Saturday, July 7, 2018

Planning for the First Week and Beyond

     In my last post, I wrote about some things to think about when planning for your year.  In this post, I want to talk about how I actually go about implementing all of this.

     When I first started teaching, I used to spend the first day of class going over the syllabus.  At some point I realized how overwhelming (and boring!) that must be for students if every teacher is doing this on day one.  I also enjoy doing activities that help me learn about my students (and their names!) on the first day.  For the next couple of years, I started going over the syllabus on the second day of school so I could spend the first day learning about the kids.  Finally, I realized that there is never a good day to "go over the syllabus" for an entire class period.  I mean, let's be an adult, am I able to sit and listen to someone talk about important rules and procedures for 45 straight minutes and actually absorb this information?  No!  So that is definitely not an effective way to go over the very important procedures that I really need for my students to know to have a smoothly running classroom for the rest of the year.

     My current system involves prioritizing my rules and procedures, as well as waiting until they are relevant to teach them.  Instead of teaching them all at once, I teach a few of a day for the first few weeks of school.  I am very strategic and careful about how I teach the rules. As I mentioned in the last post, I start with a list of all of my planned rules and proceduress for the year in a Google Doc.  As I am planning out my first week of school, I start looking over my procedures and prioritizing them.   
  • What procedures are the most important to me?  
  • What procedures will help my classroom be organized and allow for maximum learning?  
  • What activities can I plan to give me a good way to teach my expectations and procedures?
As I'm planning, I pick the most important procedures and find ways to incorporate them in to the first week of school.  

      For me, the very first procedures that I teach are my expectations for the beginning and end of class. I feel this sends a good message to students about the value of class time by showing them exactly what is expected at the beginning of class so we can get started right away each day.  It is also important to me from the very beginning that students know that I expect us to be busy until the end of class (especially because I expect students to wait for my signal to be dismissed rather than the bell).  Another expectation that I teach right away is the supplies that I expect students to bring to class.  Since these are the most important procedures to get my class running smoothly, these are the procedures that I teach on the second day of class.  

       Once I have chosen a couple of procedures to teach, it's time to plan for the rest of class.  At the beginning of the year there are always lots of things that I want to do:  introduce growth mindset, do some goal setting, have the students take an interest survey, some MATH!  After teaching a couple of basic procedures, I pick an activity that meets one of these other goals.  Often I am able to naturally incorporate a few other procedures or expectations to go with an activity.  For example, if I  an activity that requires students to pick up a supply at the beginning and be turned in when they are finished, then I have the perfect chance to talk about these procedures.  Or if my activity involves students sharing how they solved a problem, then I take the chance to introduce my classroom listening norms.    Teaching procedures when students need to know, rather than all at one time, them leads to better retention.  

       Each day for the first couple of weeks, I continue teaching a few norms, rules, expectations and procedures.  I also continue to reinforce the rules that I have already taught.  It helps students to hear expectations several times over the first few weeks. It is also important to give students feedback on how they are doing with meeting expectations over these first few weeks.  Now is the time to teach your students how to do things the way you want.  Remember, you're teaching students how you want things done for the rest of the year.  It's worth a few extra minutes now to consider the ideal way you want things done.  Let's look at something that will happen a lot: turning in papers.  In my classroom, I have an alphabetical file sorter that I use for turn in.  As I imagine this happening, here are some things that matter to me:

I love that the papers are easy to stack, and in alphabetical order when students turn them in!

  • I want all of the papers facing the same direction.
  • I want all of the papers placed all the way under the first letter of the student's last name.
  • I want students to be relatively quiet during the process.  
  • I want students to return to their seat as soon as their paper is turned in.
If these are the things that are important to me, then I make sure that I tell students these expectations before they turn in papers the first time.  As they turn in papers, I am closely evaluating how they are doing.  If I notice a problem, I point it out as something we can improve next time (or perhaps something that we need to try again right away).  I also note anything that is done exceptionally well.  I will make sure to reinforce these expectations the first several times we use this procedure.  Let's face it, if you don't take time to get things going smoothly now, what's it going to look like in April or May?!?!

