Translating Words into Math

So today I did an activity that I really didn’t think would be that big of a deal.  I had a nice little plan for something simple but it turned out to be one of the most successful activities we have done all year!  I think this goes back to my previous post about realizing that I was packing way too much into my activities and expecting a lot more out of my kids than they are ready to give right now.

So originally, I had planned to do this activity from Katie over at Middle School Math Madness.  I love the visual of the signs and writing the words right on those signs.  So much more fun than just making a list.  I also love, love, love the “turn around words” so kids know when those tricky subtraction problems don’t actually go in the same order as they are written in the problem.

Then I saw Sarah’s dry erase sleeves over at Everybody is a Genius.  She did a similar activity but had all of the words she wanted the kids to write on the signs in a dry erase sleeve so they could cross the words off as they placed them.  Love it!

I combined the two together.  I had the kids cut out the signs gave the kids a list of the words in my page protector sleeves.  They had to divide the words up and write them on the signs they belonged to.  Bam!  I had my old group back.  They were all on task and working so well together.  It was perfect!

Also, I overheard this great conversation:

Student 1: I think the word sum needs to go on the equal sign.

Student 2: No, I think it should go on the plus sign, because it tells us to add to get our answer.

Student 1: But I think because it means the answer to an addition problem, it should go on the equal sign.

Me: Wow guys, I love this discussion!  We are actually going to put it on the plus sign because even though it talks about the answer to the problem, it is specifically the answer to an addition problem, so we will put it on the plus sign.

(Now here’s the great part) Student 1: Ok guys, so that means we know for sure where product, difference, and quotient go, too!



Test Review

I gave a test this week over the material we learned in the first unit.  The day before, I had the kids review the material in groups.  I gave them this page:

I made a pdf to upload to scribd because I am tired of my formatting looking so crazy whenever I upload it, especially since I used a bunch of crazy fonts on this page.  I will also include the link to the word document, so you can change it to meet your review material if you want!

Word File

PDF File if for some reason you have the same exact unit as I do 🙂

The kids worked on this page in groups.  Each kid had to bring their paper to me to check in the box when the problem was right.  If it was wrong, I sent them back to work.  Only one student from each group was allowed out of their seats at a time.  The group that had all students with all problems checked off first won.  I didn’t think it would be as successful as it was, but the competition brought out a great side in some kids and they were working hard to make sure that everyone in their group knew the material!

#myFavFriday- Sticks

Wow, it feels good to blog again!  I have been so busy this week and have really missed writing this blog and reading everyone else’s.

My school doesn’t have bussing, so all of the kids stand by grade level along the curb and their parents pick them up (families stand together).  It is actually a much faster process than it sounds because we have it down to a science.  Today at the curb, one of my kids came up to me, held out his two index fingers, and said, “Do you want to play sticks?”  I just stared at him like he was insane.  Then another student ran up and said, “STICKS!  I’ll play!!”  and held out his two index fingers as well.  Suddenly they were hitting each other’s fingers, bumping their fingers together, putting fingers up and down, and groaning and cheering while I stood there completely clueless.  Within a few seconds we had a crowd around us with several groups playing sticks.  Maybe you are all reading this thinking that I am completely clueless and how did I survive my childhood without playing this game, but for the rest of you- here is what the kids taught me.

You both start with two fingers out, one on each hand.  One person hits their one finger on the other person’s one finger.  One finger plus one finger equals two fingers that person two should now have up on that hand.  Then person two goes.  He can hit his two fingers on the one hand or the one finger on the other hand to combine with player one’s fingers to make player one now have two or three fingers up, depending on the move player two makes.  I am doing my best to explain this game, but man it sounds complicated!  You can always split your fingers that are up onto two hands or combine them to one hand.  When the other player hits your hands to make five, you have to put that hand down until you want to use it again to split your fingers.  When both of your hands are down, you loose the game.

The point is this: suddenly I had a whole group of students, figuring out ways to make groups of 5, add and subtract numbers so quickly I couldn’t follow wht was happening, split different numbers using many strategies in order to prevent the other player from making a group of five… and eveyone was cheering and totally into it!  It was so fun!  At one point, I had two students slow down and walk me through the game so I could learn the rules.  One student made a move and I stopped him and asked why he would do that.  He looked at me and simply said, “I’m a master at this game.  This is one of my tricks.”  I could practically hear the “duh” coming out of his mouth.  So awesome!

They did manage to convince me that they had invented this game years ago, but I was able to find some information online.  It appears to more commonly be called chopsticks.  Either way, it was a great way to end our Friday!

