Saturday, August 25, 2012

My favorite Friday-My new labels

My Favorite Friday post is a day late, but better late than pregnant never.  If you follow me on twitter @luvbcd you already know that whenever I design something on the computer it seems to take me 20 times longer than the average more savvy printable designer.  I have to do everything by trial and error (although I have found a few very kind and generous bloggers that offer tutorials that were extremely helpful).  I have been designing many different things for my math focus wall that will be unveiled next week when it is finally done.  More things need to be designed over the weekend.

I am happy to say that after spending an evening playing around on the computer while simultaneously watching numerous SATC reruns, I designed some labels for my math manipulatives.  I printed them on regular copy paper and then laminated them.  I took them for a test drive in my classroom yesterday and must say I am in label love!  I could not be more thrilled with how they turned out.

Top shelf with manipulatives
Close up
I <3 these labels
I will have tons of photos to share next week once my classroom is finally done.  I have been spending so much time there I'm afraid I will be burnt out before I even begin.  ;)  I officially start back Wednesday.  The more I do, the longer my to do list becomes.  Anyone else feel that way?  I am loving looking at everyone's classrooms and cannot wait to have my own classroom completed.

Today my oldest two have their first football scrimmages and I am meeting my mom for lunch and some shopping at the mall.  Tonight my husband and I are attending a fundraiser at the Country Club for our youth football program the older boys are a part of.  It should be a fun, busy, and productive day.  Hope you all have a great Saturday!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I'm getting there...

At least that's what I keep telling myself.  :)  It's getting down to the wire here for getting myself and my classroom ready for the start of school.  I don't "officially" start preservice days until next Wednesday, but we have our open house that night and I really hope to have my classroom mostly done before that.  I am sure you all know how difficult to get your room set-up with all the meetings during preservice days.

Yesterday I spent the whole day at school as part of a leadership team data retreat where we set our school improvement goal for the 2012-2013 school year.  It was the first time I was ever part of the data retreat and we had a great group of teachers, counselors, and administrators working together to plan our school roll-out for PD this year.

I have been spending quite a bit of time in my classroom lately working on getting everything organized and set up.  I did some major revamping again this year and so far I love the changes I have made.  I can't wait until a week from tonight when Open House is done and I will feel a sense of relief with my room being all done.

Here are a few photos I snapped today while I was working on my room.  I got my back shelves, desk, and computer table set up.  The rest of the room is pretty much a disaster at the moment.  But as many of you know, things have to get worse before they can better when setting up your classroom.  My classroom set-up style is definitely to spread everything out everywhere and create chaos before I can bring it all together.  Now at least when I go in tomorrow I can sit in by little corner and feel calm amidst the chaos.

Back shelves

Teacher desk and computer table

My little corner.  The filetastic is from Mardel.

I can't believe I am starting back a week from today.  I have been so busy trying to print things out, getting things laminated and cut out, and finish up my focus wall and getting my room arranged and organized.  So many teachers have already been teaching for a week or two, or more.  That's just crazy!

Hope all of you who are back to school have had a wonderful start.  I will be spending the next few days in my classroom.  I will share more photos as I finished getting things put up and arranged.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Classroom Door-Made 4 Math Monday

I was really hoping to have my Math Focus Wall all finished for today's M4MM, but alas I have a few more elements to finish up.  It will definitely be good to go for next week's M4MM so if you are looking to see the finished product make sure you stop back next Monday.  I am so thrilled with how it is looking and can't wait to share it with all of you.

I did finish my classroom door today.  A couple of years ago I decided to do one door design to keep up for the whole school year instead of changing things by month/season to save myself a lot of time and trouble.  I purchased a new border set because it gets a bit beaten up by the students entering and leaving the classroom (and when the door is open and someone leans against it).

I love my door and thinks it sets the tone I want for my classroom of a fun learning zone where math rules.  Calvin and Hobbes is my favorite cartoon ever and I posted a few cute back to school comics.

Welcome to my happy place, Room 407!
I've shared this tip before, and it really comes from my friend Linda's husband.  Did you follow that?  Tape yarn or string to help you line up letters.  Easy peasy and works like a charm.

Lining up the letters.
A very simple way to spruce up a store bought border or letters is to put some fun stickers on them.  Here I used some sparkly star stickers.

This is the window to my classroom that is left of my door.  I spy a Math Focus Wall in the background.

And followed the star theme on the posters and border.  I love the way it adds sparkles and ties all the elements of the door together.

