Friday, July 31, 2015

Classroom Management Tips: Secondary Level

No matter how many years you have been teaching, be it just starting your first year, starting your last year or somewhere in-between there is one necessity that never goes away - Strong, Effective Classroom Management.  I have found over my years of teaching that regardless of the class, topic or even grade really, that there are few standard practices that will always hold true.

1.  Start day one with a clear set of expectations in your head.   
Spend some time before the first day thinking about what you want your classroom environment to be like.  Do you want to establish a routine where students know that as soon as they come they get started on warm-ups (bellwork/do-nows, etc.), then homework questions, lesson etc.?  Do you want to have students hand in work to a turn-in bin, do you want to collect it or perhaps you plan to walk around during the warm-ups to check it in and conference with students.  Do you plan to give bathroom/locker/hall passes?  If so, when in the class is it acceptable to ask?  What is your acceptable use policy for technology? These (and many more!) are questions that you need to have an idea about ahead of time.  By knowing what you want your classroom environment to be like, you can devise ways to make it happen!  The less that you have clear in your head before you start, the more likely you are to lose control of your classroom.

2.  Stick to your word.  If you say that doing "x" will result in "y" consequence, then do it!  The minute you let a behavior slide once, you are done.  You will start hearing "but you let so and so get away with it...".  On the flip side, if you express to students that they will get a reward of something for completing a task (i.e. the winning team gets a candy bar tomorrow), and then don't follow through, you will lose their trust.  One very powerful way to be able to stick to your word is to talk to your students about what you expect (see #1), what they expect and devise consequences (and rewards) together that everyone can find acceptable.  Students are far more likely to "buy-in" if they feel like they had a stake in creating something in the first place.

3.  Create an environment where students feel safe to make mistakes.  Math students, especially at the secondary level, are very afraid of failure as well as getting something and therefore tend towards not trying unless they are pretty sure of success.  When students aren't trying, they aren't engaged and therefore become behavior problems.  In order to combat this I employ two very powerful strategies.  First, when I make a mistake (especially if I am at the board teaching) I acknowledge it.  I don't try to cover it, I just go with it and use it as a teachable moment.  I will often ask students if they can help me find my mistake.  I even been known to make a mistake on purpose to further this goal.  The second thing I do is to talk to my students about what it feels like when you make a mistake in other situations, how you learn from them and then we discuss how that can be applied to our classroom.  This goes a long way to showing students that getting it wrong is part of the process of learning how to get it right!

4.  Establish norms for the different situations that will arise.  
Just as knowing how your want you classroom routine structured is important to effectively managing your classroom, so is knowing how you want the different situations that occur in a classroom to run.  The first situation that you may want to consider is group work settings.  What is your plan for when students work in groups?  Do you choose the groups or do the students?  Do you have limits on group size?  Are you going to assign roles within the groups?  Do you want a single paper turned in per group or do you want all the students to complete an activity and staple their papers together as a group?  The second situation which is crucially important to have a plan for is classroom discussions. Do you call on the students or can they call on each other?  Can students opt out of answering a question or must they give it an attempt?  Are you going to keep track of participation for points or is there not a need for that?  How are students allow to talk - to each other or just to you?  A great strategy to structure classroom is discussion is "Math Talk".  

5.  Enjoy your job and communicate that enjoyment to your students.  
Nobody wants to be around someone who is miserable and wishing they were somewhere else or doing something else.  I'm so sorry to be the one to say it, but its true.  If you hate what you are teaching or where you are teaching it, the students will know it and they feel rejected.  This attitude also bleeds through into your ability to teach you students and to help them to feel connected.  On the flip side, if you are pleasant and genuinely want to be doing what you are doing, it draws the students in and helps to make a connection and communicate that learning can be enjoyable.  The more you want to be there, the more your students will too!

I realize that there is a great deal more that goes into effective classroom management, but these are five things that I have found work for most anyone!  Do you have any other strategies that you have found work well?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Why Collaborative Work Needs to Occur as Often as Possible

Looking back on my own schooling experiences I cannot clearly identify situations where we worked  together.  I cannot remember my teachers telling us to "turn to the person next to you and share your answer" or coming into the classroom and working in groups.  After talking to a few people who I went to school with I realized that I can't remember it because it rarely happened (except for labs in science class).  Knowing what I know now about the power of collaborative communication, this makes me incredibly sad.  I wonder how my own school struggles would have been diminished had I had the chance to work with others.  I know that for many of us, collaborative work and communication causes fear.  I addressed the ways that I handle this by setting up the classroom for collaboration from day one in a recent post (available here).  What I want to address today is not the HOW of collaboration but the WHY.

