Beyond the Red Pen: Meet Cynthia, High School Chemistry


Meet Cynthia, a high school chemistry teacher for Los Angeles. Her favorite teaching accessory is Google Drive (have you ever accidentally saved something?), she stays healthy and hydrated with Korean pears, and how Standards Based Grading elevated her classroom.


What is your current location?
Los Angeles, California

What subject and grade (s) do you teach?
11th grade Chemistry

What is your favorite teaching accessory?
Google Drive. I can easily restore an old version of a file if I accidentally saved over it!


“I saw everything on Google Drive so I can see my activity (what got deleted, what I added) I could share with other chem folk and I can easily search if I want to find a specific PowerPoint or worksheet.

Tips and tricks on making the best “teacher lunch?”
Always pack fruit to quench a dry throat. My favorite fruit is Korean pears.



"I label each bin according to their period. Students automatically turn in the papers into the designated bin."

“I label each bin according to their period. Students automatically turn in the papers into the designated bin.”

What’s your super grading secret?
I have my students grade their assessments right after they take the exam. They know immediately how well they did and which standards to improve on. To keep student accountability, students must fill out a Scantron and the exam sheet. They hand in the Scanton before we start grading so I have their raw answers.

(Editor’s Note: Gradeable is a perfect solution to quickly grade and analyze student results for a faster turnaround time!)

What’s your favorite time to grade and why?
Right after students take the assessments. Students want to know how their assessment affects their grades as soon as possible. I need their assessment data to inform me how to approach the next few lessons. It is a win-win situation.

What is your must have grading tool/utensil?
Snacks (Trader Joe’s White Cheddar Popcorn), Paper Mate Flair, Paper Mate Ink Joy

How do you find grading “zen?”
With other teachers and no students!

What is your super secret tip to grade faster that you wish all teachers knew?
My district uses Data Director, a Scantron scanning system, and quickly grades multiple choice. Whatever technology is available to your school or district, use it your advantage!



How do you get to know your students?
There are some get to know you activities at the beginning of the year but I really get to know them when I ask them individual questions during conversations in the hall way, before class, and after school. I also get to know students by listening into their conversations.

What is one strategy that has worked to increase student motivation?
Switching to standards based grading. Students can easily track their progress. It is easier to articulate what they don’t understand if the standards are split up. In a student’s perspective, it is so hard to understand why they received a low grade on Quiz 2. What exactly was tested on Quiz 2?


“Students retake the same standard multiple times and the scores are recorded so students can track their progress. For example standard 4.7 was tested in 2 quizzes (green) and 2 tests (purple). The first student on there scores 2/4 during the first quiz and first test but by the second quiz and second test, the student got a 4/4.”

What is the best teaching advice you’ve ever received?
Do not grade everything. Only grade items that show individual mastery. Give feedback to other items that lead up to individual mastery but you don’t have to input into the grade book.



Do you have specific teaching shoes? If so, what are they?
Skecher Shape Ups. They look ridiculous but my feet are not sore at the end of the day!

What’s the last thing you bought for your classroom?
Lamination for my students’ photos I post in class. My students work in groups every day. I take pictures of them working together to build the classroom culture.

How can Gradeable empower your beyond the Red Pen? Sign up for a free trial and see for yourself: www.gradeable.com/sign_up


ProTip Wednesday: Organize Teaching Files in 5 Steps


The Teacher Desktop is almost as bad as the Teacher Window (20+ tabs in one window). Don’t wait to organize your computer files— start now! It’s easy to hide old lesson plans and PowerPoints in a folder, it’s not easy to find it again months later. As part of our summer of re-evaluation tips and tricks, the first step is to get organized. Summer is the best time to clear the virtual clutter and have it organized for the Fall.

Step 1. Centralize all the files

If you’re like me then you also have lesson plans on multiple flash drives and email addresses. When it comes to finding that one quiz you gave on the Atmosphere three months later, it’ll take awhile. To start the organization process, go through all potential sources that you have files, and save it all on your personal computer or hard drive. Be sure to look through:

  • Flash drives
  • Emails between co-workers
  • Google Drive
  • DropBox
  • Computer bookmarks
  • Evernote
  • YouTube
  • School computer
  • Online learning management systems like Edmodo
  • Online lesson planning websites like BetterLesson or Share My Lesson

And don’t forget to clear out your school computer before the district wipes your emails and computer for the summer!

Step 2. Create folders (please!)

Now that you have a slew of files, it’s time to organize them into folders. Turn on some music, bring out some coffee and place relevant files into their corresponding folders.

Tip! Don’t try to organize too deeply at this step. For example: Instead of making folders for Metamorphic, Igneous, and Sedimentary rock lessons, just make one for the Rock Cycle. If that’s too detailed, keep to big units. Don’t worry about re-naming or separating by pictures or Word documents—leave that for the next step.

