Friday, December 14, 2012

Fractions, Decimals and Percents, oh my!

I know, I know - it's been forever! I have been so busy with work that most days when I got home I didn't even want to think about writing about it - and then, on those days where I was feeling it, I either had blogger's block or forgot to take pictures of the cool things we were working on in class!

This has been a busy few months for me, but I'm very proud of how our math notebooks are coming along.  My only problem is that I'm running out of space!  A lot of my students only have a few pages left in the first section of their notebooks, and we are already using the 2nd and 3rd sections for other things.  My plan was to use the first section for notes and foldable, the second section for vocabulary, and the third section for warm ups.  I have not been using the vocabulary section like I wanted to, so I think I am just going to have students move to that section when they run out of room in the first section.  Next year I think I will either request a five subject notebook, or find a different way to work the vocab section (maybe a running definition sheet instead of Frayer's model?)

We have covered quite a few topics since my last post - integer operations, writing algebraic equations and expressions, solving algebraic equations (one and two step), and graphing functions.  My plan is to go back over winter break and cover each of those in a separate post. 

Right now, we are working on converting between fractions, decimals and percents.  We made a booklet showing how to convert between each that students could reference later.  I also gave students some benchmark fractions that I expect them to know (1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/5, 1/8, and 1/10).  These are some very standard fractions that make student's lives so much easier if they just know them, so I give them to students and we practice them.

Front of the booklet with notes on the side

Inside of booklet - we wrote how to inside the front flap, and examples on the other side.

Then, because I LOVED how simple this was, we used this idea from Math = Love. (I could not for the life of me find the exact post - I originally saw this on pintrest, but it didn't link to the original post.) Anyways, I added the conversion back to decimals because I feel students need to know it, but didn't add the other two because I thought it would mess up the simplicity of it. 

Conversion Triangle

Finally, we played a game I made up called 'Bazinga!'  I loosely based it off of the game, 'Kaboom!' created by Carol S. that I purchased last year from Teachers Pay Teachers and used for another topic. There were quite a few things I changed about the game to better fit my style of teaching, so I decided I needed to change the name.

In Bazinga, there are three types of cards - Bazinga! cards, Double Points cards, and the question cards.  If students pull a Bazinga card they lose all of their points. If they pull a double points card they get to take it back to their seat and use it whenever they want to double the points they earn that round (not all of their points).  Finally, the question cards can be on whatever topic you want - this time I wrote either a decimal, a percent or a fraction on the cards.  Students had to come up with the other two forms of the number. (So if a decimal was on the card, they had to write an equivalent fraction and percent.)  The first team to hold up their whiteboard with the correct answer earns 20 points, the second team earns 10 points, and the third team earns 5 points (they keep track of their own score).  The first team also selects the next card from the deck.  Students love it (especially when the winning team pulls a Bazinga! card and loses all of their points), it provides great practice, and immediately allows me to see who is/is not getting it.  I can also immediately correct any misunderstandings and confusions that come up.  I am selling this game in my Teachers Pay Teachers store - just click the picture below.

For homework I had students fill in a chart that had three columns (fraction, decimal or percent).  I gave one form of the number, and had the students give the missing two. If you would like a copy of this, just click on the picture below! 

Homework Assignment

We are continuing to work on this, but I found that the game helped most students grasp the concept. It was amazing the amount of growth I saw from the beginning of the game to the end of the game.  What are some ways you teach changing from decimals to percents to fractions?


Monday, November 5, 2012

Math Games with a Deck of Cards

Sorry it's been so long - I'm just ridiculously busy at school with department chair, our incoming one-to-one laptop program (which I'm now on the teacher committee for), and life in general.  Right now I am taking a quick break from cleaning out our fridge - which busted this weekend while I was out of town and resulted in over $300 worth of food being ruined.  (I am about in tears throwing out everything from our freezer - with the hubby out of town I literally had enough food to last me through Thanksgiving.) 

Anyways, I have been promising a post on all the math games that I teach students that can be played with a deck of cards.  Basically they are all just variations of the same game - war - just with slight modifications. You can play this game to practice multiplication facts, addition facts, integer addition rules or multiplication integer rules. 

To play, students divide a deck of cards in half and flip over the top card from their pile (just like the traditional game of war).  The winner of the two cards is the first person who calls out the product  of the two cards.  For example, if I flipped a 6 and Joe flipped a 5, the first person who called out 30 would win both cards.  I have my students play with face cards - Kings are 0, Aces are 1, Jacks are 11, and Queens are 12.  I know it's a bit non-traditional to have Kings be 0, but I am not really worried about students knowing their 13 facts, so I make it 0.  Sometimes, when I am working with lower grades or lower level students I have them take out all of the face cards.

A modification to this game if you don't want to focus on speed, is to have each student flip two cards, and then whoever has the greater product wins all four cards.  For example, if I flipped a 6 and a 3, and Joe flipped a 4 and a 5, Joe would win all four cards since 4 times 5 (20) is greater than 6 times 3 (18).   Of course, in either version of the game, if you have a tie you play war - three cards face down and then flip the next card (or two cards) and whoever wins that match up wins all of the cards. 

To play so you are practicing addition facts, simply have students find the sum instead of the product.  If you want students to play using integer rules, have them play the same way, but this time red cards are negative and black cards are positive.  When I first introduce this game with integers I usually have students take out the face cards - they are so focused on keeping the colors straight that I don't want to confuse them with the face cards too. 

These are such easy, simple games to practice very essential skills and the kids love them.  Sometimes I have them as a station activity, or if I finish a lesson early I know I have them as a back up to fall back on.

Do you have games in your classroom that are old faithfuls?


Friday, October 19, 2012

Lovin' My Stations!

