Math = Love: First Test of the Year

Thursday, September 6, 2012

First Test of the Year

Well, It's almost 6:30 am, and I should be getting ready to head out the door.  School starts at 8 and I try to be there by at least 7.  But, I knew that I need to document what happened yesterday.  I have such a tendency to focus on what isn't going quite so well with my teaching.  But, yesterday was a good day.

My Algebra 1 students took their first test.  Chapter 1.  I tested them over evaluating expressions, order of operations, distributive property, integer operations, and translating expressions.  20 questions.  Multiple choice.

As students walked in the classroom, I asked them if they were excited for a test today.  I got a lot of "No" or "I'm going to fail."  The day before, I had given them a quiz with the same type of questions as the test.  I did this intentionally.  Many of my students were still struggling with integer operations.  I wanted them to be able to see how well they had mastered integer operations before we got to the test.

We took the quiz.  10 questions over adding/subtracting/multiplying/dividing negative and positive numbers.  6 other questions.  The scores were not pretty.  And, I had let them use their interactive notebook on the quiz.  I was not happy with the scores.  They were not happy with the scores.

However, when I started going over the quiz and extra review questions, they were much more engaged.  They knew this was material that they needed to learn and hadn't mastered yet.  Students were asking questions of other students.  Hard work and learning were taking place.  Misconceptions had been cleared up.   

At the end of the class period, I gave them a 5 question quiz.  Almost all my students made a 5/5.  That was the score I put in the computer

So, the next day was test day.  As bellwork, I put up 5 more review problems.  I handed out the tests.  I chose to let my students use their interactive notebooks on the test as well.  I'd originally thought that I would never allow the INB on tests since they won't be able to use it on the state test in May.  But, my students' integer operations were still shaky.  And, it's truly a beautiful sight to sit and watch students look at questions on the test and know exactly where to turn in their notebook for help.  We made a foldable that I found online the other day that I had originally written off as a flop.  It was cool looking.  But, none of my students were using it.

Well, after that quiz, students all of a sudden figured out that the foldable had ALL the rules.  They could just turn it to the right operation, and it would tell them what to do.  They started using it to help them, and scores started rising.  Part of me says that the foldable is a crutch.  But, another part of me knows that my students will soon internalize these rules and eventually won't need the foldable.  Until then, it will be able to help them.

Many of my Algebra 1 students are students who failed the 8th grade state math test.  I chose to teach them intentionally.  I didn't exactly know what I was getting into, but I love these students.  They are such a joy to teach.  These are students used to failing math.  And, they got their test scores back.  Almost all A's and B's.

I had students ask me if they failed.  Those were the students who made 95%.  These students aren't used to succeeding.  I'm going to change that.  And, I really hope I'm still at this school two years from now when these Algebra 1 students are taking Algebra 2.  

The average grade on the first test was an A.  An A.  My students left class feeling like a success because they are.  They are overcoming their fear of math.  They are overcoming years of teaching that was ineffective for them as learners.  I can't wait to see where this group of students will go.

Today, we start solving equations.  My principal will be in the classroom to observe me for the first time.  We have a new, way more involved evaluation system here in Oklahoma.  Each semester, I will have 2 observations, 2 conferences, 1 evaluation, and 1 evaluation conference.  On top of that, there are only like 20 different realms of things I need to be doing in each and every lesson.

I feel like I should be incredibly nervous.  But, I know I'm an effective teacher for these students.  I know that I am doing my best.  I know that the way I'm teaching with interactive notebooks and manipulatives, and lots and lots of practice on the whiteboards works for these students.  The principal isn't there to find fault with my teaching.  He's there to help me become a better, more effective teacher.  This is my first year.  I will always have room for improvement no matter how many years I teach.  


  1. How wonderful for you! I love that your students not only possess a notebook, but are using it! Keep us posted....

  2. This reminds me of an idea about teaching math, as it relates to teaching computer programming. Programmers pretty much always have their "cheat sheet" with them as they solve programming problems. Most of the easy stuff on the cheat sheet isn't needed by a programmer, because they've internalized the basic stuff they need to be successful.

    See for what I would think this would look like in math. It seems to me that these foldables are a very similar tool.

  3. Sarah, I have been teaching for over 20 years and your blog has inspired me to try so many new things in my classroom! I love reading your posts every day and I am using a lot of your techniques to "freshen" my teaching! Thank you so much for the time you spend on this blog. I know as a teacher it is hard to find the time for "extras" but your hard work is an inspiration to many others! Thank you!

  4. So inspiring. I taught first term "remedial" algebra 1 students last year in both spring and fall (the spring class was a 'repeater' class) with limited success. I am going to try to use these Interactive Notebooks and some of your strategies this year. You are a super first year teacher!!!

  5. Hi Sarah,

    I too have a number of students who have previously not been successful in their math class. Their work this year has been amazing and I can't wait to see how much they grow by the end of year. One of the issues I am trying to re-teach is the difference or lack there of between negative signs and subtraction. Any creative ideas?


    1. This is something my students really struggle with, too. Sadly, I haven't found a magical solution to this. It's something that seems so obvious to me that I have trouble explaining it to students who don't see it right away.

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