Saturday, July 23, 2016

Back-To-School Money Saving Tips for Teachers and Parents!

I've watched the shows about people who use coupons to the extreme and am in awe of their dedication and consistency.  I wish I could be that kind of money saver, but unfortunately, it just is never going to happen.  However, when it comes to back to school supplies I tap into my inner extreme couponer and start pulling out ads, finding coupons and trying to combine the coupons with the sales.  Teachers and parents spend so much on back to school supplies!  Seriously, I have a list of 22 items for my upcoming first grader and 24 items for my upcoming 3rd grader!  With that in mind I wanted to share a few of my and some of my friends favorite Back-To-School money saving tips!





1)  Big box office supply stores start with their back to school savings in July!  I discovered this by accident a couple of years ago when I was looking up on one of their websites and happened to glance at the weekly ad and saw things for a penny, a nickle and a quarter.  I was like a penny?  No, that can't be right...but it was!  This week alone I was able to get:

*  packs of 3 glue sticks for a penny each
*  70 page notebooks for a penny each
*  packs of 3 pink erasers for a penny each
*  handheld 2 hole sharpeners for you guessed it, a penny each.

Now of course these stores have limits - usually three each but you can go back multiple times, take a friend and some even extend the limits for teachers - just ask.  Some also have a minimum purchase (usually $5) but that can easily be met by the things that are on sale for a dollar apiece that you would be buying anyway (for me this often colored paper or dry erase markers).   I already have next week outlined because they have 2-pocket folders and packs of 100 index cards for $0.01 apiece and colored pencils for $0.50 starting tomorrow! :)





2)  Jameson from Lessons with Coffee suggests going to thrift stores! "There is so much stuff there from rugs, binders, storage options and even fabric for bulletin boards at fractions of the dollar of what you would pay at the bigger stores."  I agree completely!  I have no blinds or any other window covering in my classroom so the sun is always beating in and heating up the room.  I went to a local thrift store and picked up fabric that I fashion curtains out of!  Not only does it cool
the room, but it looks amazing too!  In addition to thrift stores, you can also check out garage/yard sales especially for storage bins and other containers for holding books and supplies.

3) Use teacher discounts and rewards programs.  Multiple stores not only have special discounts for teachers but they also have rewards programs.  Barnes and Noble Bookstores has a teacher discount program as do official teacher stores like Lakeshore Learning.  The major office supply stores like Office Max, Office Depot and Staples have a special teacher rewards program where you earn money back, coupons and other deals on purchases.  Often these discounts can also be combined with coupons so double savings!

4)  Prioritize your shopping list and buy in bulk when possible.  The reality is that as much as we want everything we don't need everything.  When sitting down to figure out what you are going to buy for your classroom, your upcoming school year or for your child(ren)'s up coming school year that sometimes you have to realize that everything is just not possible.  Money is limited and some supplies are more necessary than others.  Figure out what is the most important, most crucial and what is going to have the greatest impact and purchase those things first.  Once you have figured out the most necessary things see if you can buy them in bulk.  While the bigger package is going to be more expensive it will more often than not work out to be cheaper per individual piece than if bought smaller amounts.  Also, don't be afraid to use the store/off-brand for supplies that are "consumable".  A glue stick is a glue stick regardless of what label is on it.  Construction paper is the same paper if it is a store brand or a name brand!

5)  Jamie from Miss Math Dork takes it a step further and encourages you to "Make a budget! Or else it's too easy to keep buying "one more thing". Shop in stores that have a sale going on, and check out thrift shops and yard sales for nice storage options.  I try to buy a little bit at a time all year, and keep it stored until BTS time."  Knowing what you have to spend and setting a limit will not only make you a frugal shopper but will also help you to stick to your list (and you should always make a list)!

6)  Figure out what you already have.  I cannot count the number of times that I have shopped for my classroom, bought something and then when I set-up my room in the fall I find out that not only did I already have it, but in some cases I have it it in abundance.  For example, I found a great deal on index cards, then realized that I had 20 packs stuck in a cupboard in my closet - whoops!  I recommend taking the time to make a list of what you already have. Making a list of what you already have not only keeps you from spending money that you don't need to but it also encourages you to examine what is really essential.  What you do you use a lot of (glue sticks, paper, etc.) and running out of and are there things that you thought would be so great but you never used ... or forgot about?

