Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Treasure Chest

Just a quick post today...

While you're out shopping this summer start stocking up for your treasure chest. If you don't already have one, get a medium sized box, bowl, tupperware, or bag to keep little "treasures" you can give away when students do something worth rewarding. I try to keep things like pens, pencils and erasers, candy, little games, notepads, etc. Usually anything I can find at the Dollar Store or at Target's Dollar Spot. I also fill in with some items that don't cost me anything like Day Late Passes, Emergency Hall Passes, or an Untuck Your Shirt pass for schools with uniforms.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Decluttering: Desk and Files

Yesterday I talked about decluttering my computer, today I'm going to talk about the Teacher Desk area. My first year of teaching I had a horrible mess of a desk. There were papers everywhere! Graded assignments were binder clipped and stacked on the floor. Papers that needed to be graded were paper clipped and strewn (is that a word?) on my desk. Old transparencies and notes were falling on the floor. I even spilled a gallon of tea all over some notebooks that were precariously stacked on my filing cabinet. Looking back on my first year I wonder how much time, energy and headache I could have saved myself if I had been organized.

Enter Year 2 and two AMAZING math teachers with more experience than me. They whipped me into shape when it came to organization. What they started with me I have improved upon over the years and now will share my ideas with you. Just a quick disclaimer...you should always customize your organization for the type of person you are. Some of the ideas may not help you at all. Don't force yourself to do something you hate.

1) Transparency Rolls - If you use these in your class you can write on them with Sharpie for things you want to be permanent and Vis-A-Vis for things you want to be erasable. I would often write problems on the overhead roll in Sharpie and solve them in Vis-A-Vis. Saves SO much time by not having to rewrite the problems. This can also work with transparency paper if you want to keep it for future years.
2) Student Table - On this table I keep all of the supplies students should need. Extra pencils (I don't like to supply these but any I find on the floor are fair game!), stapler, tape, scissors, etc. Under the table I have my Project Boxes.
3) Also on top of my table I keep my "trays." I have a set of plastic letter trays like the ones below, one for each class. The top tray is for 1st period, the next for 2nd period, etc. ALL papers get turned in to me here. No exceptions. I hate when a student says "I handed that to you but you must have misplaced it." The blame is fully on the students when they are supposed to put it in the correct tray. When I'm ready to grade a set of papers I can pick up a stack and know that they are all from the same class (well, at least most of them are). I can easily narrow down a nameless paper. I can clip and take home to grade without fuss. I love my trays.
4) Behind the student trays is an identical set of trays facing my desk. These are my trays for graded work. As soon as I grade papers and record the scores in my grade book I place them in the corresponding class tray on my side. When I am ready to pass back papers I know that everything in the class tray needs to be handed out. I can tell who was absent based on which papers are remaining. I also will often place quizzes that still need to be taken here so I don't lose them.
6) Also on my desk is a small hanging file box. I keep some hanging folders in there for things like my attendance book and my paper grade book (yes, I still use a hard copy). These are my day-to-day items I like to keep on my desk but want picked up as well.
7) My file cabinet - my file cabinet is kept much like my computer files are kept. Each topic is given a hanging folder and I keep one copy of everything in there (theoretically). I have notes, quizzes, classwork, homework, games, activities, projects, centers and just about everything else you can think of. They're arranged chronologically based on how I teach the topic. Some are thin. Some, like fractions, span two or three folders. I also have a drawer for my personal files and folders like "beginning of the year" or "coupons" or "holiday extras."

I suggest choosing an area of your room that you always feel is cluttered and coming up with a solution for that space this year. You will feel so much more at peace when your classroom is neat and tidy and you can walk around without the fear of tripping over something :)

Sunday, July 22, 2012


I recently found the Simple Mom blog online and have been reading up on the home management notebook. One of the tasks I'd like to complete (well, at least to work on) this summer is to declutter the house. We moved in 5 months ago and we still have stuff everywhere. I know I have three small kids, but I'm much happier when things are organized. I started thinking about what IS organized in my life and realized that my computer files are looking pretty good :) They haven't always been this way so I thought that maybe some others would be interested in knowing how I organize.