I mentioned in an earlier post about how I love stations, and I am trying to use them more in my class this year instead of avoiding them like the plague last year.  You know why I love stations so much?  Because after the first time we used them this year (see my post on that here), my students have been asking when we are going to use them again - and today, when they walked in and saw that we were doing stations for the 2nd time this week, they actually said (out-loud), "Stations! Yes!"  Now, I don't know about most of you but when I get my students to exclaim in excitement about something they get to do with math - well... it's fabulous!

I am going to tell you about the first set of stations we did this week, and leave the second set until later.  We are working on integers right now, and I really wanted them to have some more practice with adding and subtraction before we moved on to multiplying and dividing.  I did not want to just use worksheets because they're so boring.  An entire class period of worksheets sounded miserable, and I'm the teacher!  Anyways, I planned out four stations for the students to cycle through.  I love that even though the last time we did stations was a month ago, my students still knew how the system worked.

This is how I organize my station rotations.  Cute? No. Simple and effective? Yes.
(Just ignore the poll in the top corner - that was for something else I was keeping track of)
These are not the stations I used for this post, but you can see how I organize them in this picture.

My first station was an adding and subtracting integers memory game.  I laid all the cards out on the table face down and ready to go for the first group.  Every group after that was responsible for putting the cards back in the same way they found them so the next group was ready to play the minute they started the station.  Students took turns flipping over two cards - they had to say what the answer was to every expression they flipped over.  If they found a match they kept the cards and went again.  If they didn't find a match, it was the next player's turn.  This game always starts a little slow, but once they can start remembering where the cards are it gets really fun as they can't find the match but the next person can.  I am selling this game on my TeachersPayTeachers store.

Memory Game all laid out and ready to play!

The second station was very similar to a station I did last time (algebraic expression posters) - but this time they were only practicing the order of operations.  This is something that we already covered, and students had a test on but it is so important that I like reviewing constantly throughout the year.  Students solved each of the expressions on the poster and moved post-it notes labeled 1-9 around to show the answer.  Each post-it note gets used exactly one time.  If they find they need the same number or that they haven't used a number then they know they've made a mistake.  After they are done, I quickly check them and have them get a new poster to complete.  I have them work on these in pairs, and I love hearing their conversations as they discuss the correct order to solve the problems.

One of the posters that they worked on!

The third station was also very similar to a station I did last time (self-correcting excel spreadsheet).  This time they were practicing adding and subtracting integers.  If you want a copy of this, just click on the image below.  It looks really funny on google drive, but downloads correctly.  Students solve each of the problems, and type the answer in the second column.  They then check the third column to see if they are right or not.  I was planning on having them go to (LOVE this site, especially since I still have students who don't know their facts!), but our Internet was down.  (Don't you hate when that happens?!?)  Instead I had them work on their homework - an adding and subtracting integer worksheet. It wasn't nearly as entertaining, but the kiddos all seemed to appreciate having time to do their homework in class. 

This is the Adding and Subtracting Integers spreadsheet they did - see how in the third column it tells them whether they are right or wrong?

The fourth station was my favorite.  My students have done some graphing before, but never with all four quadrants of the coordinate plane.  We did a coordinate graphing picture earlier in the unit to practice, but I wanted to do a little more with it so I created this game.  It's battleship with the coordinate plane!  And, I made it with a Pirates of the Caribbean theme!  All of the ships are named after ships from the movie series, and my students LOVED it!  They were either the pirates or the royal navy, and hid their respective ships on their coordinate plane.  Then they took turns trying to find their opponent's ships by calling out coordinate pairs and marking them on their board.  I originally made a version that can be printed out on paper where you would break everyone into pairs, and pass out a pirates sheet to one player and a royal navy sheet to the other player.  Then, realizing that this would be a lot more fun with dry erase markers, I made a more permanent version using manila folders and laminating them.  Then, because I was so excited about it, I decided to sell it in my TeachersPayTeachers store.

The front of the folders - are you going to be the Pirates, or the Royal Navy?

My brilliant students actually figured out that if you use a binder clip the board would stand up on its own.  They're geniuses. 

Playing the game!

My second time with stations went really well - I just need to remember to set the timer at the beginning of each station!  Also, this was a good reminder that I always need a back up in case the Internet is down and I've planned an activity using it - this is when having good 'go-to' games are awesome (which I will talk about in a later post, I swear)!

What are some activities you use to practice integers? Do you have any 'go-to' back up activities for when technology decides not to cooperate?


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Starting Integers

When I had my students write their goals at the beginning of the year, I had quite a few of them that said they wanted to learn how to add negative numbers (or something else to do with integers).  After reading those, I was really excited to start our unit on integers.

Our Foldable - Click Here for a Copy

In our standards, 7th grade is where students are introduced to integers for the first time, so I wanted to make sure we started with activities that would give students an understanding of integers.  I had the students make this foldable for their notebook where we looked at opposite versus absolute value.  Students are constantly mixing the two up, and always giving an opposite when they are look for absolute value.  We discussed that absolute value was the distance for zero, and as usually a lot of the students claim that absolute value just turns the number positive, so we had a really good discussion on why it became positive.  My students all know about Ferris Bueller's Day Off now - I really wanted to show them the clip of trying to turn the odometer backwards, but I'm not sure the language would be appropriate so we just talked about it.

I messed up the positive one, but didn't want to waste more masking tape
In addition to the foldable, I made a number line out of a piece of masking tape in the hallway and had students walk out the absolute value.  A classmate would give them an integer between -15 and 15, and they would walk the distance to zero on the number line.  I think they thought it was a little ridiculous, especially those that 'got it' but I had very few students who messed up absolute value on the practice sheet they did for homework, so I'm calling it a success. 

