Brainstorming Ideas for 2010/2011

So about a week or two ago, I started writing down all the ideas I have for next year. And they kept on coming, I got 20, 25, 30… And each time I came up with one, I threw it in my google doc. This is the current instantiation of my list.

I wasn’t going to post it, because it’s just brainstorming (who knows if I’ll decide to follow through with ’em; some are great ideas and some are terrible), and because the list is so specific to me and my classes. But @hemantmehta said it might help him, and who am I to deny @hemantmehta?

I thought writing the list was cathartic. It also helps with my horrible memory. (I tend to forget all the small things I want to change over the summer — when my brain atrophies from inactivity.)

I suggest if you haven’t made one yet, do it now — when you’re in the throes of the last few weeks of school, when things are getting on your nerves and you’re ready to be done. This is the time you should make this list. Because you’ll use your angst and frustration to imagine the educational paradise that you’re going to create the next year.

So okay, here are some of my raw, jotted down thoughts. I’m not really looking for feedback on them.

Ideas for next year (2010/2011)

  1. Binder checks in calculus
  2. Binder checks happening in small chunks 1st and 2nd quarters
  3. Idea: Homework quizzes: Assess students aperiodically on questions from the homework — and they’re allowed to use their homework to do it? (Has kids show more work, if they can just copy, and write down the problem… also encourages kids to label topics from each sections?)
  4. Create a better sheet to walk around with to check homework daily – so I take attendance and homework more consistently
  5. Have sign in sheets for kids to sign in when they arrive late without a note from a teacher – or get caught chewing gum
  6. Have a sheet for kids to write their name down when they forget a calculator/pencil/paper and have to borrow one from me
  7. Rewrite more tests instead of recycling them from previous year
  8. Talk about how to “write” answers to conceptual questions more – at least once per unit – and give classwide feedback and what’s good and what’s not
  9. Give lesson on how to read the book – IN CLASS each quarter spend a period actually learning a topic/section by reading the book in groups
  10. Make a website with links to useful videos for each Alg II topic we learn – so students can learn independently (videos from the Holt website, but also from other places)
  11. When introducing function notation in Alg II, and functions in general, teach how to graph the 8 base/parent functions. Use those as examples for compositions, etc.
  12. Decide to get rid of some topics in calculus (e.g. inverse trig integrals/derivatives, rational function graphing, extensive work on limits?) to spend more time on fun stuff (volume, surface area)
  13. Incorporate probability unit in calculus
  14. Final 4th quarter group project in calculus (introduce EARLY in 4th quarter) – based on problem solving to capitalize on the work we will do all year?
  15. Group work standard in Algebra II and calculus – meaning having standards groups each quarter.
  16. Group pop quizzes for team work and group building
  17. Giant whiteboards to have students work on problems and present their solutions
  18. Calculus problem solving (at the beginning … or end … of each unit) — how to assess problem solving?
  19. Have students in MV calculus be better at deriving equations and solving basic problems (more regular tests? use concept questions regularly?)
  20. In Alg II, don’t have single assessment grade; break assessments into standards and record those
  21. Idea: use Friday 3:20-4pm as a way for students to reassess. REASSESSMENT IS A CAN OF WORMS – think CAREFULLY ABOUT THIS
  22. Write in planner the topics/standards covered each day, so I have a record of how long it takes me to teach things
  23. Allow students 1/2 credit for homework done in pen or not on graph paper
  24. Go over course expectations at the start of every quarter
  25. Talk about what collaboration can look like for homework, and what it can’t. Do this each time you go over course expectations
  26. Come up with a clear idea of what collaboration can look like for MV Calc problem sets… and come up with ways for them to be be enforced
  27. Put review questions on each assessment
  28. Create posters for classroom(s) — with quotations and rules? In general decorate classroom! COLOR!
  29. Create some sort of “prize” that students can work towards (e.g. everyone is focused, and working in groups well, gets a paper clip added to chain… when it reaches 20, donuts?) — very visible!!! Or something like if all students do their homework for a week, we get to play a song at the end of class on Friday – of their choice (as long as it’s appropriate).
  30. Prize for students who get perfect scores on assessments — publicly awarded (BUTTONS I DESIGN?!)
  31. Set aside the last 3 minutes of class, no matter what, to have students summarize what they learned and what they’re confused on
  32. Steal Kate Nowak’s “index card” idea… taped to each desk will be a index card holder (imagine library card holders), and 4 white index cards (so no kid gets embarassed by holding up a different color). On each card are numbers 1 to 4, and the words “1. TOTES GET IT!” “2. I’M ALMOST THERE!” “3. KINDA CONFUSED, SIR!” and “4. NO IDEA WHATSOEVER!” – make sure to only make 4 – don’t want to have a “middle option” for kids to always sit on the fence. Maybe use these at the end of class to see how they feel about the 2 or 3 skills/ideas we’ve learned. Stop asking “do you get it? anyone confused” which clearly indicates I want them to say yes.
  33. Is there a way to make electronic exit slips? Maybe at the end of each week have students fill one out as part of their homework? GOOGLE DOCS! Or ignore, if using 32.
  34. Be consistent about writing one random positive email to parents — one for every “hard”/”bad” email I have to write, and if I don’t write one in a week, then one every Friday. Keep track of this.
  35. Make a sign in sheet for when kids come for extra help — I fill it in, with name, date, and what they’re meeting me for.
  36. Create a template for the email students need to email me when they want to meet… Have on it “I would like to meet because I am having trouble with this specific thing:” Require students use the template.
  37. Go visit at least 4 different classes each semester – plan 2 at the beginning of each quarter to ensure that I start doing this.
  38. When doing review classes, create and use more f(t)/Kate Nowak games
  39. Have more “hooks” — like making homework like
  40. Consider allowing students in calculus to use their calculator more often — with requirements on how they have to express they used their calculator (if they did) on assessments. Talk with them and maybe come up with class norms — they generate — on what they think is fair to be asked to include on an assessment when they use their calculator.
  41. Teach students how to program in their calculators in calculus (how to come up with an approx deriv program, an eqn of the tangent line program, a Riemann Sum program, any others???)
  42. For ONE unit in Alg II, try out sticking strictly to a schedule – to try it out….
  43. Pencils down at the end of assessments. Enforce with a 1pt penalty.
  44. Provide “find the mistake(s) in these solutions” for Alg II and Calculus. For Calculus, make some of the mistakes NOTATIONAL errors. Highlight the importance of notation.
  45. Use many different variables in calculus, besides x and t — to really drive home that d/dx means “taking the derivative with respect to x” instead of “take the derivative”
  46. Continue practice of having students answer questions about the course expectations using google docs – especially about homework makeups from absences and extended time. Do it at the start of each quarter. Make sure to get their graphing calculators’ serial numbers.
  47. Have students write (etch?) their names on their calculators (case, calculator itself, battery lid) one day in class
  48. Make an ongoing list of homework assignments, corresponding with each skill taught. So the following year, I know what to assign depending on how far we got in class.
  49. If students get a solid C or C- or below on an assessment, they must write down 2-3 paragraphs: (1) how they prepared for the assessment, (2) why they think they got a low score, (3) their plan for the future. MAYBE: they also need to get it signed by their parent if they get a C- or below (?) — or is this moving away from student independence?
  50. Honor statement that students must write out on each assessment.
  51. Spell out homework collaboration on course expectations.


