Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Homework Solution

Homework seems to be a hot topic among teachers, students, and especially parents!  I had to struggle to decide how best to handle homework for my 3rd grade math students and I feel like I've landed on a pretty good solution.  The teacher before me sent home math tasks for students to complete at home.  I felt like that was putting a huge burden on parents and opted not to do that.  Then I thought, "Hey, I've got these textbooks just sitting here that I don't do anything with ...," so I was sending home work out of the textbooks.

This seemed like a good idea but I found several problems that became deal breakers.  If I'm sending homework, there must be accountability.  So I took a grade only on whether or not students attempted every problem.  This worked for me when I taught 5th grade six years ago and expected the same result.  What I found was that the kids who were struggling the most academically were the kids who weren't doing their homework at all and where their grades should have been helped, they were tanking.  On top of that, I was losing too much class time going over the 5-10 homework questions.  What was I going to do?!?!?

I am in L-O-V-E with my homework system now!  I simply have my kids practice their multiplication facts for 15 minutes each night.  They record it on a homework log which gets turned in every Friday, and when students complete six weeks of homework they earn a "lunch date" in the classroom with me.  Parents are happy because they always know what the math homework is and it's something they can help their child with;  students are happy because many of them will work harder to spend special time with me than they will for a participation grade;  I'm happy because students are still getting valuable practice on an important skill and the reward doesn't cost me anything!

I hope this is helpful for any of you out there who are struggling with homework!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Classroom Setup

Below are lots of pictures from the beginning of the school year!

  I have a table near the entrance with a basket for any paperwork that students need to turn in each morning.  There are two comfy chairs for one of the stations where students look at math-related books.  I have five student tables that are nestled into the cozy corner where the teacher years ago said to place the SMART Board because she had no interest in using "that thing."  My favorite yard sale shelf is to the right with student materials organized in baskets for each table.  There is an earlier post with a better picture.  I also have a nice blank wall for hanging anchor charts as they are created.

This wall, though it looks a little bare, shows my Bretford PowerSync Cart for iPads, manipulatives shelf, small group horseshoe table, and two other tables used during stations.  The large round table is where students sit for using iPads for Accelerated Math.  The small table with benches is for students to work with a buddy on an iPad for apps/games.

This is my manipulative shelf.  I have found it very important for math manipulatives to be easily accessible for the students instead of the materials sitting on high shelves and only getting pulled out when there is a whole group lesson that requires them.  These have already come in handy during RTI Math when students are working on Accelerated Math and grab and return manipulatives as they are needed.  I'll share more with the next picture, but notice the white drawers that house laminated hundreds charts, number lines, and grid paper.

Each of the larger tubs has 25 baggies of materials for easy distribution.  The smaller tubs have loose pieces for when I need to grab a handful or, more often, for when students find extra pieces on the floor or need a few extra.

This is a closer shot of my small group horseshoe table.  I've found it completely necessary to have a bookcase behind my small group station. 

The top shelf houses my tiara which I wear during small group to signal that other students cannot interrupt the queen (or it might be off with their heads!).  There are also number cards, pens, scissors, and a clipboard for recording any notes during small groups.  The middle shelf houses dry-erase boards, markers, erasers, and a 3-drawer set for storing flatter materials needed for the low/medium/high groups.  To the right on the floor are larger 3-drawer sets for larger items for those same groups.  The bottom shelf contains more loose manipulatives to be used during small groups.

These shelves were donated by a parent along with the bins at the bottom which I use for extra supply storage.  I repurposed these shelves to house the bins I use for stations.  I embraced Debbie Diller's work stations when I taught Kindergarten and could NOT leave them behind once I moved up to 3rd grade.  These numbered tubs correspond to numbered spaces/tables around the classroom.  Students take their tub to the numbered spot and work on that station.  Once stations are in full swing, each tub has a sort of reporting category such as "Place Value," "Addition/Subtraction," "Measurement," etc.  Within each tub category, there are 3 ziploc baggies (1-2.5 gallon-sized) with 1-3 star labels affixed.  The stars indicate the level of difficulty for the game inside. Students have a choice for which level they will play and I find that they almost always end up on the appropriate level.  Games just aren't fun if they are too easy or too frustrating.

I keep an enlarged copy of the student assignments books updated beside my dry-erase board.  I also have my drawers that hold student work until I return it on Mondays, extra copies, daily folders, pens, notepads, notebook paper, and dry-erase boards.  I also have a set of small drawers (from Lowe's for screws) that hold paper clips, push pins, bandaids, and lots of other things I or the students need on-hand.  The large white 3-drawer bin hold each class' finished math tasks or math projects in progress. I believe that I single-handedly have kept Sterilite in business for years now!

These are just some small things that I keep hung on the wall.  There's a daily schedule, Related Arts schedule, and class schedule.  There's also a running copy of our Math Notebooks Table of Contents page.  One of my most handy ideas has been hanging the bulletin board strips on the wall.  That way, when students are absent, I write their name on the missed work and pin it to the wall.  It's proven much better than lying a paper on a surface.

Each student table has a work basket that always contains pencils and gets stocked with the other materials students will need for the day (note the cups of scissors and glue sticks for that day).  There's also a mini 3-drawer set (again with the Sterilite ... it's a sickness) with a drawer each for red checking pens, dry-erase markers and erasers, and highlighters.  I also have students leave their Math Notebooks in the classroom and they place them on the paper trays according to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd periods.  I scrounged up enough of these that were unused and lying around the school to have enough for all 5 tables.

Lastly, these are my cabinets that were 70's orange until this year.  I used a magnetic primer followed up with tinted chalkboard paint.  Students make their lunch choices by moving their names (paper on a magnetic sticky sheet) to the cabinet door for their lunch choice.  Under the cabinet I have the weekly homework checklists on the wall.  Homework should probably be its own post at some point in the near future, but the short story is that if students do a week of fact practice for homework, they get a check.  When they reach 6 checks, they get lunch in the classroom with me.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Breaking Radio Silence

So it's been about 10 months of radio silence on my end since my last post.  Yikes!  I kept wanting to update but just never made myself do it.  As you can see from my last posts, I began teaching 3rd grade science and social studies last year and started feeling really good about it.  About 6 weeks into the year, my principal asked me to switch to 3rd grade math because that teacher was going to need to be out for an undetermined amount of time.  It was a bittersweet change because I love teaching math but the circumstances for my friend weren't great.

So I jumped in and started teaching math the same weekend we got our first foster child.  I'm telling you, last year was TOUGH!  I struggled to organize everything without my usual summer-prep time and failed plenty of times before coming up with the system that ultimately worked for me.  I will start posting what some of those systems were soon because I think they were pretty good.

I look forward to this coming year when I will get to spend some time prepping instead of flying by the seat of my pants!  I anticipate keeping the good stuff from last year and bringing in some new as well.  I can't wait to share my progress!