Category Archives: Math

The Day I Gave All My Students iPhones (Part of the IXL Series)

I took a big risk a few months ago by putting on my cheesy teacher hat and pushing out an idea that came to me as I was trying to encourage my students to use IXL.

In a grand opening-of-class announcement, I told all of my students, “Ok guys, I’ve been thinking and I have a plan. You are all getting an iPhone. I got this deal on iPhone 1s, and you will get to add apps to your phone for your hard work on IXL.

Oh, the look on their faces!

I then proceeded to pass out white paper copies of this iPhone template I tweaked from Coffee, Cats, and Crayons on TPT.

Oh, the look on their faces!

“Now, I know this is an old model, and it only comes in white with black lettering, but I talked to people in the main office and they assured me that they would be coming out with a new model soon. They also promised new colors were in the works.”

I had to keep it up…

“Please be very careful with these phones. I didn’t get insurance on them. So if you lose your phone at any time you will get a new one but you will have to your apps will be wiped clean.”

And we were rolling…

The iPhone incentive is working well in my room. Students earn one sticker for each LA skill they complete to satisfaction. As I wrote before, I’m flexible with the SmartScore to accommodate all learners.

I check their progress once a week by customizing the the reports and award apps/stickers in a little one-on-one conference.


A student selects his apps for his latest progress on his IXL ticket and gets to upgrade.

Once their iPhone 1 is filled with 12 apps, they upgrade to an iPhone 2 and so on.

Their old phone goes in the “showcase” under the dry erase board.

Only a snapshot of the dozens of iPhone 1s and 2s that have been retired in the showcase. 

Students receive a prize for upgrading, as well.

This was a fun day ~ The day I shared all the prizes connected to the upgrades.  They got a kick out of this.

When the first student upgrades to a new phone, I present our newest model: “The iPhone 2 has just been released. It comes in a lovely Butter Yellow.”

The iPhone 3 is “Peppermint Pink.”

Recently I had one student upgrade to the “Mint Green iPhone Cuatro.” He is the the envy of many; not because he got a prize from Prize Box 1 but because he was the first.

I’ll admit, this is an incentive program that takes dedication and organization on my part. I’ve tweaked it a little by adding special BONUS apps throughout the week such as:

  • Scoring a 100% in Newsela Quiz earns you 2 apps, while a 75% earns you 1 app.
  • I had a tiered level of rewards for growth in winter MAP scores.
  • Perfect attendance by the whole class for the week or 100% completion of homework.
  • Sometimes just helping out in class or being a leader earns you an app.

Playing the part of a Verizon salesperson is challenging, but I’ve spent enough time in Verizon to know key phrases that make it feel authentic, which makes it even funnier.

Almost all of my kids love it.

Secretly, even the ones who act like it’s dumb? Well, they love it, too. They even tell me what their stickers represent. (If they get a little emoji with headphones? “Oh yes, I got my music app!”)

Oftentimes, making a reward silly is all it takes to reel in a middle schooler.

Sometimes, it’s about making the experience seem like a reality. Not many of my kids have iPhones, so this is almost like having the real thing – even if it’s just within the walls of my classroom.

Always, it’s about ensuring everyone sees some success and everyone gets credit for working hard.

What do you think of my incentive plan?

Could it work in your classroom?

Do you do equally silly or crazy ideas to motivate students?

I’d love to hear your ideas, questions, and thoughts in the comments!

IXL Bulletin Board
Blog Series: IXL in My Classroom

Back-to-School Love

For some reason, our district is a week behind everyone else in the area so we still have a few days left of summer vacation. However, seeing all the Back-to-School pics on Facebook, makes me a little excited for the big day.

So, last night I bought poster board at the Dollar Tree (5 Sheets for $1) and broke out the Sharpies. I could easily buy posters at the teacher store, but there is just something special about making my own.

This is going to go on my closet door, and each student will write about their dreams and goals.

This is going to go on my closet door, and each student will write about their dreams and goals.

This year’s theme is all about believing in your self, going after dreams, and loving your life…no matter where you are.  Wonder where I got that inspiration!?

I am so excited to talk to my 8th graders and share the exciting news of my first book.  I know that they will be proud of me, and I hope that it will serve as an inspiration and a reminder of how much I love them!

This will go in the center of my bulletin board above my desk, surrounded by photos of my family and pets.

This will go in the center of my bulletin board above my desk, surrounded by photos of my family and pets.

What’s your theme for this year?
Do you make your own posters and decorations?
What would YOU attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?
Share some Back-To-School love in the comments!

Team Teaching Options

True or False?

  1. There is no one way to team teach.
  2. There is no magic formula for team teaching.
  3. The success of team teaching has many factors.
  4. There are many forms and variations of team teaching.
  5. Team teaching is a lot of work.