First, I have a major folder called "School" for all of the school related digital files. I do this so backing up the file is easy and I'm sure to always have a copy. I have lost 6 years of work before in a harddrive crash and am NOT interested in this happening again. I'll tell you a little more in a minute.

Under my School folder there are multiple folders that I think everyone should keep.
1) Lesson Plans - if you create these digitally (or can scan them in) save a copy!
2) Grades - If you keep digital copies of progress reports, make a folder for them. It's nice to have a reference when in a parent meeting. And don't just save the new progress report over the old one...you want to be able to access ALL of them
3) Department Files - This is especially important if you are the head of a department. I keep things like meeting minutes, end-of-year reports, open house information, placement tests and summer math
4) To Print - If I need to find a file quickly to print once I get to school, I make a copy in this folder. At the end of the day I can "recycle" the contents of the folder to keep things clean
5) In the general School folder I keep documents that I need for every class such as Guidelines and Expectations, Ice Breaker activities, Class Rules, Coupons, etc.
6) Math Worksheets - This is my biggest folder. I keep every worksheet I have created, scanned, downloaded, *cough* stolen *cough* and might someday have a desire to edit, print or post on my class website. This file is broken down by topic so I can find things quickly for all grade levels that I teach. Some files (such as Geometry) are further broken down. If I'm looking for a file I can quickly narrow it down by topic.

A few tips:
- Make sure to give your files descriptive names but keep them short and simple
- Don't separate files by grade level or course. Sometimes worksheets can be used for more than one level of students
- Back up your files often! You can also sign up for Dropbox and store some of your files online. I do this with all of my TPT files and my most important school work. This ensures that even if I forget to manually back up my files I will still have a current copy in the case of a harddrive crash.
- Make a folder called "To File" and allow yourself to drop things in there occasionally if you can't decide where something goes or need to place it somewhere quickly. Go through your folder once a week if possible and find more permanent homes for these files.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Foxtrot Math (SuDORKu)

I love the Foxtrot cartoons about math. Here's one I came across a couple of years ago and just rediscovered while cleaning out my math files.
I'm honestly not sure if it really works as I haven't tried solving it. I think it would be a great idea for a math lesson though, maybe an introduction lesson? You could either have the kids solve the puzzle, or you could give them some sudoku blocks and have them come up with their own math expressions to replace the given numbers. You could require them to touch on certain topics such as fraction addition, square/cube roots, order of operations, etc. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Free Interim Reports

I was looking through my teaching files and I came across these Interim Reports I created to send home one quarter. I think it's always important to keep the parents informed of when their child is slipping in class. It helps to open communication and often helps get parents "on your side" rather than just defending their perfect little offspring!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

More Logic Puzzles

The last time I posted (minus my husband's jokes) I was talking about a file to keep in the classroom on logic puzzle activities. I've been gathering ideas to create a 40 puzzle packet that will (hopefully) be available on TeachersPayTeachers soon. While "researching" (aka doing a TON of logic puzzles) I came across a new one that I love. I was addicted to sudoku for a time, but they seem too tedious for me as I rarely have more than 5 minutes at a time. I feel like I have to sit down and work on a sudoku puzzle from start to finish without interruption. (Did I mention that I have almost 8 month old twins and a 2 year old? I can't even use the bathroom without interruption. I love crossword puzzles but I never can complete them. So my new favorite is called Hashi!

The puzzle starts out looking like this:

And ends up like this:

The goal is to draw as many "bridges" from each circle as the number within the circle suggests. You may not cross another line or circle, and every circle must be connected by a continuous line. Sound like fun? Oh, it is! The site I've been playing on tonight is http://www.conceptispuzzles.com/index.aspx?uri=puzzle/hashi.I'm not including these in my logic puzzles as I have NO idea how to create my own, but I find them very addictive.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A couple of jokes...

My husband would like to share some make jokes he made up for me:

Q1: I'm just a regular geometric shape but I'm important for your security. What am I?
Q2: I'm everywhere you look but often ignored. The easiest place to find me is in the corner. What am I?