Wikipedia Link

You Tube Video

Order of Operations Papers

I am for sure going to bed early tonight because all of the papers are graded and I need to give myself a little break!  I was really hoping to blog about the review I did today, along with the order of operations games, but it is just not going to happen!

I just wanted to let you all know, that thanks to my students, I now know why we use the order of operations.

Reason #1: Because when we grow up and get a job and have to take the test they want to know that we learned what we were supposed to. 

Reason #2: Because without the order of operations, we would not have the technology we have today.

And with that, I am heading to bed!

Order of Operations Game

I read about this amazing game over on Writing to Learn to Teach this summer.  It looked awesome so I made my own set for each group of kids in my room.  I planned on using it near the beginning of last week, but my timing has been so off this year and I didn’t get to the game until today.  I also was very jealous of the several other teachers who posted that they had played this game last week, so by today I was very ready to have the kids play.  And wow!  It went so well!  I do want to point out that when I went to this blog today, I noticed an update with the printable files and I definitely recommend doing this as you will soon see why in my pictures.

20120924-104232.jpg Notice the unusually large operation signs as compared to the numbers.  A little tip for the future- if you plan on doing any sort of activity like this, please check the sizes of things before you copy, laminate, and cut out all of the pieces 🙂  Just wait until you see the exponents.




We started without parentheses or exponents, then added in one at a time.  This student had been begging me all morning to use his hands in a picture.  Now he is famous.

 The good news is that apparently I didn’t take any pictures while they were using the exponents, so you can’t see how ridiculously large they are.

I hope we will have more time to play this again tomorrow.  It is also going to be a great one when I need a quick time filler!

Why I love blogging AKA Groups Part 2

I just love this new blogging experience and my love was once again renewed last night when I posted about my problem with the kids being in groups.  Within a few hours, I had 3 detailed, helpful, and thought provoking responses.  Amazing.  Thanks for the help, guys!

I have thought about it a lot throughout my day and I finally get it!  It just took strangers across the internet to make me see what I wasn’t understanding before.  Here is what I am taking away and working with from here:

1. Biggest and most important- if they are given engaging material at the appropriate level with clear directions and support- they will be on task a lot more than if those things aren’t met!  I knew this, of course, but I do think I was trying to squeeze way too much into a shorter amount of time and not explaining to the kids how to do these kind of activities.  I was asking how to get the kids to come to my level when I should have been going to their level first and then building them up to where I want them to be.  I was looking at my problem from the wrong side!  I am going to shorten the activities for the future, make sure they are engaging, and walk them through what they should be doing a lot more until they are ready for me to back off a big.

2. I want to come up with some sort of a reward for the learning they are doing.  Maybe if they all are able to pass the assessment so they can keep each other accountable.  The first time I will be working on this is tomorrow in class when they are doing a review activity for the unit test on Wednesday.  I will let you know what I come up with and how it goes.

3. It is harder this year because it is better teaching.  And doing your best teaching is hard work.  And I will always have students who aren’t where I want them to be academically and behaviorally, but I have to keep working on this since they are doing something that isn’t familiar to them and forcing someone to think who has never had to before is hard work for them too. 

Thank you thank you thank you for reading and supporting me.  You amaze me!

Groups- Help Please!

I have made some major changes in the way that I teach this year.  I had previously been a students-in-rows, me-doing-notes-on-the-board, students-copying-them-down, then-you-practice-on-your-own type of girl.  It worked for me.  I don’t think I was a horrible teacher doing this.  We did group work once or twice a week, and it always felt a little chaotic, and I’m not a fan of chaos.  Last year, I was ready for a change.  In my 6th year of teaching, I had planning down, management down, assessment down… things were in no way perfect, I was always looking to improve and tweek and make things the best they could be.  I learned about foldables and started spicing up my notes.  I slowly moved to a notebook system.  It was a great change and I knew I was on the right track.  Then came the summer that I think will shape the entire rest of my teaching career.  I found the math twitterblogosphere and joined the new blogger initative.  I will never go back.  I have learned and grown professionally more in the past few months than the entire 6 years before that.  I do think I needed the first 6 years though in order to be ready to accept and embrace all of this.

So to get to the point, I think this year is going so well because I am doing the best teaching that I have ever done.  I have moved the kids to groups.  I was terrified, but there are so many great things about this.  I now incorporate collaboration and working together into everything that I do.  I encourage talking and interacting with the material.  I am obsessed with sorting activities where the kids have to move the pieces around and figure out how things fit together and actually WORK instead of mindlessly copying things down and spitting them back out. But I have a problem and I am hoping the people out there in the blog world can help me with it.