Answers: ALL TRUE!

My boyfriend is a 5th grade teacher and is going to be “team teaching” this year with another 5th grade teacher.

He sent me a text early yesterday morning asking me to help him out and research team teaching for my blog.

He came to the right girl.  I am very lucky to be in my 4th year with the same Pre-Algebra teacher and we are getting better and better at team teaching each year.

So, what will this look like? What are his options?


Teamwork + Attitude = Success

Traditional Team Teaching – “You teach and I will assist.”

This is like the magician and the lovely assistant, or the hero and hero support. In this situation, the classroom teacher is at the SMARTBoard teaching a lesson on graphing. I walk around the room keeping my eye open for students who need assistance with their graphs. This is a good model to use when, as the intervention specialist, you are not an “expert” in the content or when students are working on something independently. For more on being hero support in the regular classroom, click here.

Splitting the Class for Differentiation – “You take the big group and I’ll take the small group.”

We do this a lot in Pre-Algebra. The classroom teacher will keep the majority of the students and work through more advanced problems and I will take a handful who need more practice on a basic concept. Sometimes this is decided on the spot, after we check our homework. Other times, it is planned out ahead of time based on a quiz, test, or classroom performance. My group may not get as far as her group and sometimes we assign different homework.

This team teaching strategy allows us to change the presentation, add strategies, or use alternative worksheets with different groups of students. For example, the larger group may work on Practice C or the Challenge worksheet while the smaller group works on Practice B or another review sheet. Sometimes, the small group will start the independent practice together – doing one of each type of problem on the worksheet to be sure students know what to do for each section. This is also a good time for me to read word problems out loud and work on reading comprehension strategies with those who need it.

Parallel Instruction – “Divide and conquer.”

This works well if you want to provide more individualized attention to students or work in a smaller group setting. We always find it interesting how the participation level goes way up when we split the class. Students who normally do not participate crawl out of the woodwork and hands shoot up when we use this model.

This year we have 32 students in our Pre-Algebra block which is a lot of students. A reduced class size of 16 is so much nicer. We don’t necessarily break the class into high/low groups, although we do sometimes split up talkative friends. Our goal is to stick to the same content and get through the same amount of work. Obviously, we each have our own style of delivery, but the student task is essentially the same.

This model also works well when we are making some sort of manipulative or graphic organizer.

Stations – “Keep ’em moving. Keep ’em learning.”

Learning stations are a lot of work to create and monitor. However, in an 84 minute period you have time for 4 20-minute stations, which is a good length of time for students to remain on a particular task before they get bored. We are a big fan of stations. Our favorite set of stations includes:

  1. An iPad activity (either an instructional video or game)
  2. An extended response station where students receive a grade for their work
  3. A station where students must evaluate/grade 4 to 5 sample answers to an extended response. We use old test questions and sample answers from the rubrics and students have to determine the points that would be given for each response.
  4. A multiple choice station or other type of worksheet to practice a skill

Sometimes we both just rotate around the stations as needed. Other times, we each monitor two specific stations. We have also done just two stations – one in her room and one in mine – and we switch halfway through the period.

True Co-Teaching – “The perfect duet”

This model is the hardest and will only work in the most ideal situations where teaching styles, personalities, and philosophies blend nicely. It is not natural and it is hard to come by. If we would pull this off successfully, it would almost as if a script was written for the lesson. This takes an immense amount of common planning time, a good working relationship, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say a strong friendship as well.

Have you had a good team teaching experience?

What models do you use for team teaching?

What do you think is the most important thing that must be in place for team teaching to work?

Questioning Strategies that Promote Discussion

Discussion is one of the most important parts of a lesson. This allows students to seek clarification and allows teachers to gauge understanding.

How do you get students to engage in discussion?

By asking questions…the right questions.

Take our inclusion Pre-Algebra class, for example. After we go over the answers for their homework, the teacher asks, “What questions do you have?”

In some classrooms, you will get an appropriate response.
In the inclusion classroom, you often get blank stares.

After a moment of silence, I throw out some other questions:

“What was something that was confusing to you?”
“What did you realize you were doing wrong?”
“What makes more sense now?”

Asking these types of questions and the discussion that follows is beneficial for  several reasons:

  • It gives students time to reflect on mistakes.
  • It may help others who have made similar errors.
  • It clears up further misunderstandings.
  • It encourages metacognition (thinking about thinking).
  • It allows students to verbalize and prove his or her understanding.
  • It encourages a safe learning environment where it is ok to make mistakes.


How do you encourage discussion?
What kinds of questioning strategies do you use?
How do you combat the blank stares and moments of silence?

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