Step 3. Organize, organize, organize

This step will take more time and consideration because this is a good opportunity to figure out what to archive, keep, or trash. According to MakeUseOf, file organization can happen several ways.

  • Organize by Category: Files like PowerPoint, Word Documents, PDFs, etc. For us teachers, this is not the most optimal way of organizing as we know that we have more PowerPoints than we know what to do with.
  • Organize by Date: Our teacher-in-residence and Head of Customer Success, Sheri, likes to organize her teaching files by date. Example: 020414PythagoreanTheorem (February 4, 2014) After 10 years, she says that organizing by date helps with pacing.

Other teacher-focused ways of organizing folders and files:

  • By Unit/Standard
  • By Semester or grading period
  • By Project
  • By Theme

Within these master folders, subfolders can look something like this:

  • Weather Cycle
    • Presentations
    • Lesson Plans
    • Media
    • Projects
    • Worksheets
    • Assessments

Check out how Kindergarten Works organizes their digital folders, along with graphics!

Don’t forget to re-name files with a uniform, simple, and easy way that is recognizable at a glance.

Step 4. Set up for success

The worst thing that can happen is if your hard-earned system dissolves due to disuse. Starting in the summer, get into the habit of moving files to their dedicated folders instead of letting them live on the desktop. Or you can try some of these other strategies:

  • Set up a “file organization” time each week, like Sunday mornings at 11am. That extra 10 minutes will keep your desktop clean, files organized, and sanity in place.
  • Use Evernote to clip interesting lesson plans, news, or media. The tagging feature will be useful to organize and find information when you’re fixing lesson plans in the future.


Step 5. Clean up and back up

I’m guilty of keeping screenshots that I have no idea what I kept it for because it just lived on my desktop or Pinterest. Regularly vet your files and see what is not important. Also, back up files to an external hard drive or service like DropBox. Nothing can be worse than rebuilding an entire unit because of digital memory loss!

Tip! Using programs like Grand Perspective can give you an idea of which files are taking up large amounts of space. For example, after running the program, I realized that many of the videos I use for Presentations were taking up at least 10GB of space. I either kept it on my YouTube or exported to an external HD without compromising more space. You can also consider keeping a Picasa or Shutterfly account to organize pictures.


Maya Angelou’s Contribution to Education

education maya angelou

Earlier this week, the world lost one of the strongest minds of our time. Maya Angelou, poet and author, passed away at age 86. Of course, like all great writers, her legacy lives on through her words. I’m wrapping up our Teacher Appreciation Month with Maya Angelou as a tribute to all teachers. The way you teach, live, and inspire endures long after students have graduated from your class. So again, on behalf of all of us at Gradeable, thank you for all that you do.

Now without further ado, here are some words of wisdom, and stories of inspiration, from Maya Angelou:

5 ways Maya Angelou influenced education

Many of Angelou’s themes in both her poems and her novels deal with the distinction between ignorance and illiteracy, knowledge gained through practical experience, and the lack of equality in education. One of Angelou’s famous quotes, cited often in literary studies, reads:

“My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more intelligent and more educated than college professors.”
― Maya Angelou

How Maya Angelou touched a young teacher’s life

I’d been nervous to use Angelou’s memoir; there was a deep racist streak in the town, and the school itself had recently had a racially charged incident. But Angelou’s story of struggle resonated deeply with my students, and when we finished Caged Bird, they decided to continue reading as many of her books as they could. So, later that year when I read in the newspaper that Angelou would be speaking at Hope College an hour away, I organized an evening field trip. When I announced the outing, several of my students admitted that they’d never been out of the county before.
—Maya Wilson

“She’s the quintessential teacher”

She’s the quintessential teacher because she has paid attention to everything. And we all know that everything, experience, in life is here to teach us about ourselves. She hasn’t missed a moment and she has taken in, absorbed, soaked it all up, and is able to artfully—and soulfully—re-present it to us so we can se a better picture of ourselves through her.
—Oprah Winfrey 

Finally, through the years, we’ve all forgotten the physics equations and the synonyms for mitigate or the difference between Van Gogh and da Vinci’s styles… but what none of us will ever forget is how our teachers empowered us along the way—believing in us and encouraging us when we lost hope in ourselves. Thank you, teachers everywhere.

maya angelou quote


Beyond the Red Pen: Meet Yousuf, Middle School Math


Meet Yousuf, a 7th and 8th grade Algebra teacher from Las Vegas, NV. He heavily uses digital assessments to measure student growth from both formative and summative assessments, and also loves student lunches. Read on to learn more about how he’s built relationships that create classroom motivation.


What is your current location?
Von Tobel Middle School.

What subject and grade (s) do you teach?
8th grade Pre-Algebra, 7th grade Accelerated Math

What is your favorite teaching accessory?
My iPad

Tips and tricks on making the best “teacher lunch?”
This might be controversial, but I think the student lunch is improving and teachers ought to try; plus, it’s so cheap!


