2017: Prime Number, Prime Life

As someone who loves reading recommendation posts from other people, I thought I would throw together some of the top things I enjoyed in 2017 for all of you!

My two phrases for this year were “action over inaction” and “prime number, prime life” (2,017 is a prime number). I really loved reflecting on both of these phrases over the course of this year. The first prompted me to take the plunge on some things that I normally would have held back on, and to in general just get more things done this year. The second made me consider a lot of things about what makes something a “prime life” and what I actually have control over to make that happen. I’m a bit bummed that I have to wait until 2027 to have another prime number, prime life year! Both of these phrases kind of came to me spontaneously on New Year’s Eve last year and have turned out to put me on a great path for a great year. I’m hoping that happens again this New Year’s Eve…look for a “2018 motto” post in January if it does!

I’ve chosen a few categories, some professional, some personal, from which to share my top fives with you all.


  1. I bought my first house and have tackled many adult things that go along with it – a new dryer, painting rooms, water bill errors, getting electrical things fixed, regularly mowing a lawn / shoveling a driveway, etc.
  2. Started grad school (Masters in Mathematics – Secondary Education from the University of Northern Iowa)
  3. In January, I began serving as a model teacher in my district in the areas of Activities & Materials and Academic Feedback
  4. I have not drunk pop all year – with the exception of an attempt to get rid of a horrendous migraine in May that I ended up going to the doctor for, so I think that one was justified. It’s incredible how much better I sleep and feel!
  5. I’ve read 84 books this year (with 4 days still left to go during which I do not have to work or do grad school things), which is a record since I started recording my books read in 2011!

Teacher Moments

  1. Our superintendent noticed and passed on positive comments about my “Mathematicians Can Be” bulletin board to several district heads and my principal.
  2. I was asked to be a part of a focus group in our district discussing how building positive relationships and trust with students happens, partly due to this blog post I wrote!
  3. At the end of my fourth year of teaching, I got to watch several students graduate who were freshmen in my first ever classes that I taught. This was a particularly emotional experience because they were so kind and patient and helpful during my first few months when I was anxious and stressed and overwhelmed and made mistakes all the time instead of just occasionally and really in general had no idea what I was doing. I miss them but I’m very proud of them.
  4. I got to attend the graduation ceremony for a former student who completed an intensive welding program on a scholarship from Deere & Co and who has enormous potential moving forward in his life after struggling a lot to start high school off.
  5. I created and ran a blogging challenge for our district that was small but mighty and reflective!

Books – (read my quarterly book recommendation posts here)

  1. Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray
  2. What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan
  3. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  4. the princess saves herself in this one by Amanda Lovelace
  5. Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge


  1. Ambitions – One OK Rock
  2. Flicker – Niall Horan
  3. Last Young Renegade – All Time Low
  4. Harry Styles – Harry Styles
  5. Lovely Little Lonely – the Maine


  1. Miss You – Louis Tomlinson
  2. Mirrors – Niall Horan
  3. Slow Burn – State Champs
  4. Nightmares – All Time Low
  5. Most Girls – Hailee Steinfeld


  1. Around the World and Back Tour (Against The Current / Don Broco / With Confidence / State Champs) – Concord Music Hall, Chicago
  2. Lovely Little Lonely World Tour (the Mowglis / Beach Weather / the Maine) – House of Blues, Chicago
  3. Young Renegades Tour (the Wrecks / SWMRS / Waterparks / All Time Low) – Uptown Theater, Kansas City
  4. Flicker Sessions (Gavin James / Niall Horan) – Rosemont Theatre, Chicago
  5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Concert (Quad City Symphony Orchestra) – Adler Theater, Davenport


  1. My niece, Joanna, was born in January. I also got to nanny her for the entire summer and sing her One Direction’s “If I Could Fly” when she went down for her naps every day.
  2. One of my best friends from college, Kate, got married this summer and I was a bridesmaid!
  3. I took a spring break trip with two of my college best friends, Ali and Cat, to New Orleans in March
  4. The solar eclipse! Having a celebration in the school parking lot and nerding out about how it all worked and feeling so unified with people across the country was incredible.
  5. Attending the Turtles All The Way Down tour for John Green’s new book, featuring his brother Hank. Singing “we’re here because we’re here” and “Sweet Caroline” (without the ba ba bas) was a moment that I think of often because of how together with everyone else in that room I felt, and the hope and optimism that I left with that night.


