Saturday, June 30, 2012

Who Are You?

Ok, back to summer prep! Another task you can take care of over the summer is the "Introduction" letter. During the first day or two I like to pass out a letter to the students/parents to give them some information about me to help them see me as a person. I include places that I've lived and taught, hobbies that I have and my class expectations. Here's a copy of my About Me letter from 2009 (with a few personal details blacked out)...

Ok, I want to add one little thing here. I put together a packet of information for the students on the first day (or two) of school that includes:
     1. Introduction Letter (this post)
     2. Student Information Sheet
     3. Email Listserv
     4. Laptop Guidelines
     5. Syllabus (I haven't included this one on the blog because it is so course specific!)

I keep several of these packets stapled together in a file in my desk for when I receive new students. It will save you SO much time if you don't have to scramble around looking for all of these sheets of paper. Second little tip, run them on different colored paper so you can find them easily!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

One down, ten to go!

And it's finished! Hot off the "press" is the first edition of my newsletter. If you'd like a sneak peek check this out:

I apologize for the large "Sample" printed across the front but we all know what would happen if I didn't include it. I'm working on the other 10 so I can package them together and sell them on TeachersPayTeachers. I will let you know when they are finished and posted for sale.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I'm still here...

Sorry for the slight hiatus from blogging. I'm still around! At the moment I'm working on a monthly newsletter to sell on my TeachersPayTeachers site. If you're really up for a challenge, create a newsletter layout for each month while you're out for summer break and then just fill in a couple short paragraphs explaining what's going on in your class when you are ready to hand them out. I would love to post a picture here explaining what I mean, but I still need to fill a 2in x 2in square of space for my August newsletter before I'm finished. Hoping this will come tomorrow! :)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Student Info Sheet

While you're working on your email listserv form to pass out during the first days of school, you should also create a student information sheet. I like to keep these in a filing cabinet near my desk so I can have them close at hand. My favorite use for these is pulling them out when a kid is disrupting class and saying "Does this phone number sound familiar?" and rattling off their parents' cell. This typically will rein them in :)

I always make sure to include a section for the student's schedule so that I can find them during the day. You might need to update this information quarterly, but it really is worth it in the long run.

Here's a copy of my Student Info sheet. You can create your own version or download mine from my TeachersPayTeachers store!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Email Listserv

I think communication with parents is one of the best tools a teacher has available. When there is an issue with a student in your class, if you've had open communication with the parent and they know what is happening in your class, they are more likely to be on your side. If they do not have open communication with you, however, they will almost always side with the student. For this reason I create an email listserv during the first week or two of class. I send home a sheet of paper and the parents may opt to receive updates via emails from me, or opt out of this service. After I've collected all of the papers, I set up an email distribution list in Outlook - yes, this is time consuming but so entirely worth the effort! I typically try to send out an email every other week updating the parents on what their child is learning in class, upcoming tests/quizzes/projects, items that should be coming home for the parents (such as progress reports!), and any special events that affect our class. I will also email individual parents to let them know if their child is struggling in math, has a behavior problem, or has significantly improved recently.

Most teachers likely will not be able to set up this email listserv over the summer as class lists have not typically been released, but I encourage you to create your letter home to the parents or download my pre-created one from TeachersPayTeachers. Also, take some time to learn how to create contacts and distribution lists in Outlook so this process will move quickly when you return to school.

Bonus: In my download I have included step-by-step instructions (with screenshots) of how to make your own distribution list in Outlook 2007!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


I guess I still wasn't feeling totally back to normal yesterday as I never mentioned what you could do with bulletin boards over the summer to make back-to-school a little easier for you. Take a few minutes this summer to sketch a layout for your bulletin board(s). Gather all of the materials you'll need for your board...for example, if you're doing the SAT Problem of the Week board make sure you find the questions you want to use, type them all into a Word/Publisher document and print them out if you can. This way you won't lose steam once the school year starts to get busy and run out of questions! You also should go ahead and punch out the letters you'll need if you can.

A couple of tips I've learned throughout the years:
1) If you don't like paper bulletin board backgrounds you can purchase cheap fabric from Walmart (or Hobby Lobby, JoAnns, etc) and put that up instead. It doesn't wrinkle quite as easily. If you're afraid of the edges fraying you could always serge around them.
Note: Don't buy expensive fabric. You might think you can reuse the fabric every year but the sun tends to fade it out.
2) If you really want to use the bulletin board paper, use thumb tacks to hold it in place until it's straight, then staple it down once you're happy with it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bulletin Boards

Today's post was supposed to be a gathering of some cool bulletin boards. I love the idea of bulletin boards but I hate the actual follow through of updating them constantly. What I have been looking for are boards that you can put up at the beginning of the year, you can alter weekly/monthly by just switching out a few pre-made items, and they can stay up all semester. What did I find? Practically nothing! Here's a quick list of the ones I liked, but I think I'll have to write up some of my own for TPT. Perhaps no one else is quite as lazy as I am and enjoys changing their bulletin boards often.