      Throughout the first few weeks of school, I keep my list of procedures close by.  As I teach a procedure, I cross it off my list.  This list is always close by the first weeks of school.  I use it during class as I teach my procedures.  I use it as I plan, to keep track of what procedures still need to be taught.   It is a well-worn friend by the time I get all of the procedures crossed off!

      You can also use other activities in your classroom to teach some of your procedures.  Do you enjoy using stations for your classroom?  Then use stations as a way to teach some of your procedures!  As a bonus, you can use those stations to teach students your expectations for moving around the room when doing stations.  Enjoy using games for practice?  Plan a Jeopardy game using questions off of your syllabus  and teach your expectations for playing games.  Love the collaboration and fun of escape rooms?  Plan an easy puzzle based on your classroom rules and teach students about perseverance, collaboration and growth mindset!

     It takes a few weeks, but I feel like this way of teaching procedures, rules and expectations is much more effective than having a boring day of class to go over the syllabus when I overwhelm students with more information than they can possibly take in.   There is a day that I love every school year.  There comes a day, usually a few weeks into school that I realize I didn't have to teach a single procedure....just math, all day long.  That is one of my favorite days each year....and it always goes more smoothly because the students know how I want them to do things!

Friday, June 29, 2018

25 Questions For Planning Your Classroom Procedures

       I've always been a big believer in the power of planning and teaching classroom procedures.  I can still remember my first year when I thought that  I would just go over the rules on the first day and start teaching on the next day!  It only took me that first year to realize how much more goes into setting up your classroom in a way that works.  I spend time every single year setting up my classroom procedures.

      Usually, the first time I start to think about my classroom procedures is at the end of the year, that's not a typo!  I said the end of the year.  I always start thinking about changes that I want to make for the following year in May.  The end of the year is the perfect time to begin the reflection process because that is when you know what is driving you crazy!  Some of that stuff is just the normal stuff that always drives you nuts at the end, but perhaps some of these pet peeves could be improved or fixed with different procedures.  Kids not coming to class prepared?  Maybe you need to rethink your beginning of class procedures.  Not happy with the time spent checking homework?  Perhaps revamping your homework procedures could help.  Usually in May I start a Google Doc that has a list of what needs to change for the next year.  At this point, I may not have all the solutions, but at least I know what procedures I need to think about and look for ideas over the summer.

       Once I'm ready to start planning, deciding my classroom procedures for the school year is always the first thing that I do to prepare.  Once I know the procedures I want to use, I can be more effective with things like classroom set up.  I can make sure that my classroom set up supports my procedures.  I can make sure that if I buy something, it will really be what I need for the year to come.

     When I'm planning out my procedures for the year, I always start with my list of things that I wanted to change.  Then I try to think through what a perfect class period would look like from bell to bell.  This vision is what drives my procedures.  I'm always thinking about how my classroom procedures can support my vision of what class should look like.   Personally, I like to be as specific as possible and plan as much as I can in advance.  In addition to the "regular" day (if there is such a thing in middle school!?!), I also try to plan out stuff that doesn't happen every day, but is still important.  For example, knowing how I want to handle study guides, tests and retakes is important in my planning.

Here are some of the things you will want to consider when planning for a new year:

