Guess Who’s Back?!

Man, I love my job.

That’s the refrain that keeps floating through my head this week as we are FINALLY back at school – yes, I loved my summer, but as soon as students walked back into the building I was ALL IN.

This week has been crazy, as all first weeks are (and it’s not even over), and we have a LOT of new staff this year so it’s seemed even more frenetic as we try to get them all on the same page with how things work here.

Of course, we kicked off the year with another fun video by the staff – welcoming all the students back by reminding them how weird we are. My sister thinks I have too much free time, but this falls under “other duties as assigned” at our school!

This year, I’m taking on the #Teach180 challenge of posting a picture from my classroom every day. I’m really excited because it will push me to make sure I’m doing at least one thing every day worthy of sharing with the world! Hopefully I’m doing that already…but we all know there are those days where it’s just same old, same old. I’m very stoked to get inspiration from others doing the challenge as well – I think I’ve already written down 3 or 4 ideas for activities just in the last two days!

My post yesterday included this activity I did with my advisory students – they each had to write 5 words to describe last school year, and 5 words they wanted to describe THIS school year. I’d like to do it again at the end of the year to see if their words came true.

I’m also going to take the #ObserveMe challenge, because this year is the year of challenges! Or something. We had a district observation challenge last year, and I loved observing other teachers at work all the time. It’s so inspiring to get out of your own room and see what else is happening in your building. So I guess that with me participating in the challenge, I’m hoping other teachers in my building will as well so that I can drop into their classrooms and hang out and get inspired! I’ve decided that my feedback goals for the challenge are going to be: helping students take effective notes, lesson closure, and students’ ability to explain what they’re learning. I’ve seen a few different ways teachers are inviting the feedback, and I’m choosing to put my email and twitter handles on the sign to let the observer choose.


Lots happening already, and I think I have some GREAT groups of students this year. I stayed up too late last night texting my friend who teaches across the state about Depth of Knowledge and Standards Based Grading, my head is just full of all sorts of ideas for this year, and the excitement. It is real.

Good to be back.


Summer 2016!


When you’re a teacher, one of the first things people ask you during the summer months is if you’ve gotten a second job for the summer. Then, when you say you haven’t, they make some comment about all your free time and how nice it must be, a thinly veiled reference to how lazy they think you are. (Or maybe that’s just my mom…)

I am very much an introvert, and as such, my summers are a very much needed time for me to recharge mentally so that I have the appropriate amounts of energy for all of the amazing student and staff interactions during the school year. Not that I haven’t done anything school related all summer – there’s been a lot of productivity too.  But, in addition to revisiting the entire Algebra II curriculum in preparation for teaching it for the first time, keeping up every once in awhile on blog posts and teacher twitter, coming up with new ideas for my classroom, helping prioritize standards/write assessments for Algebra I, and writing/filming a back to school video for Mid City (coming soon!)…I’ve spent a lot of time doing awesome things that I love this summer.

I’ve read 20 books, including being very close to finishing my reread of my childhood favorite series Redwall (I have two books left!) and the new Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (I loved it, please come talk to me about it for extended periods of time if you’ve read it as well!).

I’ve watched more soccer matches than most people probably do in their lives – pretty much all of the Euro 2016 and Copa America Centenario. I’ve spent the last week glued to all-day Olympic coverage because I LOVE THE OLYMPICS.

One of my best friends, Molly, got married in June and our entire friend group except our friend Sam (who had an internship in NYC this summer, but we FaceTimed him into the ceremony) was back together for the wedding weekend. These are my favorite people in the entire world and it was such a good weekend. My friend Morgan designed our very own snapchat geofilters for the reception venue and we ordered 53 crab rangoons at our favorite restaurant and two of my best friends are now married and I got like 10,000 steps on my Fitbit from dancing alone.

In summer 2012, I did math research at Illinois State University with some incredible future math teachers – we had a reunion this summer since Joel was doing the research program again as a practicing teacher and picked back up with a weekend filled with all of our same terrible inside jokes and talking about math and teaching and life. And playing Pokemon Go. A lot.

