## Number Challenges – A Team-Building Perseverance Challenge

If you’re looking for a great way to get your students working together, talking about math (particularly the order of operations), and working on perseverance, then search no further! This set of Number Challenges is perfect for any secondary math class.

Originally, taken from Math Equals Love, I wanted to reformat her activity because I didn’t have as much wall-space as she did, and I also wanted to add an extra element of reflection to turn the lesson’s focus more to perseverance, than order of operations (the math is definitely a welcome addition, though!).

I used this activity on the first day of school with my Algebra 1 students, but I think it would be perfect for a “top-up” lesson right before a big break. What I mean by that is, throughout the year, some messages need to be revisited and “topped up.” Perseverance and working as a group are always great things to revisit and place an emphasis on so that skills don’t backslide. Sometimes we have to intentionally be explicit when we teach students how to do these skills, so activities like these are a great framework for a larger conversation about the many “soft skills” that come up in a math classroom (like perseverance and teamwork).

To find the original activity instructions, check out Math Equal’s Love’s original blog post! Here’s a link to the plastic pockets I used, which allowed students to write on the papers with a dry erase marker (this is not an affiliate link)!

Here’s the copy of the number challenges! Print them double sided and place them inside of the plastic pockets so students can work on them with dry erase markers! I make two for each level and had groups of 3 working on different number challenges. When they finished one challenge, there was always a different number challenge waiting to go.

Here’s the perseverance reflection form that I had students fill out as an exit slip. It made for fantastic conversations the next day!

If you give it a try, let me know how it goes!

## The Maze – A Teambuilding Challenge for Middle & High Schoolers

Teambuilders are not normally “my thing.” Maybe I just don’t have the personality to sell them correctly, but I’ve found they normally are a bit of a letdown, especially with older high schoolers.

On top of that, many of them are designed for the most extroverted of students, which doesn’t sit well with me. Again, that could just be due to my naturally introverted nature.

With all of the above in mind, let me tell you, The Maze went off beautifully! From freshmen to senior, shy to outgoing, everyone loved it!

Here’s how it works:

Create a 4×4 grid. You can use painters/masking tape, chalk (if you’d like to go outside), softball/baseball bases, you name it!

Next, you’ll need to design a secret path through the maze. Here’s the path that I made.

From here, have students make a line or a circle around the grid and have someone start. Students can only move in the four main directions–left, right, forward, and backward. If they are correct, say nothing and allow them to keep going. If they mess up, they go to the back of the line and the next student gets to try.

Students get SO into this and do an incredible job at watching and listening to their classmates. Natural leaders will surface and help coordinate the efforts. As more students try out the maze, the faster and faster they go–always learning from the students before them and being guided by their classmates. By the time someone finally makes it through the maze, the success is celebrated as a class!

After students have made it through the maze, here are some possible future variations:

• let a student make their own maze and be in charge
• make students do the maze in total silence, only with non-verbal communication
• increase the size of the maze. 5×5, 6×6…10×10?!

What are your favorite team building activities for secondary students? Share in the comments below!

## 20 Things to Do Before the New School Year: BTS Checklist

It’s that time of year again…you’ve had a bit of a break and now your mind is going wild with ideas for the new school year.   To keep your time and efforts focused (and your stress levels down), I’ve created a list of 20 things to do to prepare for the new school year.

1. Create a rough pacing guide for the year.
Without an idea of where you need to be by the end of the year, you will have a tough time adequately spacing out the remainder of the year.  Maybe you have a unit that you LOVE to teach and want to spend more time on it this year–plan for it by figuring out where you can save time elsewhere.  If you’re teaching the same class this year that you taught in the past, reflect about what went well, what didn’t.  Did you feel like your students needed more time on any units in particular?  Also! Don’t forget to add a few buffer days in at the end of the year!  I can’t tell you what they will be, but unexpected things will happen and you need room left in your pacing guide to absorb the unexpected.  Maybe there’s a surprise assembly that gets thrown in at the last minute or someone in the staff lounge burns their popcorn (…for the 3rd time…) and sets the fire alarm off.  Maybe you have a particularly bad weather year and lose time to snow days.  You’ll be happy to know that you have room to push things back a day or two with no stress about having to cut something else at its expense.  When you’re making this rough pacing guide, you don’t need to list out what activities or notes you’ll be giving–just think about what topics you’ll be covering in the unit and how many days you expect to need.  This is what mine looked like for Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 last year.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