Love this poster.
Hope you enjoyed this M4MM post.  I would love to see how you decorate your classroom door.  Please leave a link in comments if you have a photo and I promise to check it out.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Goals for 2012-2013

I really need to stop this late night blogging pattern of the past couple nights.  The past two days have been jam packed with school related projects, back to school outlet mall shopping, fall baseball games, and a wonderful dinner with my parents.  Tomorrow I am heading into school to spend the day working on my classroom, as my boys are with my parents.  I am hoping to finish up my Math Focus Wall I have been busy working on and get some other things set up in my room.

This coming year is going to be a wild and crazy ride for me with implementing a new curriculum, Carnegie Learning, and a new personalized learning delivery model.  Can you say overwhelming and beyond exciting and innovative?  I am so energized for this coming school year, but will feel better once I feel I have a handle on how this will all work.

This year my classroom goals will really be driven by the initiatives that my district has chosen to undertake, including Personalized Learning Model with Carnegie Learning Curriculum, Standards Based Grading District Committee and Lesson Study Facilitation.


  • Spending so many late evenings at school.  Last year I felt that I was NEVER home to help my two younger sons with their homework  due to all the after school meetings I had and trying to keep up with everything in my classroom.   I really need to change this year.  My goal is to pick one night a week to stay late at school, two max.  I need to make sure I remember that my own kids need to come first and they need guidance on their own homework.  Trying to keep working mommy guilt at bay as many of you know all too well.
  • Wasting time an energy on things I cannot control.  I must repeat the Serenity Prayer to myself on a daily basis and really remember why it is I chose to be a teacher.  I also need to keep in mind that everything I do needs to be for and about my students.
  • Spending time on things that do not directly impact my goal achievement.  It is so easy to get sidetracked on the day to day classroom minutiae and lose sight of what is really important.


  • Co-teaching.  Last year the sped teacher and I really became more effective working together after taking a co-teaching class together, but due to my having a student teacher 4th quarter things we weren't really co-teaching at the end of the year.  I am really excited because we will be co-teaching both afternoon math classes this year.  Looking forward to taking our co-teaching to the next level!
  • Using learning stations for review and differentiation in the classroom.  Also using them more in my Core Plus class.
  • Working with my 7th grade math team during PLC time to implement our new program to fidelity and working together on compacting and assessment.


  • Researching and figuring out the best way to do conferencing with my students.  This will be an integral part of our personalized learning model.
  • Consistently doing some form of daily review with my students.  I started off strong with warm-ups last year, but then kind of fizzled out at the end of the year.
  • Really focusing on some of the things I learned during my Guided Math Book Study this summer.  I am really excited about my Math Focus Wall and really making my classroom a numeracy rich environment for my students this year.
  • Implementing Carnegie with fidelity and really focusing on the Common Core and Standards for Mathematical Practice.  I am so lucky to have a great curriculum to help me implement common core the way it is meant to be.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

I'd Like to Thank the Academy...
No I have not been nominated for an Academy Award, but I recently received an email letting me know that I was nominated for the "Most Fascinating Blog of 2012" in the Middle School Teacher category.  I was surprised and very honored to receive the nomination, especially when I saw some of the other blogs that were nominated in my category.  Just to be nominated and recognized for my blogging efforts was quite an unexpected honor.  I started this blog last summer as a way to connect and share ideas with other amazing teachers.  At that time there were tons of elementary level blogs, but very few for middle school math.   I am thrilled that a year later there are many wonderful middle school math blogs and new ones are popping up every day.

Blogging, Pinterest, and Twitter have really made me a better teacher.  I have been inspired, challenged, and motivated by people I have never met IRL.  I know that the inspiration I have received from other teachers has made me a better teacher and challenged me to improve my lesson planning, classroom design, and many other aspects of my teaching.  I also love to read blogs with perspectives in education that are different than mine.  It really stretches me as a professional.  I love to share ideas, activities, and organization tips that I use in my own classroom.

If you are reading this, then I hope in some way I have inspired or helped you.  I love getting comments and emails from other teachers all over the country (and even outside the US).  I started this blog as a way to connect with other teachers and share ideas, but I had no idea of the personal connections and friendships I would form.  That's the best part of blogging IMO.  I would love it if you would take the time to vote for me here if you have a chance.  I am the first blog listed  Thanks for visiting my blog!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sneak Peek of My Math Focus Wall

Here is a little teaser photo of my Math Focus Wall.  It is obviously still under construction, but believe me the most difficult part is over.  This past Monday I went into school to see if I could get started on the wall so I don't have to worry about it during my first days back, (as luck would have it our school has Open House the first day back this year).   I can obsess about the most frivolous things, like what color paper should I use for the background and what color should the borders be.  I mean life altering decisions for a somewhat compulsive classroom decorator as I can be.  Well as luck would have it when I went into the staff lounge for the paper roll my choices were lime green, light pink, (too light), two different shades of light blue (and neither of them worked), or white (that would have been too much white), and other random colors that do not mesh with the lime, pink, blue color scheme I've got going on.  Fortunately there was no black paper to paralyze me with indecision, so lime green it was!  Sometimes the Gods of fate smile down on me.

