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?