What’s your favorite time to grade and why?
I like to leverage my iPad to do my assessments and grading.  Students take the assessment online (majority of them—both formative and summative).  This gives me a lot of data to properly assess the mastery and growth of students through curriculum and within standards.

What is your must have grading tool/utensil?
Microsoft Excel

How do you find grading “zen?”
I don’t try to get too lost in the mastery results.  It’s very important to keep in perspective how much the students have grown throughout a standard.

What is your super secret tip to grade faster that you wish all teachers knew?
Informal assessments are as important as formal assessments; plus, they can be done as your observe a student on the spot.  Have two to three simple criteria to grade all students.  You can use the grades for either tests or classwork grade.


What is one strategy that has worked to increase student motivation?
I greet every single student by name before they enter the class.  This creates a rapport between the teacher and the student, and not surprisingly, often the relationship becomes the motivation for the student to try harder.  There is no better feeling than knowing that a struggling student is willing to work harder just because of the relationship he/she has with you.

What is the best teaching advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t take it personally!


Do you have specific teaching shoes? If so, what are they?
Skechers Soft Sole—my shins don’t hurt!

What’s the last thing you bought for your classroom?
Jolly Ranchers!


A Day in the Life of a Teacher

5 AM Wake up with these thoughts: “What am i teaching today? Did I get those grades in yet? Good god, hurry up to school so you can get some work done in peace!”

6 AM Stroll into Starbucks as one of the first ones there… as usual. You don’t even have to tell them your name anymore.

6:30 AM Get to school and debate whether you should hit the bathroom or dive into work… your bladder goes neglected once again.

7:10 AM Check email—another faculty meeting after school? A reminder that grades are due on friday—phew, still got time. Pick up leftover trash, books, pencils, love notes

7:20 AM Review lesson plan for today, wondering, “What materials do I need? Can I do all of my copies in one run?”

7:45 AM Sprint to the copy room and mail room… “Do I have time for a bathroom break?” Get stopped by a fellow teacher to cover during your prep period. Begrudgingly agree and begin to figure out what grading won’t be done during that time. Bathroom will have to wait.

8 AM One last prep of the room, set up the projector, check the powerpoint. Now 30 seconds left to get to the department meeting.

8:30 AM Go to department meeting—shared new ideas after scarfing down two donuts. Realized you should have finished chewing before enlightening your colleagues with your classroom triumphs

First period Your bladder is definitely unhappy with you, and a handful of kids are dozing off. Try out your bad jokes on your first set of guinea pigs… Take a mental note to Google better jokes.

Second period Get email from parent unhappy with child’s grade. While pondering the reply, you learn that the projector light bulb has gone out.

Third period That kid sleeps through your entire class wakes up in time to ask a question you went over while she was sleeping. Makes jokes with her neighbors about your joke that didn’t land.

Fourth period See a student solve an algebra equation he’s been struggling with all week, remember why you got into the business

Lunch Make it to the bathroom, the glorious bathroom. Spend remainder of your lunch at the copy machine, and swallow your sandwich in 30 seconds. When asked how it was, you’re not even sure you tasted it. Roll back into your classroom with a new projector lightbulb.

Fifth period Catch students smoking in the bathroom; need to turn them into principal. It’s too bad, because one of them just got the hang of algebra. Back in class, you finally get the hang of your lesson—a couple kids even laughed at your joke. Personal high five. Another student refuses to leave your class because he hates sixth period; make time for a quick private chat.

Sixth period Call kid’s mom during your free period, who insists her child is smarter than that. Luckily, you have Gradeable so all her work and information is ready to show her parent what’s going on in class. Jet across the school to cover a teacher’s class.

Seventh period Write blog post during study hall to stay connected with students and parents. Join edchats on Twitter even though you’d rather be lesson planning. Think about how a student in your fourth period zoned out; Google other strategies. Come across one on how to differentiate instruction for increased student engagement.

2 PM Faculty meeting: learn about changes to the testing schedule; chat with other teachers about how to prepare the smoking students for the test, grumble about what else you could be doing instead of the meeting.

3 PM Manage to back in your seat and the kids are gone. Peace and quiet. Turn on your Pandora and start lesson planning. Put together packet for the smoking algebra student who just got suspended.

4 PM Pick up more leftover pencils, paper pieces, and love notes. Entertain a fleeting thought about going to the gym.

5 PM Attend students’ tennis match.

5:45 PM Swing by Walmart to pick up some school supplies.

6 PM Have the same dinner you’ve had three times already this week, because you are too exhausted to come up with something better and chicken nuggets and tater tots.

7 PM Watch “Cosmos” and start dreaming up new lesson plans.

8 PM Log into Gradeable to check how your students are doing, thanking the heavens that menacing bag of ungraded papers no longer needs to come home with you.