SAT Problem of the Week - ok, this one's mine so it probably doesn't count :)
Leapin' Larry's Rise for Flies - this one probably couldn't be left up for an entire semester but at least an entire unit. You could use it for the daily warm-up or "ticket out of class."
Math Hunt - I love this one and have used it in my PreAlgebra/Algebra classes. I printed my questions on cardstock, laminated them and affixed them to the bulletin board. The answer to each question was a single digit between 0 and 9. Once they answered all three questions they could attempt the lock. Instead of candy (since I like long-term bulletin boards and hate ants), I gave homework passes!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sick Day

Sorry for the break in my summer series - the kids and I are all sick. For those of you who don't know, I have 7 month old twins and a barely two year old. All four of us have head colds which translates into very little sleep for me. I'm working on gathering together some math bulletin boards but I doubt anything I wrote today would make much I'm taking a "sick day" or two and will return as soon as I can sit down at the computer without falling asleep!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Math Car Game

I'm going to take a break today from posting my summer math series and give you a fun game to play while driving around. The family and I were heading to visit my brother today which is about a 40 minute drive and I was trying to keep myself entertained. I've been playing a math license plate game since college so I taught it to my husband today. It goes like this...

Here in NC our standard license plate has four digits. The goal is to use those four digits in any mathematical way to reach the number 10. You can:
- Add, Subtract, Multiply or Divide
- Use powers/exponents
- Use factorials
- Change the order of the numbers

You may not:
- Use any number more than once
- Leave any number out
- Place a decimal between digits

In the example above you can find more than one solution.

Solution 1: (3-2) + 1 + 8 = 10
Solution 2: (1^3) * 2 + 8
Solution 3: 8 + 3 - (1^2)

If you'd like to use these in the classroom you can design your own license plates using this site:!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Project Boxes

I was going to hold off on this post until closer to the end of summer break, but I was walking by a Michaels Store today and saw a great deal so I had to share.

I like to keep boxes of supplies for each group of students in my class. These boxes include supplies for in-class projects such as rulers, colored pencils, glue sticks, scissors, protractors, compasses, construction paper, etc. I've found that when these supplies are already gathered together, it cuts down on the time required to hand out materials and students have more time to focus on the assignment at hand.

I chose to store my supplies in scrapbook boxes because they hold 12 inch paper and therefore will hold a standard ruler :) Michaels has these on sale right now for $4.99 (regularly $8.99)! If you head to their website ( you can download a coupon for 15% off your entire purchase, or 50% off one item. While you're already at Michaels, pick up a tower that will hold these boxes.

As you're out shopping this summer, look for Back-To-School sales to stash up on some of these supplies at super cheap prices!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Reading Homework

By now you're likely out of school and about to hit the beach (or some other vacation place for a little R&R)...hopefully! School is probably the last thing you want to think about during your summer vacation, but reading wouldn't be so bad, would it? Grab a copy of Danica McKellar's Math Doesn't Suck and read a chapter a night.

If you're 30+ you most likely will remember Danica as Wendy on The Wonder Years. She went on to graduate with a degree in Mathematics from UCLA and write three bestselling books. Math Doesn't Suck is really geared towards middle school girls but it actually has some interesting ways to think about (and therefore teach) math topics. My personal favorite is the "birthday cake" method for finding GCF/LCM! I typically recommend this book to students entering Pre-Algebra.

Here's a list of Danica's books in case you want to do a little more reading:
1) Math Doesn't Suck - geared towards ages 9-12
2) Kiss My Math - for Pre-Algebra students aged 11-13
3) Hot X: Algebra Exposed - for ages 13-15+
4) Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape - set for release in August 2012!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Today Only!

I just found out that Mathletics is holding an On Your Marks Maths Challenge for the next 24 hours (until 10am EST tomorrow!) If you're still in school and would like to register your students, go to and click on the "Register" button near the upper right-hand corner. They should have you all set up in less than an hour. The challenge is a one-time only event to celebrate the upcoming 2012 London Olympics.

Laptop Guidelines

Most teachers now have students using laptops/iPads/tablets in class whether they like it or not. Although they are a great tool for learning, they're also an opportunity for being off-task. I decided that my students needed to have a handout with the guidelines for using a laptop in my math class. Here is an excerpt from my list:

3) Teacher should be able to see your screen at all times
4) Laptop volume should be muted unless otherwise told
7) Wallpaper and themes should be SCHOOL APPROPRIATE
10) Using the laptop calculator is not allowed unless otherwise told

If you'd like the complete list, or would like to download a copy of my handout to give to your students you can get it from......that's right; my TeachersPayTeachers store!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cutting down on time out of class...

