Posters for the Math Classroom

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Once again, I have Sara Carter to thank for many of the wonderful posters that I have put up in my classroom. Two of the posters that I put up were her ‘Types of Errors’ and ‘Always Show Your Thinking’ posters. A few of my math colleagues were in my classroom and we began a discussion about these posters, and as a result of the discussion we made a few changes:

  • We changed the word ‘parentheses’ to ‘brackets’. This is more of a USA vs Canada thing. (Similarly, for order of operations we use BEDMAS instead of PEMDAS.)
  • We decided to take out the word ‘failure’ under Problem Solving and we adjusted some of the descriptors for that section.

We discussed the fact that we like the ‘Types of Errors’ poster and think it is important, and we agreed that it reflects the types of errors that we point out to our students. However, we felt that we also wanted to focus on positive things the students can do to achieve success. We decided to put up a new series of posters under the ‘Types of Errors’ poster. These posters will be framed in the positive, with the heading ‘Aim for Success’. The posters are as follows:

  • Always Show Your Thinking (Sarah already did a fabulous job with this one, no changes were necessary.)
  • Read and Follow Instructions Carefully
  • Show Your Work Vertically
  • Line Up Your Equal Signs
  • Explain Your Understanding
  • Check Your Work
  • Write Neatly
  • Ask Questions
  • Work Collaboratively
  • Solve Using Multiple Strategies

Did we miss anything essential? It may end up being too many posters, but we will live with it for a bit and see how it works. You can download the Word and PDF versions of the posters here.

Bulletin Board Letters…Easy as A, B, C

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For a long time I either bought lettering pieces that needed to be punched out, or I struggled with Word Art to try to make fun signs and lettering for my bulletin boards. Then last year I stumbled upon a website called Instant Display, and it has brought a new element of “wow” to my bulletin board displays. Under the top banner you will see something about ordering, but there are an abundance of free downloads on this site. Explore the lettering sets for theme related lettering, available in capital and lower case letters as well as numbers. You can either cut these out, or you can copy and paste the letters within a document to make your signs. The subject areas give a variety of banners and other bulletin board display signs, and the “other” section has many generic classroom decorations.

Have fun exploring!

Sara Van Der Werf’s 5×5 Game

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In looking for fun games to engage my students, I came across Sara Van Der Werf‘s 5×5 Game. She has explained the game very well in her blog post, and so I suggest you read about it there. Please make sure to follow her sharing request for this game. I have made a Smartboard Notebook file to use with this game, and you can access it here. In my Notebook file, I have added light blue squares to write the sums, and I have added thinking questions for the students to consider in between the rounds. I will still use her student handout template which can be accessed in her blog post.

Thank you for sharing, Sara!

Hot Seat!

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I like to play review games in the classroom, and one of these is called Hot Seat. In this game, the class is divided into teams of 3 or 4 students. The desks are arranged so that the students can sit with their group members, and then there are also desks separated and lined up side-by-side, either at the front or at the back of the classroom. These are the “hot seats”. The number of hot seats should match the number of student teams. I usually separate the hot seats with dividers, but you can also physically separate them to prevent students from seeing the answers of those next to them. Once the teams are made (I usually arrange the teams), I let the students determine a team name. Once this organization is completed, the game begins.

Each round of the game requires the students to answer a math question. One student from the team is selected to be in the hot seat, and the other students in the team remain at the team desks. The first question is revealed and all students work on the answer. The team member in the hot seat works alone, and the other team members work together. I actually require these team members to each try the question on their own sheet of paper, and then compare answers with the group and come to consensus. I give a designated amount of time for the students to answer the question, dependent on the complexity of the question. At the end of the time period I circulate around the room to determine who has the correct answer. I keep a sheet on a clipboard to record results as I walk around. If the student in the hot seat answered correctly, then 2 points are earned for the team. If the rest of the team answered correctly, then 1 point is earned for the team. In any round, a team can earn up to 3 points. I usually walk around as the students are still working and before the time has run out to see their progress. If there are early finishers then I can check their work. However, I don’t reveal if their answers are correct until the time is up. This prevents students from trying to copy the answers of others, as they do not know which answers were correct or incorrect. When the time is up I first take up the question with the whole class, and then we assign the scores for that round on the whiteboard. For each subsequent round, the students take turns sitting in the hot seat. I like this model because I find that it requires all students to be active participants, while adding an element of competition.

