I do is to help students LEARN.  I use technology to engage students, meet them where they’re at, and to enhance (change, reinvent…) content learning.  I use standards based grading to empower students to take learning into their own hands and to show them that learning is ongoing and happens at different times for different people.  I am passionate about grades reflecting learning and not compliance or busy tasks.

I still plan to share technology ideas – please use them – it’s our duty as teachers to share our ideas so others can benefit.  But, I also plan to share my thoughts and ideas about teaching and learning.  At least on the blog I won’t know if you’re running away 🙂

Thanks George and Rafranz for challenging me!  #geekyfangirlmoment


Teach them to Learn

My focus for this school year will not be on testing, or homework, or even data teams, it will be on LEARNING.

Teach a student to

I’ve been reading Ditch that Textbook and Teach Like a Pirate this summer, as well as learning from my PLN on Twitter, Voxer and EdCamps.  All of these have reinforced the decision I made at the end of school last year to DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY! I will continue with Standards Based Grading but I like the phrase Standards Based Learning better. I will also be providing videos like a flipped classroom would so I can focus on projects and individualized learning in the classroom.  I won’t be assigning homework every night, but I will provide outside practice for those who need it. I want students to learn in the way that best suits them.  I don’t know how this will work but I’m excited to give it a try.  The most important change will be directing the focus on learning and not on a grade.  I want to eliminate the question, “What can I do to raise my grade?”  I want them to ask, “What can I do to learn?”  I can’t wait to have a classroom with students in control of their learning and a desire to be there.  I hope my inner Pirate comes out!


Dinner with the Real World

Last week my husband and I had dinner with friends.  One of them is an engineer and supervisor for an engineering firm, the other owns his own business.  During dinner, the conversation turned to education and was very enlightening.  After discussing with both of them how they felt we were turning out ill prepared students, I asked the question, “What do you want from an employee?”  The engineer, who does the hiring at his company, quickly answered, “I don’t want the most intelligent person.  They usually do only as I ask, no more or less, and expect a raise because they’ve completed another year of service.  I hire people who are willing to work hard, do what they see needs to be done, and take an initiative to make things better.”  Wow, that’s not at all what we prepare students for.  We give them a scripted set of instructions, tell them exactly what they need to do, they do it and then expect an A because they completed the task. Sometimes extra credit is given if the student didn’t manage to achieve that A with the original script.  I’m not pointing fingers, I have fit that description at times too. We try to provide opportunities for students to take the reign, but when we saddle the task with a strict rubric we’ve taken a lot of their thought process away. The business owner was even more frustrated, sometimes turning beat red while discussing with us.  He just wants people to show up on time, complete their job on deadline, not expect multiple chances to get something right because that costs him money, and to understand how to use basic math skills including understanding how money works.  His comment threw up a red flag immediately.  Isn’t a lot of our discussion recently about the “real world” allowing adults to turn things in late and having multiple opportunities to get things right? Isn’t it a school of thought that students should understand why something works and not just memorize?  He disagrees, “Please have them memorize addition and multiplication facts. Please make sure they can count change.”

Their request to the education field, PLEASE STOP.  Please stop allowing students to pass through our doors without:  learning to be responsible, completing assignments on time, working hard, showing up, and being responsible.  Please stop considering basic skills as unnecessary because we have technology. Please stop taking away the sting of failure because then they don’t learn from it.

My dinner with the real world has challenged some of my views.  I do believe in mastery learning, I do believe that not all students learn at the same time. The real world told me that it costs them money if it takes a person multiple times to learn something. They don’t want to employ that person.  I also believe that students must learn to meet deadlines, must learn to work hard and not expect things to be handed to them, and must take ownership of their actions and stop blaming others.  The real world agrees with me on that.  So where does that leave us in our quest to educate young people, not just academically but for the “real world”?


Summer Learning

I love learning from and with other educators.  It’s almost a condition that I need to seek help for.  I was the student who loved college, loved my online learning opportunities for my master’s classes, love conferences, love good PD with our district… I love to learn and improve.  This summer, my learning opportunities have been greatly increased.  It started with the return of #SJSDEdWeek, WOW so much learning with my fellow colleagues.  I left motivated and inspired and grew my PLN from within my own district!  Next came ISTE.  I didn’t get to attend ISTE, but I did join the #notatiste15 google plus group and Voxer chat. Both Google+ communities and Voxer were new experiences for me.  I have a few books to consume this summer, one of them is Ditch That Textbook by @jmattmiller which has a Twitter chat and Voxer group at #DitchBook.  I, just tonight, joined the #HackLearning Voxer group.  @LauraGilchrist4 created a monster when she added me to the #notatiste15 group. I have become a Voxer junkie, but I love discussing ideas with people inside that medium.  It’s July, usually the month I put away my computer and all thoughts of school.  This summer I can’t shut my brain off thinking of all the ways I can make learning more relevant to students and help them become learners, not just doers.  I can’t wait to share with my students, colleagues, and you as I get to practice some of what I’m learning.


Another Year Over



This school year has been a roller coaster.  I feel better about this year than others, but I don’t feel like it was my best year as an educator.

I welcomed two new people to my Algebra I team.  It’s difficult to keep teachers in Algebra I with soooo much pressure placed on us to do well with testing and pass students.  About 1/3 of our students take Algebra 1 as an 8th grader.  Their MAP scores are very high.  Our 9th graders taking Algebra I do not include those students, so our scores are never as good.  I wish I could make “the powers that be” understand that. My two new people were a GREAT addition and I loved

i started the year with interactive notebooking.  I loved the idea, encouraged by blogs like Math=Love and Rockstar Math Teacher.  Things didn’t go smoothly!  Students complained, parents complained, other staff complained (well, it is a lot of copies)… By Christmas I was frustrated.  I still liked the idea of notebooking, so I started changing everything to note sheets.  I took a page from the sketchnote movement and made all of my pages VERY graphic.  Students (and parents) seemed to like this better.  Who knew that gluing in math class was considered a waste of time to parents?

We have a higher number of students who do not seem to find success in Algebra.  Many of them have not been successful for many years. Our school re-introduced Core Support this year, a 40 minute time built into the day for extensive help in core content areas.  This was very successful, although small scale.

Failing students was a huge discussion for us this year.  Many factors played into this, some out of our control [attendance].  By 4th quarter, we had discussed many ideas to increase the motivation and learning for these students, flipped classrooms, standards based grading, no homework grades, you name it and we had discussed it as an option.

We decided to pilot standards based grading 4th quarter while reviewing for the EOC.  We wanted our standards to spiral and evidence of mastery to occur at the end of the quarter.   I LOVED IT!  For the first time in a long time I felt I had a good handle on what students knew.  Students were also more excited about their learning when they knew they would have to opportunity to fix mistakes by the next assessment.  They also liked charting their progress with the standards. I had fewer A’s than normal for the quarter, but I also had fewer F’s; letter grades aside, I KNOW I had a larger increase in knowledge.  I also feel like their grades more closely reflected their knowledge.

Planning for next year –

I will, according to a phone call last night, be welcoming another new member to my team (we just can’t keep Algebra I teachers!) We plan to use a modified flipped classroom design so we can spend more time in the classroom on engaging activities and remediation.  We DEFINITELY plan to use standards based grading for the entire year.  My summer reading includes Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess and Ditch That Textbook by Matt Miller. I’m hoping for tons of inspiration so that when next year ends I can say, “this has been my best year so far.”