I spent a lot of time hanging out with my nephew and sister – I often got calls that were just Elijah saying “Yolo! Come over!” (yes, my nephew calls me Yolo.) He’s also obsessed with my cat, so he came to visit Jordy a lot. I went to a wedding with my mom, and had some good friend times with Mid City coworkers who are also great friends.

I took a road trip to Nashville, TN to visit my friend Lari.  We went to the zoo, where I got to PET A KANGAROO, and road tripped down to Birmingham, AL (my first time in the state) to see 5 Seconds of Summer and get caught in a surprise rainstorm. I should mention that I’ve seen 5 Seconds of Summer four times this summer…and am seeing them one more time before students officially start back. They’re my favorite band, okay? Nashville is a lovely city and we ate lots of good food and went for walks by the river and I got to visit a friend from high school who also lives down there.

It’s been a good summer, but with like 5 days to go before teachers report back, and after spending some time in the building last week prepping our back to school video and seeing staff again…I’m ready. I’m ready to see students, and coworkers, and get back to the job I love. There’s been a few emails going around our staff with awesome new ideas for the year, and some changes to our building organization and staff, and it’s gonna be awesome.

I hope everyone has had a great summer as well and is ready to come back with new ideas to share and to make new memories, learn new things and change lives!!!!! I’d love to see some summer wrapup posts from other people, too 🙂


Blurb Yourself.

This idea came from 4 o’Clock Faculty‘s suggestion, and the motivation to actually do it came from a discussion with Megan about giving yourself more credit for things you accomplish. Mid summer seems like a good time for reflection, so I’m dusting off this idea and the scribbled notes that have been sitting on my dining room table for a month.

love reading. I just finished my 10th book of the summer, and we’re less than halfway through. It’s been fun to imagine what people would say as blurbs on the back cover of a book about me – what would I want them to say, and what would actually come out of their mouths after reading my story?

The collection of blurbs I’ve come up with are a mix of the two – things I would hope people would say about me, and a few things that people have actually said about me that have really touched me and made me proud of what I’m doing. I won’t tell you which is which.

So, here is the back cover of the book about me – I hope you would want to read it:

“Miss Mastalio won’t accept your giving up. She’ll just keep bugging you and telling you that you can until you just do it.” – student

“Liz loves things with her whole heart. I wish I could find something I loved as much as she loves many things.” – friend

“She loves her job. How do I love my job as much as she does? Teaching is hard.” – friend

“Miss Mastalio always has time for you, whether you need math help or just someone to listen to you. She says it’s part of her job, but not all teachers do that.” – student

“It seems like Liz has found her calling.” – former professor

“If you ask her a question she will always give you an answer – even if she doesn’t know, she will find out or help you find out.” – student

To My Students, re: Orlando

I don’t know what to say.

I woke up on Sunday morning, early as always (around 6:00) with my cat meowing outside my bedroom door because he wanted to be fed. My general habit on days when I don’t have anywhere to be is to stumble out of bed, throw some food in his dish so he’ll shut up, check my phone for notifications, and go back to sleep for a few more hours.

I couldn’t go back to sleep after opening my Twitter app and seeing all of the devastated tweets about Orlando.  I’ve barely stopped thinking about it since.  I know that I don’t have any of the right words to say – because I don’t think there ARE right words to say, but I do know that most of my initial thoughts were about my students, as they so often are.


I work at a school that prides itself on being a safe haven for students who identify as LGBT+. The thing that I can’t stop thinking about the past few days is that I, terrifyingly, cannot guarantee that those students will be safe outside of my classroom. I cannot protect them from the hate and the judgement and the struggles they will have to go through.

Love, Teach said it much better than I will ever be able to when she wrote, “Teaching has fundamentally changed me, is changing me, and it has to, because I spend hours every week interacting directly with kids who represent a vast array of beliefs, values, and experiences. I love each of you so much that sometimes I think I’m in actual danger of my heart exploding out of my chest, and more than anything I just want all of you to live in a world where you feel safe and strong and valued.


