Monday, August 3, 2015

A Peek Inside My "Not Ready" Classroom #notreadytour

Who Am I?
Before I show you my classroom, I should give a quick intro.  My name is Amy Fine (@afinegal), and I teach 6th grade math in Edmond, Oklahoma.

My Twitter/Blog Background
I began teaching at 21 in August 2011.  I discovered the #mtbos in 2012, became more involved in the MathTwitterBlogosphere when I attended Twitter Math Camp 2014, and with the beginning of a new year sort of let it fade into the background.  I checked twitter relatively regularly to read #msmathchat and #oklaed, and I occasionally attended a Global Math Department online conference.  Still, I haven't been very involved this past year.  This summer it has really set in how much being engaged with fellow educators and education leaders can help me development as an educator.  I have been on Twitter more often, and I attended my first Ed Camp at OKEngage.  It was everything I wanted it to be!

2015-2016: A New Year, New Goals
Last year was one of my most successful years yet.  As a fourth year teacher, I felt like I finally was beginning to get this classroom management business figured out.  Overall, I felt like it was an awesome year!  That has given me the confidence to try to "Level Up" my instruction this year.  The highlights: spiraling my assignments and bell work to purposefully re-engage topics throughout the entire year, leveraging technology to increase and improve the feedback students receive on their progress, introducing Growth Mindset concepts into my classroom, and incorporating a few alternative seating options (standing desks and floor seating).

My "Not Ready" Room
So, I follow Vanessa Perez (@vperezy) on Twitter, and she has been posting about the #notreadytour.  I loved checking out the classrooms even if they weren't finished and ready to go so I decided I would take pictures of my room today as well.  Here it is!
The Entrance--Mrs. Larsen taught in my room one hour per day last year but won't be doing so this year so I need to update that.

I like to have my Remind codes up outside my door early so that parents and students who come by on Schedule Pick Up day can go ahead and sign up right away if they want.  These are last year's codes though so I need to update them!
When you walk in, you will see my standing desks in progress.  I think this will be space for two students to work if they choose.  Right now I have the cabinet held up by boxes, but I am building a base for the cabinet to hold it at the proper height.  It's not perfect, but I still think students will like it.  You can see the wood to the right.  I was double checking my measurements were going to work before I build the stand.  The stand will be 12" tall.
At the back of the room, I have an area I can pull students that need extra help.  I particularly use this in my co-taught class.  One of us will help students who ask for extra help while the other teacher continues with whatever she is doing.  This especially happens when it is time to grade an assignment and some students do not have it completed because they felt lost.'

Also, you will see my purposefully "Not Ready" bulletin board.  I will add key words that often signal certain operations up here as we discuss them throughout the year.  This will match our Interactive Notebook entry on writing algebraic expressions from words where we use Julie Reulbach's graphic organizer.
No, he doesn't come with the room ;).  He was enjoying playing with Anglegs (a cool tool, especially when I taught older grades where students learned Pyth. Theorem or Trig.) until I started taking pictures.  This wall will be covered with our "Math About Me" organizers first.  Eventually, I take them down and they glue them in their interactive notebooks as their first page.  Several things go up here throughout the year.

Cabinets where I throw all my disorganized junk.  I should put something on that orange bulletin board, but last year, I never put anything on it.  You can see my clickers on the floor, too.  They should be in the cabinet, but I need to go through and replace batteries first.  Some brilliant person designed these clickers to require a screw driver to access the batteries which is a huge pain.
My big math clock, inspired by this one you can buy, but mine is bigger and written in chalk so I can change the math problems (not that I ever have, ha!).  I am waiting on lots of labels for the shelves to get laminated before I can work on the stuff on the black shelf.  I keep lots of interactive notebook supplies here.  I have hoards of scissors, glue sticks, markers, crayons, etc.  I also have a student computer, and I plan on using the purple bulletin board to make a sweet Growth Mindset bulletin board inspired by this one.  I haven't gotten there yet. 
I have two carpet squares to designate two floor seating options.  In the blue tub on the student desk, I have clip boards, and a space for floor seating students to put their junk they aren't using (since they can't stuff it under their desks).
This is my space, but I have significantly shrunken down its footprint in the room from past years.  I am limited on where my desk can be because of ethernet hook ups, but I have at least tried to push it against the wall to minimize the space it takes up in the room. 
"Every great accomplishment began with the decision to try."  I put things on my white boards that stay all day or several days.  I use the Smart Board for stuff that is changing quickly so it isn't a huge issue that my whiteboards aren't the easiest to access.

