Recognizing Birthdays!

I love celebrating my birthday (June 4, in case you wanted to know). My family was always great at celebrating birthdays. My husband thinks birthdays aren’t a big deal. He’s wrong. Every person deserved their day to be recognized.

I’ve always wanted to be a teacher that celebrates birthdays in my class, but just never thought it through enough before the beginning of the year. This year, I had a goal to do better.

I still didn’t do it perfectly. I finally remembered to ask my learners for their birthdays on the Day 3 of school. I gave everyone a notecard and asked for three things.

  1. Name
  2. Birthday
  3. Something that makes them smile

On Day 4, I organized all the notecards in order by date. On Day 5, I had my first birthday and realized that I had missed a birthday that was on Day 2. So it was on Day 4 that I realized I didn’t really have a full-fledged plan for this whole birthday thing, and I had a little bit of a night left to figure it out. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Have a “Happy Birthday” section on the board that I keep for the week. I had only done the two daily birthdays on their own this week, but after doing some research and asking about it on Twitter, I think weekly or monthly is better because it will help recognize the weekend birthdays better. I’ll play catchup on the four that I am missing this weekend and I already talked to the one learner that had her birthday on Day 2 and we’re going to do it on her half-birthday.
  • Give a Birthday Bracelet that I printed on gold paper and attached a piece of tape to. This Birthday Bracelet was found on misscalculate here. I’d love to do Elissa’s other brag bracelets, but don’t think I’m at that point yet.

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  • Give a birthday math trick that I found on Eat Play Math here. Lisa gives it with a piece of candy and a sticker, but I just fold it into its own envelope like Sarah does here (this is my favorite and only origami I know) and write a note on the envelope that ties to what they said makes them smile from the notecard. My first one said, “Happy Birthday! I hope you get to spend extra time with your brother and friends.” She had said that her brother and friends made her smile.

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Bon Anniversaire!

Helping Freshmen Transition: Advocating Forms and Grade Tracker


I teach mostly freshmen. The junior highs have this program where anyone with certain low grades is mandated to this after school study program. Last year, I had the lowest grades overall that I ever had first semester and when I talked to the rest of my teaching team, they were dealing with the same things. There were many teachers starting to play the blame game (including myself), but one thing I’ve learned from the #MTBoS is that we need to teach our learners the behaviors and procedures we want them to use. So second semester I started to add Sara’s Advocating Forms to my Algebra I class. My thought was that I had to teach these freshmen that they need to advocate for themselves in high school. The ones that really needed it had been told when and where to get help up until now.

The way I introduced it was that I was giving my classes a super easy way to not only get points but also to help them help themselves. I told them that there were many of them who didn’t need this assignment because they already did everything they needed to do to get help for themselves. So the only thing they needed to change about what they did was to bring the form and get it signed. Other learners needed to make an extra effort to come in to me or another teacher for help outside of class. I really stressed the outside of class, and that they could only do one in each time frame (like they could do one in Pride Time and one after school that same day, but couldn’t do two in Pride Time in the same day). But I also added a little bit to it that Sara didn’t mention. My Algebra I classes are so mixed in ability levels that I know there are also students that needed challenges that I just wasn’t reaching enough. So I also added that I knew there were learners that didn’t need help at all outside of class, so it was time for them to advocate for themselves that they needed challenges. Those challenges could only come from me, and it was the only advocating form they could work on during class (if it was an acceptable time to do so). Sometimes I had a challenge made up on a printout, sometimes I just asked them a verbal extension question that they would then write down.

I am so happy to say that this Advocating Form assignment helped so much for every single one of my students. I am for sure introducing this again very soon for my Algebra I learners this year. (I didn’t see the need to do this in my Honors Geometry class last year, but will re-evaluate if I need to do it for them after the first unit.)

Here are the files I modified for my use from Sara:

Advocating Form Assignment and Forms (docx)

Advocating Forms (pdf)     Advocating Form Assignment (pdf)

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I was so pleased that my learners did not just come to me for help. I had the football players asking the two math teachers that were football coaches because they already hung out in their rooms. I had learners asking their science and social studies teachers because that was who stayed after school that day (and those teachers came to me later saying they enjoyed realizing that they still knew some high school math!). But mostly, I had students coming to me during Pride Time or after school. We have a 25-minute Advisory period in the middle of the day where 3 days a week the learners can choose what teacher they want to meet with using a website called FlexiShed. Every teacher offers help, but the sessions fill up quickly because only 20 seats are available unless teachers raise the limits. First semester, this time in my class was maybe 50% productive. Second semester, it was 110%. I would have some Pride Times where I’d barely get to everyone for help, and I started to sign off on when I saw them ask other students in my Pride Time while they were waiting for me. Also, in my school all teachers are required to stay until 3:30, but the last bell rings at 3:18. First semester, I spent those twelve minutes monitoring the hallway for a few minutes while learners packed up, and then just went into my room and got work done/packed up. Second semester, I’d still spend those first few minutes in the hallways, but then I had usually 2-5 students come to my room. And they’d rarely be there past 3:30. My learners started to understand that asking a question doesn’t take more than a few minutes! And sure, I had some learners that waited until the last minute to get help and some that didn’t complete the assignment in the end, but overall it made a noticeable difference in attitude and (perhaps more importantly) grades. I had comments from my learners and parents that they really appreciated the little push to get in the habit of asking questions. Their other teachers saw a difference, too!

Another thing that my team did to help motivate learners was to have them track grades. I chose to do this every Friday (or end of the week). I made this Grade Tracker for my team:

Grade Tracker (docx) and  Grade Tracker (pdf)

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I would say that the grade tracker really helped my freshmen who were coming from Standards Based Grading and not being able to fail a class to a traditional grading system really understand their grades more. There were no surprises anymore.

When I first joined the Freshman Academy at my school, I’ll admit that I didn’t quite buy into the belief that the transition from junior high to high school was important to acknowledge. I understand more now that there’s way more to teaching freshmen than just algebra.

Quelquefois, je pense que ces jeunes étudiants sont extraterrestres.