To my students, especially my LGBT+ ones: I miss you guys. I worry about you all summer. I know that when you are inside my classroom, inside our school, I can ensure that hate directed towards you is not tolerated.  I can ensure that you will encounter someone each day (me) who will acknowledge your worth. During the summer, I can’t do that.  It is eating away at my heart that I cannot help you process what has happened this week, that I can’t be there to grieve with you and answer your questions. I probably don’t have answers anyways, but I would be there to listen. I know that you would be helping me process this too – we have processed tragedies together before and explored our feelings about this unfair and scary world.

I love you all. I wish that I could keep you inside the safe bubble we have created forever and ever, but that is not how the world works. I am so sorry that you must live in constant fear of someone rejecting your right to safety, to expressing yourself, to life itself.

Come August, know that I will be waiting impatiently by my classroom door, ready to overenthusiastically and embarrassingly welcome you back from your summer break. I’ll be ready to hear about all your summer adventures and struggles. Together, I hope we can continue to learn, and grow, and become more compassionate and loving humans. I hope that your pathway through my classroom helps make you a better person. (I also hope we can learn some math, but to be TRULY HONEST, that is secondary.)

I’ve told many people since I began teaching that my high school students are often more open-minded and understanding, more willing to accept differences of belief and culture, than most adults I know. So I hope you are proving that – I hope you are helping to make the people around you consider new perspectives, that you aren’t tolerating their close-minded hate, that you are listening to and consider their point of view and trying to find common ground. I hope that you are promoting love.


Above all, know that no matter how much hate there is, there will always be love coming in behind it. It is the only thing that can ever truly beat hate. Look to the long lines of blood donors in Orlando this week. Look to the LGBT+ community, coming together all over the world in unity and support for each other. Find your own communities that make you feel safe, and even if they are threatened or someone tries to forcibly take them away from you, LOVE HARDER.

Throwback Thursday?

Tina at Drawing on Math posted this, and I won’t lie to you…I used to be OBSESSED with these livejournal-originating stupid question surveys.  My best friend and I used to sit in the school library during our last hour free period and do these with each other until the librarian came and yelled at us for talking.

So I’m stoked for this to be my start-of-summer #tbt post.  I actually filled this out last week, but I’d already posted a lot of things and didn’t want to be that crazy teacher, so it’s going up IN THE FUTURE.

A- Age: 25
B- Biggest fear: people I love dying in tragic accidents, spiders.  Yeah.
C- Current time: 1:01 pm
D- Drink you last had: I literally just set my water bottle down.  I am a hydration machine.
E- Every day starts with: checking social media, and usually responding to texts from my non-teacher friends who have “normal adult bedtimes”.
F- Favorite song: Over and Out by 5 Seconds of Summer
G- Ghosts, are they real? No????  Yes????  The real answer is I don’t like thinking about it.
H- Hometown: Iowa City, IA
I- In love with: poetry, currently
J- Jealous of: ….not much, honestly.
K- killed someone?: Even if the answer was yes, do you really think a Livejournal survey is the place I’m going to choose to admit it?
L- Last time you cried?: 4th period, a student wrote “I learned to always keep trying, because you never let me give up while being in your class” on their end of year reflection paper.  Just try not to cry at that.
M- Middle name: Ann (there’s a really dumb story behind this that involves my dad being my favorite person)
N- Number of siblings: one
O- One wish: someone would just…gift me all the $$$ to go to grad school
P- Person you last called: My mom, I think.  I’m too lazy to to go check my phone.
Q- Question you’re always asked: What [assignments] am I missing?
R- Reason to smile: my students have honestly learned so much this year I’m so proud of them!!!
S- Song last sang: Wolves by One Direction
T- Time you woke up: 6:20…can’t wait to turn my school alarm off for the summer!
U- Underwear color: uh…blue?
V- Vacation destination: Megan (our JCL) and I really want to go to Australia/New Zealand next summer.  This summer, I’m headed to Nashville and possibly NYC
W- Worst habit: I think my stubbornness kind of covers everything.
Y- Your favorite food: Cookies!
X- X-Rays you’ve had: wrist, foot, knee, do CAT scans count? because like 3 of those on my brain, teeth
Z- Zodiac sign: Virgo

Look How Far We’ve Come!