Practice Sheet - Click Here for a Copy

I also made a set of index cards with random numbers from -50 to 50 on them.  I first had students find their opposite in the classroom (which I think I'm going to use as a way to make random groups from now on) and then I had the students line up in order from least to greatest without talking.  This was really good practice for them to move around and practice ordering integers. 
We've continued to practice integer number sense in their warm ups and as we are discussing integer operations, but they seem to have a good grasp on the concept, which makes me really happy. 

We've moved on to integer operations, and I am thrilled with how those lessons are going, but I'll talk about that in another blog post!


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Professional Development Day

We had our first professional development day this year, and I have to say I am very excited about how it went.  This year our school is piloting a one-to-one laptop initiative, and while I am super excited about getting those laptops into our student's hands, not everyone is.  We have a few teachers who are pretty anxious about the whole thing, but our ET (technology teacher) is AH-mazing, and got the ball rolling early.  The computers won't get here until January, so we have some time to get some PD in before the day arrives.

We spent the morning discussing in teams and departments logistical issues and curriculum issues.  There are a lot of schools that have implemented one-to-one laptop programs, but there is surprisingly little information on the how-to involved.  We often feel like we are making this up as we go.  There were a lot of good discussions in our teams and departments, which then translated into a good discussion as a faculty.  Almost all of the concerns we had were answered, and the few that weren't are going to be looked into. 

In the afternoon we had a variety of different sessions we could choose between, and they were awesome!  I think everyone I talked to learned something new and cool - and almost everything was presented by someone who teaches at our school!  I learned about a new software program called Netsupport where you can control all of your student's computers from your computer, or just monitor their work or basically whatever you want to do.  Can you imagine how awesome that is going to be when every student in your class is going to have their own laptop?  Now, I can look at everyone's screen at once and send messages to students who are off task or who need help.  I think that alone alleviated a LOT of concerns about classroom management. You can also turn off all the student's monitors just by clicking a button so they can't continue to work when you need to give directions, and about a hundred other awesome things.

Another session I went to was with the SmartBoard.  I used a SmartBoard in Virginia almost daily, but wasn't able to use mine here until this year.  I had seriously forgotten a LOT!  Another math teacher in our school was presenting on it, and she seriously knows her stuff!  It was awesome!  I relearned a few tricks, and learned some new ones that I'm excited to try out.  In fact, after this session I immediately went back to my room and reworked my lesson for tomorrow so that I'm using the SmartBoard to introduce adding integers.  It was also very entertaining listening to some of the teachers who had never used a SmartBoard get super excited about all of the cool things she was teaching us how to do.

I feel like too often professional development is a waste of time where we aren't learning anything that we can take back to our classrooms and implement.  A lot of times PD become discussions on theory and best practices - but without any ideas on how to implement those best practices.  I loved that today  I learned something that I can use tomorrow - this is how PD should be.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Changing Routines

I started a new system this year for students who were absent to get their missing work.  My plan was to have a expandable file folder with a section labeled for each class in my student office area.  I was going to write the name of each absent student on the paper, and then file it in the correct section so students would know to look there for the papers they missed.  It sounds like an excellent plan, and if used properly, probably works like a dream.  If you use it properly.  Which I don't.  The first month of school is over, and after about the first week I could not for the life of me remember to put the names on the papers, let alone file them.  And on top of that, my students who were present would go in there and take another copy because they lost original.  So, needless to say, the plan wasn't working - so, I changed it.

In my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to keep trying to use something that just doesn't work for you simply because you're worried about the students having to learn a new routine or procedure.  I would say that trying to change something you've been doing all year in the last month might be a little nutty, but if you realize your system isn't working then don't keep using a broken system!  Fix it! Improve it, rearrange it, reorganize it, get rid of it completely - whatever you need to do to make your life easier in the long run.  Working with a broken system is only going to cause you headaches and frustration - and we get enough of both of those things as it is.  It sounds really simple, and a lot of people are probably thinking, "well, no duh" but I have meet so many people who just keep doing something the same way because they don't want to make the effort to change it.

My new system is still using the very pretty expandable file folder I bought (didn't want to waste it), but now I have the sections labeled for the type of activity/assignment it is.  I have a section for extra homework assignments, extra class work assignments, extra notebook activities, for new students, and for notebook setup. There is a lot of student turnover in DoD schools, so I will definitely end up with more than a few new students as the year goes on.  Now, instead of having to write names on papers and sort them into the correct section, I can just place the extras I have after the lesson into the appropriate slot.  This has already helped me stay organized (now I know where all my extras are), and has helped the students find exactly what they are looking for.  I still have to help students find their missing work sometimes, but this way is a LOT easier for me - and that means less headaches. 


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Order of Operations Foldable

My students have been working with order of operations since they were in fifth grade, and it amazes me every year how they can recite the order of operations back to me, but when it comes to applying it - 'poof!' - it's like they've never heard of it before!  I've also found that often students recite the order as parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction without any reference to the fact that multiplication and division/addition and subtraction are completed from left to right and that they aren't two different steps.  They also don't know what to do with roots when they encounter them, and problems where a sum is being divided by another sum. 

I still needed to review the order of operations with the students, but I wanted to make sure I would give them a resource they could refer back to throughout the year and into high level maths if necessary.  I'm a firm believer that just because I'm not teaching something this year doesn't mean I should avoid it if it will cause confusion later.  For example, when I taught fifth grade I didn't tell students you can't subtract five from three (3 - 5) because you can - I just told them that it would be a negative answer and they would learn about that in middle school.

PEMDAS Flipbook
I went a searching online and found this great idea for a foldable from the blog Math = Love.  I made my own version mainly because I wanted the words to be preprinted.  We cut them out and glued them into our math notebooks, and then took the notes about each step on the inside, behind the preprinted words.  On the side that was pasted down we completed a practice problem showing the order of operations. 