It drives me nuts when kids miss class to use the restroom, go to their lockers, or get a drink of water (or wander the halls under the pretense of one of these activities). I have developed two ways to cut down on time spent out of class.

The first is an Emergency Hall Pass. Each quarter I give my students one of these slips of paper that allows them to leave the room in an "emergency" for a reasonable amount of time. Once they use their two free passes they have to remain in my room during the entire period. (In a true bathroom emergency, and you can tell by the look on a kid's face, I'll still allow them to go even if the passes have been used!) They first ask permission to leave, then fill out the information on the front, and hand the pass to me to sign. No pass, stay in class :) You can make your own in Publisher/Word or you can download my free version on TeachersPayTeachers.

For some classes, the Emergency Hall Pass just doesn't work. Maybe the kids are too forgetful. Maybe you feel bad holding them to just two bathroom breaks a quarter. Maybe you're just sick of hearing them whine that they are out of "emergency" breaks. For that, I created a second way to cut down on time outside of class. I have a notebook close to the door with a sheet of paper for each and every student I teach. On the front side is a sign-out sheet. Whenever a student needs to leave the room they tell me where they're going, I give permission, and then they have to write the date, time out, reason for leaving, and the time returned when they get back. Since most students are inherently lazy, they'll actually remain in class so they don't have to sign the book. I like having the record to see how often students are missing class which is exceptionally helpful for certain parent-teacher conferences! (If a student is absent for an entire class period I will also write the absence down on sheet.) On a side note, I keep a behavior log on the back side of this sheet. I don't have a copy of the Student Log online for download but if you're interested I'd be happy to send you a copy via email. Just drop me a comment or an email!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Scavenger Hunt

Today marks the last week of "school" for the teachers here. The students have gone home and the teachers are required to work for the next three days. If you're also sitting around looking for ways to make August easier and having trouble getting motivated, try making a Book Scavenger Hunt. A Scavenger Hunt is a great way to help students learn how to use their math textbook as a resource. Many kids now can't tell you where to find the Table of Contents, Index, or Glossary, or even what they're used for. Textbooks now have so many useful pieces of information that students should know how to use. Click here to see a copy of my Book Scavenger Hunt for Algebra. I suggest using the Scavenger Hunt the day you pass out your textbooks in class. You should discuss each question with the students when you finish to help clear up any points of confusion. You might also want to review the Hunt after the first couple months of school or hand out a copy to parents on Open House night!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

SAT Bulletin Board

I love putting up bulletin boards at the beginning of the year but after three weeks in to the school year I lose steam and forget to update/change them. A couple years ago I tried an SAT Problem of the Week board and it worked out great! Over the summer I found Math SAT practice problems and typed them all up in Word using the equation editor. During the first days of school I printed each question off on a single sheet of cardstock, laminated them, and stuck them in a file folder. Each Monday I would (be reminded by a student to) replace the question. The folder (shown at the bottom left in the picture) held the paper where students had to show how they solved the problem and the blue paper on the bottom right listed the rules and rewards for students who solved it correctly. If you'd like to make your own board, start collecting SAT problems over the summer so that you have enough to last through the year. Head to this website,, or sign up for the College Board's daily email to have them delivered to your inbox. I believe the problem is math related every 3rd day. Make sure you check your answer...sometimes they're pretty difficult!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Day Late Pass

I'll admit it...I'm not a fan of Homework Passes. I don't give homework as "busy work" and in math the students REALLY need daily practice to improve. But I also know that sometimes students (not to mention teachers) forget to do their work. I decided to create a Day Late Pass which allows students to hand in a homework or classwork assignment one school-day late without penalty. I do put some restrictions on the pass, however:
1) The pass cannot be used on tests, quizzes, or projects unless the student has prior permission
2) The pass is not "transferable" to other students
3) The pass needs to be turned in the day the assignment is due, and will not be returned in the event that the student forgets their homework a second day

I typically have a stack of these in my desk drawer to hand out for Christmas presents, rewards for good behavior/work, or prizes for my Stamp Activities (which will be discussed in a later post!). Have some of these on hand to show the kids in the first week of class. You can create your own in MS Publisher/Word or download my free pdf file from TeachersPayTeachers here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Class Rules

For the next couple of weeks I'll be posting ideas that teachers can work on through summer break to make August/September run much smoother and easier! I've decided to start with classroom rules. All classrooms need them, and although most teachers have them sometimes they need a little revision or just a new way to present them. My personal favorite is a poster that can remain on the wall throughout the entire school year. Here are the rules I came up with for my first year of teaching:
My blank rule of RESPECT, written down the left side of the page, helps the students remember the other rules. The kids always ask me if they can get punished for ignoring the last rule which opens the class up for some fun discussion about how not thinking can always cause you trouble. :)