Sunday, August 27, 2023

Updated Puzzle Corner

 To say I'm ready for the upcoming 3-day weekend is an understatement!  We've been in school now for 3 weeks and while I'm doing better at getting ahead school-wise, other areas of my life have fallen behind.  I need a day just to catch up, work in my yard, and not feel like I'm a hamster on a wheel.

For many years, I've had a puzzle corner in my room.  With the exception of the pandemic in 2020 - 2021, this space has been a fun place for my students to play with math in a non-threatening way.

However, this year, I knew I needed a change because I would be having some kids that I had in class a couple of years ago, so over the summer, I started thinking about how I could change it.  For the past two years, it's had a math fun fact, a mathematician of the week, and a math quote.  This year, I wanted to incorporate some vertical / magnetic puzzles based as inspired by Sarah Carter (@mathequalslove) and to add some math-y toys to the mix.

My students haven't really engaged much with the vertical puzzles (yet) but they have really loved the basket of toys that I picked up at Target Dollar Spot!

One of my Labor Day goals is to work on my files for the Brain Teaser spot so I have a binder full of papers to swap out those each week.  This may be a work in progress over the year, but for now, it's on my to-do list.  Also on that list is to get my binder of Vertical Puzzles updated, cut out, and compiled.  

Saturday, August 19, 2023

First Days of School

 There are just not enough hours per day in August to get everything done!  I either need longer days or the ability to go with less sleep :)  

There are a lot of things I like about my school and a few things that I don't, and the Back to School week falls under both of those categories!  We report to school on Monday / Tuesday, off on Wednesday, and kids come on Thursday.  I love that day off to get things done (like a pedi with my mom), but with all of the required meetings, it feels like there is so much to do in a very condensed amount of time.

But Thursday came and so did the kids, whether I was ready or not...

On the first day, we do...

  • Posters around the room
  • Name Tents
  • And Math of course!
You can see some of the posters in the photo and on each table is a small container with some post-its.  They answer the 6 prompts and go around the room putting their answers on the board.  The 6 prompts are:
  • A goal I have this year is...
  • Our classroom should be ____ every day
  • I learn best when...
  • Mrs. Temple can help me best by...
  • Math is important because...
  • To be successful in math this year, I need...
This activity infuses a bit of color as well as gets the kids up and moving around from day 1.  

After that, we work on their Name Tents, which has been written about quite a bit in the MTBoS, so my only change is that I don't print the form on the inside - I just have the kids draw a line down the crease and then two perpendicular to that to create 6 spaces for writing.  This was the first year (ever?) that everyone folded their name tent correctly!!!  (YAY!)

Finally, it's time to do Math!  This year, I tried a new-to-me activity using pentominos because I wanted to do something Geometric.  While I liked the activity, I found that it was super difficult for my students.  

The original task asked the students to use all of the pentominos to build a 10x6 rectangle, then to try again to build a 12x5, then again for a 15x4.  Sadly, most groups didn't get past the 10x6 :(

Thankfully, it did allow us to talk about Productive Struggle,  the importance of persevering, and why I like to use manipulatives a lot to test out theories.

So for next year, I think I would modify it using one of these two resources:

That pretty much ended Day 1, and I was happy to celebrate the day with a mini-bundtlet from Nothing Bundt Cakes that was delivered by our Student Leadership group!

Then, on to Day 2.  My goal with Day 2 was to introduce students to some of the structures we would be using this year...
  • Open Middle - Using the digits 1 to 9, find the sum of 3 digit numbers that comes closest to 1000.
  • Whiteboards - Using "The Answers Are" task from Building Thinking Classrooms
  • Setting our Group Norms (see previous post)
All in all, it was a GREAT couple of days of non-curricular tasks, but then it was on to an insanely busy weekend to prepare for Week 2. 

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Setting Class Norms

 Week 1 is done and oh my goodness, I have so much that I need to blog about!

During the first two days, I do a lot of non-curricular tasks where we focus on group work and setting our class norms.

I ask the students before each task to keep these two questions in mind while they are working:

- Think about what good Group Work looks like / sounds like...

- How do you know if you are being a good Group Member.