A1: A pentagon (of course, this only applies to those of us in the US :))
A2: An angle

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Survey Reminder

This is a quick reminder, if you'd like a free copy of my Tic-Tac-Toe PowerPoint Template, go to http://survey.breezethroughmath.com and take the quick survey. When you finish, you'll see a link to download the file. Thanks!

Extended Periods

One of the worst things I can hear over the intercom at school is, "Teachers, we're going to need you to hold your students a little longer." The unexpected happens - testing goes too long, drug dogs come to sniff lockers, something is spilled in the hallway, the cafeteria staff is running behind. I don't like free-time in my class because middle schoolers get rowdy and unruly. I keep a file in my room of activities for times like these. My favorite are logic puzzles, riddles, and Encyclopedia Brown type books. My favorite site for logic puzzles is http://www.puzzlersparadise.com/page1034.html. Here you can download/print logic puzzles or solve them online. A sample puzzle looks like this:

Using given clues, you fill in the upper cross-chart, then solve the puzzle using the bottom chart. Students can work in pairs/groups or can work alone if they need to be quiet.

On a side note - I also keep a Nerf ball in my desk drawer for Silent Ball. If you haven't heard of this game, and you teach middle schoolers, take note! All students sit on top of their desks. One student is handed the Nerf ball and they toss it (underhand) to any other student in the room. If the student catches it, play continues. If the player does not catch the ball because the toss is bad, the thrower must sit down in his/her chair and is "out." If the player misses a ball that is thrown well, he must sit down in his chair. Play continues until only one champion remains. A couple of notes: If you fall off your desk (thrower or catcher) you are out (you may get off your desk to retrieve a ball on the floor). Balls must be thrown underhand and anyone who talks (other than to QUIETLY discuss which player should be out) is also out of the game. I always encouraged the kids to police themselves and they often would just sit down when they knew they'd thrown poorly or missed the catch!

Good luck gathering activities for these type of extended periods!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sub Plans

Since we discussed Emergency Lesson Plans yesterday, I figured I should go over the contents of my sub plan folder (I think a 3-ring binder with labeled dividers works best). In no particular order, I include:

1. Class list for attendance purposes (with nicknames)
2. Seating chart(s) if applicable
3. Teacher schedule - for example, if you have a staggered lunch schedule you should include the exact time to leave/return for lunch
4. Important medical information - if you have a student with a medical condition that the sub might have to deal with, you should include any necessary instructions. This could include things such as diabetes, Tourette Syndrome, epilepsy, etc. along with a list of any students that leaves your room for regularly scheduled events (taking medicine in the office, psychologist apt, speech therapy).
5. Location of emergency lesson plans if the office doesn't keep them
6. Description of duty such as lunch, before school, or after school
7. For all of us math teachers - your calculator policy so your students do not convince the sub they can use them all of the time!
8. Behavioral concerns/consequences - I like to leave the sub a list of students they need to watch for certain behaviors. This might include your frequent bathroom visitors or kids to watch for "roaming eyes" during quizzes!

Monday, July 2, 2012


Today, July 2nd, is (typically) the middle day of the year. There are 182 days before today and 182 after! I say typically since during leap years there is an even number of days and therefore no middle.

Not only is it mathematically a wonderful day, it's also my birthday :)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Emergency Lesson Plans

The first two weeks of school always has me scrambling around to get everything finished. Every year, without fail, I turn in my Emergency Lesson Plans late. This is always on the bottom of my "To Do" list because I rarely miss a day (I don't often get sick, and I hate the catch-up work so I don't play hooky). So if you're anything like me, vow to get this done over the summer this year!

You can download a copy of my sub plans here but I have a quick disclaimer:
1. These files do not have answer keys attached nor will I attach them because students can find them online
2. I cannot guarantee that all of the questions are correct - you should work through them before giving them to your students
3. These are meant for a 45 minute class period

These are geared towards the end of PreAlgebra, all of Algebra, or a review for Geometry students. Hope they help you design your own emergency substitution plans!