At the end of every year, I have my students fill out reflection surveys.  It serves multiple purposes – in a practical teaching sense, it lets me know if they preferred textbook assignments, worksheets, or other activities, tells me the content they found easiest and most difficult for me to be able to improve the more difficult lessons for next year, etc.  It also gives them a chance to think about how much they’ve learned and the things they love about our school and my classroom, and a chance to air any grievances they might have.  In a very selfish way, it makes me feel good when they write nice things about me or bring up inside jokes from our classroom, or tell me that they’ve learned life skills that aren’t even about math.

It’s an idea I took from one of my field experience teachers at UNI that I will do every year that I teach because it’s just such a good end of year activity.  I tweak it slightly every year to make the questions more clear to what I want them to reflect on, but the overall gist stays the same.

The questions on the survey are:

  1. What did you learn in this classroom this year? What math concepts did you learn, what study strategies did you learn, what other random things did you learn through the course of our discussions and time together?
  2. What did you like and dislike about the COURSE (Sports Statistics, Algebra I, or Intermediate Math).  This should be specifically about the mathematics in the course, your textbook or assigned worksheets, etc.
  3. What did you like and dislike about Mid City in general, Miss Mastalio as a teacher, and the environment of the classroom? (You can be honest here, I will not be offended)
  4. Is there anything else you would like to tell me that doesn’t fit into one of the above questions?


I thought I’d share some of the statements that made me laugh, cry, or filled my heart this year.  I love these students so much and it’s always bittersweet at the end of the year to know that I won’t ever have this particular group of them together again.  They truly make my life so much richer by being in it.


Question 1:

“Even though some of the math problems [was] hard and difficult but with the help of you I got the understanding of it”

“Even though it was kind of difficult I pushed through it with help from Miss Mastalio”

“I went from always having a D to almost a B because I finally decided to get stuff done.”

“In testing, I learned not to stress out as much, to just let everything sink in and not think about it too much, also when you came across a difficult problem to skip it and then at the end go back.”

“I love the way you teach I feel like I really understand.”

“The Pythagorean Theorem was cool because Pythagoras was a murderer.” (okay, I may have told them stories about the Pythagoreans and how Pythagoras possibly had people killed who tried to claim their math findings for their own and they may have thought it was the most legit thing ever)

“I learned to keep trying because you never let me give up while being in your class.”


Question 2:

“What I really liked is when we would get assignments on the tables.” (I got this one several times, so it looks like that was a great idea)

“I found this course easy when I listened.”

“[when we went back and did the] 10.1 Rewind because she worked with us till the end because she had faith in us.”

“Some of the math gets to be a little hard to understand, but if [we] don’t understand it we just ask for help.”


Question 3:

“The stairs in the morning are 2 much” (I died laughing)

“Everyone is so understanding and helps out if you need it.”

“What I liked about Miss Mastalio was that she’s funny and easy to talk to.  This classroom was fun because of the people that were in it.” (did you hear that, I AM FUNNY!!!)

“Ms. Mastalio is really helpful and caring. She has also mastered the art of writing upside down. I’m glad she understands me and her other students.”

“I just don’t like Miss Mastalio at all.  She’s too annoying.  Nah, just playin’, she’s like my favorite teacher.”

“I like how Mid City has a daycare so I can bring my daughter and actually be able to come to school instead of having to drop out because of no place to have my daughter while I am at school.”

“Mid City is allowing me to graduate when I thought I wouldn’t be able to.”

“Teachers and staff really care and [are] there for you when you need help.”