  1. Some great ideas in here. I know you said “no feedback,” but I wanted to piggy-back on some of your ideas for myself. Feel free to steal back if they appeal to you.

    (Among others) I need to work on #28 as well. I put up things students bring in, but that’s usually some coloring book pages they do when they’re bored during study hall. Maybe we can get the students to design and produce stuff for the walls.

    I also like the buttons idea (#30). They can be like Xbox achievements or PS3 trophies. See who can get the largest collection. Maybe have some for various things like: “most thorough work” or “all homework completed” (cute names to go along with them would be fun, too). Maybe a few “secret” achievements as well for going above and beyond (like the weird ones in video games where you have to like shoot all the pigeons in the city). Anyways, buttons they can display on their bag or specially designed stickers for their binder/notebook would fit in with the public displays of “achievements” to encourage others to get them as well.

    I’m sure I’ll steal some other of your ideas and I really should make my own google-doc of ideas, because I, too, leave the school year full of large aspirations and then end up in the 2nd week of school next year not remembering any of them and having done nothing over the summer.

    Thanks for the ideas, Sam!

  2. I was thinking of adding achievements but was leaning more toward printing special stickers. Buttons are a better idea. There’s a physics teacher at my school who gives out “Physics Ninja” buttons and refuses to give me one. Must get buttonmaker.

  3. It’s a little different for me, as I’m returning to the classroom (teaching just one section of Algebra) after more than 10 years, but I’m up to 68 on my Google Doc.

    No feedback, but a suggestion. I added a reminder to my calendar in September, November and February – “Go look at Brainstorming Google Doc again.” I figured it’s going to be easy to let it go by the wayside once the school year starts, perhaps the reminder popping up will make me feel guilty enough to go check it again (and add to it).

  4. Yes! I have made Sam’s blog. My work here is done. I’m retiring from math now.

    (Seriously, thanks for posting this. It’ll help me tons!)

  5. For cheap huge whiteboards got to Lowe’s and buy showerboard. They will cut it for you for a very small price per cut. That way you can get them cut any size you want. I have had my set for over 10 years. They work GREAT and are very sturdy.

  6. I know you said you didn’t want feedback, but here’s two thoughts.

    #17 If you classroom has windows (I’ve taught several years in rooms that didn’t), you can use the windows and erasable markers.
    #33 Yes, there is a way to make electronic exit slips. The SMART response costs a fortune, and kids all have cell phones anyhow, so have them text you one of the four choices you listed. If you don’t want them to text your number, you can have them text to an online site like and see the group’s responses in real time.

  7. Hihi-

    Update! I said I don’t want feedback, but what I really meant was: don’t tell me these ideas are stupid. They’re just brainstorming. Of course feel free to throw down more ideas or build off the ideas, or whatever.


  8. Thanks for the list, and for reminding me to make my own “end of the year, I can *so* fix some stuff for next year” list :)

    On #4, I’ve designed a sheet that has my students names, photos, and a spot for Mon, Tues, Weds, & Thurs (I don’t assign HW over the weekend). I’m just checking for completion, so I go around with a stamp every day and if their HW is complete, I stamp both their homework and my sheet on my clipboard. At the end of the week I total up their stamps to get their HW score for the week. Also makes it easy to look up which assignments they’ve missed :) You can see it at If you’re interested, I’d be happy to email you the actual template. I’ve got it as a numbers file, but I imagine I could export it to xls :)

  9. For your website with links to review videos…consider some from The videos aren’t entertaining but they are concise reviews.

    I love your list. I do the same thing myself each year, and your list is helping me brainstorm. :)

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