We wrote notes for each step on the inside
We solved a practice problem on the other side

The students then completed a practice sheet using the order of operations. My students did fairly well with it - a couple of missteps but nothing too bad.  However, the next day in our stations as we were working on our algebraic expressions posters (I talked about them here) some kept forgetting to use the order of operations.  I would ask them what does the order of operations say to do, and I had more than one student who looked at me with eyes opened wide and asked, 'this is order of operations?!?'  We definitely need to keep working on it.  :)  If you want a copy of this flipbook, click here.

 In other news, I took the plunge and opened a teachers pay teachers store, which you realize if you tried to download this flipbook..  I only have three products on there so far (two of which are free), but it was really awesome to wake up this morning and see that someone had given one my freebies 4 out of 4 stars!  Someone likes something I made!  I know, I'm a bit of a dork, but I am very excited about this new endeavour.  I don't expect to ever be making thousands of dollars like some of those AMAZING teachers, but I think I am going to enjoy getting the feedback from other teachers on things I've made - and since I'm a bit of a perfectionist it will encourage me to really think out a lot of the details of things I'm making so I can sell them on there later!  You can visit my teachers pay teachers store here.  (Even if you don't want to buy anything, you can go see what I'm talking about.)  The site overall is a wealth of fantastic resources, and if you aren't using it yet (and you're a teacher), I would encourage you to take a look.  A lot of the stuff on there is free too!

How do you get your students to remember to use the order of operations with everything?  What do you think about my teacher store?


Monday, September 17, 2012

Math Station Love

One of my goals this year was to get back to using math stations.  I loved using them in fifth grade - we used them at least every other class.  It's such a great way to keep the student's attention since they get to move and change activities every twenty minutes and they love stations.  I also love how easy it is to differentiate with stations and how much more small group time you get with students. I could go on and on about how much I love learning stations, but I won't bore you with that.  I didn't use stations last year as consistently because I couldn't figure out how to do it with more students and less resources.  I desperately wanted to get back to using stations, so I researched stations in middle school this summer to get some ideas.  My goal is to use stations at least every other week - honestly, I don't know that I'm going to be able to do that right away (especially with using our interactive notebooks).  I am, however, going to be using them this week for the first time!  I am super excited!

Algebraic Expression Puzzle Poster

Directions for Algebraic Expression Puzzles

My first station will be a review of order of operations and algebraic expressions all in one.  I used these last year as a whole class activity, and I'm hoping they will work just as well in small groups.  I'm calling them Algebraic Expression Puzzles.  Each mini poster has between five and six algebraic expressions on them, the value of each variable, and sticky notes labeled 1 through 9.  Students evaluate the expressions on a separate sheet, and then move the sticky notes so the expression has the answer next to it.  Each sticky note is used once per poster and all sticky notes must be used.  Students can check their work by making sure they've used each number once - and I always follow up with an answer key.  I do realize my posters have equal signs after the expression, and I wish I hadn't done that last year, but I don't want to waste them, so I may just white out the equal sign instead of redoing them.  I'm going to have students work on these in pairs within their groups, and then switch cards as they finish them.  Here is a copy of the directions if you would like to use this in your classroom!

Self Correcting Excel Spreadsheet - see the feed back in the third column?

I always try to have a technology station - this time I'm using a self-correcting excel spreadsheet.  The question appears in column A, students solve the problem and then type the answer into column B, and then Column C will tell them whether they are correct or not.  The ITRT (technology teacher) back in VA taught me how to make one my first year, and I love it.  It gives students a great way to practice and provides immediate feedback.  I can also change the feedback to say whatever I want (i.e. don't forget your signs!).  I figured out how to make them more attractive this year using the formatting tools so I'm on a roll with my making things cute.  :)  If you would like to try it out, click here.  The image on google docs is horrible, but if you download it, it works and looks like the one above.  This is the one my students use - I hide the formula so no one can accidentally discover the answers, and lock the sheet so no one messes up the questions or formulas.

My third station will be a game with powers and square roots.  I haven't worked out all the kinks for this one yet, but I'll do another post on the math games I play in class later - I have lots since one of my stations is almost always a game station.

The final station is usually an independent work station.  This time it will be different for each class since each of my classes is in a different place.  Some classes I will be finishing up our order of operations foldable (another post on that later), others I will have them complete an independent order of operations practice sheet, and one of my classes (my speedy class) will be making sure their notebooks are up to date and then playing multiplication war to practice their math facts. 

I'm hoping they go well - I feel like the first round of stations sets the tone for the year and so that's why I'm not working with a small group this time.  I want to make sure everyone is staying on task and can figure out how to make things work.  Once they have a grip on it I will start adding in a teacher led station.

Do you use math stations?  What do you love about them?  How do you run them?


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Last Five Minutes

I've always been one to teach up until the absolute last minute of class.  It doesn't help that I tend to over plan - although that is better than the alternative (under planning = a teacher's worst nightmare). I am always rushing to fit one more thing in, which I know is just a bad idea - the students are confused, they're stressed, I'm stressed, and I'll forget to tell them something or do something that NEEDED to happen. Even when I started to make a point of stopping five minutes before the bell at the end of class last year, I still could never seem to remember to make sure my room was put back together and that I had passed back papers to everyone.  As I've mentioned before, organization is not something that comes naturally to me.

It was so much easier passing back papers in fifth grade - I had a mailbox system and a classroom job to take care of that (and it helped that I only had 18 students).  Last year, my first year in middle school, when I only saw the students every other day and for 90 minutes at a time is just never seemed to happen.  I'm ashamed to admit that I literally ended last year with a pile of papers from each class at least 2 inches high that never got handed back. I know, I know - this is bad on so many levels.    