  • What materials do you want students to have for class each day?
  • What are your expectations for students when the bell rings each day?
  • What do you plan for students to do each day for the first few minutes of class?
  • How do you plan to take attendance?
  • How will you manage student absences?
  • What materials are available for students to borrow?  
  • What will you do about students that don't have the necessary supplies for class (books, calculators, pencils, etc...)?
  • How are you going to handle student requests for drinks and bathroom breaks?
  • How do you want students to handle sharpening pencils and other tasks that might require them to get out of their seats?
  • How are you going to assign homework?  How will you grade it?
  • What is your grading policy going to be? Will you have categories (tests, quizzes, participation, etc...)?  What percent of the total grade will go to each category?
  • How will you get your student's attention when they are working?
  • What do you want students to do with graded papers?
  • How do you want students to organize notes and notebooks?
  • Where will students turn in papers?  
  • Who will return graded papers?
  • Will you have any classroom jobs that students can do for you?
  • Do you need to have any procedures in place for technology in your classroom?
  • How will you handle the end of class?  Do students need to wait to be dismissed, or can they leave then the bell rings?
  • What clean up procedures need to be in place for the end of class?
  • What will your retake policy be?
  • What will your late work policy be?
  • What is your policy for calculator use?  Use of other technology?
  • What other procedures are important in your classroom?  (Examples include effective group work, classroom discussions, how to respond to feedback, etc...)
  • Will you have some structure set up for challenging students or early finishers?
       Personally for me, I organize all of this into a Google Doc.  I find it easier to group them into categories, and then each year I can update and change easily.  Then I just change the date at the top, and I've got my procedures planned out for the year!  Then I'm ready to start on the rest of the tasks that need to get done before the new year begins.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Favorite Technology Part 3: Quia

       Today's favorite is actually one that I pay for, but it's worth the $49 a year to me.  Quia has lots of ways to create online practice activities.  There are a total of 15 activities that you can create for your students.  My favorites are Battleship, Challenge Board, Cloze, Flashcards and Rags to Riches.

        Battleship is just like the board game.  Students play against the computer.  Each time they answer a question correctly they get a turn to try to sink the computer's battleship.  It can be a fun way to get my kids practicing.   Rags to Riches is similar to Who Wants to be a Millionaire.  This is another game where students play against the computer as they answer progressively harder questions to practice.  The flashcards allow students to play Memory.

       The Challenge Board is also fun.  It is basically a version of Jeopardy.  This is a fun one because it does allow students to play individually or with a partner.  It's also a great way to review since you can create different categories.

       These are all fun ways for students to practice and get feedback....but they are actually not what I love about Quia.  Quia is what I usually use for online quizzes.  As much as possible, I use Quia to give formative assessments because it is such an easy way for my students to get useful feedback that they can learn from.

       There are three main reasons why I love giving quizzes on Quia.  First, I love that the grading is quick and easy.  Quia will grade multiple choice and multiple mark items for you.  It will also grade short answer questions for you, based on whatever answers you have indicated are correct.  It is also easy to override the automatic grading if a student gives a correct answer that you didn't think to list in your answers.  Quick feedback is good for student learning, plus a the online grading is a major time-saver for me!

     The second reason I love giving quizzes on Quia is that I can give students feedback AS they take the quiz.  Yes, you read that right....AS students take the quiz.  This is really the reason why I'm willing to pay for Quia.  You can set Quia to give students one question at a time, and to show them feedback as they go.  Using these settings, students get feedback on the quiz as they take it!  So I always base my feedback for incorrect answers on what might be a common mistake or misunderstanding.  I just love the idea that students could be learning AS they are taking an assessment.

       The third reason I love using Quia for quizzes is still about feedback.  Once all of the students have taken the quiz, you can look over each question one at a time and give even more feedback.  For example, if a student made a different mistake from what my feedback for incorrect answers anticipated, you can give customized feedback just to that particular student (or to all of the students that made the same error by copying and pasting).

       I have tried using Google Forms to give quizzes, but have just found that it takes me longer to create a quiz with the same feedback.  I also find it takes me longer to give individualized feedback through Google Forms than through Quia.  I use Google Forms for surveys and other things, but generally for short quizzes, I prefer Quia.

        Giving feedback to students is hands-down one of the most effective teaching strategies that we can use in our classrooms.  I feel like Quia gives me a hand in effectively doing this in a very timely manner!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Scheduling a Year of Math Challenges in About an Hour!

