Designing a Math Focus Wall for Your Classroom: The Planning Stage

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Part 1: 12 Essential Components of a Math Focus Wall

In Part 1 of this series, I explained how I wanted to create a math focus wall for my classroom.  I came up with 12 items that I think are necessary components of a math focus wall.  Since I teach intermediate students, the math focus wall I am designing would look different than many of the primary math focus walls I have seen.

To set the scene, I have five bulletin boards at the back of my classroom.  The SMART Board covers the bottom half of the middle bulletin board.  I decided to spread out my math focus wall over the three centre bulletin boards.  Since I want to incorporate several items into my math focus wall, I really needed the space to do it justice.

So after quite a bit of copying, cropping, and pasting, here’s my plan:

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I’ve managed to include all the 12 items I had mentioned previously. These are the items that are ready to go:

  • my SMART Board is at the centre and is ready to be incorporated into my math lessons
  • on the left hand side, I have my math talk sentence starters…there are 52 sentence starters and I will be changing them on a regular basis.  They will be used to help guide students during their math discussions (I will post a link to this new product of ours soon!)
  • at the top left hand corner, the four posters help student decipher math word problems and determine which operation to use (I will post a link to this new product of ours soon!)
  • on the right hand side, our GRASS posters help students to break down word problems.  The white boxes along the poster set will show student solutions to problems we are working on…these will be changed on a regular basis as well
  • along the top of the board you’ll find our posters “What does a good mathematician do?” to help students become mathematical thinkers and apply various skills when solving problems

The items shown in white on my plan will be co-created with or created by students:

  • learning goals and success criteria will be co-created with students for each new lesson
  • the white tiles next to the GRASS posters will contain student problem solving steps

I still need to work on the following items (the items shown in blue on my plan):

  • make a sign for my math talk prompts
  • find examples of math in everyday life
  • find funny math comics
  • an eye catching border and title
  • work on key terms for each section (term: definition, diagram, examples)
  • math reflection questions for their math journals
  • challenge question of the week (University of Waterloo’s Problem of the Week and Math Circles are great resources for this)
  • and math strategy posters (e.g. work backwards, draw a picture, solve a simpler problem)

Any other suggestions? Any areas for improvement?

Tune in for more updates on my math focus wall!

The Tuesday 12: 12 Essential Components of a Math Focus Wall

Welcome to another edition of The Tuesday 12! I recently had a SMART Board installed in my classroom and I’d like to incorporate it in my math lessons.  Then I began to think of creating a math focus wall on the bulletin boards that surround my SMART Board.  I looked through Pinterest and couldn’t really find the perfect plan (which is odd because Pinterest has everything!), but I did find one picture to use as inspiration:

Lots of great ideas for an interactive math bulletin board

(Aside: I tried linking the picture to the original source, but I can never get that page to load properly)

Based on previous experiences teaching grade 7 and 8 math, some research, and some creative thinking, I’ve come up with 12 items I’d like to include on my math focus wall.  Some things will be static, while other things will be dynamic.  This list isn’t carved in stone…until I get into my classroom at the end of August and begin to put everything together, it will be hard to imagine.

I’ve decided to turn this into a series of posts from the initial ideas to the final creation!  So join me in creating a math focus wall for my classroom and then adapt the ideas for your own grade levels!For my next post, I’ll draw some pictures to help me visualize my ideas.

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12 essential (for now…lol) components of a math focus wall:

1. A number line…really a no-brainer for a math focus wall, but it will probably be from around –45 to + 45, since integers are used throughout the grade 7 and 8 math program

2. A spot for our learning goal and success criteria which we will be co-creating with each new lesson.

3. A section with math accountable talk sentence starters (I’m working on a set now!)

4. Challenge question of the week

5. Steps to problem solving…like our lovely GRASS posters!

6. Help in decoding math word problems (e.g. multiplication-of, product, twice, times, multiple)

7. Key terms and definitions for the unit we’re working on

8. Our posters—what does a good mathematician do?

9. Different problem solving strategies (e.g. work backwards, draw a diagram)

10. Examples of math in everyday life

11. Bright and colourful parts—I’m thinking a blue or green background, a patterned border, and something really cool for the title (maybe just the word MATH done in an interesting way)

12. The SMART Board…I just need to start incorporating it into lessons regularly!

Do you have any suggestions?  Let me know! As I said before, until I can go into my classroom and begin arranging all the different sections, this list can—and most likely—will change!