The background of my Math Focus Wall
I am so thrilled with how it turned out and want to tell you that it only took 1.5 days of blood, sweat, and tears.  OK there was no blood, but I did fall off the wobbly ladder that I spent WAY too much time standing on and there was a bruised left buttcheek as well as ego (although if a teacher falls off a ladder, and there is no one in the classroom to witness it, did she really fall and why would her ego be bruised if no one saw said fall?).  Let me just add that I was holding a stapler in my right hand as I fell and all I was worried about was not hitting the SMARTBoard with the stapler.  Like a mother who would take a bullet for her child, I took the fall for the safety of my SMARTBoard.  There were also no tears, but plenty of sweat and I do believe I deserve a massage after this project as my back and shoulder muscles were overused in the making of this focus wall.

The evil ladder lurking on the left.

I also spent WAY too much time cutting out laminate borders.  Why oh why did I decide to do a triple border?    I guess I just like to torture myself.  I went with pink, zebra, black.  As I was finishing this up under the gun Friday (the custodians kindly asked me to be sure to be out by 4 PM), I wanted to get the Vista Print poster and banner up so I do not have to spend more time on the dreaded ladder.  I put the banner up and then at about 3:52 had the brilliant idea to put the letters on the banner.  That was a complete last minute thought.  I am not thrilled with letters themselves and they are not even laminated, but I put them up to get a feel for it and they most likely will stay.  Someday when I have some free time I may fancy up the letters and change them, but at this point I think they will probably do.  My phone rang at 3:55 while I was up on the ladder and I did not recognize the number.  It was my aunt calling and I had to explain that I would call her back in five minutes, because I always have a fear that I will leave too late and set off the alarm.  Nothing like pressure to motivate!

I started planning the idea of a math focus wall at the end of the last school year.  I have thought long and hard about all the components I want to include.  I was not sure where to put the focus wall because my classroom really has minimal bulletin board space.  I decided to frame the SMARTBoard because we use it all the time and it really is the focal point of everything we do. 

My plan is to finish up the wall next week.  I am hoping to get myself into school Monday to continue on it, but first I have make some the needed items and laminate them.  It will be a busy Sunday for me.  Hope you enjoyed the sneak peek and hopefully you will see the finished product soon!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Favorite Formative Assessment Techniques

If you would like to participate in My Favorite Friday post about your favorite anything, math related or not, and tweet your post with the hashtag #myfavfriday.  This was started by some cool math bloggers and is growing every week.

Today's post is about five assessment techniques I have used or plan on using this coming school year:

1)  Check out the blog post I did here on In Class √ups.

2)  Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down:  This technique is a very simple way to get immediate feedback from the whole class.  I use this often when I feel as though some kids just have not gotten the concept I just taught.  I can scan the classroom in less than a minute and find out who is still struggling.  If it is only one or two students I will meet with them individually.  If it is a small group I may call them up the SMARTBoard while others continue working and go through more sample problems with them.  Sometimes I do another example or try to offer a different visual or explain it a bit differently for the whole class.  I also might call on a student to explain the concept in their words.  I love this technique because it lets every student know that s/he is important and valued.

3)  Parking Lot:  I have not yet used this technique, but plan on implementing it this coming school year.  I have used it myself as a participant in several professional development trainings.  I personally like it because I feel that all my concerns and questions will be addressed.  The way it was used in these trainings was if you had any question that you wanted clarified or a comment you wanted to share you could post it on the parking lot which was just a large piece of chart paper.  Some students prefer to not interrupt the flow of a lesson and feel more comfortable placing a post-it note on a poster at the end of the day.  I also like the idea of having every student leaving a post-it exit slip on the parking lot.

4)  Exit slips:  I think exit slips are extremely powerful formative assessment that can help quite a teacher in my planning lessons.  At the end of class if you have students work out a few problems and that is their ticket out the door, you will have the information of who has grasped the learning targets and who needs more practice or explanation.  This a great technique for differentiation.  Use the results of the exit slip to group students by mastery level of that topic.  I have used exit slips a bit, but plan on using them much more frequently this coming year.