  1. Mathematicians Can Be bulletin board
  2. Printing on graph paper
  3. rename asymptotes
  4. Thanksgiving Wreath
  5. slope intercept dice

Blog Posts

  1. Mathematicians Can Be Bulletin Board (308 views)
  2. Algebra 1 Unit 1 Interactive Notebooks (219 views)
  3. Slope Intercept Form Dice Activity! (204 views)
  4. Celebrating Every day (#teach180 2016-2017) (106 views)
  5. Honestly, The Math is Secondary (102 views)



Book Recommendations (Vol. 04)

How have we reached the end of 2017? I know that to many of us, 2017 has been the year of continuous fighting back at the inequalities of the world, constant exhaustion from the 24/7 news cycle, stress and trauma and hurt. I think that is part of the reason why this year marks my highest reading total ever – I made a semi-conscious decision to back away slightly from being on social media as much, watching as much tv, etc. and have spent much more time this year just reading.

That said, everything that’s been happening has certainly affected my reading choices, and I think you’ll see hints of that in this quarter’s top 5.

This book recommendations post completes a full year of recommendations! I’ve really enjoyed putting these posts together, even though they get less views than my math teacher resource type posts (certainly that makes sense, I am a math teacher and this is ostensibly a math teacher blog, not a book/reading blog), because I like to go through and remember the best books I read each set of 3 months. Hopefully one or two of you picked up one or two books because of me this year.

I’m going to TRY to hit a top 5 of the entire year at the end of this post as well. That’s gonna be tough.

Read previous editions:

Vol. 01 | Vol. 02 | Vol. 03 |

I’ve now read 80 books this year – wow! – making that 20 books since my last recommendations post. It’s also fair to point out that I will probably finish a good 4-5 more books before the end of the year, since we’re only halfway through December, but as I don’t really want to write this post over winter break…those books will get included in first quarter 2018!

Here’s the top 5 for 4th quarter 2017:

Dear Martin – Nic Stone

Justyce is a high school student who excels. He’s bound for the Ivy League in the fall. He has a lot going for him…until he gets arrested for trying to help his ex girlfriend get home safe and not drive home when she’s drunk. After that, he starts noticing a lot of ways that people around him casually say and do things that are…pretty racist. He decides to start a self project – trying to live like Martin Luther King, Jr would have. It’s going pretty well and helping him figure some things out, until he and his friend Manny drive up to a stoplight next to a police officer one day.

This book is raw and so personal. I love the way Stone wrote it in a voice that really sounds like it came from Justyce – it’s the voice of a high school boy. He doesn’t understand everything that’s happening. He waffles back and forth about what upsets him and what he should let go. He can’t quite find the border between right and wrong, can’t quite figure out who is on his side. He can’t quite figure out what his side is. His emotions are real and on the page, you feel through every decision and scenario with him. Through his experiences, you’re forced to grapple with the casual racism that exists in our society and to think about which side you are on. Bonus that this one is a pretty short read, which means you might be able to get some reluctant readers to read a pretty important and stellar book.

Before the Devil Breaks You – Libba Bray

This is the third book in the Diviners series, set in 1920s New York. The Diviners are a group of people with paranormal powers – they can walk in dreams, feel the emotions in everyday objects, read minds, and see ghosts. In this installment, they’re faced with a strange group of ghosts out on Ward’s Island where the asylum is, and constant haunting visions of the man in the stovepipe hat.

Since this is a series, you should definitely start with book 1, The Diviners, but this one is the best yet. The ghosts and the man in the stovepipe hat are TERRIFYING, but still not too scary to read – I’m not normally a scary movie/story person, but these are creepy enough that maybe I didn’t want to read right before bed, but not creepy enough that I was losing my mind. Then there’s Libba Bray’s MASTERFUL inclusion of current race issues in America into this book that takes place in the 1920s. It’s a great reveal of how the things that we’ve been realizing in 2017 as being wrong with our country…have been wrong for a long time. A beautiful story about how we all matter, and how the American Dream that the country was supposedly built on is a lie for so many of us. This is probably one of my top books of the year.

Turtles All The Way Down – John Green

Aza didn’t mean to be a part of the investigation into the disappearance of her childhood friend’s dad. It just happened. She didn’t realize what reconnecting to this friend, Davis, could mean. All along the way, her brain is fighting against the rest of her, telling her she is dirty, contaminated, that her own biome is disgusting and needs to be cleaned. She’s fighting against the ever tightening spiral of her own thoughts and trying to be a good friend, good daughter, and a good investigator. It occurs to her – does she even want to know what happened?

I love John Green. I love his books, I love his YouTube works with his brother Hank, I love his philanthropic efforts. I was able to go to the live show that John and Hank did to celebrate the release of this book and it was one of the most beautiful nights I had in all of 2017. The book puts you inside Aza’s brain in a way that I had never seen happen before – after reading, I felt like I was almost capable of understanding what is happening in the mind of someone who has OCD or anxiety. It was harrowing to read the way Aza was fighting against…Aza. But there was also joy in the book, and an exploration of our purpose. This video would be a nice watch to get you in the spirit of that part of the book.