I work at an IB school, and our rubrics are leveled 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, and 7-8. Sometimes I organize the Hot Seat game into these levels, which they see on their tests, and other times I have been less formal and just given random questions. I have shared two of my Notebook Hot Seat files – one for Grade 7 proportional relationships and one for Grade 8 numeracy. You can access them here.

Need a Break?

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I have been incredibly inspired by Sarah Carter @mathequalslove. She has so many amazing resources that she generously shares. As we prepare for and begin the new school year, I also want to be part of the giving community. I have been scouring the #MTBoS and other sources for “one off” activities that I can pull out and use at any moment. Our school is moving from 40 minute to 60 minute periods, and I know that I will need to incorporate new strategies to engage students for these longer periods of time. I want to build a collection of games, tasks, and activities that can be used either to introduce the class, to end the class, or as a brief interlude in the middle.

Pentanim is a game that comes from the NRICH database. It is a short logic game that can be used as a break in any subject. I have created student game boards should you want students to play in pairs with bingo chips, as well as a Notebook file to play this game as a class. When playing as a class, students could take turns, or you could still have two students play in a match against each other. One reminder, do not save the Notebook file before closing. This will allow it to open in proper format the next time you want to play.

You can access the files here.


Classroom Management – Homework and Lates

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At my school, we only take digital attendance at the beginning of the day. After that, teachers are expected to take attendance at the beginning of each class to ensure that our students are present, but that information is not entered into the digital system. Instead, a designated student carries an attendance clipboard from class to class. To help promote good learning skills, each teacher is also required to keep track of students that are late to class, and to follow up with those that are habitually late. I am diligent with this recording, as I believe that students will not follow through with expectations if their teachers do not require this of them. If they know that their late arrival and homework completion is tracked and that they will be held accountable, then they are more likely to be diligent and put effort into these areas.

In previous years, I have recorded this information in my planbook. In addition I have also recorded the names of students who have not completed homework, and I follow up with them, as well. However, I have always found it tedious to both record the information and to aggregate it afterwards for use in report cards or conferences with students and parents, especially considering that I teach a variety of subjects and middle school classes, and often teach the same students for different subjects.

I have been reading many blogs over the summer, and many of these blogs have explored the use of G Suite products in the classroom. We do not use Google Classroom at our school, but we are avid users of many of the other G Suite products. As such, I am surprised that it has taken me so long to realize how to use these products to simplify my record keeping.

I have now developed a Google Form to collect data on students who are late to class or who do not complete homework. Originally I was going to create two separate forms, but that seemed like too much work to keep both of those tabs open and to insert data in two different places. My form asks only for five pieces of information:

  1. Student name – I used a short answer response format for this area
  2. Type – I am still working on the proper name for this data, but I have included a dropdown menu that allows me to choose either “Homework” or “Late”
  3. Date – For this data I have used the “date” response option, which allows me to click the correct data in a calendar view
  4. Subject – Here I will enter the different subjects that I teach, labeled with the class name as well (I have not shown the accurate data on my sample form as our students do not find out their teachers until the first day of class, and my posting it here would violate school policy)
  5. Notes – I used a short answer response format here to record any additional information, as needed (I anticipate it will often be blank)

Once entered, all of the data can be found in a Google Sheet, where I can then sort the information by student, class/subject, date, and by type of data (homework or late). I am also trying to learn how to have the homework data go to one sheet while the late data goes to another, but I have not yet mastered the code that needs to be written in order to make this happen. I found a video explaining how to write the code for this. I did well understanding the first six minutes or so, and then I lost track of what he was saying. I need to watch it a few more times to fully absorb the information. (I would welcome someone sharing an easier way for me to achieve this goal.)

Here is the completed form:

And here is a sample of the Google Sheet:

I am still working on the nitty gritty details, but I can already see that this will be a game changer for me. Thank you to all who wrote about G Suite this week for your inspiration!

Summer Learning – Part 2

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I have been looking for interactive sites for science, and I came across Wisc-Online. I have mentioned this site before, but I never explored the full extent of their website. There are three main categories on the home screen – learn, play games, and build games. In the “Learn” section, there are interactive slideshows and videos on a variety of topics related to computer science, science, math, and the humanities. In “Play Games”, you can choose from the same subjects, and games range in type (flashcards, hangman, jeopardy, matching, memory, bingo, tic-tac-toe, and many more). What I especially like, however, is the “Build games” section. The entire selection of game types is available, but you can tailor your game to your own content. They even provide an image library for you to use in your game. If you are going to build your own games, then I highly recommend exploring the variety of games beforehand. This will make it easier to build your own games. Have fun exploring!