7)  Invest in quality versions of the reusable supplies.  While spending a little more on quality will not save you money immediately, it will in the long run.  If you know that you are going to be splitting students up into groups often, invest in some high quality totes so that you have supply boxes ready and able to go.  Since scissors are used constantly, invest in higher quality brands so that they hold up to the constant wear and tear of 100+ students using them in one
day.  Of course, still look for these to be on sale (I just got very high quality 7 - inch scissors on sale for $1 apiece that were regularly $7 each) but be willing to pay a little more for the things that are non-consumable.

I would love to hear your money saving tips!  Please share them below!


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Monday, July 18, 2016

Interactive Notebooks - The Perfect Combination of Lecture and Handout Notes!


Lecture notes = stand and deliver in many minds.  Guided (fill-in-the-blank) notes = spoon feeding in other minds.  Neither one is better or worse than the other.  Instead they are structured to meet your students at the place that they are at.  The reality is, though, that in a class of 28 - 35 no one is at the same place.  So how do you meet them where they are at while retaining the flow of the class?  This is a struggle that I have had for the better part of 20 years through a 7 - period day, 6 - period day, trimesters, semesters, block and probably more that I cannot remember!  In addition, we have tried to be more "green" and "paperless" in my district as well which further adds to the struggle when you are trying to not make multi-page handouts that will just be (hopefully) recycled at the end of the semester.  So this year, I am trying  going to pilot something different in one of my classes - Interactive Notebooks - that I think will be the "perfect" marriage between the two methods!  I wanted to share with you why and how I'm going to go about it!






Cut and Paste
1)  Interactive Notebooks help students to stay organized helps them to reference back to old material.  One of my biggest frustrations is when students are trying to find something in a folder that is jam-packed with old assignments, notes, handouts and 1,000 other pieces of paper.  While it is fantastic that they are keeping all of these things, they serve no purpose if they can't find anything in them!  By using an interactive notebook students have all of their notes, IN ORDER, and can actually find them when they need them.  Some teachers also have students number the pages and keep a table of contents (which makes so much sense) so that they know exactly where the material is.  This is a fantastic thing, especially at the secondary level when material spirals and keeps building upon each other.  Although I did not use INB this year, I had a couple of my honor's students
FREE!!!
bring out their INB from the previous year (yes they kept them!) to look up previous ideas!

2)  Interactive Notebooks help to hold students accountable for and engage them in their own learning.  With many of guided notes, I find that a few of my students literally only fill-in-the blanks and don't write anything else down.  While this is by far a slim percentage of my students, as a teacher I want to reach them all.  I asked my students why this was and the common response was
that they don't know how to take notes and that they write slow (especially if the blanks are words that they are not familiar with).   INBs allow teachers to go more in-depth and help students to focus in on small pieces of information which leads to students writing more down.  Students also seem to feel more ownership because they can annotate easier and add things around the page.  


Angles of Elevation and Depression
3)  Interactive Notebooks should save paper, resources and time.  Since the interactive notebook pages are smaller and many less pages than traditional notes it should save on both paper and copy machine resources.  Most INB pages can be printed two to a page or are tabs that you can paste into the regular notebook and write under, both of which will save on paper.  Fewer copies means less time at the copy machine which means more time for everything else!  Additionally, since INB pages tend to be shorter, it will be easier to go over them more in-depth with absent students instead of having to wait for them to copy down multiple pages of notes from other students first.  Instead you can create an Interactive Notebook of your own that can act as a key.  This way  absent students can just borrow yours to fill in theirs and you can copy just one or two pages of your notebook if you need to send something home instead of multiple pages.

Similar Triangles Cut and Paste
4)  Interactive Notebooks meet students where they are at.  Interactive notebooks allow students to pick their pace.  If they need more examples, they can write them on the notebook page around the INB paste in.  Or if they want to explain how different ideas tie together, they can write the page number of the related page on the INB page and have quick reference.  Additionally, for those students who have accommodations, INB pages are easily differentiated to meet their needs.  I have even found that when surveyed, my honor's level kids liked the idea.  They stated that sometimes it is nice to have the diagrams done so that they can go further and explore the ideas more in-depth instead of getting bogged down with drawing everything.

Congruent Triangles Cut and Paste
I am going to try out Interactive Notebooks in one or two of my classes for the first couple weeks of school and do traditional guided notes in my other.  After a couple of weeks, I will let my students chose which one they like better.  I suspect it is going to the Interactive Notebooks.  I'll keep you posted!   Click here to get my Interactive Notebook pages on Angles Formed by Parallel Lines for free!   I would love to hear how you use Interactive Notebooks in your classes!  Please share below!  

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Activities to Encourage Collaboration #1: Surface Area and Volume of a Sand Castle!