       This past year I had the idea to have an extra Google Classroom that I called my Challenge Classsroom.  This way, I had information in one place for all of my students that were interested.  The code was on a poster at the back of my room.   I posted fun challenges that I found throughout the year that kids could work on.  I still continued to post a "Challenge Problem of the Week" on paper at the back of my classroom....well, it was supposed to be a problem of the week.  Unfortunately, if I'm honest, it was a problem of the week until I started to forget some weeks.  By the end of the year, it may have been more like a problem of the month.   Good intentions foiled again!

       But can I tell you how excited I am?  I already have my Google Challenge Classroom set up for next year.   The Challenge Problem of the Week is already scheduled for August through May.  So I can't forget!  I can still change it or add to it...but just knowing that it is already done is so great!   In addition, I have some "Any Time, Any Topic" challenges that will always be available to kids.  My final category of challenges that is already set up in my Challenge Classroom is one that I call -"Wonder Math".  Basically, I search up pictures that are interesting and likely to make kids wonder about stuff that may be math-related (for example, a pool filled with jello; a world-record sized pie; a life-size gingerbread house) and just ask the questions "What does this make you wonder about?  How could math help you answer your questions?"    There are a few reasons that I love using Google Classroom to manage my challenge work for my classroom.

1.  I love being able to schedule everything out.  I want to have a problem of the week, but honestly as the year gets going this is sometimes one of the things that gets forgotten about.  Now I was able to devote a block of time to get it done (and it took me under an hour since I had all the challenges ready to go)!

2.  I love the flexibility of being able to share all kinds of stuff that gets me excited about math.  I'm always finding some news article, website, video or something else that reminds me of something we're doing at school.  Through Google Classroom, it's so easy to share all of these kinds of things.

3.  I like being able to use topics to organize the different types of challenges.  This way I can have problem of the weeks, plus other types of challenges all housed in one place.

4.  I can have one place to house all of my challenges for every class.  All I have to do is post the code to join and every kid that wants access can have it.  It even allows kids that I have in math club, but that I may not have in class, to join in the challenges.

5.  At the end of the year, I will have everything in one place.  It will be so easy to reuse the posts that I really like and update with new ones.

6.  It gives me a way to provide lots of options, which give kids so many different choices.  Hopefully they will be excited about at least some of the possibilities. (And it is one more answer to the eternal "Jill is bored in your class" line that we all may have heard).

Here is a video where I walk you through how I set up my challenge classroom.  If you're interested in the resource that I used for all of my weekly challenges, I used these Year of Weekly Challenges.

Here are some other great sources for challenge problems:
Open Middle
7th Grade Challenging Math
Math Counts (some stuff is paid, but they have lots of free stuff as well)
Figure This

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Favorite Technology Part 2: Quizizz

     For part 2 of my favorite technology I want to focus on Quizizz.  Quizizz is a little like Kahoot, but there are some differences.  I can't really say that I like Quizizz or Kahoot better, but I find they each have uses that they are best suited for.

       Just in case you're not familiar with either Quizizz or Kahoot, the basic idea is that you create multiple choice questions.  Students answer them and get instant feedback after each question about whether their answer is correct.

      Here are some of the things that I like about Quizizz.

1.  Quizizz is self-paced.  If I want my kids to practice a few questions getting feedback along the way, Quizizz is the way to go.  Students go at their own pace, moving on to the next question as they finish.   Some of my kids that are slower workers find Kahoot to be frustrating, because they are always feeling rushed to keep up with classroom.

This is the student view during a Quizizz.  The top shows the difference between a multiple choice and a multiple mark question.  At the bottom you can see the response for a correct or incorrect answer.
2.  Students see the question on their own screen, rather than on the SmartBoard.  This one might seem minor, but when you have students looking at a graph, table or other image, this can be much easier when it is closer to them. 

3.  You have a lot of flexibility with how much time you give to students.    Quizizz allows longer times.  You can choose to give students any from 5 seconds up to 15 minutes.   This is less stressful for my slower workers.  It also allows for me to ask more in-depth questions that a fast paced Kahoot doesn't allow for.