My Anchor Chart Wall- I hang different anchor charts here throughout the year.  Some will stay all year once introduced (group norms, order of operations, integer rules), and others will change.  The projector in the corner was in the room when I got it, and I have never used it.  I should probably get rid of it to save space, but haven't bothered so far. 

The Pano View

 So, that is my room for the #notreadytour !  I hope to post again with a few updates once I have prepared for the year.

Amy Fine @afinegal

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Peak at my Classroom #mtboschallenge

This is Week 3 of the #mtboschallenge on twitter.  The challenge is to blog once a week for the remainder of 2014 (I already missed Week 2--OOPS!).  Each Saturday there will be a different prompt shared to blog about.  The prompt will be shared prior to Saturday on twitter using #mtboschallenge  You can link up on with the hosting blog (or any other that's shares the link up). Also link your blog post on twitter with #mtboschallenge . 

This week's prompt is to share a look into our classrooms. 

Wow!  I feel like I just disappeared for a few weeks there.  That is what the beginning of school will do to you!  It's been a crazy few weeks, and even now I am writing via mobile because we have gone out of town for the holiday weekend.

The great news is my classes are awesome.  I love the switch to 6th grade.  I love my co workers who are major collaborators and I love my students.

Even now my classroom isn't 100%.  I am saving my bulletin boards for my student aides (who take a class called iTeach as an elective) to design and decorate.  Nevertheless, here is a little peak into my classroom. 

My favorite part of my classroom is this awesome black cabinet.  Someone my parents know was getting rid of it a couple years ago and was going to throw it away.  It is solid steel and was white and rusted.  I painted it and absolutely love having it in my classroom.  It is infamous with the custodial staff because I have moved classrooms the past three years, and they had to move it each time!  It is incredibly heavy.
You can also see my math clock which is now hung on the wall.  My mom made this for a gift when I first started as a math teacher.  It is so fun for the kids, and it's painted with chalkboard paint so I can change the problems out.

On my shelf, I use shower caddies to store supplies.  The most important caddy is glue and scissors because we do interactive notebooks in my classroom!
This is where kids pick up supplies for group activities.  Last year, when I gave students the freedom to get supplies off the shelf as needed, things disappeared a lot :( so I am hoping by structuring supply handouts, I will not have quite as big of an issue with that this year.

I hope everyone is having a good start to the school year!  I am.  And I hope to blog more often now that the madness of the first few weeks has passed.

Mrs. Fine

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Preparing My Classroom: Anchor Charts to Reinforce Learning

In PREVIOUS YEARS, I have spent a lot of time hanging signage and decor throughout my classroom that never changes.  I hang posters of my favorite inspirational quotes, and they stay there all year.  I rarely refer to them or utilize them in the learning process.

THIS YEAR, I wanted to use less of this type of signage in order to allow room for more dynamic displays that change throughout the year according to our learning.  Just to be clear, I love my inspirational quotes still.  I still plan on hanging some of them around the room.  I just plan on having less of them.  Instead, I have dedicated one entire wall of my classroom as a space to hang anchor charts which can change according to the needs of my class.

According to EngageNY (one of my favorite resources for great lessons right now), there are THREE BENEFITS to using anchor charts in the classroom.

  1. Anchor charts allow "teachers and students to make thinking visible by recording content, strategies, processes, cues, and guidelines during the learning process."
  2. "Posting anchor charts keeps relevant and current learning accessible to students to remind them of prior learning and to enable them to make connections as new learning happens."
  3. "Students refer to the charts and use them as tools as they answer questions, expand ideas, or contribute to discussions and problem-solving in class." From
I really love anchor charts, but I have rarely used them in the middle school setting because I have not ever had a space in my classroom to display them purposefully.  When I have used them in the past, it also always bothered me how it tended to look messy hanging on the wall.  I like having a cute room (Heck! I have to spend 8+ hours a day there so I better like the way it looks!), and I always felt like the anchor charts took away from the cuteness.  So, I thought of a way to display my anchor charts while still maintaining some cuteness and neatness to the space.

I hung one anchor chart on the wall with tape, and I surrounded it with a bulletin board border leaving a very small margin.  This way, I can remove and hang the anchor charts without covering up the border very much.  I then repeated this process four times.

Now, I have space for four anchor charts.  Some anchor charts will probably stay here for longer periods like an anchor chart with group work norms.  Other anchor charts will probably change out week by week or unit by unit like "integer operation rules" or "how to solve a one-step equation."

I know that I will be able to refer to these displays frequently to reinforce procedures and math concepts.  I think this will be a better use of my space then a wall of inspirational quotes which I neglect mentioning on a regular basis.  Again, I still have other quotes around the room... like this HUGE one (I moved rooms this summer and haven't gotten to put a border around this sign since I re-hung it).