5)  Show Me Wallet  I found this post from the blog 5th grade rocks 5th grade rules via Pinterest and I love how she has taken the concept of a dry erase board for assessment and taken it to a whole new level.  I would like to adapt this for use in my classroom this fall.

For more assessment links check out my Assessment Pinboard at Pinterest.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Wisconsin Statewide Mathematics Initiative.

I had the opportunity to participate in a week long training this summer on the Common Core Domain of Ratios and Proportional Reasoning.  It was sponsored by the Wisconsin Statewide Mathematics Initiative and funded by the Brookhill Foundation.  I would say it was the most meaningful and challenging professional development I have ever experienced.  Our instructors were wonderful and the pacing was great.  I felt challenged most of the week, but not too overwhelmed.

It was a week long institute and we were divided by grade bands:

  • K-2 Operations and Algebraic Thinking
  • 3-6 Number Operations-Fractions
  • 6-8 Ratio and Proportional Reasoning
  • 9-12 Modeling with Statistics and Probability
I was obviously in the 6-8 group.  It was so great to collaborate with teachers in nearby districts.  Everyone in my group was amazing and I really enjoyed getting to know some teachers that teach in nearby districts.  I even found out that one of the teachers has followed me on Pinterest and been to my blog here.  Hello Erica if you are reading!

We spent the week really going through the 6th and 7th grade Common Core Standards on Ratio and Proportional Reasoning as well as the Standards for Mathematical Practice.  I think one of the aspects of the training I found most helpful was that we would solve the same problems using multiple strategies.  Rather than just always setting up a table, equation, or proportion to solve problems we were challenged to use double double number lines and tape diagrams.  I had used double number lines a bit in my Carnegie training, but I was completely unfamiliar with the tape diagram method (which is basically like the Singapore Bar Model).  What an amazing strategy!  We were really pushed to use it with all different types of ratio and proportion problems we encountered.

I will do some more detailed posts about these methods as I use them with my students this fall.  My first two chapters in Carnegie are on Ratio and Proportional Reasoning and I feel this training gave me a much better depth of understanding of the concepts I will be teaching my students.  

The goals of this institute were to:
  • Broaden teachers' mathematical understanding and pedagogical practices of ratios and proportional relationships.
  • Study meaningful tasks that increase students' understanding of ratios and proportional relationships.
  • Critically examine student misconceptions when reasoning with ratios and proportional relationships in order to make informed instructional decisions.
  • Study the mathematical progression that students pass through as they become proficient at reasoning with ratios and proportional relationships.
I am going to share two of the anchor charts my group made.  

We looked at the language, strategies, and applications of Ratios and Proportional Relationshi
Solving a problem with multiple representations
If anyone reading this blog was at any of the WSMI summer institutes I would love to hear from you about how your training went.  If you remember me from training then say hi!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

First Day Activities

As a teacher, what you do the first day/week really sets the tone for your classroom.  The most important thing I want to convey to my students those first few days of school is that my classroom is a fun and safe place and I am teacher with high expectations for all.  A few years ago I finally decided that the first day with my kids I was not going to talk at them all class period.  For one thing, my throat would be so dry and sore by the end of the day I could barely talk.  For another, I could just picture the thought bubble above every student's head as I droned on and on about expectations, procedures, and grading.  The video above perfectly sums up what I imagine my students' hear that first day due to information overload from seven different teachers.

I did a post about Welcoming Students to a New School.  I want my students to have a positive first day of school no matter what.  Some students come in completely confident, energized, and excited for their first day of middle school.  Others arrive nervous, upset, and overwhelmed.  I want to demonstrate to my students that my classroom is a safe place where everyone belongs.  I try to build that sense of classroom community from day one.  My teammate Linda who teaches Social Studies does the most fabulous job of creating a classroom community.  Last year she had students do bucket drops for each other.  That was a ton of extra work, but she took in and our students really enjoyed and appreciated it.

The past few years I have done this Number Activity for the First Day  in all my math classes.  Our classes that first day were always between 20-30 minutes long so my typical plan for day one was:

  • Introduce myself
  • Three part student intro:  Name, previous school, one summer memory
  • Pass out the first assignment of the year, "Getting to Know You"
  • Very quickly highlight the supply list (most important that they need a binder ASAP in addition the normal supplies)
  • Play the Number Activity
  • If there is any time left they can begin the "Getting to Know You"  which is due the first Friday of school

Another very fun and engaging activity I plan on doing this year is an activity I learned about during my initial Carnegie training called "I can relate".  Everyone stands up.  One person begins by making a statement and as they are talking someone else jumps in and says "I can relate" and explains why they can relate.  After a person speaks they get to sit down.  The person standing and talking keeps talking until someone else pops in with "I can relate".  It was a fun activity.  For example, someone said something about Spanish and I said, "I can relate because I double majored in Spanish and Eled".  At that point another teacher jumped in and said, "I can relate because I got a D in Spanish".  It just keeps going until everyone has sat down.  Some of the responses are quite comical.  People try to jump in because they do not want to be the last person standing.  I think it would be fun activity for the first day and it would get every student up on their feet and everyone would participate.  Has all the elements of a perfect icebreaker IMO!