4.  Easy to combine questions from different quizzes.  Quizizz has the option to add questions from different quizzes with the click of a button.  I LOVE this feature.  Super convenient, and really helps me get the Quizizz just how I like it.

5.  You can assign these as homework or play them live.  I love that you have options.  Honestly, this is usually what helps me decide if I want to use Quizizz or Kahoot.  If I want to play live, I usually go with Kahoot.  With Kahoot, all the kids are doing the same question at the same time.   So I really like Kahoot if I want to be teaching along the way, based on what questions kids are missing.  If I'm really wanting to give kids a chance to work independently, and then decide what direction my teaching needs to go, then I like to use Quizizz.  That way, I can look over the results when everyone finishes.  I really like assigning a Quizizz as homework, as students can do it over and over.  Great opportunity to practice!

6.  It's quiet.  I'll admit it...I love Kahoot, and the kids love Kahoot, but there are days that I just don't have the energy to deal with the noise.  Or when the room next door is taking a test or giving presentations and I need to be quiet.  And then, it's Quizizz to the rescue.  You can use the same types of questions, but it does make for a much quieter classroom.

7.  Great data that is easily accessible as kids play, and when everyone finishes.    I love both views of the Quizizz data while kids are working on it.  You can toggle between two different views:  the first view shows the overall percent of questions correct.  The other view is by question.  I really love the question view, because it really allows me to focus my teaching on the problem areas.
       Then once everyone finishes, there is even more data available.  One of the pieces of data that I really love at the end of the Quizizz is the part that shows the average time spent on a question.  This has led to some good conversations in my room about how rushing and not reading carefully can lead us to poor results.

The top picture shows the question view during the game.  It's nice to be able to see as you go which question students are struggling with.  There is also a student view during the just have to be careful about displaying results with student names.   The bottom picture shows the overview given after the Quizizz is over.  I love that you can see time spent on questions, as well as percent that got it correct.

8.  You have the option to either have multiple choice or multiple mark questions.  I know on our district and state tests, we see a lot of multiple mark questions.  These are so hard for kids, so the chance to practice them is terrific!

If you haven't tried Quizizz yet, maybe it's time to give it a try!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Favorite Techology Part 1: Desmos Teaching Activites

         I'm going to spend a few blog posts talking about some of my favorite technology sites and applications to use in my classroom, and my favorite features of each.

       Usually, I'm a "save the best for last" kind of gal, but for this I've decided to dive in with my favorite....Desmos!  I have written before about how much I love Desmos, but today I want to tell you about a few of my favorite features (and a little bit about how to use them!).

     There are tons of cool activities that have already been created to use on Desmos.  If you've never tried any, poke around and find one to try.  My favorites are MarblesSlides and Inequalities on the Number Line, but there are tons of great ones to pick from!

     Here are a few reasons that I love creating my own Desmos teaching activities:

1.  One of the things that I love about Desmos activities that I create myself is all of the different options that I have for what I can add to them.  Here is what you can add to your Desmos activities:
  • graph
  • table
  • sketch
  • media (picture or video)
  • note  (you give information to students)
  • input  (students input text or math equations)
  • choice questions (choose between multiple choice, multiple mark, or explanation)
  • card sort or marble slides activity
You can even combine more than one of these things on to a single screen.  For example, you could have a graph on the screen and an input box where students have to respond to a question about the graph.  

2.  Another thing that I love is that I can see all of my students work on one screen.  I can quickly see who has finished which slides.  I can click on a student's slide to get a closer view of their work.  This really allows me to give students real-time feedback!  Having everyone's answers in one place also allows for terrific use of student work to guide discussion, as I can quickly scroll through answers to find ones that I want to highlight in class.

Notice that Brahmagupta has made a mistake on the purple line.  This makes is so easy to find mistakes and talk with students.