On top of the growing piles of papers, my classroom was always a disaster when students left - scraps of paper on the floor; scissors, glue sticks and calculators scattered around the room; and when I did remember to hand those papers back I would find those all over the place as well!  It was a mess, and I was stressed.  I feel like it's easier to get elementary aged students to take ownership of the classroom because they're in there all day long - middle schoolers and high schoolers can peace out to the next room.

I knew what I wanted to happen in the last five minutes of the class, but for the life of me, when we got there I could only get the first two done - homework written down in planners, and planners signed.  I found last year that even though I told students to write their homework down that unless I signed it, I had about 50% of my class who just didn't.  Even after checking them for months, I still had about 10% who wouldn't get out their planners until I was at their desk ready to sign it.

Then, my saving grace, pintrest!  I kept seeing all these really cute posters about 1 minute countdown or 3 minute countdown.  I knew I needed more than 3 minutes, so I made a 'Last 5 Minutes of Class' list.  I was getting really tired of trying to make cute posters for my classroom (I'll show you some of the other ones I made later), when I found out our school has a poster maker!  How did I not know this?? 

So, I made this beauty with PowerPoint - now, both the kids and I have a visual reminder of everything that needs to happen, and it has worked like a charm!  Papers are being passed back, planners are signed, AND my classroom is clean and tidy!  It is funny when they all say thank you to someone for their help - a lot of times they are all just yelling out thank you to no one in particular!  We need to work on that still.  :)

How do you remember to get everything done in the last few minutes of class?  What tricks of the trade do you use to get papers passed back and to keep your classroom tidy?


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Powers and Exponents

I am LOVING my math notebooks this year!  I know it's only the third week, but we have used them almost every day so far and I have a great lesson planned for tomorrow using them to review powers and exponents. 
Most of my students have worked with exponents before, but I have a few sixth graders that didn't cover it in their fifth grade classes last year. Because of that, and because I have some lower level students as well, I wanted to give them some notes to refer back to later.  I wrote them out at first, and then realized how long it would take for my students to copy it all down.  Since I have quite a few things to get through, I didn't want to spend the entire class copying notes - so, I decided to type them up ahead of time.  I know this isn't a brand new idea, and I've done this before - but I used fun graphics and a different font, and....  well, I know I'm a bit of a dork.  Anyways, here is a picture of the notes I made - we will fill in the charts together at the bottom, and may highlight some of the vocabulary terms.  If you would like a copy of this, click here!
I also decided I wanted something more interactive, so I went searching on the internet, and found this amazing idea from To A Square Inch.  You take a stip of construction paper, and fold it like an accordian - make sure you fold it the number of your exponent, plus one.  This will create the correct number of faces for you to write the power, each factor in expanded form, and the answer.  Then, write it in.  I'm hoping this will help my students make the connection that powers are NOT the base times the exponent. On the back, we will write how you read each power.
Exponent Foldable - Front
Exponent Foldable - Back
Exponent Foldable
Another Example
I loved the idea, but I really wanted something that could be added to the notebook - and then I remembered something I saw on pintrest this summer where you make a pocket to glue into the notebook, and put your foldables inside of it.  This is my cute little pocket I made! I think I scared my neighbor teacher a little with how excited I was about this pocket - and possibly my hubby too.  I haven't been very creative or cutesy in the past with my self-made resources but I'm trying to change that this year!
Exponent Card Pocket - So excited about this!
I'm very excited about how my notebooks are coming along - and that I'm doing so well with my goal to use them.  I haven't used stations yet, but I've scheduled a day next week to attempt them!  I will let everyone know how that goes!
What do you think about my newest addition to our math notebooks?  What are some things you love to do in your notebooks?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

IEP at a Glance - Middle School Version

This year, one of my personal goals is to stay organized.  This requires a LOT of effort on my part (as any of my former collegues or roommates can tell you) - I am just not naturally organized.  I think part of the reason is I have an excellent memory, and so I can usually remember who, what, when and where without too much effort.  However, things do slip through the cracks and I'm noticing that as I get older (gasp!) I'm having trouble keeping everything straight without having it written down.  So, I've resolved to change my unorganized ways (especially since I'm always preaching to my students how important it is to be organized - I think it's time to stop being a hypocrite)! At least, I've resolved to do this at school - home will just have to wait a little bit.

One thing I have done in an effort to be more organized is made a student binder with information on all of my students.  I know this sounds like teaching 101, and I had something like this in VA (a data binder with information on all of my kiddos) but last year I started off two weeks in and thought I wouldn't need one or that I would get to it later or something (not sure what I was thinking last year).  Anyways, I have a big ole binder with a student info sheet, the parent info sheet, and (this is what I'm super excited about - and going to share with you today) an IEP at a glance sheet. 

I don't like the format of the IEPs out here - it may be because I got used to the way they were in VA, but really the problem is you have to read the entire document to get the gist - there is no sum it up page.  Earlier in the summer I found an example of one I liked on pintrest (from The Teacher Tattles), but when I printed it off and went to start filling it in I realized while it was awesome, it was really suited to elementary school and didn't fit my needs.  So I made one!

I think it's really cute, and it's perfect for my classroom.  If you would like to download a copy, just click here! This is a link to a PDF because I couldn't figure out how to link it to a word document without screwing up the formatting - if you would like a word document of this just leave a comment with your email and I'll send it to you.

 I might adjust the list of accommodations each year based on the needs of my students, but I think this will work well for me this year, and fits middle school better.  The only thing I wish I did differently is the font - I would really like to start downloading and using some different fonts, but my school computer wouldn't let me, and my laptop is running so slow now anyways, I feel like I shouldn't tempt fate.

What are some tricks you use to keep organized? 