Toward the end of the day on Friday, after we had been working on the big whiteboards, I asked the students again to reflect on those two questions.  I told them that we needed to come up with a set of norms that we could all abide by in order to make sure our class works smoothly this year.  I asked them to think about the activities we had done (the Pentomino task above, an Open Middle problem, and a whiteboard problem for "The Answers Are").  I asked them to work with their tables to brainstorm ideas to fill in this chart, then to go back and decide the one or two most important things on each side and put a star by it.

As a class, we had a discussion about the things they had starred and came to a class consensus on the most important ideas.  Every class pretty much had the same big ideas listed and starred, but I brought all of the papers home to compile them.  (Note: I was really surprised how many mentioned that they didn't want arguing in our class) 

In the past, I've hand-written a poster board with their responses, but this time I decided to try something different!

After compiling the responses from all of the classes, I had a pretty hefty list, so I decided to type it up in Word.  I then saved it as a PDF and printed it as a poster that I can piece together to paste onto my poster board.  

I'm so pleased with how this idea turned out that I had to share! Hopefully I'll update this post tomorrow with the poster on my wall. :)

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Classroom Progress, maybe?

I just spent most of the day working in my classroom - thankfully the a/c was working today because this afternoon's high was 105!  

I honestly couldn't tell you what all I accomplished today - it feels like nothing major but I spent 6 hours up there.  I got a few organizational things done - new labels, etc.

One thing on my to-do list was to put up our Welcome board in the hallway.  For the past couple of years, we've had red bulletin board paper and I made the executive decision to change it out to red fabric.  If you've never used fabric on your bulletin boards, I encourage you to fix that now!  This is just a generic broadcloth, but fabric doesn't fade, stores easily for reuse, and doesn't show wear and tear.

Look at how bold the red fabric looks compared to the paper!  I also purchased some cute reversible border at Hobby Lobby with their 40% off classroom sale and you just can't go wrong with buffalo check.  I know the Cardinals part is crooked and normally that would bother me, but this board is at the end of the hallway and I probably won't see it again until it's time to change it in September!

Back in my classroom, I piddled with several small things that needed to be done and then tackled 2 bigger projects...

The first project I worked on was assembling this organizer from Amazon.  Last week, when I was working in my room, I started thinking about how I could better use some of my space to organize random supplies for students.  My previous use was a mishmash of boxes and locations and it just wasn't very cohesive.  I played around with some letter trays but nothing quite fit what I wanted.  

(Note:  I totally forgot to take a photo of this in my classroom - sorry about that!)  Once I had it assembled, I started to organize student supplies.  The bottom drawer is where students can get rolls of tape and glue sticks for their table buckets, the bottom shelf will be a place for scratch paper and the top shelf will hold my patty paper box.  The vertical storage space behind fits my graphing whiteboards perfectly since we don't use those very often.  For now, I have left off the pencil cup but it's magnetic and might end up on the whiteboard eventually.  

The other goal today was to change out my Puzzle Place area but that didn't quite work out the way I was expecting.  

The little woven bowl I found while cleaning at home did end up working perfectly for the fidget toys (fake Rubik type stuff from Target Dollar Spot), but then I had a whiteboard dilemma!  

Last week, I had decided I wanted to change out the Puzzle Place to something to encourage more interaction with the board.  I had used the same 4 quadrants for the past couple of years and the only one the kids really enjoyed was the Math Joke.  As a result, I decided to look for an inexpensive magnetic solution in order to do some vertical puzzles (inspired by Sarah at MathEqualsLove) and found this whiteboard at Hobby Lobby for $7.99.  (Note:  I was so impressed with the Hobby Lobby whiteboard that I went by there on my way home to get another one for the hallway (inspired by Sara Vanderwerf) but they were sold out.)

Once I go to school, I realized that I wasn't super sure which side of the board I wanted to put the whiteboard on!  Help me out please - send me a message (@druinok on Twitter/X or Mathstodon) or pop it in the comments.  

I plan to keep the Math Joke and the other one will probably end up either being the Math Fun Fact or will get changed to another brain teaser (like Set, 24, solvemoji, etc - something that is less manipulative than the typical puzzle table problem)

When I look around my classroom, I can't say that I can account very well for the 5 hours I worked, but at least it's done enough until I officially report on Monday!  

