Other things I do in class

I’ve written a post about my goals for the year, and then very verbose posts about how I’m doing homework and warm-ups. But there are still some other things that don’t fit into those categories but that are rattling about in the back of my brain and I need to work out here. So this will be sort of a grab-bag post and probably incoherent to everyone else.

Whiteboards – Last year I bought giant markerboard panels from Home Depot, and I loved them. I couldn’t get them vertical because our rooms are crazy, but I would drag them out and put them on the desks whenever we were doing practice. It let me see where kids were at without having to climb over bags and desks, and I could also use it to have kids share out more often. In what seems to be the mantra of my year, I have to be a bit more intentional with how I use the boards this year. Some questions I have, and my thinking:

  • Will they be sharing out, or is it just for them to collaborate in groups? I hope they get to present more, but sometimes I don’t leave myself enough time for that. And work you do in a group is messier than what you’d present. Do I let them rewrite it, or do I encourage them to show their work, warts and all? I like the idea of showing the messy part of math but I can foresee it being a struggle.
  • Do I force them to only have one marker?  I completely understand that one marker forces them to collaborate more. My concern is that if they only have one marker, then other kids will just do the work in their notebooks. I know task design has something to do with this, but I don’t know how to design tasks to force it.
  • Do I try to prop the boards up so that they’re more vertical? I may try for this, at least at first. I love it when they’re standing, but our room designs are making it difficult for me.

One thing that’s really frustrating me this year is that I’m teaching in two different classrooms, and I don’t want to haul those massive whiteboards back and forth every day for class. So I just decided I’m going to get a second set from home-depot, but have these be about half the length (so take a big board and cut it in half). That set will be less obtrusive in the other classroom I’m working in, and easier to move about. I still like the giant boards, but they got too unwieldy after more than a few feet. I’m also looking into getting some sort of portable marker/eraser tote for my whiteboard markers so I can transport those easily. Probably just a Rubbermaid container with a handle.

Notebooks – Last year I tried to do a sort of non-interactive interactive notebook, a la Jonathan. I loved that students had notebooks and not binders, but I ran into some issues. First, the notebooks were not used very well. Just having a notebook wasn’t enough to help kids keep their notes organized. I gave a notebook quiz halfway through last year which showed kids that I took it seriously, but I think it was too little too late (It was in like February, and I only did one). So this year I’m doing a couple things differently:

  • Explicit instruction about good ways to take notes and use a notebook. Starting very prescriptive in this regard, and then opening it up for student choice as the year goes on (i.e. if they want to take illustrated notes they are welcome to, but they need to be doing something).
  • Not answering questions that students could answer if they just checked their notes
  • Creating a pocket in the back of the notebook to hold tests and such.
  • Notebook quizzes more frequently.
  • Notebook “Health Inspections” where I make sure nothing is falling out, and that it’s only math in the notebook.

Last year I let kids keep their notebooks in class, but many of them still took it home to do homework and then lost it. I haven’t figured out a good fix for this yet. Do I have them get a second “Homework Notebook”?  Or will having notebook quizzes and health inspections enough to strongly discourage losing the notebook? I don’t know.

I’ll be doing one thing slightly different in my two classes this year because of co-planning. In my Studies class, which I teach alone, I’ll make sure all pages can be pasted into their notebooks. But in Algebra 2, which I’m coplanning with two other people, students will have a binder in addition to their notebook. Handouts will go in the binder, notes in the notebook. We’ll be explicit about writing in the notebook something like “See handout SS.2” to help them stay organized. I don’t love this system and can already see it being a hassle, but it was a compromise since no one (myself included) wanted to make two different versions of the same worksheet every other day. I personally hate having to worry about looseleaf and binder organization, plus binders are a nightmare to store because they all fall out all over the place, so I’m insisting that actual notes go in the notebook. We’ll see how this goes.

Calculators and Desmos – Last year I started letting kids use the Desmos app in class, especially if they didn’t have an actual graphing calculator. I told them they wouldn’t be able to use their phones on any assessment, but that in class I’d rather they do the work than sit there and stare at the walls. And the kids got to be pretty good at Desmos, and really started to see connections between graphs and algebra, which I loved. So I’m starting this from the beginning of the year. Only trick is if I see Pokemon Go on any of their phones, I’m transferring their highest Pokemon.

Question-Starter posters – We have a weird thing about posters at my school. I think in an effort to not force teachers to stress out about bulletin boards (which I appreciate) we swung a little far and now don’t hang anything up. But as I am wont to do I sort of ignored that and made my own question starter posters last year. I was continually bothered by the negative attitudes and bad questions I was getting, so I made these super-low-tech posts for my room. Someday I’ll try to make them on a computer, but probably not this year.

Last year I only had them in the class where I taught the majority of my classes, but this year since I’m even split I want to put them in both rooms I teach in (which is incentive to make a poster, but again, I don’t have time to stress over formatting right now). I’d welcome any feedback on how to improve these posters you might have.

I can’t think of anything else I need to think through, although I’m sure something will come up on Tuesday when I get back into the swing of things.




2 thoughts on “Other things I do in class

  1. I’ve just come across your blog and want to say how much I appreciate the matter-of-fact reflection. It’s wonderfil for me to sneak a peak into other teachers’ thinking especially when I feel as though in struggling with similar issues!

    As for the question starter posters I’ve been using ideas from the work of Jo Boaler (Mathematic Mindsets) and Carol Dweck. A “pretty” example of the types of posters you’re creating can be found at http://mathequalslove.blogspot.ca/2014/08/growth-mindset-and-sbg-bulletin-board.html?m=1.

    Thanks for sharing. We have such an awesome math community!

  2. Been following you on Twitter, now I’m following your blog too!
    I also allow my students to take their notes home — but I loop with my Pre-Ao 7th graders to Pre-AP algebra students so we use 3-5 subject spirals (EVERYTHING for 2 years will be in there) – so they get heavy to carry back and forth so they take a picture of their notes with their phones. This year, I think I’ll have a student e-mail their picture of the notes and then put that up on a class website or google something.

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