How can I get the kids to stay on task and work at a reasonable pace??

Everything is taking FOREVER to do.  The cutting of pieces, the gluing in, the off-task talking and then every so often putting a piece down.

Week 1: I gave the kids the expectations for group work, talked about why I want them in groups, talked about the alternative, everyone agreed that groups are awesome.  Then group activity #1- they get started immediately, I am walking around, listening to the amazing things they are saying.  When the activity is over, I give them a whole class point (blogged about here) on our hundreds chart.  I point out the awesome things, we are feeling great!

Week 2: Continue to feel great, point out those great things, continue to give points to the whole group, and now start table points as well as giving out red tickets to individuals doing awesome.  (These tickets are turned in to a bucket and I draw names for prizes at the end of the week.) 

Week 3:  WHAT HAPPENED?????  Kids came in Monday and they are different kids.  This is my 7th year, I understand that this is normal for the honeymoon to be over and the behavior to change.  I get that.  So I continue to remind them about how great groups are, why we love them, what the alternative is, continue to give team points.  Except now I have one or two teams that have ridiculous amounts of points and the rest of the teams are still there ho-humming along.  The problem is that they aren’t doing anything that is necessarily wrong or anything I could give a consequence for.  When I say, “I need you to stay on task”, the response is always, “But I’m working, see!”  And they are… mostly.  They just aren’t seeing the importance of getting things done at a faster pace with a little more focus.  So I tell them they have to get it done at home then.  Some do, some don’t.  So I say, but if you finish early, then you can start on your homework, (and this is what I really want to happen, because I WANT them to talk about their homework and practice together), this motivates some, but doesn’t really make a huge impact.

If you have managed to stick with my problem so far, I thank you!

So anyone out there with awesome ideas for motivation?  I have thought about a prize for the first group who has all correct answers, but understand that some kids work slower but they are really on task and working hard and I don’t want to punish them.  I have thought about putting 3 mini post its on each desk, and I would take away an individual’s post it each time they are off task, then giving a reward to those students who can keep all 3, but I can’t perfect this idea the right way.  I was thinking about offering a string of my red ticket rewards to the whole group and however many they have left at the end of the hour, they can keep… but again, I can’t seem to make this into a realistic workable idea.  So what do YOU do to keep things moving and focused and can you please share it with me tonight so I can start it tomorrow morning, please?

#msSunFun- Classroom Management


I have always felt like classroom management has always been one of my strengths.  Kids who misbehave in other rooms usually don’t have the same problems in my class.  This is DEFINITELY not all kids and DEFINITELY not all of the time.  I am in no way perfect at management and have to work a lot at it.  I think one of my strengths is in understanding middle school kids.  I haven’t always understood them and have had to learn how to relate to them over the last several years, but I feel that my teaching style that I have developed works pretty well with these crazy middle schoolers.  Some things that work well for me:

1.  Listen.  Remember.  Repeat.  When a kid tells you something, listen to them.  They could have told this story to any other adult or kid around you, but they chose YOU.  You might not find it interesting, but THEY do.  A student who knows you care about their personal stuff with care a lot more about you teaching them math.  But you aren’t done yet.  Remember what they told you, ask them about it later, bring it up again. 

2. Create inside jokes with different classes.  (This works especially well if it is a joke about yourself doing something silly.)  Kids like funny things.  It is ok to take a break once in a while and laugh, especially if it is a joke at your expense.  You don’t have to be all business all the time to earn respect.

3. Make your rules known right from the beginning, follow through when you say you will do something, BUT also RELAX!  I don’t know how to state this eloquently.  It is so important to have rules.  Not hidden rules, but clear expectations that you have from the very beginning that do not change based on the day and do not change based on the student and do not change based on if you are having a bad day or not.  Kids do not like when things are unpredictable.  Now for the big BUT… on rare occasions, and you will know when this is appropriate, just chill out on the rules.  Example: kid clearly having a bad day, just came from another teacher yelling at him in the hall, walks in without any materials.  Maybe just today, instead of yelling more at him, instead of giving him a consequence… try leaving him alone for a few minutes, then lend him one of your extra books, a pencil, and a piece of paper.  Without conditions or reminders.  Don’t hand him the paper and say, “just this once, don’t forget to bring your stuff tomorrow.”  Of course, if this is a daily thing, this idea doesn’t work.  We are talking a once time deal here.  But this kid clearly doesn’t need more yelling. 

4. Be fair.  It is worth stating again.  Be fair.  All kids, all situations, even on your bad days.  Kids recognize that you have a favorite that isn’t them really fast.  And it hurts.

