Posted in beginner teachers, high school, middle school, organization, resources

Building a classroom for all.

Trying to organize myself.

I am putting myself out there and showing all of you a picture of my living room. I have a week left before I return to my classroom, and this is how I get ready. I know that last year I posted about how I organize my classroom and work life. Well, this is the start before I can be organized.

Some lessons are written and planned. First week of activities are coming together. I have attended the first of many workshops lined up for the year. But now it’s time to start planning the classroom. What worked well and should be kept? What needs to be rethought and changed? I have done a lot of Pinterest and Google search on classroom ideas and have come across a few that I need to try out before students arrive. In the whist of my search, I received the summer 2015 NEA Today magazine. It has some great articles, and one in particular jumped out at me. It is the “Ten Must-Haves for New Teachers.” It may say it’s for new teachers, but the must-haves hit home for me, too. It just reminds me that I am doing some great things, and that I can incorporate some new ideas.

I’m going to summarize the must-haves for you and include my own advice on it.

  1. Student supplies center. I have two or three staplers, tape dispensers and hand pencil sharpeners, which is enough for me to have a set at my desk and extras for students. In addition to the center, I always set a stapler by the homework in-trays. I have trays of lined, blank, and graph paper, too. One of my new ideas this year is zip tie baskets to the front of students desks to hold things like extra pencils, pens, hand pencil sharpener, and markers. These are things that students need throughout the class period, and by having it close by, it eliminates the need for distracted movement.
  2. Pencils and pens. The advice in the article is to collect collateral like a cell phone for exchange of a pencil/pen. I have used the idea in the past but just didn’t always had the time to deal with the exchange. This year, I plan to tape colored duct tape on pencils and put them in the student baskets. I am hoping that students are honest and put back the pencil they use. I know that this doesn’t prevent pencils from leaving the classroom, but I hope that putting flags on and talking about supply usage expectations, I will not loose too many.
  3. A calendar for student reference. This is pretty self explanatory, but this is a great idea to help students develop a better sense of time and accountability. I used to have a weekly calendar up and the high school students I had taught at the time really appreciated it. They used to manage their time and especially to see that a test is coming up. In my current school, my students all have iPads, and I shared my Google calendar with them. The great part about the Google calendar is that they get a notice when homework is due. They also get to see if we are taking notes that day or doing an activity.
  4. Trashcans…Not one…not two..but three. I like what the writer said about “preventing students from making a big trip across the classroom..” I have two trashcans in my room, but I never thought about putting one on the other side of the room. I usually have one by my desk but to have two trashcans available for students never occurred to me. I’m definitely adopting this idea. It makes a lot of sense especially when I want to limit transition.
  5. SORTKWIK fingertip moistener. Dry fingers are inevitable when we have so much paperwork. Also, I do live in Minnesota, so dry skin is definitely inevitable in the winter months. I never thought about getting something to help me flip through or distribute paper, but this one will go into the idea box.
  6. A sanity saver. Or something like it anyway. The writer is talking about having a paper grade book and/or attendance record that fits your needs. It’s so important to have a backup because you have to report grades and attendance. Any discrepancy is on you and your records. A paper copy may save you.
  7. A homework landing point. This is a huge one! I do not like spending time in class collecting paper. I do not like students handing me things because I’m not always responsible for keeping it safe. I am usually not fully aware of what students are handing me. From my first year of teaching to now, I have always had a homework turn-in tray. Each period gets their  own tray. Then right above the trays are where I hang no-name papers. This way I hope that student notice their own handing writing and that they didn’t put their name on their homework.
  8. An information center. Having a designated place to put extra school handouts, field trip forms, lunch menus, and basic school information is important. My students know where to grab an extra copy that they need. I don’t have to spend time looking for forms and menus.
  9. An absent work something. The writer loves her absent binder. She puts work in there for students who have been absent. Her binder is kept in the student center. I am glad she found a system that works. I thought I had a good system with folders in a hanging file holder, but that kind of didn’t work well for me. I just wasn’t used to the absent folders and didn’t look at it. I was used to just talk to the student once he/she returned. I am going to work harder on this one to make it habit.
  10. A variety of storage solutions. Bins, drawers, trays, baskets, tubs, buckets, whatever you need to keep organize. It’s hard to stay clutter free every day, but if you can dedicate one afternoon a month to organization, you will be able to find the surface of your desk and find manipulatives whenever you need it.

These are just a few things to consider as you start to think about your classroom environment. Lesson planning and relationship building may be at the top of your to do list, but remember your room, too. Beyond you, your classroom is the first thing students really see and it’s how they start to feel supported and comforted. They don’t notice that you planned great lessons or that your messed up a lesson, but feeling like they belong in your class is the first step to a great year.

Posted in high school, middle school, resources

Problem Solving with Struggling Learners

I teach a class called Geometry Concepts, geared primarily toward high school sophomores who struggle with math. Much of the time, there is the ever present pressure of meeting the standards, teaching them formulas, and practicing properties that truly don’t mean much to these kids.

I have been thinking a lot about what I can do to best serve these struggling learners, and it led me to the name of the class: “Geometry Concepts“. I feel like my job with these kids is to help the build on the concepts, the bigger ideas that are much more transferable to their lives. I don’t just teach quadrilaterals, I use quadrilaterals to teach “classification,” the same ideas they use in science and English.  I don’t just teach parallel lines, I teach them about driving and all of the lines used (they are getting there licenses this year).

