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