Tune in next week for another edition of The Tuesday 12 and more on my math focus wall!

Taking over a class at this point in time

Many of you do not know that I have not been working in the classroom for the last 15 months. I have been recuperating from an injury I sustained and after all this time, I am mentally preparing (although I am not completely ready physically) as to how I would enter a classroom at this point in time in the year and take the reigns.   I know that many of you out there have done this, either returning from a maternity/paternity leave, or a short term absence, and many of you have taken over mid way as well (on a contractual basis).  Therefore, who else to help me and others in this situation than you!  We all look to each other for support and assistance, so let’s get this conversation started.  What are your best techniques, strategies and ideas in entering into a classroom at this point in time?  What would be your first plan of attack?  What do want to have on hand prior to entering the classroom (realistic or ideal)? How do you address the diverse classroom management style between the exiting teacher and yourself?

I will start it off, add in your comments and help us all out, especially me!

1) I would definitely need to see the daily schedule for the classroom.  This will help me understand the classroom logistics and what happens on a daily basis.  Having this item ahead of time would definitely streamline transition times in the first few days.

2) I would ideally prefer to have the opportunity to converse with the current teacher, regarding programming and which curriculum has been completed and what still needs to be completed.

3) The completed grades for all students, and an understanding of the upcoming assignments and  their respective due dates.

 

Making Life Easier! Post-It Note Templates

A few years back, I purchased these excellent Post-It Notes that were pre-printed with various reading comprehension strategies.  For each strategy, a checklist was provided for students or teachers to check off while reading over the student response.  These Post-Its were very useful, but also very expensive.  The other problem I had was that I really wanted to use Post-Its for other reasons, so I really wanted to find some way to customize them.  I found a really great product on Teachers Pay Teachers that allows you to customize Post-It Notes.

Janice Malone has three {FREE} templates to print on Post-It Notes depending on the size of your notes:

Standard

Mini

Large

The process is super simple:

  • pen up the template
  • print off a blank copy (this will be used to place the blank Post-It Notes)
  • type or place a picture in the blank area of each box
  • place the Post-It Note covered template into your printer
  • print!

I used this template to create a checklist for my students to go along with our Article of the Week assignments. 

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I love Post-It Notes, so the possibilities are endless!

Place Value for Middle Grades

Place ValueIt is essential for students to keep practicing concepts that have been introduced to them during class time.  A fantastic way is through centre activities and games.  Here is a great game for students to keep practicing the concepts of place value.  Included is a place value chart (from Millions to Thousandths), 24 cards with numbers in written form and an answer key.  It could easily be used as a game between students, friendly competition is a great motivator!  It could also be used as a means for independent practice.  Laminate the cards so they can be used continuously and will withstand wear and tear!  We hope that you will find this product useful!  Just click on the image above to be brought to the product page.

Just a reminder that we have other centre activities available for your classroom as well.

 

The Tuesday 12: 12 New Year’s Resolutions for Teachers!

Happy New Year!  This is our second day of school in 2013 and my students are refreshed, ready to work, and have new goals for the year (at least I hope)!  My students are making resolutions for 2013, so that had me thinking about 12 resolutions teachers should make (and keep!) for 2013! Of course, these are only my suggestions, so feel free to add in your suggestions in the comments section!

12 teacher resolutions

1. I will get out of my comfort zone and try something new!

It’s very easy to use the same activities, lessons, and units from year to year if you’re teaching the same grades.  I guess a lot of things in life are like that—we feel comfortable with things that are familiar to us.  But I am going to challenge myself—and you too!—to get out of my comfort zone and try new things.  Do you normally run the art club? Why don’t you try coaching a sport? Have you tried to incorporate new concepts in your teaching? I’ve challenged myself to leap into 21st century learning this year…there’s so much to learn, but I will try a little bit more each day.