Anyway, we spent the last two days finding areas of polygons and we did some really nice problems where they had to find the area of a lame triangle with a base of 12 and a height of 7. Very applicable, I know. Even though we have been practicing these formulas, I feel like they needed a different approach to area. So for a Friday, I scrapped the quiz and instead gave them one task: find the area of the carpet in the room.

This immediately took my class from bored note-taking to genuine curiosity. I had a prime opportunity to build some real problem solving skills with kids who don’t like to be challenged. We discussed how we could approach the problem, how to make a diagram of the room, and how to account for the cabinets, furnace, and other non-carpeted areas. Then they spent class measuring, recording, and calculating.

My initial concern was that we weren’t practicing the formulas; they were just finding a bunch of rectangles. But this was the most engaged I have ever seen these kids. These were the hardest rectangles these kids had ever seen in their lives and they went with it. They did some genuine problem solving. Today, my struggling math students got a real feel for what area is and how to find it without looking at a piece of paper.

The other perk? All it took was a bucket of tape measures and 30 seconds of prep time.

Posted in beginner teachers, elementary school, high school, middle school, resources

Adventures into creating a flipped classroom and the lessons I learned.

I know that flip classrooms are not a new concept, but it’s still a booming idea in education. It is an idea to try when you are ready to push your class beyond lectures and notes. I haven’t made it very far yet, but I have learned a lot from my experience so far. Some of these lessons were learned along the way and others were prompt by a lot of reading, questioning, and research into flipped classrooms. Just a quick background on my class setting: urban public middle school, accelerated algebra students in 6th-8th grade (we allow mix grade classes like in high school), 47 minute classes.

Lesson 1: The videos can’t just be the recorded version of the class lectures.

In a normal class lecture, gestures, facial expressions, and student interactions are a large portion of learning. Those aspects of learning are taken away and must be made up for by your teaching experience. You must anticipate student questions more so than in the classroom and try to answer them on the video as you teach. Gestures, like pointing, need to be seen via a mouse pointer or some sort of animation. Students still need the visual and dynamic learning because videos can become very static learning.

Lesson 2: Teach them how to watch the videos and what they should be doing while watching the videos.

The idea of teaching students how to watch and do during the video didn’t occur to me until I saw a presentation on flipped classrooms. I thought that they would just watch the videos and take the notes on there, but I am so thankful that I showed them how to watch the videos. First, I walked them through how to find the video link (which was on my class website space that my school provides for me). I had been using my website already to post answer keys, notes, and Khan Academy videos, but most students weren’t using my website and didn’t know how to get to my website. Secondly, I gave them advice on how to watch it and where to pause. You need to give them permission to pause and rewatch the video because they think that they must watch it all the way through.

Lesson 3: Tell them why you decided to flip the class.

My students like yours are probably ok with the normal notes and class lectures. I had to convince them that it was a good alternative to class notes and lectures because it helps everyone learn at their pace. I had to explain that the videos contain the more basic notes so that we can tackle more challenging work together instead of having them do it by themselves. It also gives them a chance to do homework in class.

Lesson 4: Provide time in class for those who forget to watch the video or don’t have a way to watch the video at home.

i teach 47 minute classes, so I don’t have a lot of time to play with. After the daily warm problems, I give students 15-20 minutes to watch the video either on their own device and headphones or via my projector. I put one student in charge of pausing and replaying the video for those watching it on the projector. If students already watched the video at home, they spend the time doing homework. I circulate the room helping students with homework. At this point, about half of the students are still not watching the videos at home, but I feel that students are still getting used to the idea of watching and taking notes at home.

Lesson 5: Create a calendar or a plan


I typically print out a unit sheet for the students that contain the standards, homework due dates, and test date. For the first 3 videos, I had confused my students on when to watch which video because my instructions were not clear. For the latest 3 videos, I made a to-do calendar, telling the kids exactly which video to watch on which night. Students were less confused and were able to watch the videos in a more timely manner. You do not have to create a calendar or sheet like I do, but organization is important. Creating a calendar for yourself is important because it keeps you from confusing students and yourself. Flipping a class takes time and being prepared. It’s hard to “wing” a video like you would on an in-class lecture because the video is not like a normal class lecture.

Lesson 6: Find a place to host your videos

I had stored my videos on my Google drive and just shared the link with my students, but as we discovered, this didn’t work well for students who wanted to watch it on their phones/iPods. Youtube was not a viable solution because probably like your school, Youtube is blocked. I found that Teachertube was my best option because it’s free, not blocked, and exposed students to a website that had educational value. Teachertube is a little slow on the school wi-fi, but it’s been a great host.

I have created 6 videos so far and about 2/3 of my students like the flipped classroom concept. They feel that it fits their learning better. it has given me more time to teach concepts and help students gain a deeper understanding because we are able to spend more time on the more complicated problems.

I know that I will continue on this adventure and continue to learn more about creating a more successful flipped classroom. It’s been a lot of forefront work, but I do think that it has been worth it. I feel that I’m catching more students and losing students at the same time, but right now, it’s a good decision for my students. As we hit more complicated and newer mathematical concepts, it may possibly change how my flipped classroom looks and sounds like.

If you have flipped your classroom, comment on this blog with advice and lessons you have learned. if you have not flipped your classroom yet and want to, comment with questions and wonderings you have.