Reason one:  It helps to aid with classroom management.  I know, the first thought that goes through the mind is how in the world is it possible that getting them to talk will help with classroom management?  Hear me out, I promise it will make sense.  Teenagers have difficulty sitting still and listening for long periods of time, this is a proven fact.  Just watch your students for a few minutes and see what happens.  They start to shift in their seats, they doodle, they try to sneak a peek at their phone and/or they start talking to the people near them.  By taking collaboration breaks in a lesson such as "turn to your neighbor and work out this problem" or "collaborate with your elbow partners to restate ______________" you are giving them an outlet for that nervous energy.  It helps them to focus on what you are teaching and has the added benefit of identifying misconceptions about what you are teaching if they exist.

Reason two:  Teenagers are social creatures who live in a world where information and communication is literally at their fingertips at all times.  As teachers who desire to meet our students in the ways that they best learn, retain and reference information we have to move outside of our comfort zones and meet our students how they learn best.  Today that means collaboration, communication, sharing of ideas and talking with classmates as often as possible.  Students need to work together to clarify information in their own minds.  I have even seen some "social media" templates that work perfectly to get at the information on the students' levels.

Reason three:  We need to teach our students how to work cohesively with all types of people.    We are preparing these students for the "real world" (I really dislike that term) beyond high school whether it is college, the military or the workforce.  Regardless of what path they take, there will be people that they have to be able to effectively communicate with.  As educators, it is our responsibility and privilege to give them the opportunities to practice and refine these skills.

Reason four:  Studies show that information is retained most effectively when it is shared with others. I saw this graphic online and it stuck itself in my brain.  This is why teachers need to to embrace collaboration.   We teach in a world of high stakes testing, constant competition, and we have to do what it takes to set our students up for success.  The majority of teachers get entrenched (and often trained) in the top part - passive teach methods.  In the past, it worked for the most part.  Looking, however, at the 5% (which yes, may be a little low) of information retained from lecture compared to the 50% for group discussion and the 90% (which yes, might be a little high) from teaching others I'm left with one thought - how can we not try???  If there is even a chance (and research shows there is) that group collaboration can help with retention, learning and connections between concepts we have to try.

Reason five:  If students don't communicate, you have no idea what they know and don't know.  I have had many students in my career who have difficulty showing their knowledge on paper but when you talk to them they can explain it fantastically!  Additionally, by talking to their classmates students will often clarify their own understanding.  In my experience, students can use the same words that you as a teacher use, but it sounds completely different to their classmates and can make a great deal of sense.  

Whatever the reason, I challenge you to try it.  Get your students talking and see what happens, you just might be surprised! :)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Super Spectacular Secondary Mathletes Giveaway!

A few months ago a group of teacher-authors from TeachersPayTeachers connected with each other and formed a collaborative group named the Secondary Mathletes. You all have been so supportive of all of us that it is time for us to give back to you! We are pleased to announce that we have come together to create a giveaway as a thank you for all of your support. Two lucky winners will receive a bundle of wonderful activities, games and resources that you can use in the first few weeks of school!  Each teacher-author has provided a short description of their resource and you can find links to their TpT stores as well as to the product itself!  Please enter the giveaway using the rafflecopter at the bottom!  The drawing will be open until July 18th!

1) From the SecondaryMathShop. I have included my Geometry Beginning Concepts Vocabulary Matching Activity. This activity is designed to serve a few purposes including reinforcing the foundational vocabulary from geometry, help students who are struggling with the vocabulary to visualize the terms and to help students review for an upcoming test. Included you will find four types of cards to match - - a term, a diagram, a name (label) and a definition - - as well as answer sheet! There are so many ways to use this activity!

2) From Hodges Herald. I have included my Multiplying and Dividing Fractions Bingo. Use this game to get your students back into mathematical thinking.  Students get to chose how to set up their Bingo boards which helps them to practice organization as well as how to write fractions.  A fun way to review previously learned concepts. This bingo game using Task Cards. Great for small groups or whole class. Self Correcting and loads of fun!

3) From Lindsay Perro. I have included my Back to School Math Activities for Middle School. We all know summer passes quickly! Some of your students will return to school eager and ready to learn, others will be hesitant to get back in the swing of things and will still be holding on to their summer! This packet includes 9 questionnaires, ice breakers and activities for back to school. 

4) From Live, Love, Math. I have included my Integer Operations Seating Cards. This file includes a set of 30 seating cards (4 to a page). Each card has an order of operations problem involving integers which the student will solve in order to find his/her seat in the classroom. I have my desks numbered 1-30 and this is how I set up my seating chart at the beginning of the year or anytime I want to change seats. Each problem has a unique solution, so it is a good discussion starter when you see two students trying to sit in the same seat or in this case, trying to find a negative seat! All answers are positive.These problems do include negative numbers as well as exponents and all four operations. Some are harder than others, so you can give some of the easier ones to kiddos who haven't mastered the skill yet in order to give them a confidence boost. There are also two blank cards in case you have a class larger than 30.

5) From Scaffolded Math and Science. I have included my Interactive Notebook: Solving Algebra Equations. This download includes 8 pocket flippables showing the solving process of 8 different equations. Once put together, each pocket holds a series of different-sized cards that align to show the steps of solving. On the bottoms of each card (out of sight when the cards are all in place) are explanations for each step. Students can add each card to its pocket while reading why each step was taken to solve the equation. 