In a time and society where students spend more time communication through text messages, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and 14 other social media platforms that I cannot even begin to name, I find an ever increasing need to get my students talking to each other fact to face.  As a result I have been on a quest this year to implement as many collaborative activities as I can.   I have used many of them throughout this school year and have had some amazing results that include increased communication, retention of information, assessments grades and more positive attitudes (overall)!   Throughout the summer I will be sharing some of my favorites, some of my other favorite math teacher-authors and many others so that hopefully they can become your favorites too!

Today I am excited to share with you my Surface Area and Volume of a Sand Castle activity!  As we were finishing our three-dimensional figures unit in Geometry I was looking for a really good way to a) get the students talking and b) show them how the different figures can share dimensions to build the structures that we see on a daily basis.  Since I do not possess architectural skills and summer is upon us I decided to build a Sand Castle (as "Do You Want To Build A Snowman" is running through my head).  I started with a goal of including as
many of the main solids that I could and managed to include prisms, cylinders, cones, pyramids and even a hemisphere!  I worked to have the solids share bases, sides and dimensions whenever possible.  This is what I came up with!            
I also came up with a second version that has the figure divided into 11 smaller figures to help struggling students visualize a path to follow to solve it.  Additionally, this helps students to organize their work so that you and they can identify an error if they make one.  (I did not, however, hand this out to begin with as I wanted to see what they would do with it first!)


Before implementing this as partner/group collaboration piece I sat down and created a list of questions that I could ask as I walked around the room to point students in the right direction, get them thinking, communicating and solving without actually giving them the answer.  Some of the questions that I came up with:

1)  Are there any surfaces that aren't exposed?  Alternatively - are there any surfaces that shouldn't be used in surface area?

2)  Have you thought about breaking any of the larger figures into smaller ones?

3)  How are you arranging your work so that you can go back and check it later?

4)  Are there any dimensions that you don't have?  How can you find them?

5)  Do the unused surfaces from the surface area get used for volume?


FREE!!!! 
Finally the day arrived to implement this and I must say, it went AMAZINGLY!  After my students got over the expected moans and groans and sat down to start working on it, they had fun with it.  I heard great discussion, collaboration and genuinely helping each other understand instead of just giving each other the answer.  I set forth the "rule" that their final answers had to be within ten of mine (to account for rounding error) and that whoever was the closest won a prize (extra credit, candy, excusing of an assignment, ect.).  My students quickly turned it into a competition and worked hard to earn the prize.  I ended up with multiple students hitting my answer down to almost the decimal point - which is great! :)  Based on the feedback I can honestly say that they enjoyed it and felt that it really reinforced the concepts we have been learning in this unit!  

I have put the entire activity, including a multi-page answer key that highlights each piece and how to find their surface area and volume up in my teacherspayteachers store.  You can pick it for FREE here :)  I would LOVE to hear how you use it and implement it! Please comment below!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Math Misconception: The Final Answer is The Only Part That Matters

For the longest time, I really thought that getting the right answer was the goal and really the only thing that mattered.  This misconception stuck with me all the way through elementary, middle and high school and was really not challenged until college.  Through my K-12 experience I showed my work because I could not do the math without it. However, there was no reward for it.  There was not partial credit, it was all about the correct answer.  As a struggling math student (to the point where I actually started looking into careers that did not involve math) this really frustrated me because I was often unable to find the correct answer.  (Especially in Geometry when writing proofs - ugh!)
It was not until I took College Algebra my freshman year of college that the work behind the problem became just as important, if not more so, than the correct answer.  It was also, at that point, that math "clicked".  The emphasis on showing my work helped me to the understand, make connections, and to truly appreciate the beauty of mathematics.  Moreover, it also cemented my career path - to become a high school math teacher - who knew!  Now as a teacher, here is what I explain, emphasize and illustrate to my students about why the final answer is not always the best answer to the problem.

1)  Showing your work helps you to understand the "why" the answer is correct.  My favorite question to ask my student whenever they give me an answer during a class discussion, during group work or even individual practice as I am walking around assisting them is "why".  Why did you choose that formula, why did you draw that diagram,or why did you did set-up that equation?  If my students can't answer why, I will help them out with leading questions or allow other students to do so (depending on the circumstance).  I tell them upfront on day one, if you can't tell me "why" then I am going to keep asking.  Sometimes it makes them laugh, but as I am consistent with making all students answer it, it also helps them to make it to reason two.

