Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Posters/Illustrations on the Wall at the Secondary Level - Why they are necessary!

The walls of many classrooms at the secondary level (especially the higher you go in math classes) are quite bare.  Not all of them, some of them are quite well decorated with useful information but many are just bare concrete blocks.  The reasons for this are multiple.

1)  Your curriculum changes so much over the year (I do 10 units in 26 weeks) that you would be

Surface Area/Volume Wall Posters
constantly needing to change them (and who has the time).

2)  We are trying to prepare students for college where most of the walls are quite bare.

3)  There is a severe lack of quality resources or posters to put up on your walls. 

It is this third reason that I got in touch with my creative side this past year!  I had posters that after 15 years were worn out and to be quite honest, no longer reflected the CCSS rearrangement of topics!  I had rearranged my curriculum so much that nothing "fit" what I was covering in the groupings that I was covering them.  As I started illustrating our units as we did I found some results that while they shouldn't have surprised me, they did.

Quadrilaterals Wall Posters
1)  I heard more mathematical conversations between students.  They were referencing the posters that I put up on my walls to help each other and were using the terminology correctly!

2)  They understood the topics more clearly because the concepts were illustrated with their properties right there on the same sheet of card stock.
Area Formulas Wall Posters

3)  They were retaining the connection between topics and units longer because I left the posters up for the entire trimester.  They were continually seeing the ideas/concepts/definitions as we moved from one unit to the next.

4)  Students grades showed a rise - not as much as I would have liked to be honest, but sometimes you take what you can get! 
Right Triangles Wall Posters

At the end of the trimester I noticed students referencing the posters as they worked on the review and made note cards.  I even had multiple students ask if they could take pictures so that they could reference them at home for study. 

I have illustrated this post with a few sets that I made (many more are available in my store).  They were quick and (mostly) easy to make!  Here is how I did it.

1)  I used PowerPoint as it allows the best way to layer the concepts, diagrams, labels far better than any other program I have found.

2)  I made a list of the all of the terms/concepts that I wanted to include before I started so that I didn't forget anything.  I designed each set of posters to be a unit of study.

3)  I made a basic layout for the slides so that they all "matched" in that they used the same font,
Transformations Wall Posters
borders, style.

4)  I made sure to include all of the necessary information but did not make the slides so "busy" that they were overwhelming.

5)  Once I had them done, I printed them on cardstock and laminated them so that they would last!  I chose to do it on colored cardstock to save on ink and to make them eye-catching.

However you choose to do it by either making them yourself or buying some that are already made, I highly encourage you to do it!  I have found nothing but positives from using Word Walls/Concepts Posters.  I am looking forward to seeing the results when I start with them from day 1 of the new school year instead of waiting for the second trimester like I did this year.  I am working hard to create some that I can use for the first half of my curriculum and look forward to testing the results!

Click here to download a sample of my Geometry "A" Poster Bundle. 
Wall Poster Bundle Sample

Friday, June 20, 2014

Task Cards - An Often Overlooked Differentiation Resource In High School

The first time I heard the term "Task Cards" I thought they were index cards that gave students directions for a task.  I wondered why teachers couldn't just tell students the directions verbally...  As time went on, I heard the term more and more but still never saw a concrete example of what they were.  So, I did what all curious people do - I Googled it!  While that gave me some clue, it was still not a definitive reason as to why I should pursue their use in my high school classroom.  I mean, let me be honest here - high school is overrun (like all grade levels are) with standardized testing, CCSS, and forty-seven things you must accomplish every day.  I had no time to add something new. 

Then I looked at my students and saw that something just wasn't working in my day-to-day structure.  So, I started looking for ways to better address student needs and learning levels WITHOUT adding extra work to myself.  Every search kept coming back to Task Cards as a viable solution.  So, I tried them and saw some amazing results.  Students were picking up on concepts that they had struggled with, discussion in class had students participating that I had rarely heard from and most importantly, grades were rising.

So, let's talk about Task Cards!

1)  What is a Task Card?  A task card is a card, piece of paper, piece of card stock (basically whatever works best for you) that features one problem, question or work task. 
Angle Addition Postulate Task Cards

Why only one problem/question?  Simple, it helps the students focus on just one problem, idea or skill at a time without getting overwhelmed thinking "I have 15 problems to complete and I can't even get number one done".  (Task Cards can be created to be four to a page that you then cut apart into individual problems like the ones at the left).

2)  How do you use a task card?  There are so many ways to use a task card.  A few are:
      a)  Pair students with a partner and have them pass the cards from pair to pair every 2 minutes.
       b)  Separate the cards by concepts/difficulty and have students work in small groups depending on
             their abilities.
       c)  Use the cards as part of a larger station activity.
       d)  Have students complete one (or two) as an exit card to test for understanding
       e)  As a warm - up or bellwork assignment
       f)  Laminate a set and post them around the room for students to rotate around.  This is great for those students who need to be up and moving around.

3)  How do task cards allow you to differentiate?  Since task cards feature only one problem you can write the problems to be at individual levels.  For example, when I teach Segment Addition I can use a variety of cards.  I can use some that are just simple adding and subtracting, some that feature algebra in a one or two step equation or some that are a challenge where the problems are multi-step with variables on both sides of the equation. 

Segment Addition Postulate
This is an example of four different levels of task cards that I use when doing the Segment Addition Postulate. It allows me to differentiate by giving students cards that are at their individual level and still assess all student understanding of the same concept!  It has been a real lifesaver!