Refugee – Alan Gratz

It is 1939. It is 1994. It is 2015. This is Nazi Germany. This is Fidel’s Cuba. This is war-torn Syria. Refugee is the story of three children, in different times and different places, fleeing the countries they called home because they are no longer safe there. It’s the story of their journeys, and the heart pounding fear that they may not reach safety.

This story is juvenile fiction, but I enjoyed it so immensely as an adult. It was so well written, the three stories woven together seamlessly. You see the children go through the exact same fears, thoughts, victories and defeats at different times through history. You worry for them. You get angry at the people who made them need to leave their homes. I kept turning pages and turning pages, hoping that on the next page they would find their new safe home to stay in. I thought this was a masterful telling of the reality of refugees, with an intensely personal connection through the lives of Joseph, Isabel, and Mahmoud. There are so many lessons to be learned from this, so much to think about.

What Made Maddy Run – Kate Fagan

Madison Holleran was a freshman track athlete at the University of Pennsylvania. She was not having a good of a time running track as she had in high school – it didn’t feel fun anymore. Her parents were concerned about how she was doing. Her and her dad had a conversation at the end of winter break about getting help – seeing a therapist, quitting track, taking the time to figure out what was wrong and why she wasn’t enjoying things. It was the last time he saw her. Maddy jumped off a parking garage and committed suicide, leaving only cryptic clues about why she made that decision.

Wow, this book was devastating. It’s true, by the way. This happened. Kate Fagan is one of my favorite sports reporters, and I read her original piece about Madison on ESPN and felt a hugely heavy sorrow. It appears Kate did too – she got permission from Madison’s family to keep pursuing and telling the story. As she worked on the book, she kept finding more athletes who admitted that they struggled with mental health. College athletics are an intensely difficult world, and we definitely don’t give the athletes the mental help they need – in fact, we often push them away from that help, asking them to tough it out or suck it up. They should be happy, because they have everything. But being happy is not always a choice, as Kate discovered about Madison. There are so many heartwrenching realizations in this book: the realization that many of her friends saw things were wrong, but because of the stigma against discussing mental health none of them pushed her about it. The realization that this wasn’t just Madison, but a more widespread thing in college sports. The realization that she tried to get help, tried to take actions to help herself find happiness again, but it wasn’t enough. This book made me think so hard about so many things – still thinking about it. I’m thankful that Madison’s parents allowed her story to be told, because I think it will truly help many young adults find their way and avoid an ending like Madison’s.



*** 2017 Top 5 ***

Before the Devil Breaks You – Libba Bray

What Made Maddy Run – Kate Fagan

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi


the princess saves herself in this one – Amanda Lovelace

Another Day in the Death of America – Gary Younge


Fantastic reading in 2017 – cannot wait to see what stories I discover in 2018!

Happy reading!

Algebra 2 Unit 4 Interactive Notebooks

This year I’ve committed to posting each unit of both my Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 INBs.

My district is moving to a standards based curriculum, and has identified priority standards for every course. These are the standards we are required to address and assess our students over, so they pretty much form our units.

Other Algebra 2 INB Posts:

Unit 1 | Unit 2 | Unit 3

Algebra 1 INB Posts:

Unit 1 | Unit 2


The fourth standard we cover in Algebra 2 is F.LE.4:

For exponential models, express as a logarithm the solution to abct = d where a, c, and d are numbers and the base b is 2, 10, or e; evaluate the logarithm using technology.

A lot of this unit ends up being prerequisite skills to that actual standard, as these students have no prior exposure to logarithms. It would be difficult to go straight from never seeing a logarithm to solving exponential equations with them!


As you can see on the index page, I split this standard up into 6 skills. This is one unit that actually kind of corresponds to one of the book chapter units that we were using previous to going standards based, so it was the first unit of the year that I mainly transferred and updated last year’s notes for! Last year in Algebra 2 was my first time using INBs and I was excited to get to reuse a lot of those resources. You can see more about my index pages in the Unit 1 INB posts from this year. As you can see in the picture, I was on the struggle bus a little bit on deciding how many pages would exist for each skill in this unit…


Skill 1: I can use the properties of exponents to find equivalent expressions

This is a review of exponent rules. Most of my students had a vague remembrance of these rules, but definitely needed the practice to remind them! I based the idea for the poof book off Sarah Carter’s Book of Exponent Rules. I think we needed more than 4 examples to practice multiple rules at once, but even the examples I had took way longer than I was expecting them to! Before we went through the book of exponent rules, we did a short exploration activity that had the students look at expanded form of exponential expressions to try to remember/figure out the rules on their own first. I think that in the future, I will give them a lot more time with that exploration than I did this year because I do think it helped solidify the information before I just told them the rules.