I just won't have as many!

Here are my four anchor charts ready for an activity I will be doing the first day of school...

Do you use anchor charts in the middle school classroom?  Are there any other traditionally "elementary" instructional strategies you find useful in the middle school classroom?

Mrs. Fine

Monday, August 4, 2014

Dream Vacation: A Project for Early Finishers #Made4Math

The Problem: "I"m finished, Mrs. Fine. What do I do now, Mrs. Fine? I'm bored, Mrs. Fine. Can I dance?  Can I dance, Mrs. Fine?"

Seriously? Seriously.  I've been asked that question.  You can always count on middle school students to ask those off the wall questions just to get a laugh.

I have always struggled with what to do with my early finishers.  I try to give plenty of time for students to work in class, and they, of course, all work at their own pace.  Some students tend to finish early all the time; other students never finish early.  In past years, I have allowed students to read independently, work on assignments for other classes, and in certain instances, complete 24 piece puzzles, of which I have many.  I have also allowed students to help others and even visit quietly.

I have never been happy with my strategies to deal with early finishers.  I have read about people who offer extra practice problems or more difficult problems to challenge these students. I find in the middle school that many of my students are not actually motivated enough to do this "just because they can", and yet, I don't want to break my neck offering rewards for early finishers just to keep them working.  I also know that I have a student computer and 9 iPads at my disposal that I could surely be utilizing with my early finishers.  Still, I don't want to allow them to just play math games on the iPads because most of such games help with fact fluency, something that early finishers don't usually need or benefit from, and I worry some students would rush through their work just to be able to play games.

The Solution: A simple, meaningful task that students will *hopefully* enjoy.

So, I tried to research meaningful activities for early finishers.  I read this article from The Cornerstone for, and I decided I wanted to develop individualized projects which students would find naturally engaging.  I wanted activities that were both challenging, math-related, and yet interesting enough that students would want to complete the activities without needing to offer additional rewards (i.e. candy, free homework passes, etc.).

Then, I found an idea I liked from this presentation by the North Carolina Association for Middle Level Education.  The idea presented was to allow students to plan their own vacation.  I expanded upon that idea and developed an actual project with specific instructions for students to budget and plan their own dream vacation.  I hope this will be just one of many meaningful activities I can offer students who finish early.

  • can use the iPads and/or computer for research
  • can research something interesting to them
  • can use real-life mathematical and problem-solving skills
  • can complete the task independently 
Click here to download the word document file.
 I am really happy with how the idea turned out!  Do you see any typos?  Any suggestions to make this activity better? What other meaningful tasks might I give early finishers?

Looking forward: 
When students finish early, I still plan to allow students to read, work on missing assignments for other classes, correct old assignments, etc.  I don't think these tasks are bad.  I just want my students to have another option, an option that is more viable for students who finish early on a regular basis.  I think longer term projects that students can work on when they have extra time throughout a semester are a better way for these regular early finishers to spend their extra time during my class.  How do you handle students who finish early on a regular basis?

I have used this task in my class, and it was incredibly successful.  Students who used it stayed super engaged, had to persevere through some challenging problem solving, and drew great conclusions about the pros and cons of distant travel versus more local travel.  One student chose to go to Texas and had a phenomenal itinerary of fun things to do.  Another student chose to go to Australia and only had enough money to backpack and sleep in a hostel with no money left to do any fun activities.  They loved it and talked as if it was really happening.  "Mrs. Fine, I am going to Australia but I will have to walk everywhere and can't do anything but maybe sit on the beach."  "Mrs. Fine, I am going to New York City and seeing a Broadway musical."  It was fun to see how excited they were!

Mrs. Fine

Check out other #made4math posts at

Sunday, July 20, 2014

I'm going to Math Camp!


I found out today thanks to Lisa Henry (@lmhenry9) that I get to go to Twitter Math Camp #TMC14.  Since I discovered the MTBoS, I have read about TMC and how amazing it is.  I never thought I would get the chance to go, at least not anytime soon.  Then, this summer I looked at TMC again and found out that this year it is being hosted a mere 90 minutes from where I live!  I wanted to go sooo bad, but I was way too late.  There was a waiting list.  I put my name in just in case there was a small chance I could go.

As I found out today that I get to go to TMC14, it is only 4 days away.  I scrambled for babysitters, squealed with excitement, and started making plans!  I'm so thrilled I get this opportunity to learn from other math teachers.  Can't wait!

Mrs. Fine

P.s. I apologize for all the explanation points!!! Can you tell I am excited?!?!?!