4)  How do I create a Task Card?  The first step is to decide how many cards you want per page.  I find that four works well since it gives room to create the problem and is neither too big as to waste paper nor too small as to make it hard to read the problem/question.  You want to have a clear idea of the different levels of the concept as well as to how you want to phrase the questions being asked.  I find that laying it out first makes it easier to create them.  Once you have decided on a layout and the different levels of questions, you can start creating.  I will admit, creating task cards is a time-consuming process but once they are created, they are done!  (I find using PowerPoint the best program if your task cards require layering like mine do!)
Angle Relationships

5)  How I best utilize my resources and save myself time?  I recommend printing your task cards on card stock, laminating and then cutting them out.  Unless you really find it necessary for students to be able to write on the cards, there is no reason to recreate the wheel every hour and print them on paper.  Additionally, if you print them on card stock and laminate them, then students can write on the cards using dry erase markers and then "erase" when they are done without damaging the card! 

Coordinate Distance and Midpoint

I always make sure to include an answer sheet with mine for students to hand in when they are done.  This allows me to hold them accountable and again saves on the need to continually reprint the task cards!

All in all, I have yet to find any drawback to using task cards!  I highly recommend trying them out.  If you are a Geometry teacher, like myself, and want to try them before dedicating large pockets of time to creating them, I recommend shopping on TeachersPayTeachers.  I have the four sets illustrated above individually and in a money saving bundle (pictured below) in my store (with many more on the way!) but a search will turn up task cards on many, many topics! 
Beginning Concepts Bundle

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Delicate Balancing Act - Parent and Teacher

I have been a teacher for just over 15 years now and in all of that time I have only ever been on the teacher side of the desk.  This fall, however, I will start a new journey with my oldest child as she enters kindergarten.  I will have to learn how to walk that delicate line between being the teacher of 120 students a day and the parent of one very small student!   

How do you walk that line?  How do you go from being the one who is entrusted with the education, the safety and well being of someone's child(ren) to being the one who entrusts your child to someone else?  School hasn't even started yet and I am already worried.  I worry that the teacher won't understand my daughter's unique personality, that the teacher won't foster her love of learning, that the other students will be mean to her.  I worry that my little girl, who has been reading since she was four, who loves using her imagination to entertain herself and her little brother and who LOVES to learn will be crushed by the new CCSS and hate school.

I went to the new parent orientation and found out that she is expected to be able to write a paragraph by the end of October and that recess is now combined with the 30 minutes they get for lunch.  So in the course of a 7.5 hour day of school she gets less than 30 minutes to play.  I know, trust me I know, that school is not playtime but at 5?  At 5 they still learn best through play and investigation, now sitting at a table...

But, I also know that if I expect others to trust me with their children, that I too, must trust that others will teach my children and protect them and give them what they need when they are out of my hands.  It will definitely be a fine balancing act but hopefully one that I will be able to use to enrich my own abilities as a teacher. 

In the meantime, I have started going through different stores on TeachersPayTeachers to find resources that we can use to "play school" this summer.  Three of my favorite stores so far are:
1)  Christina Winter
2) 1st Grade Salt Life
3)  KB3Teach

Monday, June 16, 2014

Time to get Organized!

As a teacher we have so many pieces of paper to keep organized that it sometimes seems so overwhelming!  We have lesson plans, tests, quizzes, daily homework, memos from the office, seating charts and hundreds of other pieces of paper.  If, like me, you have a family on top of that, it can seem more than overwhelming, it just seem insurmountable!  However, if you have a plan and a system, you can tackle it with ease!

Step One:  Figure what organization strategy works best for you.  Are you the type who does better using binders with dividers, page protectors and a three-hole puncher?    Binders are the option that I choose!  I have multiple binders.  Usually a teacher one ( as well as separate binders for the lesson plans, homework assignments and other documents that go along with each unit that I teach.  I have some awesome binders for teachers available here.)
Secondary Teacher Binder 2014-2015

TPT Sellers Binder
(I use the binder  on the left to keep my classroom organized and I use the binder on the right to keep track of all my TeachersPay Teachers documents!)

Some find it much easier to keep a file box with hanging folders and manila folders. If this is you, Target has some great options.  I use some of these to keep in the back of my room for students to pick up extra copies of assignments/notes.  This allows me to hold them accountable for what they missed, make it available and most importantly, it saves me time not having to dig through my files every time a student is absent!

You could also choose to do something like this:

Whatever your organizational method is, make sure that it is one that you can follow through with!  If the method isn't something that comes easily, you will abandon it within a few days to a couple of weeks!

Step Two:  Set an organization routine.  Are you the type who needs to file stuff away daily so that it doesn't get lost, mixed up or forgotten about?  Is it easier for you to put your important papers in a folder and then organize weekly or biweekly?  For me, I work best if I put papers in a file folder and than organize them into a binder each afternoon or the next morning before the next set starts!

Step Three:  Stick with it!  One of the things I learned from a course I took a long time ago (the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) is that it takes 21 days for something to become a routine.  After a few weeks it will become such a part of your daily/weekly routine that you will just naturally start to do it and continue it with ease!

Organization has seriously saved me multiple times.  My binders have allowed me to show parents when things were assigned, graded and due.  My binders have helped me to keep track of important memos from administration, keep up on my PD hours for renewing my certificate and many other routine requirements.  Most of all, they have helped me know that I can go home at night to my family and not have to worry about where I put something or if I have a copy of it!
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