Blog Archives

Maximizing Student Engagement with SMART Response Clickers

Teachers at Athena Middle and High School are using SMART response clickers!  Mr. Titus, Mrs. Schrieber, Miss Northrup (University of Rochester student teacher), and Mrs. Derleth have been utilizing this interactive technology in their classrooms.  The SMART Response system gives teachers the ability to instantly track quiz results and lesson comprehension to gain immediate insight into student learning and help increase overall retention and engagement.

Some activities that they have implemented in just a few weeks include the following:

  1. Warm-ups/Ticket out the Door:  All students will have a clicker in their hand and be expected to answer questions on a warm-up and/or ticket out the door.  These questions could be multiple choice, short response, true/false, etc.  As each student answers the question, the teacher will receive immediate feedback on topic areas of strength and opportunities for improvement based on their answers.  The teacher can use this information to modify and adjust his or her instruction based on the demonstrated student knowledge.
  2. Instant Questions: During a lesson, a teacher may want to assess if all students understand the content being taught.  Often times a teacher will ask, “Does anyone have any questions?” and no one raises their hands.  It is unlikely that all students understand what was being taught, but did not raise their hands or demonstrate knowledge of the topic.  With SMART response, a teacher can have the students answer an instant and spontaneous question to gage whether all students can answer the question.  If students need additional instruction or time on task, the teacher will instantly have the data to make that decision.
  3. Common Formative Assessments (CFAs):  The CFA process has been embraced by many in the Greece Central School District.  The CFA process means that teachers from the same grade or course ask the same questions to a similar group of students to collect data.  This data is analyzed and discussed by this common group of teachers to improve their instruction.  This collaboration will likely increase student and teacher learning.  One of the struggles for teachers in this process is that compiling data into a meaningful form can be difficult and time consuming.  The SMART response technology organized this data in seconds and can display it in graphs and charts.

Great job Athena!  Students are more engaged and instruction is continuing to improve.  You rock!

PLCs at Athena Middle and High

Athena Middle and High School collaborate in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).  The PLC process is “an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve” (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2010, p. 11).  This process is sometimes refered to as the PLT (Professional Learning Team) process.  The PLCs/PLTs are divided by subject or topic and meet bimonthly to discuss best practice, analyze common formative assessment (CFA) data, and focus on student learning.  A CFA is an instrument that is used by all members of the PLC in order to inform both the teacher and the student of the student’s progress (DuFour et al., 2010).  The CFA data is analyzed to determine which students need additional time and instruction and to identify the teaching strategies that proved to be effective.

Some things to remember when implementing the PLC process:

Three Big Ideas That Drive the Work of a PLC

  1. The purpose of our school is to ensure all students learn at high levels.
  2. Helping all students learn requires a collaborative and collective effort.
  3. To assess our effectiveness in helping all students learn we must focus on results–evidence of student learning–and use results to inform and improve our professioanl practice and respond to students who need intervention or enrichment.

Four Critical Questions of the PLC Process

  1. What is it we expect kids to learn?
  2. How will we know when they have learned it?
  3. How will we respond when they don’t learn?
  4. How will we respond when they already know it?

Please let me know the great things that you are doing in your PLCs.  If anyone wants help in moving their PLC to the next level, please LET ME KNOW as I am happy to help.

For more information visit

Paddles are Back in the Classroom (but not as a punishment)

The Athena High School Math Department has purchased two class sets of KleenSlate Response Paddles!  These square paddles have a white board on one side and a graph patch on the other.  The possiblities are endless with this simple tool.  KleenSlate was created by a teacher who saw a need for quality classroom tools that would improve communication and education.  KleenSlate Response Paddles make class more fun and engaging and that will result in higher student achievement.  Even though the paddles just arrived in our building yesterday, Mrs. Benz has already used them in most of her classes (see pictures below).  Check out more information on the KleenSlate website.

If anyone wants to use these paddles to increase engagement in their classroom (high school or middle school), please let me know!

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Proportions + Cooking = Learning

Mrs. Stowell was searching for a way to engage her students in a 6th grade proportions lesson, while at the same time showing them real world applications.  She came up with a great idea: a cooking lesson.  These students would be given a Marshmallow Ghosts recipe that serves 12, and use proportions to determine the necessary ingredients to serve the 30 students in the class.  After determining the ingredients, students cooked with Mrs. Stowell to make delicious Halloween treats.  As all students couldn’t cook at the same time, there were four stations set up in the class that students rotated through.  In addition to the cooking and recipe stations, there was a decimals station, and a poster station.  All students were engaged and left with smiles on their faces.  This is certainly an experience that Mrs. Stowell’s students will never forget.