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Problem Solving

We have officially entered September, and the second week of school.  The first week went very well, and I am SO excited about my students this year.  They all seem to be very sweet, and I am really looking forward to getting to know them better this year.  My schedule is also awesome - I am very happy with how that worked out for this year.  I am super excited about how my math notebooks are working out (although I still have a few kiddos without one - and at this point it's going to be tricky since most of the stores are sold out), but they are coming along well.  And, to top it off, I found out I am going to be department chair this year!  Yay!  One of my professional goals has been to take on more of a leadership role at school, and so I think this will be an excellent opportunity to do that.

I am starting out the year with a strong focus on the problem solving process.  Problem solving is one of our school's CSI (continuous school improvement) goals, and it was decided to use graphic organizers as our intervention.  Basically, it means we need to teach the students how to problem solve (which we do anyways), and introduce a graphic organizer as a strategy for problem solving.  So, that being said, I decided to make our first 'real' notebook entry the steps for problem solving.

I drew up and copied the feet (get it - steps?) for everyone, and had them cut them out and paste them in their notebooks.  We filled in the four steps that the math department decided on last year (understand, plan, solve and check), and then wrote an explanation of each step underneath.  The kids were amused by all of my references to writing on their feet, and turn to the page with their feet, and so on - I thought they were pretty cute, and much more engaging than traditional notes.  I borrowed the idea for the feet from... someone, but I can't remember who - and after looking through my pins and favorite blogs for about 30 minutes trying to give credit where it is due, I still can't find it.  So, let me know if it's your idea!

After we completed our steps, we put it into practice with our graphic organizer.  This is one of the graphic organizers that the faculty voted on last year, and that the math department modified to meet our needs.  The four corners have the four steps, and the center diamond is where students write the final answer.  We pasted the problem above the graphic organizer, and then I modeled how to use the graphic organizer.  We did another one together, and then two independently. 
One thing I love about the four step plan that we use is that you really do all of these steps every time you're problem solving - it's usually just internal.  Something I focus on in my classroom is being able to communicate about math and the process used to solve a problem.  This graphic organizer is a great tool to help them externalize their thinking.  It takes some practice - and I don't expect that the students have this much information on their graphic organizers to start with, but we continue to use them throughout the year and they do get better at it.  I tell them over and over that it is one thing to be able to get the right answer, and another to be able to explain how you got there.  My goal is that they are able to do both by the end of the year.
How does everyone else approach problem solving?  Anyone else have ideas on how to get students to communicate their thinking? 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Math Notebook Setup

One of the ideas that struck me at the end of last school year was to use interactive math notebooks this year.  I had kinda, sorta attempted them in the past, but didn't have a plan or a lot of follow through, so they ended up being warm up journals (and only for those kids who were organized to follow through without any prompting from me.)  In an effort to avoid that this year, I did a lot of research over the summer, and that is essentially how I found all of these awesome blogs I keep stealing ideas from.

All ready to go for setting up our notebooks!

Today (and tomorrow) were spent setting up our interactive notebooks.  One thing I regret, actually, is setting them up so soon.  I had multiple students in each class who didn't have the three subject spiral notebook that we will be using this year (even though it was on the supply list), and so I'm going to have to go back with them next week in seminar to make sure they have it all together.  In retrospect I should have waited until the second week of school to get them all set up, but live and learn.
Table of Contents
One thing I think every single math notebook I looked at had was a table of contents, so we made sure to put that in.  Here is what mine looked like after I filled it in with everything.  This is my teacher example - I do everything ahead of time in this one to test it out first, and I can refer to it when I'm trying to show students the finished product.  I complete one notebook with every class as well, but this is essentially my planning one.  The students don't have quite as much written in theirs yet.  We made four pages for table of contents, just to make sure we had enough to last the year.  For each entry they have to put the date, the topic, and the page number.
Math Notebook Guidelines
Next, we put in our notebook rules.  I found this on pintrest, and loved that it had a reason to go with every rule.  I bought a copy from teachers pay teachers, and shrank it so it would fit on half a sheet.  There is a pledge on the bottom saying they will try their best to follow the rules. (Her blog, Middle School Math Madness!, is also full of great ideas!)
I also found this from someone else, but can't remember who - I made my syllabus into a pamphlet, and then we glued it into our notebooks.  You just have to make sure you leave the back blank, since that is the part you glue down.  Now students can find all the class information and most of my major policies at any point during the year!
I also decided to have them glue in all the standards for Math 7, and we are going to go back and check them off as we learn them.  I think they were a little surprised at how many there were, and I hope they will be proud at the end of the year after we've crossed them all off.
Goals for the School Year
I had the students individually come up with three goals for this school year.  They could choose goals that had to do with being a better student overall (i.e. write down all of my homework), or goals that applied only to math class (i.e. learn all my math facts).  I'm looking forward to reading these!  Some of them were a little apprehensive, and others asked if they could use one of mine (stay organized).
Multiplication Chart (0-12)
The last thing we added during our initial set up was a multiplication chart (0-12).  While I feel like students should know their multiplication facts by now, not all of them do.  We will work on them throughout this year, but in the meantime a multiplication chart is a great tool for them to refer back to. I gave each student a sheet of graph paper, and they had to make their own chart.
We are also going to add a small manila folder (I finally found them at the store) to the back cover of their notebooks.  This will be a place for them to keep small pieces that they've cut out but haven't glued down yet so they aren't lost. I am also thinking about adding a envelope so they have somewhere to keep their math bucks, but I think I may leave that up to the individual student.
Something I need to remember to do is take my time getting them set up.  My first class went very well, but my second class was a bit of a mess, and it was my fault.  They had ten less minutes to set it up to start with because lunch ran over (one of the joys of the beginning of the year), and then we had a lock down drill.  I was trying to speed the process along, and that wasn't a good decision - students were confused, and things didn't get set up exactly like mine is. On top of that, I still didn't get through everything. You would think I would learn by now that somethings are just better left to the next day, but nope! At least now I'm learning that it's my fault when that happens, not my classes' fault.  I'm not too stressed about it though; we will just make sure everyone is on the same page when we start the next activity, and slow the pace down.
Does anyone else use interactive notebooks?  What do you do at the beginning of the year to set them up?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

First Day of School

I thought this was too funny - I realized I had to wake up waaaay too early this morning compared with the rest of the summer when my dogs didn't even wake up with me!  They usually hop right up the minute our alarm clock goes off - but not today!