2)  Showing your work helps you to understand the connections between  different topics within a class and different branches of math .  We as teachers, parents and adults, all know that math is circular in its connections to each other.  When I teach parallel lines, for example, I review and apply the properties of angles that we study in our foundations chapter, setting up and solving algebraic equations that they learned in a previous class as well as the idea of determining whether or not their final answer in reasonable.  If a student is not showing their work, they are not able to see these connections in action.  They are not able to see how the math keeps "coming back".  As the year goes on, these connections get even deeper.  By the time I teacher my final unit - Three-dimensional figures - we are tying together area, linear equations, squares and square roots, triangles and at least four other topics!  So often, I hear students say - wait, didn't we do x or y before and can't we use w and z here?  The more we stress showing their work, being able to answer "why" and "where" the answer came from, the more we can move students to the most important reason I see for looking beyond just the final answer.  

3)  Showing your work helps you to retain the knowledge beyond just a quiz, test or other assessment.  As much as we don't like it, standardized testing is a reality of this world that we live in.  My students are gearing up for this in the new few weeks.  Having done multiple types of practice with them through the year, I know how much inter-connection of topics and how much prior knowledge they need to retain.  But it goes beyond that, beyond a single test (normally) during their junior year of high school.  It goes on to a better attitude about math and a better appreciation how much impact math has the world around us.  I seriously cannot count the number of times that I hear "I hate math" , "ugh, math was my worst subject" or "I never use math" when people find out that I am a math teacher.  For those that I am lucky enough to continue the conversation with, the reason often comes out that they never truly understood why they had to do it or how it all worked.   

While I definitely don't have all the answers, I do think that they more we can emphasize showing how you do the math, understanding why you need to do it and how the different ideas work together we are setting our students up for better performance on tests, in college, in their career paths and more.  Yes, the final answer matters - we need to balance our checkbooks, we need to buy the right amount of paint or carpet - but we also need to know how to consistently arrive it!  

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Celebrate Spring and Customer Appreciation

Spring is my favorite season.  It is time of renewal, regrowth and new adventures!  Unfortunately for me and many teachers I know, it is also the start of the stress of state/national test season. :(  In this time of high stress I want to help you all out and to say thank you for your continued support of my TpT store!  I have chosen five of my products that are in high demand at this time of year and am going to offer one per day throughout this week at an additional 25% off!  Additionally, I am running a rafflecopter that will start on Monday, 4/4 and run through midnight on Friday 4/8 of my geometry riddle worksheets bundle and my algebra riddle worksheets bundle!

On Monday (4/4) my Graphic Organizers Entire Year Bundle will be an extra 25% off of the already money saving bundle price!  These Graphic Organizers are great for helping students review for finals as you finish out the year as well as useful through the year as you teach your Geometry Units! 

On Tuesday (4/5) my 2nd Semester Geometry Bellwork Bundle will be an extra 25% off of the already money saving bundle price!  My bellwork are not only great for getting classes started, but also work well as station cards and exit tickets!

On Wednesday (4/6) my 2nd Semester Geometry Word Wall Cards/Posters will be an extra 25% off of the already money saving bundle price!  This posters not only look beautiful on your walls but helps students reinforce their Geometry vocabulary and stimulate mathematical discussions!  


On Thursday (4/7) my  (Geometry) Circles Complete Unit Bundle will be an extra 25% off of the already money saving bundle price!  This bundle includes notes, bellwork, practice worksheets, review, graphic organizers and more!  

On Friday (4/8) my  2nd Semester Complete Curriculum Bundle will be extra 25% off of the already money saving bundle price!  This bundle includes 5 units that are most often taught during the second semester - Right Triangles, Quadrilaterals, Circles, Area and Three-Dimensional figures!

Don't forget throughout the entire week to enter into my rafflecopter Double Riddle Worksheet Bundle Giveaway - both my Geometry Riddles Bundle and my Algebra Riddles Bundle!


I hope that these savings will help you out as you plan out the finish to your year!
a Rafflecopter giveaway



Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Why I Believe You Should Decorate Your Secondary Classroom (and How To Do It!)

When I first started teaching 15 years ago, I was the only female in my department and the youngest teacher to boot! Needless to say I stuck out from the rest of my department (cue the song "one of these things is not like the other...). When I made the decision to decorate my classroom it made the difference even more obvious. However, looking around my very empty, bare, beige, cinder-block classroom I felt it was very cold, very sterile and just not that welcoming so I HAD to decorate. The big question, though, was how and with what? I had no clue how to decorate a secondary classroom so that it look like a high school classroom and not an elementary one. I had no idea how to get things to stay on the walls, where to find supplies or even a vision of what I wanted to look like! I just knew that I had to do something...