6) From Teaching High School Math. I have included my Algebra - Line Them Up - Solving Two Step Equations. In this activity, students are each given a task card with a solving two step equations problem and a QR Code. Students are given a couple of minutes to solve their problem. Then they are invited to get up and

arrange themselves in order of their solutions from smallest to largest. After they think they have themselves in order, the teacher walks by and scans their QR Codes. The teacher announces the solution on each card. If students are lined up correctly, they win! This is a great activity for the beginning of school because it gives students a chance to interact in a non-threatening way. It gives you the opportunity to see who your leaders will be. This activity would probably best be used in a Geometry class where all students have already learned to solve equations.

7)  From All Things Algebra.  I have included my Order of Operations, Evaluating Expressions, One-Step Equations Review.  Rolling review activities are perfect way to have students work together, yet work on their own problems. Students love to roll the dice to choose the problems, and are amazed that two different problems can have the exact same answer. The matching answers also provide a means of self checking. This particular rolling review activity contains order of operations, evaluating expressions, and one-step equations. This would make a terrific back to school review to brush up on some basic skills!

8) From MissMathDork. I have included my How to be a Good Mathematician - 14 colorful posters for your classroom! So many students don't know what it means to be a Good Mathematicians These 14 bright and colorful posters serve as a constant reminder! Included in this product:
*14 bright and colorful posters
*14 colorful, but more printer friendly posters - these also print beautifully in black and white without losing the details
*A handout for your students to keep close at hand to remind them of the qualities of a Good Mathematician. (The handout is available in 4 colors, and one printer friendly

9) From To the Square Inch - Kate Bing Coners. I have included my Scientific Notation Guided notes and Task Cards CCS: 8.EE.A.4. This product is designed to help students learn, apply and practice the concept of Scientific Notation. I have included in this product:
*Scientific Notation Notes
*Scientific Notation to Standard Form Notes
*Products and Quotients in Scientific Notation Notes
*20 Scientific Notation Task Cards
*Recording Sheet
*Science Connection Worksheet

10) From Lessons withe Coffee. I have included my Print and Go Interactive Math Bulletin Board {Boggle}. This edition of the P&G Bulletin Boards is Boggle. Students are given instructions and a worksheet to write down answers on. Once this wall is set up, not only do you have a beautiful wall, but you also have a conversation starter. For this particular game students are to pick two numbers and simply add or subtract them. YOU CHOOSE what numbers to use. I have decimals on mine, but I will change to fractions after one week. The idea is that you change the numbers each week. This could be money, whole numbers, integers, absolute values, square roots, or exponents. HECK! Throw in some expressions with variables to add! This set includes:
**BOGGLE header – KG Wake Me Up**
**Directions Letters – KG Cold Coffee (My Current favorite font!)
**Student Direction Bubbles
**16 Star bursts with white box for writing numbers
**“Boggle Work Sheet” File folder sign
**Boggle Work Sheet

We are giving away a bundle to two  lucky winners so enter below!!! :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Money Saving Tips Part Two!

In my first post in this series (check it out here if you missed it) I shared a few of my favorite ways to
save money.  In this post I wanted to share a few more!

1)  Making TeachersPayTeachers work for you!  I know that many of you who follow this blog are shoppers on TpT and have found many fantastic products from all of the wonderful teacher-authors on there.  But did you know that you get credits if you go back and leave feedback?  Anytime you leave feedback on a paid product you get a credit per dollar. On their site, TpT states "We will round up for you, too! If you provide fair feedback on a $4.75 item, you will earn 5 credits. Every 100 Credits is worth $5 that you can apply towards future TpT purchases, but there is no need to wait until you have 100 to redeem them. 50 credits is worth $2.50, for example.".  Then once you go to buy something can apply the credits to get money off :)  Just like my favorite thing - coupons.  

2) Speaking of coupons...Use them, as often as possible!  I am not an extreme couponer by any means, but I love to use them!  There are so many great sites out there to find coupons such as retailmenot or but did you know that many stores offer coupons right on their site?  For example, if you got to and scroll to the bottom you will see right in the middle ways to save!
All of the coupons can be stacked in with store savings and their cartwheel app too!  

3)  Investing in quality instead of quantity.  While I love a good deal, I also have come to realize that a deal only serves me well if what I am getting is going to last me a while. Early one I would buy things that were on super low clearance prices and then realize why they were so low when the fell apart a few months later!  I learned that there were certain things (like totes, binders, etc.) that I spent a little more upfront then I would save money down the road because I wouldn't have to buy it twice.  For that reasons I started buying boxes like this instead of milk crates.  They last longer, they come with lids and don't have holes that things will fall out of.  
File Storage Box

I use boxes like these to store extra copies of papers, hanging folders full of colored copy paper, hanging folders of task cards, etc.  Best of all, they are stackable!  

Follow me for more tips soon! :)
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