9 PM Realize it’s wayyy past your bedtime.

Looking to catch some breaks during your day? Check us out at www.gradeable.com to see how we can help you! As always, thank you, teachers, for all that you do. 



Superintendent: Why Teachers Are My Heroes

Guest post by superintendent of Revere Public Schools in Massachusetts, Dr. Paul Dakin

Teachers are our under-appreciated heroes

In my nine years as a classroom teacher and thirty-one as an administrator in both a private and a public school system, I have witnessed a revolution in our profession. Our schools were once the place where children spent a predictable part of each day in fall, winter, and spring with pencils, paper, and books, then were released for twelve or more weeks in summer. Today schools have become a multi-service organization providing year-round care for the children in our stead.

Over the years the role of the teacher has evolved from content specialist delivering information and knowledge in lectures and teacher-centered activities to classroom coach and guide, differentiating instruction to multi-lingual and multi-ability students through a curriculum that must meet the highest standards. In addition, unlike teachers fifty years ago, teachers today have to defend their every decision to parents, students, the media, and professional evaluators. Fifty years ago the teacher was considered an expert; now teachers are considered the cause of much of what is wrong with society. If students drop out, if students engage in drinking or experimenting with drugs, if students fail, if students are bullied, if students do poorly and don’t meet standards, if students withdraw and become violent (there have been over 180 deaths in schools since the year 2000), the administrators and the teachers are the first to be blamed. Few look for the real causes of these problems.

So teachers are my heroes because they keep teaching despite the lack of support from the public, lack of support from legislators who continue to pass the buck onto teachers as the cause of the problems in schools and society, and the lack of support from parents, guardians, and grandparents who blame the schools for their own shortcomings in raising their children.

Yes, teachers are my heroes and deserve to be appreciated for all they do because they don’t give up on the real and complex problems facing the real and complex children they serve, and they continue to put up with the lack of respect from a society and from people who just don’t understand all they do.


ProTip Wednesday: 12 Ways for Teachers to Treat Themselves


teacher treats

We’re going strong for Teacher Appreciation Month and we can’t forget an incredibly important teacher tip: treat yourself! We put together a budget-friendly list for both our female and male teachers so there’s something for everyone. The first step of Teacher Appreciation is to appreciate you, the teacher.

1. Treat Yourself tote

What better way to remind yourself to relax than to carry around a tote? Kate Spade has this reusable tote bag for just $16.

teacher treats kate spade tote



2. Get that massage

You’ve been passing by Massage Envy everyday, so why not take the plunge? Many locations offer a teacher discount, so be sure to call and confirm. (via Thought Catalog)

3. Indulge in your favorite T.V. shows

We’ve heard of teachers catching up with their favorite shows through grading marathons but on those really bad days, turn on the Hulu and watch television in a way Olivia Pope would approve of. (via Thought Catalog)

4. Make a new gym playlist

Making time to get to the gym after a long day of tutoring and after school supervision is hard, but putting together a new playlist for a good workout is incentive to get going! Here are some resources to get your started: (via Self Magazine)

5. Go to a museum—from home

Google Art Project was created to enable viewers to virtually tour museums’ galleries where “museum-goers” could literally “walk-through” the galleries, which is powered by Google’s Street View technology. (via Self Magazine)

6. Put plants and flowers in every room

There is something calming about having nature in a concrete jungle. Even if you can’t easily frolic in the meadows, you can always smell the flowers. (via Thought Catalog)

7. Turn off your phone

It’s time to unplug. It’s great to plop down and go through your Instagram feed, but you can also just turn off your phone. You’ve been going through sensory overload all day— we promise the phantom tremors will stop soon. (via Thought Catalog)

8. Ice. Cream.

teacher ice cream

(via Thought Catalog)

9. Make a list of all the things you’re grateful for

We can start: We’re grateful for our teachers. (That’s you!) Starting a journal or even just a list of paper of all the positive things that happened or what you are grateful for will bring a smile to your face in under 60 seconds. (via Thought Catalog)

10. Go to a coffee shop and find a nook to read a novel or two

Instead of going straight to Facebook, go straight to your favorite coffee shop and grab a latte and a book to feed your mind. (via Parenting)

11. Sit outside and just absorb

I personally liked to find a park where there’s a lot of activity and simply sit on the bench and soak in the noises that was not my classroom. Many people find that absolute calm and quiet is also helpful.

teacher relax nature

12. Dim the lights, put on some John Mayer

Create your own quiet room by shutting the lights and closing the curtains. Turn on John Mayer (or your favorite relaxation songs) and close your eyes. Here are some favorite songs the Gradeable Team relaxes to:

Looking for more ways to treat yourself? Sign-up with Gradeable and see how much more time you can have to yourself at www.gradeable.com

try gradeable