It was that last part - lack of vision - that led to many mistakes and wasted money (and as a beginning teacher money is definitely not something you have a lot of)! Finally, though, after 15 years I have finally feel like I have an under control, inviting, warm, educational and cohesive design! I would like to share a few tips with you to help you avoid the follies that I made my first few years!

1) Plan the space out before you begin. All classroom are traditionally either rectangular or square in design but you don't have all of that space to work with. If your room is anything like mine you have cupboards, heating vents, boards on a certain wall, bulletin boards, computer drops and of course 33 desks! Free space is a premium and you need to use it wise. You don't want to go out and get a bunch of things and then have no wall space to display them or floor space to put them. Before I started my current classroom "decor" I laid out on paper all of the thing that I had to have that I had no control over. For example, based on where the drops were, I had to
have my computer and teacher desk in the front corner. I have a huge air-conditioner/heater that sticks out 2 feet and takes up a third of one of my walls - but it is right under a window so I couldn't have used that wall space anyway. By laying out everything that I HAD to have, I was able to recognize what space I had to work with and could move on to the next step.

2) Place physical objects that take up floor space before posters or other decor. Start by placing your desks, tables, file cabinets that have to be in your room in the place that they need to go. If you want book cases, shelves, a student resource area (i.e. pencils, paper, sharpener, etc.) then they need to go in next. There is nothing more annoying than to put up posters, only to have to move them because a book case, file cabinet, etc. needs to go in that space. Placing everything physical first also allows you to see sight lines and room flow. If you want to post homework, you need to have it in a spot where it is easily accessible and visible versus someplace that it is going to get lost or cause mass congestion.

3) Decide what you want to put on your walls before you buy or make it. Do you want to illustrate your vocabulary (check out my previous post on word walls for ideas if you need them!) and formulas? Do you need to post your objectives and I-cans in a certain place? Do you want to post a list of previous homework or a homework calendar? Do you  want to do some encouragement posters (character, effort and the like?) or words to think about? Do you need to post your rules/expectations? Do you want to leave a space open to display student work?
Do you want to use a lot of different colors or stick to more of theme? Remember, the purpose of putting stuff on your walls is to not only make your room educational and helpful, but also inviting and some place that students feel encouraged and free to learn. Also keep in mind, while you students look at the walls for an hour or so a day, you look at them for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week...

4) Shop smart and frugally. When I first started out buying posters for my classroom I just went to local teacher store and bought what caught my eye. I put tape on the back, hung them up and called it done. It never occurred to me to laminate them to make them last longer, to make them myself or to shop online. Matter of fact, when I first started teaching, the internet barely existed!!! Now, there are so many options. You can go to Amazon and get them in two days for cheaper than the teacher stores offer which is fantastic - depending on what you are looking for that is! I found that while teacher stores were great for the encouragement posters, basic concept and a small portion of middle school math skills that we use at the high school level, they did not cover what we do at the high school level. There just did not exist posters covering the higher level math that I needed. Again, since this was really before the prevalence of the internet I was left with one option - make them myself! And make them myself I did! :) I ended up making over 200 "posters" that are 8.5 by 11! (If you are interested in having them for yourself, check them out in my teacherspayteachers store.) Over time, I have also bought some from other sellers on TpT and finally found a few on Amazon as well! If you choose the route of buying digital and printing them yourself, you can get cardstock pretty inexpensively at your local craft store or some of the big box stores. Also, look into the cost of printing them on your own color printer versus paying an office supply store to do it, often times they are cheaper!

5) Take care of what you have so that it lasts beyond a school year. We live in a green-conscious world and we need to conserve resources so make yours last! While I
know that laminating something and then pitching it is not good for the environment, more often than not, when you laminate a resource, it is because you plan to keep it long term! All of my posters are laminated for two reasons. One because they last longer and two because when I put tape on the back of something that is laminated, it pulls off easily and the poster can be stored easily. I also recommend that you buy a few totes or something else hard plastic to keep them from getting bent or damaged. I tried buying on the poster folders that the local teacher store had, but they were flimsy and unless stored flat, they would eventually curve and curve the posters with them.

My room has evolved a great deal over the last 15 years from a cold, empty, beige (oh way too beige) room to something full of life, color, warmth and that is welcoming! It has been and probably always will be a work in progress but it is also something that I have found enjoyable! I hope that my tips have helped you! I would love to hear what you have done to your room or to answer any questions you might have below in the comments!
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