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?


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

2012 - 2013 Goals

So I was hoping that my second post would be a tour of my classroom, but unfortunately, even after four days of hard work - it's still not finished.  It is getting there though.  So, since that plan went up in smoke, I decided to share my goals for this school year.  This summer I spent a lot of time on pintrest and perusing teacher blogs for ideas - and I got a TON of great ideas!  So many in fact, I began to feel completely overwhelmed by how many things I wanted to try this year.  I eventually realized that unless I wanted to go completely insane and get so overwhelmed that I completely gave up on all of my new ideas, I should pick three and focus on those.  That being said, here they are:

1) Math Notebooks - I have tried to use these before, but never really followed through, mainly because I didn't have a plan of action.  I have spent a lot of time this summer researching math notebook ideas, looking at how other teachers use them, pinning ideas on pintrest, and reading blogs.  Lots of my ideas I've gotten from Runde's Room, including the posters on how to organize your math notebook (see the picture below). 

I decided at the end of last year I was going to use three subject notebooks for my math journals, so I'm lucky that they were added to the seventh grade supply list for this year.  We are going to start using them the very first day (just decorating the cover), and then really get them set up the second day.  I have a different colored notebook for each class so I can work with students as they complete theirs.  I also have a purple one - but I've misplaced it in my classroom somewhere.  I'm hoping it will turn up - that's going to be the one I complete ahead of time to make sure I know what I'm doing. 

My goal is to use the first section for notes and foldables, the second section for vocab - I'm going to try out Fryer's Model for vocab this year, and the third section for warm ups.  I'm going to try to do something, other than warm ups, with our math notebooks at least once a week.

2) Math Stations - This is something I used almost daily and with a LOT of success back in VA, but I struggled with implementing it in middle school with larger classes and without my familiar resources.  When I moved out here last year I didn't have a job lined up, and since the Air Force had already moved the hubby out we had three suitcases to move my entire life.  We forgo moving school supplies since I didn't know if I was going to get a position and if I did, I didn't know what I would be teaching.  Anyways, I tried stations once or twice but couldn't make it work the way I wanted. 

As I was researching math notebooks this summer, I came across some ideas on how to organize stations in the middle school, and so I'm going to try to implement them more this year.  I love math stations because they are so easy to differentiate, they can provide multiple methods for learning the same topic and because students love them.  They get to move around and it helps keep their attention since they aren't focused on the same thing for an entire class period.  Also, on these days, the homework is usually to finish their station work - and they don't want homework so they get it done. 

My goal is to use math stations at least once every other week.  I'm hoping that as the school year goes on we can use them more often, but this is a good start.

3) Math Bucks - Let me start by saying I stole this idea in its entirety from a teacher on Teachers Pay Teachers (which, by the way, if you haven't found yet - go visit - it's amazing) named Jim Bennett.  He describes them as his most popular math incentive and I'm so excited to try them out.  Essentially its an economy system, but based around your math class. 

Students earn math bucks by turning in homework, working hard, asking thoughtful questions or whatever you want.  Then, they can 'buy' things such as homework passes, right or wrong answer on a quiz (you tell them whether its right or wrong - not what the answer is), or so on.  I'm adding a few other things, like bathroom pass or late assignment pass.  I'm also going to try and tie it in with my classroom management plan - if you break a rule, then you get fined.  My husband asked me what I was going to do if they didn't have any math bucks - and I think I'm going to have them make up the time during lunch.

My goal is to implement this system and use it!  I've already printed and cut out $150, but I know I am going to need more.  I also made this poster to show how they work, and I'm including them on my syllabus - I'm hoping that will be good motivation to keep going.

What are some of your goals this year?


Monday, August 20, 2012

My Story

Growing up, I hated math - with a passion.  Reading, writing, history and science all came very easily to me - and it all made sense - but math was a foreign language.  Until fourth grade my near photographic memory helped get me through - in third grade I didn't actually learn my multiplication facts, I just memorized the answers to the quizzes I was helping my teacher grade.  I would check one 4-times quiz, and then could pass it.  My teacher must have thought I had been studying very hard the day that I passed five quizzes in a row - unfortunately, I only memorized what order the answers were in and not with which facts they matched.  Oops.  It actually took until I was student teaching for me to learn my math facts to the point that I expect my students to know them.

In fourth and fifth grade I started to struggle.  Memorization of quiz answers and counting on fingers isn't quite enough to get you through - and I had a hard time.  I do remember the day I passed a quiz the rest of the class (minus five of the 'smart math kids') failed, and how exuberant I was.  I thought I might actually be getting it!  I was wrong.  Two days later and I was lost again. 

This continued on for the next few years until I reached 7th grade.  And unlike most stories like this, it wasn't an inspiring teacher who changed my view of math, or suddenly helped me 'get it' - it was my father.  That year I had somehow gotten placed in an advanced pre-algebra class, skipping math 7.  After the first six weeks my teacher called my parents in for a conference and told them I wasn't ready, and I needed to drop back to the regular math 7 class. 

My parents asked to be given a chance to work with me at home, and thus started the nightly crying episodes at our dining room table.  I stuck with it because I was hardheaded and no teacher was going to tell me I couldn't do something.  I don't know how my dad stuck with it.  I'm a cryer by nature - I cry not only when I'm sad, but when I'm tired, frustrated, angry, confused, stressed out, irritated, or so on.  (I don't cry when I'm happy though.)  Those nightly sessions caused such headaches for both of us, with me repeatedly crying that I didn't get it, and my dad yelling about how I needed to be neater and bring home my book.  Eventually, I would cry myself out - my dad would calm down, and he would help me 'get it.'  Seventh grade is the year when math stopped being such a struggle for me - I went on to pass with an A/B average, go to Algebra and all the way up through Calculus.  I still didn't love math though.

Loving math came when I started to teach it - suddenly I realized why God didn't make math so easy for me.  It was so I could teach it - and teach it well.  I loved reading and writing growing up - it came so easily to me - but when I started trying to teach it, I found I had a very difficult time breaking it down into smaller parts.  I couldn't understand why a student couldn't figure out what the main conflict in a story was, or who the protagonist was.  I found myself thinking, "I don't know how else to explain this to you..."  Math was different - I knew why they didn't get it, I understood that feeling and could relate.  In my own struggles with math I had found multiple ways to break down a problem and different strategies to use for problem solving, and I could explain this to my students.

I am entering my fifth year of teaching - the first two were spent teaching fifth grade math and science in VA, the third was a self contained fifth grade class (all subject areas) at the same school in VA, and then last summer I moved to Japan with my hubby and taught 8th grade math/pre-algebra and a remedial math class.  This year I am moving down to 7th grade - and I am so excited.  I've started this blog to share ideas with other teachers and to put some of my ideas out there as I continue to grow as an educator.