We successfully had our first day of school today!  We were supposed to start back yesterday (Monday), but Typhoon Bolaven had other plans.  We have block scheduling so that meant we had to start the school year on a B-day - I wasn't super thrilled about that until I realized it meant the students got their lockers today. 

We have a unique schedule over here - instead of having a traditional homeroom where the kids meet every morning, we have something called seminar.  It's essentially a study hall period, except that the entire school has it the same block.  This allows teachers to request students for extra help, to make up work, or whatever.  This is the class where students take care of a lot of the administrative stuff, like lockers.  Since it always falls on the second period of B day, the kids weren't going to get lockers the first day of school (which is kind of a pain).  Our schedule also rotates, meaning each class isn't at the same time each day, except for seminar.  This works well because it means you get to see the students at different times of the day, and you don't always have the same class that is five minutes shorter because of the morning announcements or lunch or whatever.  It is a little confusing to get the hang of at first though. 

My first day was very successful, and probably my smoothest to date - except that I forgot my classroom key and school ID at home.  Brilliant.  Thankfully, I had allowed myself some extra time for any hiccups, so I was able to take care of that. I had the kids start off with making name tags for themselves so I could use them to help learn names.  I also had some pretty specific directions for them, so I found out pretty quickly who can follow directions well - and who my independent workers are.

I always have the students take a pop quiz that's all about me the first day.  It's a fun way for them to get to know some things about me, and it makes me giggle when their eyes get really big at the mention of a quiz.  I usually give the person with the highest score a small prize, so this year I handed out math bucks, and used this activity to introduce what they are.  The kids all seem really excited about math bucks (I talked about them here), so that made me happy.

We played a new icebreaker game today - one I stole from Middle School Math Rules.  There are sheets of paper with numbers up around the room, and I ask a bunch of questions that have a number for an answer - such as how many siblings do you have - then all kids move to the sheet of paper with the correct answer.  It was fun to watch them move around, and interesting for me to hear some of the questions they have.  For example, I now know one of my classes is going to need a LOT of details when I am giving directions (they had a follow up question for about every question I had - such as: do step-siblings count?  What if they don't live with you? Ect.)  One really funny question I asked was how many questions would you like for homework each night - if you guessed their answer would be zero, you'd be right!  I did have some students choose differently, but 90% were at zero.  I used that opportunity to explain my homework policy. 

After that, I had them decorate their math notebook covers with old magazines and permanent markers and passed out textbooks.  I was really worried when I was writing the plans that this wouldn't take the entire period so I had a back up activity planned - scattergories vocab.  I stole this idea as well, but I can't remember who from - if it was you, let me know and I'll give you credit for it!  I basically have the students come up with a math vocab word for every letter of the alphabet.  The catch is that they have to know what the word means.  We go over it as a class, and if someone else has their word they have to cross it off the list.  They get a point for each unique word that they come up with.  I think I'm going to keep that activity handy for a day when my plans do run a little short - which inevitably happens.  Honestly, we could replay that game as we go through the year and they learn new vocabulary.

I was a mean teacher and gave them homework the very first day too - I had some who were not so pleased.  I assigned them a math questionnaire that will be due next week.  In it, they will answer some questions about their thoughts, feelings and goals for math to help me get to know them a little better.  I also sent home a parent interview so I can get the parent's perspective on their student. 

I get to have a second first day tomorrow, where I meet my A day students. One of the other math teachers has a student teacher this semester, and we're trying to make sure she gets to see a lot of different approaches to the first few days back, so she is going to come observe one of my classes tomorrow to see how I do things.  I think it should be fun, especially since my classes went so smoothly today.

How did everyone's first day go?  Or, if you haven't had it yet, what are you planning on doing?


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tour of my classroom

I finally (mostly) finished putting my classroom together - just in time for all the parents and students to stop by for our back to school barbecue.  Last year I was hired after the school year began, and didn't start until two weeks into the year.  All year I felt like I was playing catch up, especially since we had a brand new textbook and no pacing guide.  I didn't have time to decorate my classroom, or reorganize it the way I liked.  I made sure I had plenty of time to reorganize all the resources that came with the textbook series and decorate this year.  I decided to go with a color scheme as my classroom theme - and after looking at the colors of butcher paper we had available and what colors I like, I decided on black, teal and lime green. I think it looks pretty good! (Ignore all the random colored sheets of paper - they're for an icebreaker game we will be playing the first day.)

This is the view as you enter the room.  I really hate the curtains, but I inherited them with the room, and since we're supposed to PCS (move) next summer (meaning this is my last year at this school) I don't really want to spend a lot of money on new curtains.  Also, the selection at the BX (basically my only store choice other than the Internet out here) was limited.