5. I read about this a long time ago and I really try to stick with it.  Have the kids come up with their own consequence/compromise/solution whatever it is.  If you can live with it, tell them that, if you can accept part of what they are saying, tell them and have them come up with the rest.  For example: Student doesn’t have his math book today.  Let him choose what the solution is.  He might say, “just don’t do the homework.” My response, “Sorry, I can’t live with that, come up with something else.”  Then he might say, “I will share a book with ______” If you can live with that, tell them.  Or maybe change it to, “You can share, but not with _____ because he is across the room, how about _____ instead.”  (Note that that sentence does not end in a question mark).  Or he might say, “Can I borrow and extra book from you?”  or “Can I go to my locker for a planner signature?”  I am very against learned helplessness.  I feel that too many parents and teachers have solved everything for their kids for too long and now the don’t know what to do without you holding their hands.  It is sad.  Help them to take ownership of the solution and they will feel valued and comfortable with that solution instead of needing to rebel.

6. Laugh at yourself.  It is very tricky to find the balance between I-am-a-professional-and-your-teacher-and-must-be-respected and I-am-a-human.  But you are human.  And so are they. 

7. An extension from the last one… be professional.  Be the adult.  Kids don’t have the same respect for an adult who loves to act like a kid as they do for an adult.

8. Be calm.  Don’t yell.  If you yell all of the time they will learn to tune it out.  Raise your voice and change your tone slightly when it is needed in a serious situation.  When the class gets out of control loud, you being louder just adds to it.  Talk quieter in those situation.  Or sometimes I just stop talking and act out or point to everything I want.  They will stop talking and try to figure out why you are acting so crazy.

Tons of rambling there… hope it made sense to at least one person.  What other classroom management strategies have worked for you?  Join our #msSunFun this week!

Order of Operations

For the order of operations, we are starting with this foldable:

20120918-105356.jpg      20120918-105449.jpg

Our school is pushing cross curricular writing assignments this year.  So, I am also having the kids do a paper for the first time.  They will be explaining why we use the order of operations and then explaining the steps.    So I will grade the math content and then pass the papers on to our language arts teacher who will grade the writing.  I found this awesome page to use for a graphic organizer.

The kids also did a matching activity cause I just can’t resist them.  The were given the original expression and then a page will each line of the work to show along with a list of the PEMDAS steps.   They had to figure out what step would go next and the reasoning.


I am obsessed with these kind of activies these days.  They get the kids talking and working with all of the pieces like  puzzle and they have to prove what they know so much more than if they were just copying down examples.

Then tomorrow we will do some problems on white boards and also play this game.  I am so excited for the game because I have been hearing about it going really well from twitter friends!

The one thing I am struggling with is the off task talking and behavior during the group activities.  I love doing them so much more than what I used to do, but I am facing a new set of problems that I haven’t had before.  I have tried group points, individual rewards, whole class points, if they don’t finish- it is their homework… and nothing seems to make a huge difference.  I am now going to try putting 3 little post it flags on their desks, and if they are off topic or wasting time I will take one away.  If you loose them all you get a planner signature, if you keep them all you get a reward ticket for our drawing.  Hopefully I will report good things!  If you have ideas that have worked for you, please let me know!!

These are a few of my favorite things…

Today I randomly pulled out one of my favorite things, and it worked so well that I had to blog about it!  I have a box full of various fidget balls that I have gathered throughout the years. 


When I got it out this morning, one of my students who has a lot of trouble staying focused asked what they were, so I gave him one and he had a fantastic day!  He was in my room for two periods and did everything he was supposed to do and wasn’t disruptive at all.  I also used one for another student in a different hour and it worked like magic!  I am fully aware that tomorrow they might be a huge distraction and have the opposite effect, but I am happy that they worked today!

Next is a very random favorite thing.  I had a student ask me about my white board today.  He wanted to know what I wrote with when I made my lines.  You can see a small part of it here (he was talking about the thin orange line):


So I told him that I wrote with sharpie.  Cue the collective gasp from my students.  They were all very concerned that I would get in trouble for ruining the white board.  So to prove my point, I asked someone to throw me a sharpie and drew a huge line throught the middle of the board… and then drew over with with white board marker and erased it with the white board eraser.  So if you aren’t aware of this- it is pretty useful.  I always draw dividing lines for the sides of my board for my schedule, homework, and objectives.  They look much nicer than thick white board lines.  I also have used sharpie to draw a coordinate plane on the white board so we can use it over and over to graph multiple points or to write problems that I do not want erased for a while.  Try it if you haven’t!

So really, it is only two of my favorite things today.  Sorry if you were really hoping for more than two 🙂