3.  My class really likes to have me use the "Anonymize" feature, which assigns each student the name of a famous mathematician.  It's fun to hear, "Cool, I'm Katherine Johnson!" or to see kids looking up mathematicians to find out who they are.  I also like this feature because when I notice a problem, I can call out "Pythagoras, it looks like the second point on your graph is off.   Please double check it" and give kids feedback without embarrassing anyone.

4.  I like to set up my activities so that students get to see the answers of other students after they complete a slide.  I think it's really helpful for students to see what other classmates were thinking, and how they justified their thinking.

5.  Another feature that I really love about Desmos is the fact that you can carry forward a graph from one screen to another and kids could continue to work on a graph from one screen to another. 

If you're ready to create your own Desmos activity, go to and choose  choose "Custom" on the menu on the left side of the page.  Then click "New Activity" in the upper right hand corner.    Then click "New Activity" in the upper right hand corner of the next screen.

This short video should give you some ideas of how to add things to your Desmos activity.

Good luck, and I hope you love creating these activities as much as I do!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Ideas to Create Your Own Escape Room Puzzles

     In my last post, I talked about the huge multi-day escape room activity I was doing to review for state assessments.  I've done two days so far, and it has really been going great!   If you're considering designing your own escape room style activity, here are a few tips to consider.

math escape room

1.  Start with the skills.  As with anything in education, you've got to start with a clear idea of what skills you want students to practice.  Otherwise it's easy to get lost in planning fun puzzles and lose track of what's really important.  For my escape room activity, I started with a list of the top eight skills that I most wanted my students to practice again before state assessments.  From there, I knew that I wanted one puzzle to go with each topic.

2.  Try using a worksheet/activity that you already have.   Some of my puzzles were fancier, but some of them were pretty simple.  Some of the simplest puzzles were simply a list of problems from a pre-existing worksheet, and an answer bank.  When you're planning an escape room activity, there are all sorts of codes you can have: letters, numbers, directions, colors, and shapes are the first that come to mind.  So when you put down your answer bank, just attach a letter (or number or color) to each answer and there you have it!  Students solve the problems and use the answer bank to find the correct "code".

3.  Make clues that force students to do all of the problems you want them to do, not just some of them.  As I was creating clues, I started off with clues like "The answer to problem 2 plus twice the answer of problem 5".  If all of your clues are like this, students will only complete the problems that they have to in order to get the code.  If you want them to complete all of the problems, consider having at least one clue that forces them to look at all the answers, such as "the difference of the largest and smallest answer".

4.  Get creative and add some fun and interest to the puzzle with fake generators.  There are all sorts of cool sites that allow you to generate fake text messages, tickets, receipts, etc....    Simple things like these can add some fun to your escape room activity.  Here are a few links to get you started:
                                     Fake Text Messages
                                     Fake Concert Ticket Generator
                                     Fake Headline Generator
                                     Fake Receipt Generator
escape room math review

5.  Get creative with how you let students know the correct order of the answers in the code.  I tried to vary this to keep my students thinking.  Here are some things I tried:

  • Used a colored border at the top of the paper.  Each problem had a colored dot next to it.  Students had to match the order of the border to get the answers in order.  
  • Put a different letter with each problem, and then give a clue how to rearrange those letters to spell a word.  When I tried this, I had a puzzle about surface area.  The boxes held the letters A-N-I-S-T.  Somewhere else on the page were the words, "A very good person".  Students were supposed to come up with the word saint.
  • Put a different word with each problem, that spell out a common phrase.  Students organize the answers according to the phrase.  One of my puzzles had four sets of problems, and each set of problems would leave students with one number.  The boxes were labeled with these words: ALLIGATOR LATER YOU SEE.  Students had to reorder the numbers to make the clue say SEE YOU LATER ALLIGATOR, and this gave them the 4-digit code.
  • Use a visual clue.  One of my clues, I simply had a different number of dots on each section.  Students were supposed to put them in order from one dot to five to find the correct code. 
Good luck helping your students to escape the classroom!