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

My Teacher Binder - 2023/24 Edition

Hey folks!  It's August 1 and that means that school is just around the corner.  I officially report next Monday and kids come next Thursday, but I am definitely not ready for summer to end this year!  I mean, if I'm being honest, I'm never really ready for summer to end.  I like the structure of school, but I don't like wearing shoes and having to people :)

This summer has been a summer of cleaning, organizing, and purging, which my house sorely needed!  We have one more load of stuff to take to the donation center and then my attention can fully shift to the new school year.  I did go up to my classroom last Thursday to get it mostly put together and to start working on my to-do list.  

One of the things on my to-do list was to put together this year's Teacher Binder and I realized last night that I never shared last year's binder - oops!  I have this year's made and printed, but I still need to assemble it.

Cover and Binding:

A few years ago, I ran across these pocket folders at Dollar Tree that were fairly heavy weight and with a customizable cover.  I haven't seen them in the stores this year, so it's possible they aren't carrying them this season, but I've only been to my Dollar Tree, which isn't in my favorite Top 10 stores if that tells you anything!  

For binding, I have been a huge fan of the DiscBound systems for many years - starting with the Arc system at Staples, but you can also find them with Happy Planner at various craft stores, TUL at Office Depot, etc.  I have found the 1 inch disc work the best for me, but the discs come in a variety of sizes. 

My cover and the dividers inside are all normal 3-hole systems, so I just cut the folder in half, then punch all of them (one at a time of course) using my disc bound punch.  I've used a variety of things for my dividers over the years, but this year, it's just a plain set of plastic pocket dividers that were on Prime Day sale :)  

Inside the Binder:
I typically have 6 or so dividers in use - The first 3 are for my calendars:

Monthly Calendar - this is a typical Monthly spread with a place to jot down reminders and notes under each Month.  This is where I tend to put long-term appointments and due dates.

Quarterly Calendar - This view only shows the first semester of Geometry, but these are just pacing type calendars for me to plan out the quarter.  I also put down holidays and breaks if they are known.

Weekly Calendar - This is my page with all of the day to day details.  On the left side is a place for me to put things for before / during / after the day, such as Lunch Duty, IEP Meetings, covering a class, etc.  Below each day is a checklist for daily habits like posting to Google Classroom, exercising, etc.  In the big empty space is a place for general notes and to-do lists and this space usually has a post-it note or two adhered :)

After the 3 sections of calendars come the sections for my gradebook and things like that, but since I don't have my class lists yet, those aren't ready for the binder!

What does your teacher binder look like?

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Shifting our Thinking

Ugh - how is it that another 6 months has gone by since I last posted?  Often, I will have an idea for a post, jot it down, then by the time I get home, the idea I had that I thought sounded good no longer has any appeal.

But, summer is here and it's a time to reflect, grow, and learn again!  

Last week, I was excited to be involved in a workshop in my area called Exponential Growth.  It is co-sponsored by one of our local universities and our regional STEM alliance.  They have several different workshops, but I was in one for instructional leaders (math coaches, etc).  The workshop was JUST what I needed to jump-start my summer planning and I'm excited to work with my cohort over the next year.

During the workshop, we looked at growth vs fixed mindset and looked at book Principles to Action with regard to what we would like to see in a math classroom and the Effective Teaching Practices.  We looked at productive and unproductive beliefs and sorted them into our ideal classroom and our less than ideal classroom.

We also looked at a variety of tasks and how many of them could be used across the grade level bands.  One of my favorites was this fish pond task...

Our instructor gave us a handful of these colored goldfish (found on Amazon, of course!) and several fish pond mats.  I didn't end up taking a photo until our last mat, which was a make your own problem.  As a result, it's kind of hard to see the point of the mats, so bear with me...

On the first mat, the little "bridges" between the ponds had numbers showing the total of the fishes between the two.  For example, the number 7 was between the purple / orange.  The number 9 was between the purple / blue, and the number 8 was between the orange / blue.  It was our job to figure out how many goldfish were in each pond.  As teachers, we all knew that we could do this with a system of equations or a matrix, but to start out, we just played with the fish and thought about what would happen if we took one of the purples away or added another orange.  Our group was given a variety of mats, from basic to more complex and finished with the one shown on making our own problem.  It was a great way to look at a system from a more concrete standpoint and would be a fabulous low-entry task for a variety of levels.  Our instructor mentioned that she would never teach systems again without starting with a task like this and move from the concrete to the abstract.