Skill 2: I can use exponential functions to solve problems

This covers basic exponential growth and decay models. The students find this pretty easy and enjoy doing it, especially with the M&M decay lab we do to model how it works!

The biggest mistakes I get here are with calculating the growth or decay rate, so I’m really glad I put a page of just practicing finding those in this booklet. For the “hilarious joke” example, you would need to adjust your starting value and where you stop for the size of your class/school – you may need a longer table, as we have a small school, but we also have smaller classes.


Skill 3: I can translate between exponential form and logarithmic form

The notes for this skill come from Sarah Carter and can be found at her blog post here. I like how many examples there are within this foldable – we ended up doing about half of them when we took notes the first time and then came back and finished the other half after a weekend to refresh our memories!

We practiced this by playing LOG WARS – war, but with logarithms. You can find many versions of this if you google, here is one. Students love this and get really competitive, and it’s really great practice without feeling repetitive to them. I swear I took pictures of them playing this this year, but now I cannot find them, so here’s my #teach180 tweet of this from last year!

Skill 4: I can use the properties of logarithms to find equivalent expressions

I created these from Sarah Carter’s logarithm property foldable, but then I went in and used my snipping tool best friend to put typed examples for us to do on the inside instead of leaving it blank. I also used this same foldable twice, and had students write “split” on one and “combine” on the other. Last year, I used this foldable and students did well if problems were going in the same direction as the properties were written on the front (for example, if the property read log m*n = log m + log n, then they could split a log with factors up into adding logs), but struggled to go the other direction (in this case, combining added logs into a logarithm of multiplied factors). I think using the foldable twice helped my students to use the properties in both directions. We also did some practice using multiple properties at once, which was also a helpful update from what I did last year.

We talked about the exponential-logarithmic inverse property, and I think the way I approached this this year was really helpful. We converted all of the expressions to the form they were not in (exponential to logarithmic or vice versa), and then saw that it was “trivial” to see what x needed to be. Only after we did all of the conversions did I ask them what they noticed about all the problems. They noticed that the x value was already in the original problem, and that all the exponent bases matched all the logarithmic bases. We had a brief discussion about why this might always work out, and then took the little note that you see in the corner. Even so, only a few of my students actually used this as a shortcut on our subsequent quizzes/practice – most just converted logarithms to exponents and treated it as a normal case – which is great! (I kind of hate “special cases” as a thing, and prefer that they just understand how the concept works overall)

We also solved some one-to-one logarithms, and as you will see later…I…forgot…about extraneous solutions. I won’t lie to you. I just straight up forgot they were a thing. Oops. Then I was looking at the district assessment and final notes to make sure I had covered everything, and felt like an idiot. So they got thrown into Skill 6. Basically, ignore these one-to-one logarithms notes (or make sure you ADDRESS EXTRANEOUS SOLUTIONS when you use it), and just use the extraneous solutions foldable I used later on. Glad I caught my error when I did, but still way later than I should have.

Skill 5: I can use logarithms to solve exponential equations and change the base of a logarithm

My students thought changing the base was magical. They loved getting a “weird decimal” solution, substituting it back in for the variable to check it, and getting the right result. That’s right, they loved checking their answers! How do I get that to happen forever and always? I’m not sure, but it was great.

I added solving a linear equation to the beginning of solving exponential equations in the thought that it would help students see this as the same process, not as a whole new thing they had to learn – and it did! They got right into inverse operations and properties of equality, and saw how it would help them not have to guess and check exponents in a calculator. Very pleased with the structure of this one. Also, I love the way the tri-fold foldable gives a slow reveal of the information. They only see the linear equation at first, then they see a simple exponential equation, and then they get to see all the complicated equations that they get to practice!

Skill 6: I can evaluate expressions using the natural base, e

I made natural logs and equations involving e a separate skill because it is such a new concept to my students. It’s really remarkable how we never ever talk about e in all those times we talk about pi…

We watch a video to introduce the concept of what it is and where it came from, and that’s where they fill in information for the top 3 boxes from. The formulas/information I have them put in the bottom box is information on how e shows up in their particular assessments and practice, so if you have different ways they will be required to use e, feel free to include other information there as well.

Also, here you see me fixing my complete erasure of extraneous solutions. I liked the idea of bringing it back to domain, because they graphed logarithmic functions in our last unit and did really well with domains on them, so this helps them understand why the extraneous solutions don’t work out. Going back to quadratics was a struggle for my students and there was a lot of complaining about how they didn’t remember because it was too long ago (probably around 2 months ago) – luckily they have their INBs to flip back in!!!

You can find the files I used here, in editable Publisher form and PDF.