This is my student office set up this year, with my awesome student office poster.  I've always had a student office in my classroom - a place where students can get any supplies they need without asking me if they can borrow it.  My very artistic sister made me that poster my first year, and when my husband went home on leave this summer I made him bring it back in his suitcase for me.  There are scissors, rulers, markers, crayons, colored pencils, highlighters, glue sticks, calculators, and so on located here.  I really wanted to put the paper bin here as well, but I didn't like how it looked so I put it on the opposite counter. 
 I also have my new system for absent students located here - an expanding file folder with a section for each class.  I stole this idea from my new favorite blog, Middle School Math Rules.  When someone is absent I put their name on the sheet and file it in the correct spot.  Then students will know to go look there for any missing work.  I'm hoping this will solve my problem of trying to locate what was missed and make sure the student receives it.  I didn't have an issue with that when I was teaching fifth grade, but it was a big problem for me last year.  I'm excited to try this one out.

This is my word wall - I try to make sure that correct vocabulary is used in my classroom, and so a big part of that is surrounding the students with the vocabulary.  Their interactive notebooks will have a section devoted to vocabulary and we will add the words to our word wall as we go throughout the year. 

This is our brag wall - students can put up anything they want on this board that they want to show off.  I also stole this from a couple of places - they called it a proud wall (which may be more appropriate, but I had already cut out the letters.) 
The green bulletin board next to it is the one thing I have left to do - I was going to make it a CSI (continuous school improvement) goals board, but then remembered I have a problem solving activity planned for the second week that creates a bulletin board.  That's why that one is still blank.

This is my set up at the front of the room for my SmartBoard, and ELMO.  Last year I had a smaller table there, and not only was everything crowded, but I actually shocked/electrocuted myself on the floor outlet.  The kids kept tripping over it and would unplug it, which would unplug everything on the table. As I was plugging it back in I touched an exposed wire and ouch!  I made sure to rearrange tables this year so it was covered up. 
I LOVE my ELMO - for those that don't know, it's like an overhead projector but will project opaque objects.  I can put a textbook under it, and the page will project onto the screen.  I'm not so in love with my SmartBoard here, only because it's not hung level, and so no matter how many times I align it, the writing is still wobbly on one side.

This is my teacher corner.  I love my Who is Mrs. ? bulletin board - and the kids love looking at all of my photos.  I do let students behind my desk, especially since I only have five computers in my room - when we do stations, I sometimes let a trustworthy student use the one on my desk, they just have to ask first. 
 I like where I put the desk this year; now I have some extra counter space to work with.  I also cleared out those cabinets this year, so I have lots of storage space as well.  I keep my colored paper back there, and a lot of teaching resources (mostly books, and hard copies of activities).

These are my days of the week folders.  I put everything I need for each day in the folder, so its ready to go.  This year I made cute labels for them and laminated them so they would last longer.  In the past I've had to replace these at least twice a year because they get so worn out.  They're also not nearly as cute.  :)

This is my assignment board - its on one of the side walls in my classroom.  I put the homework, daily schedule and learning objectives up here every day.  This year I made some labels to make it look nicer.  I got the idea for labels from Middle School Math Rules as well - I'm telling you, that woman is FULL of great ideas!  (You can also see my journal bulletin board that I showed you here.) Also - already have my plans up for the first day - I am on TOP of it this year!  :)

This is my desk, with my planbook that I got from teachers pay teachers.  It's not my perfect plan book, but I think it will work out for this year.  Maybe I'll get super creative this year and create my own.  I do LOVE the color though - especially since it matches my room.  You can see I already have two to do lists - the post its.  I use the first one to tell me what I need to do NOW, and the second one tells me what I need to get done within the next few days.  As I finish the first list, I rotate them.  It's not technologically sophisticated, but I love being able to cross something off or rework my lists as needed.  If I don't write it down though, I do not remember it.
This is the far wall of my classroom - its all windows here, so I can't hang a lot up.  I've assigned a bookshelf to each class for them to keep textbooks or their math journals on.  The black bin is where students will turn in their work, and the yellow bin is for paper.  It will hold plain white paper, notebook paper, graph paper and missing assignment sheets. 
I stole this particular sheet from E, Myself and I.  If students are absent they grab one of those yellow sheets, fill it out, and turn that in instead.  When they finally turn in the assignment you cut off the bottom part, and staple it to the assignment and keep the top part for your records. If they never turn it in, you record that and keep the sheet. I tried something similar last year, but it didn't work out very well.  I wasn't using a full sheet of paper, and it wasn't a different color.  I also didn't make sure it became a part of the routine, so I am going to reinforce it a LOT this year.
Also, you can (barely) see the blue buckets further along the counter - this is where I'm going to put station work this year.  I need to get some more buckets, but the BX was out.  Hopefully they restock them, otherwise I'm going to have a mismatched room.  I'm also keeping all the math games students will be allowed to play on the counter as well.  Other than that, I'm trying to keep it clean - we will see how that goes. 
This is the view of my room from my desk.  I'm really excited that I was able to get a round table this year for my small groups.  I had a rectangle one last year, and it just doesn't work as well.  Above my white board is my number line (-15 through 15).  That comes in handy when we are working with integers.  I also have a spot for no name papers (I put the period on them, and then use a magnet to put it up there.)  That way I am no longer responsible for keeping track of where the papers are or trying to figure out who they belong to.  I also have two signs that I made - one says 'you may use a calculator' while the other says 'you may not use a calculator.' (Also stolen - I'm a good thief!- Fast Times of a Middle School Math Teacher.)  Now I shouldn't have to answer that question 500 times a day. 
I have a sliding white board for all of you who are wondering where my SmartBoard is - it's behind the board!  I can push the panels so they overlap and out comes my SmartBoard!  There is also a TON of storage behind there, so that's where most of my math manipulatives and the textbook resources are kept.  I'll have to show you that another time.  One thing I love about this room is how much storage there is!  There are cabinets underneath the entire length of the board as well.

Sorry for the monstrously long post - I'm just so excited and wanted you to be able to see everything!  What do you think?  What new ideas are you using this year?