I was so inspired after the first day, that I decided to start my summer reading!  I quickly picked up this book from Cathy Seeley as my first summer #EduRead.  I had read one of Seeley's books before, but this book seemed to tie into the workshop perfectly as it was aimed more at admin / instructional coaches in building a great math team.  In the book, Seeley talks about the importance of carefully selected tasks and using a structure she called Upside Down Teaching.

This sent me down another rabbit trail on Upside Down Teaching, which Seeley also calls the "I-We-You" structure.  The idea is to start with a task for students to tackle first, then follow up with classroom discourse and the overall connections.  For me, this also ties in to my personal goal of engaging students with a task or activity that helps to make the entire process more "sticky" with regard to learning.  

What probably bothered me the most about this Upside Down Teaching model was the section in the article about choosing tasks.  I completely agree that choosing good tasks is key and I think many math teachers would agree about the difficulty of choosing just the right task for the lesson, but what floored me is that in Seeley's article, the description of what makes a worthwhile task is from 1991!!  For OVER 30 years, we have known about the importance of quality tasks, but we still don't see that displayed on a regular basis in many classrooms, including my own!  

What I appreciated most about this rabbit hole was that it allowed me to think about my goals for this next year and to make a commitment to bringing more quality tasks into my classroom and to explore this Upside Down model and how it would apply to my classroom.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

What I read this month - January 2023

The end of January 2023 has arrived!

One of my goals this year was to join a couple of the reading challenges my friends were doing, so I want to start documenting my monthly reads and sharing them.  Over Winter Break, hubby and I finally got library cards so my Kindle and I have become great friends with the Libby app!

The book challenges we are doing are from the Book Girls Guide ( - feel free to join us!

Decades - Books set in the 1880s / 1890s
- The Address
I had never read any of Fiona Davis's books and this book was on the list. My friend Pam read it and highly recommended it, so I grabbed it on Libby and set down to read. It was such an enjoyable book, flipping back and forth from 1885 to 1985 with a hint of mystery in the middle. Highly recommend!

- The Children's Blizzard
This book caught my eye because it was based on a true story and the main characters were teachers in one-room school houses on the prairie. I was completely drawn in the storyline and felt a lot of empathy for these homesteaders trying to beat the elements.

- Destiny of the Republic
This book was a non-fiction read about the assassination of President Garfield. I'm honestly not much of a history buff, so I didn't know much about this topic but it was well written and I learned a lot!

Read Around the World - Books set in the Arctic / Antarctica
- The Arctic Fury
I liked the idea of this book better than the book itself. An arctic expedition of only women set in the 1850s plus some legal drama sounded really interesting. However, things quickly degraded from there. The last 25% of the book was really good, so I'm glad I finished it, but the middle 50% could have definitely been trimmed IMO.
- Northern Lights
After reading The Arctic Fury, I wanted something lighter and this book by Nora Roberts fit the bill. Part romance, part mystery, part drama, it was a quick read and I enjoyed getting to know the characters that live in Lunacy, Alaska.

Books Recommended by Students
- One of Us is Lying
As I was walking around my room a few weeks ago, I saw this YA book sitting on a student's desk. The cover was interesting and the summary sounded like Breakfast Club meets Christopher Pike (a YA author I enjoyed as a teen). I enjoyed the mystery aspect of the book and I look forward to chatting with my student about it.

- Outcast in Another Word Book 4
RPG-lit / fantasy is definitely NOT my genre, but a student last year highly recommended this book series, so I gave it a shot. It's not going on my must-read lists, but it is interesting enough that I've read all of the sequels just to find out what happens next...

Other Books I Read this Month
- Killers of the Flower Moon
As a native Oklahoman, this book has had a lot of press recently as the movie was being produced, so when I got my library card, I immediately added it to my TBR list. Parts of the book read more like a novel, while other parts were very detailed. There were times that I struggled to keep all of the characters straight in my head, so I will be really interested to see how the movie brings this story to life.

- The Silent Patient
To be honest, I expected more out of this book. It was interesting enough that I finished it, but I wasn't as enthralled as I wanted to be based on the hype.