If you would like a copy of the recipe worksheet, click Popcorn Ghost Worksheet.

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Accomplished mathematics teachers help and motivate students to learn mathematics by creating environments in which students experience freedom, fun, power, and sense of belonging.  Glasser (1986) says that when these four needs are met, the students will work harder and learn more.  Mrs. Derleth often creates learning environments for kids that encompasses those four needs.  Recently, she engaged her Integrated Algebra class with a game of MATHO!  The students in her class were engaged in a review game (fun),  many worked together on the problems (sense of belonging), and most participated and gave explainations to the entire class (power).  Played similar to BINGO, students had to work out math problems and put a chip on the space with the correct answer.  If a student got 5 correct answers in a row on their board, they were given a choice of prize (freedom).  Students could pick extra points from a bag or pick a candy bar.  Mrs. Derleth commented that an equal amount picked each option.  Nice work Mrs. Derleth!

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Mr. Mock Teaches Numb3rs Geometry

Mr. Mock showed students real world application of Geometry using the TV Show “Numb3rs.”  Mr. Mock used a similar format from an earlier post.  In the Parallel and Perpendicular Lines unit, he used the “Uncertantly Principle” activity.  The context of the activity is that Mathematics professor Charlie Eppes is looking at a series of bank robberies to determine who is responsible and where they will strike next.  FBI agent Don Eppes collects data and gives it to his brother to help him make predictions.  Students must answer the questions on the worksheet relating to possible robbery locations and their knowledge of geometry.  Students worked in groups to accomplish this task.  Way to go Mock!

Aleks Adventurers

Athena High School teachers Lisa Gross and Kelly Davis have pushed themselves outside of their comfort zone in order to maximize student engagement and achievement.  These teachers continue to impress others with the way that they can interact and connect with students of all ability levels.  Although Mrs. Gross and Mrs. Davis have achieved great success with a variety of teaching methods, they have challenged themselves to increase the use of technology in their classrooms.  Understanding that all students learn differently, they began using the Aleks computer program to differentiate and meet the needs of their wide range of learners in their Algebra/Geometry Connections.

Hagerty and Smith (2005) found that students who used Aleks showed significant improvement in algebra, both short-term and long-term.  This program pre-assesses students to determine their present level of mathematical competency, finds their learning patterns, and helps students to build upon their knowledge base at their own pace.  By using technology in the classroom, the goal is that all students will demonstrate higher achievement on class assessments and be able to discover and discuss mathematics more effectively.

Practical Strategy: Integrate computer software, such as Aleks, into your math instruction.


Reference: Hagerty, G., & Smith S. (2005). Using the web-based interactive software Aleks to enhance college algebra. Mathematics and Computer Education, 39(3), 183-194.

We All Use Math Everyday – Numb3rs Activities for Secondary Classrooms

In my Regents Geometry and Algebra/Geometry Connections classes, I integrate the television show Numb3rs into my instruction to motivate and connect the students to real world mathematical concepts.  Numb3rs, a TV series on the CBS network, is about an FBI agent and his mathematical brother who use math to solve crimes.  I have several activities that I have created for each course (representing the most critical units of study).  A typical Numb3rs Activity follows the following format:

20 minutes: students watch the first half of episode on the SMART Board
5-10 minutes: class discussion of the mathematical ideas in show
30 minutes: activity worksheet completed in cooperative groups
20 minutes: students watch the second half of episode on the SMART Board
10 minutes: class discussion of activity

Not only are students watching an attention-grabbing crime show, they are actively engaged in mathematical thought for 40 minutes.  During the show, they are expected to write down mathematical ideas discussed in the show to share out later in class.  The activity worksheet is completed in cooperative groups; students work together to discuss the math involved in the episode and connect it to the Regents topics that are currently being studied.

The integration of these activities has greatly impacted student engagement and learning in my classroom.  Students are more excited about coming to math class than they have in the past and their attendance has increased as a result.  In addition, my Algebra/Geometry Connections classes went from a 56% passing rate on the Algebra Regents Exam to a 91% passing rate.  I contribute this increase in part from the Numb3rs Activities.  My students have stated that this motivational lesson helps them to pay attention and learn topics that they may not have shown any interest about in the past.

Practical Strategy: Integrate media, movies, or TV shows into your lessons.  I have posted most of my Numb3rs Activities on

Feel free to use any in your classrooms.  Please send me any questions or comments.

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