“I like that I can be myself at Mid City”

“I like how everybody is friendly and gives you joy by caring.”


Question 4:

“I look forward to your class next year.”

“You should get a moped.  To me you just look like a teacher that rides a moped.” (okay, WHAT?!)

“That if it’s ok I want to come back to visit sometime…well A LOT!” (this one’s from a graduating senior and I really hope she does)

STEM Girls

I meant to make this post right after we got back from the field trip we took three weeks ago, but I was fighting death cold 3000 and didn’t have the energy, and then I forgot.


One of our science teachers and I took 5 girls to a conference at Iowa State called The Road Less Traveled.  It’s a day long conference for girls in STEM fields. They bring in experts from all sorts of careers – genetic biologists, mechanical engineers, computer programmers, civil engineers, and so on.  The students get to select sessions they’re interested in, and most of them are interactive looks at what the career actually is.

It’s a joy to see students in a setting that, although still “technically school” as they put it, is outside the classroom.  They become a bit more free in their conversations with both each other and with us as teachers.  I felt like I got to know them all a lot better in the long car rides there and back, and they got to know me better as well.

When we arrived in Ames the night before the conference, we took them to Hickory Park for dinner.  I couldn’t stop laughing when one of the girls asked me “Miss Mastalio, why are there fractions on these chickens?” in a panic because the menu gave 1/4 chicken and 1/2 chicken as options.  It was a good lesson opportunity on how math was everywhere…



We all had a great time coloring on the placemats and chatting, and both Ms. Meyers and I crashed immediately after getting back to the hotel while the girls hung out in their rooms. (Like I said, I was fighting death cold 3000).

When we got to the actual conference, our girls were very nervous about going to the sessions they’d signed up for by themselves.  We managed to convince them to give it a try after they enjoyed the opening keynote, and Meyers and I enjoyed a session on DNA sequencing that we were both really interested in, and then I met up with a friend who works at Iowa State during the second session.


When we got back together for lunch, I asked how their morning sessions went, and one girl said, “I found out I don’t want to be a computer programmer!”  She was actually really excited in explaining that she hadn’t enjoyed her session, but that she had figured out a career that she did not want to go into through that experience.  We had to put together a puzzle in order to get dismissed for food, which brought out everyone’s competitive side, including mine.  The taco bar was excellent, and then after lunch we got to play a GIANT Kahoot! trivia quiz with everyone.  Kahoot! is a favorite at Mid City, so we were all really excited to play with OVER 250 OTHER PEOPLE.  I sent a snapchat to some of our teachers back at school to show how impressed we all were with the size of the Kahoot! and Mr. Schneider decided to put the code in on his classroom computer and join our Kahoot! that was happening all the way in Ames – the students lost it when they saw his name pop up on the sign in screen.  None of us won, but we did place in the top 100, which we thought was pretty impressive.

One student convinced me to go to the afternoon block session she was signed up for with her, so we got to explore programming using the program Scratch.  She was much better at the animation than me, and I was more experienced in the coding part, so we combined our efforts to make some pretty fun programs!


The closing keynote speech was pretty amazing – she spoke about combining your passions to find the career that really fits you most – how you don’t need to fit into a pre-made mold to find a job, you can find or create one that fits YOU.  I think the students really saw how it followed the mindset we have at Mid City.

After the conference ended, we explored campus a little bit and had a photoshoot – including finding Jack Trice stadium open and sneaking in to take pictures on the field!  The girls all had so much fun and talked non-stop about their sessions and the people they met and the things they learned and saw for about the first 40 minutes of the drive home…until they were all fast asleep in the back.  One student said the trip was “the best day ever” and about three of them said they want to go to Iowa State now.  (Don’t worry, I’ll talk them over to the UNI side by the time they graduate)

I think the conference is such a great opportunity for 9-10th grade girls to really see college as an option – to see some of the different things they could do and paths they could take, to meet people who tell their stories of how they found their path, and to start to develop a goal to reach towards.