The first days/weeks of school are all about establishing routines and procedures.  Consistency in expectations will help your students to quickly understand what you expect and value in your classroom.  It is up to you as a teacher to let your students know what your expectations are.

Linking up with Fun in First for the What's Your Favorite Back to School Activity?  link party.

Also linking up with The Caffeinated Teacher for her First Day Plans link party.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Currently August

Linking up with Farley for Currently August.

#myfavfriday My favorite Math Teaching Resource Books

I am jumping in to the twitter verse with today's post.  I am not sure if my hashtag worked so if you are here from twitter be kind.  I am a twitter infant.  :)  Today I would like to share with you some of my favorite math teacher resource books.  For some reason in the past few years, maybe it's due to my mental maturity (not old age I tell you) or the fact that the older I get the more of a math nerd I become, but whatever the reason, I have spent some serious change lately on buying math related resource books.  This hopefully redeems me for reading the Shades of Grey Trilogy in a matter of days.

1)  Challenge Math by Ed Zaccaro.  I purchased this book six years ago, after I was lucky enough to hear Ed speak at the National Gifted and Talented Conference in Chicago.  If you ever have the chance to hear Ed speak I highly recommend it.  The book's chapters are arranged by math topics, so there is a chapter on fractions, one on ratio and proportions, and so on.  One of the things I love the most about his book is that each topic has three levels of problems: one, two, and Einstein.  This makes it easy to differentiate in your classroom.  It would be an excellent resource for your problem solving repertoire.


2)  Becoming a Problem Solving Genius by Ed Zaccaro.  I am a super fan of Ed Zaccaro and purchased some of his other books a few years ago.  I love this book because it actually teaches different problem solving techniques you can use.  For example there is a chapter on venn diagrams and how to use them as a problem solving strategy.  This would be another great addition to your problem solving toolbox.

3)  Accessible Mathematics, 10 Instructional Shifts That Raise Student Achievement by Steven Leinwald.  This book was required reading last summer as part of our District K-12 Math Review Committee.  I would recommend this book to anyone who teaches math!

4) Mathematics Station Activities for Common Core State Standards published by Walch Education.  I previously posted how I used this book for Ratio and Proportional Reasoning Learning Stations.  This book is divided by common core domains.  This book is a great resource if you do stations.

5)  Elementary and Middle School Mathematics, Teaching Developmentally by John A. Van de Walle, Karen S. Karp, and Jennifer M. Bay-Williams.  This is the most expensive book I have ever purchased.  I read so much about this on blogs last summer.  I believe this is sometimes used as a college textbook for future math teachers.  I have perused this book and know it will be an excellent resources for me as I delve more into the common core standards.  This book was written before common core, but it does reference it in the 8th Edition I purchased.  This will be my go to resource as I work to build conceptual understanding and procedural fluency in my math students.

6)  Guided Math by Laney Sammons.  I participated in an online  Guided Math Book Study with several other teachers this summer.  I really want to implement some of the facets of guided math into my classroom this year.  I loved the book study and have a to do list a mile long of things I need to do to get ready for guided math this school year.


I would love to hear from all of you what your favorite math resource books are!  We are leaving Door County today and heading to Green Bay for the Packers Family Night and swimming at the Tundra Lodge Waterpark.  Happy Friday to you!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Checklist for Preparing for School

Is anyone else out there as shocked as I was this morning to wake up and realize that today is August 1st?  YIKES!  Where on earth has my summer gone?  This checklist is not meant to be a one size fits all generic checklist for any teacher.  I copied and paste my actual checklist out of google docs and fancied it up a bit on powerpoint.  It will give you a general idea of what to think about when creating your own checklist of preparing for the start of school.  I find that having a checklist keeps me motivated and on target when I go into my classroom to get it set up.  I am also able to maximize my time, by doing some things at home (like cutting out laminated items).  What is on your back to school to do list?  For those of you who have *GASP* already started school, what tips do you have for starting the school year off smoothly?