Pencil sharpeners from Classroom Friendly Supplies

A few weeks ago, what I think is my 10th electric pencil sharpener stopped working. I decided I was done with electric pencil sharpeners and began a search to find a reliable, quiet, affordable pencil sharpener.

I found this pencil sharpener from Classroom Friendly Supplies, and I discovered that they would send me one in exchange for an honest review – so, here it is!

The positive:

  1. It is QUIET!
  2. No mounting needed, no electricity / batteries / plugs required.
  3. It get pencils super sharp.
  4. If a piece of led beaks off in the sharpener, it is super easy to take apart and repair.


The negative:

  1. Students are not sure how to use it at first and they may interrupt class to ask how it works.  Fortunately, Classroom Friendly Supplies also provides a nice little printable step by step to post for students.


I think this video from one of my students sums it up perfectly:

What even IS good teaching?

This has been a weird school year.

I have no idea what I am doing. Most of my class periods end with me thinking about what a mess it was and how it could have gone better.

I am very unorganized. I feel like I’ve tricked others into thinking I have it together, when in reality, I am barely keeping my head above water.

I’m teaching precalculus for the first time in a long time this year. Each student in my class has a unique path, they came to our alternative high school from a variety of other high schools, and they each have different gaps in prerequisite knowledge. It is a 80 minute class that runs from 2:45 to 4:05 pm. It is long and rough. If I am ever observed during this period, my administrator would wonder how I am even employed.

Yet, when I ask my students in the precalc class how it is going, they say they’ve learned more math in the past few months than they have in any other high school class.

How is this even possible?


For the past two years I have been voted as Teacher of the Year at my school. In August I was awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. In September, the students at my school voted me as Teacher of the Month, a new recognition developed by our student council.  I must be doing something right…but what?2016-09-09-16-53-24

Here is what I’ve realized:

There is too much focus on what is observable in a class period (bulletin boards, lesson plans, time management) and not enough on the culture and connections that teachers develop with and among  their students.  

For my first 8 years of teaching, I created a rigid plans of what I would teach each day for the quarter and then further developed scripted daily lesson plans and specific homework from the textbook. I then implemented the plan with fidelity. I made no effort to get to know my students, partially because I was overwhelmed making these scripted to the minute plans and then I was concerned about following the schedule during each lesson. While my administrator observations looked good on the surface, students were not really learning much.

Now, beginning with the first day of school, I intentionally work at building a unique relationship with each student. I make sure to find reasons to genuinely value each  of them. This starts with weekly “How is it going?” type questions on their warm up sheets and continues by using their mistakes on “Find the flub Friday” and through feedback quizzes. I also share a lot of myself with them. When we understand each other, my classes are more productive. I still make plans, but I allow flexibility to meet my students where they are. I pre-assess their understanding and readiness through warm ups and then use this to direct our units.

There are (many) days where I have just a terrible lesson, but through listening to my students and leaving space to adapt to their feedback, it appears messy to an observer, but we all learn anyway.

My NCTM regional Phoenix session

I presented at NCTM’s regional conference in Phoenix a few weeks ago on reasons to develop and use effective warm up routines. Here is the blurb on the session:

Warm-Up Routines: Developing Mindset While Enhancing Math Understanding

Warm-up activities can maximize class time, set class culture, develop growth mindset in students and fill gaps, or extend student understanding. Participants will engage in a collection of high leverage warm-up routines, learn about research supporting warm-ups, and learn how to use them to grow their students and their teaching practice.

Here are my slides from the session:


Here is the (editable) warm up sheet that I used as a sample sheet to give participants a starting point to adapt this to their own classes and style. I also created and linked to a sheet where I have been collecting awesome warm up routines and tried to align each to the math practice standards.

It was super scary! The room filled to capacity (over 120 participants) at an 8 am session. It was so nice to have the familiar faces of Andrew Browning CouchMegan Schmidt, Stephanie Bowyer, Daniel Schneider and Justin Aion, and Katherine Bryant in the room. I am honored that they came to my session considering they already know the routines I was sharing.

I am curious why this session was so high interest. Was it because the session title included the super-hot-buzz-word: mindset? Was it because the session included specific and awesome, ready to use the next day, teaching strategies?

I learned and grew as a teacher by signing up to facilitate a session at a NCTM conference and I hope to do it again. Proposals for 2017 are due December 1st, and at this point, I am not sure what to present. I want it to be a valuable addition to the overall conference, and be considered useful by the participants.

I would like these conferences to have more sessions facilitated by teachers and researchers, and less by consultants and for-profit businesses promoting their products (I’m looking at you, TI). As teachers, we all are researching effective teaching daily through direct application. We all have something useful that we discovered works for us in our classrooms and I encourage you to apply to present a session too!