Sustainable Learning

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Resources for Rethinking is a database of sustainable learning activities developed by Learning for a Sustainable Future. You can search for lesson plans, books, videos, and various activities, all of which are teacher reviewed. The website has been developed to enable Canadian teachers to search for material that connects to provincial units across the curriculum. Search results take you to various other websites, many of which (but not all) contain free resources.

In the Beginning….or How I Became a Blogger

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I began this adventure in 2008 or 2009, which year I cannot exactly remember. I had amassed many links in different areas, and I was looking for an interesting way to house and organize them. I began a Google Site and I created pages for different topics in math, science, and technology. I was happy that the resources were organized, and eventually I made the site public. After time, I realized the limitations on Google Sites, and I was envious of how other sites looked. In 2010 I took the plunge, and with the help of my husband’s office tech support, I ventured over to WordPress. My site is not hosted on WordPress’s server, and so I was not restrained by the limitations of the free site. However, the WordPress platform is not as simple as Google Sites, and so I sometimes find myself wandering into the html side to “fix” (or sometimes break) the visual features on my site. The name of my site has also evolved over time, as I wanted to “get going” but I had difficulty finding a name that embodied my vision. The name that appears on the site right now was only finalized this summer.

At first, worried about privacy issues, I kept my name as far from my site as possible. Over time I realized that my name is already out there on the school website and through other things that I had done, and that for better or for worse, we live in a world where privacy is no more, and so I connected my name to my site.

Why WordPress? I found Google Sites limiting, and I wanted more options for the theme of my site. WordPress provided these options, and you have more control if you are not using one of their free sites. I was able to choose my own domain name, had an abundance of themes to choose from, and within the chosen theme I also had control over widgets, sidebars, pages, and other appearance settings. However, at times WordPress does glitch, and lack of html training can make it difficult to troubleshoot. I am sure there are those that figure it out on their own, but when I accidentally deleted a portion of my site by playing in the html, I was glad to have my husband’s tech gurus close by.

Over time, the purpose of my site has changed. While on Google Sites, my main purpose had been to help myself by organizing and categorizing resources. With the transition to WordPress I also opened a twitter account, and I became a blogger. I began to write. I didn’t know if I had an audience, but I wanted to share the many wonderful resources that I had found with the teaching world, at large. I was no longer just in it for myself. I felt that even if only a few benefitted, I had done some good, and that remains my purpose to this day. I share interesting and intriguing sites that can help teachers, mainly in the areas of math, science, and technology, as those are my specialties. Sometimes I share my lessons, those of which I am especially proud.

It is not an easy task. I have gone weeks on end where I write religiously for the site, and I have also gone many months without a word. I have found it challenging to balance a family, a full time job, and also manage to do what I want for myself, which includes writing. There aren’t enough hours in the day, and so priorities take place. There are those who say that if I cannot do what I want for myself, than my priorities need adjusting. I agree. It is a work in progress. I had not touched the site for the entire school year, but I am currently taking the IICT Part 2 course, and I have been motivated to reconnect with the blogging world.

But I am only one of many. There are so many bloggers and writers that are more known than I, and they inspire me. Some of them can be found on my blogroll to the side. The tech gurus (Free Technology for Teachers, Educational Technology and Mobile Learning) provide me with new tech tools for use with my lessons, and Common Sense Education adds ratings and reviews to that mix. I follow Mindshift on Facebook, and I enjoy reading many of their education articles. Dan Meyer is the king of three act math, and I have been following his dy/dan blog for quite a while. Musing Mathematically and Great Maths Teaching Ideas provide tried and tested math teaching ideas for the classroom, and The Middle School Science Blog offers a plethora of teaching resources for grades 5 to 8 science lessons.

Whether I write daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly, blogging allows me to feel connected with similar minded educators. I learn from others, and perhaps I can offer something in return.

Until next time…..

Rube Goldberg-esque

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Cookie or Cream?

That is the question that Oreo is currently posing to the public. As part of their most recent marketing campaign, they have enlisted engineers, “tinkerers” and roboticists from around the world to design and build machines that separate the cookie part of the oreo from the cream. They are sharing these machines in a series of four episodes. The machines are not quite as extravagant as full Rube Goldberg machines, but I think that the very nature of a machine built to pull apart two sides of a cookie must classify as, at the very least, Rube Goldberg-esque.

Check them out for yourselves.

Episode one

Episode two

Episode three

Episode four

Have a great week.

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