2. Prioritize!

Teaching is a 24 hour job.  Even if teachers work 24 hours a day, there still is not enough time to get everything that we want accomplished.  With teaching, marking, planning, decorating classrooms, extracurriculars, professional development, and preparing for daily lessons and activities, it seems like my “to do” list gets longer and longer.  I am going to focus on what is important and prioritize my tasks! Not everything is mission critical!

3. Take time for yourself!

A refreshed, relaxed, and energized teacher is an effective teacher! Take care of yourself, eat nutritious meals and snacks, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, spend time with family and friends, and, most importantly, have fun!

4. Don’t let things pile up!

At the end of the day, it’s so easy to look at that small pile of assignments on your desk and convince yourself to let them go just one day…but then that pile starts to grow out of control!  Little things can quickly turn into big problems if you aren’t careful! I’m going to be on task this year! No more slacking Smile

5. 21st century learning!

As I mentioned in my first resolution, I really want to try new things.  21st century learning seems like such a phenomenal and revolutionary change to teaching and learning! It seems a bit overwhelming and scary, but it is also motivating and exhilarating! This year, I’ve began to use Edmodo and Engrade in my classroom.  I want to incorporate technology, digital resources, and educational apps into my daily teaching more and more.

6. Make a 1 year, 3 year, and 5 year plan!

Did you reach all your goals in 2012? Did you even set any goals for yourself in 2012?  Are you where you expected to be in 2013?  Did you even imagine where you would be in 2013?

It’s very easy to just live in the moment, but it is essential to plan ahead and set goals for yourself.  I plan to make 1 year, 3 year, and 5 year goals for myself to keep me focused and on track!

7. Ask for student input!

I really want my students to be more actively engaged and involved in their learning…not just in lessons and activities, but I want their input in the types of concepts we cover, how we cover them, and how they’d like to learn.  Of course, we need to cover curriculum expectations, but there are so many ways for students to learn the curriculum, explore their learning needs, and become active contributors in your classroom learning community.

8. Simplify!

Sometimes I get a little too wrapped up in the little things when I should be focusing on the big picture.  Here’s an easy way to simplify your life a bit: get rid of your mark books and use an electronic mark book!  There are many free, online mark books or you can simply use an Excel spreadsheet…there is no excuse for wasting time calculating and tabulating final grades.  I use engrade.ca and I think it is phenomenal! Scared you’ll lose your work? I simply export or print my marks on a weekly basis and I’m worry free!

9. Form a professional learning community!

Do you meet with colleagues simply to plan lessons?  Or do you use this as an opportunity to learn from another and grow as a teacher?  If you don’t have a formal professional learning community, then make one yourself! Look to teacher blogs, teacher forums, Twitter, or Facebook to discuss education, teaching strategies, lesson plans, and student learning with teachers all over the world! How’s that for a global learning community!

10. Connect with every student!

Build a relationship with every single student in your class.  This may be difficult but it is so important! There are some kids that are shy, quiet, do their work, and don’t really stand out…it is easy for them to get lost in the crowd.  Don’t let this happen!  Help students join the classroom community and grow as individuals.

11. It’s okay to veer off your lesson plans!

I’ve said this before and I will say it again—it is okay to veer off your lesson plans! They are not written in stone! Some of the best class discussions I’ve had in my class occurred when we were off on some tangent.  It’s okay and there is time to go back and catch up.  True learning is spontaneous and cannot be scheduled into a thirty minute pre-determine block of time.  Be flexible!

12. Don’t forget that learning should be fun!

Learning should be fun…both for you and your students!  Try to use different tactics and tools to engage the students in your class.  If you are having a fun time, then your love of learning will be infectious and your students will be motivated and inspired to learn!

Good luck with your resolutions! I’ll report back on how I’m doing! If you have any suggestions or additions, please add them in to the comments.  See you next week for another edition of The Tuesday 12!