1. Review and reflect upon your classroom procedures and policies.   Were you happy with your classroom management from last year?  If not, this is the time to figure out what you’d like to do differently in the upcoming year.  I also like to remind myself of my behavior management philosophy and protocols that way I’m mentally sharp when a situation might arise.  It is of the utmost importance that you are consistent from day 1.  You also want to consider the day to day procedures you’d like your students to learn and how you’d like to manage the general flow of paper throughout your classroom.   Do you have a plan for what a student should do if they were absent?  What if someone needs to make up a test?  Where will they turn in work? These are just a few questions to consider.  Really think about how you want your classroom to operate.  Out of everything on this list, this “to-do” is the most important because it sets the tone for your year.  Whether you’re a new teacher or a veteran, I would suggest reading my blog post that covers 6 things you can do to stop wasting your own time in the classroom. You can read it here.
2. Decide on your desk arrangement.
At first this may seem like a superficial “to-do,” but hear me out.  The way you arrange your desks has a lot to do with the type of classroom you want to run.  For example, if you plan on doing a bunch of group work, then having your desks arranged in rows is probably not going to allow the type of discourse you’re looking for. On the other hand, if you run a study hall class, then rows could be perfect!  I really like arranging my desks in pairs so students always have someone to bounce ideas off of or in U-shapes so I can easily crouch down in the middle and talk to the group or an individual student.  That being said, I have a colleague who loves arranging her desks in horizontal rows of three.  She loves it and it works great for her.  I tired it and hated it because it was difficult to get in and out to talk to individual students.  There’s no specific arrangement that’s guaranteed to be your classroom bliss, so don’t be afraid to switch it up if you don’t like it after the first few days.
3. Make a seating chart and label your desks.
Whether or not you assign seats or let students pick their own, it’s essential to make a seating chart because it will help you learn those 100+ names SO much faster.  I like to label each desk with a number (bonus: it makes forming groups for activities really easy!) and I have a set of popsicle sticks that have the same numbers that students draw from on the first day to find their new seats.  Once they draw a number, I record their name on the seating chart and refer to it often in the first weeks of school.  Learn more about how I save time creating seating charts here.
4. Let go of old things.
Something about teaching seems to really bring out the inner pack-rat in us all.  Go through old papers and RECYCLE things that you haven’t used in years.  If it’s really something you think you might want to use in the future, scan it and then file it in an appropriate folder in your computer (I always have a folder for each class, then semester, then unit so things are easy to find).  At the very least, put all of the paper and old student projects in boxes labeled by semester (or quarter/trimester) and store the boxes away.  If you haven’t gone to the box by the end of that semester, it’s time to LET IT GO! There’s probably a reason you haven’t used the stuff anyway.
5. Paint/mark calculators and other school supplies.
Are you a fan of getting your stuff stolen? No? Didn’t think so.  Buy a can of yellow spray paint and spray the back cases of your calculators.  Or, do what I did last year and use metallic sharpie on the tops of each calculator.  I like to do this every year because the paint or sharpie rubs off over the course of a year from frequent (and not always so gentle) student usage.  Also, spend 5-10 minutes sharpie-ing in your school initials on any other supplies you expect students to use frequently and actually want to get back.  Bonus points if you add annoying stickers, tape, flags, etc. that ensure no student would want to keep it unless they really needed it! Last note, this is also helpful for when another teacher needs to borrow some of your supplies because it makes it a lot easier to make sure they return everything to your classroom.
6. Create weekly agenda region in your classroom.
This is a bit of a 2 birds/1 stone item.  Not only does having a weekly agenda displayed in your classroom help you stay focused during the week, but it helps your students stay organized, too.  I like to teach my students to self-advocate if they will be gone in advance or if they were absent, so having a weekly agenda posted is huge for that.
Maybe it’s just me, but something happens to my desk drawer in the last two weeks of school.  It’s like all of my pens conspire to run out of ink at the same time.  My whiteout has turned into a goopy mess and I have 6 rulers.  SIX!  Spend a few minutes sorting through your supplies and making sure that you actually have supplies that work.  You don’t want to find out that all of your pens have dried out or you don’t have what you need.  It’s one of those small things that allows your day to day to run a bit more smoothly.  Having to track down a pad of sticky notes is the last thing you need to worry about when you have 5 students trying to get your attention.  Also, if it needs tweaking, make sure that your teacher-space (desk, podium) is set up how you like it. Think of all of the things you’ll need and that will come across your desk during the year.  Will those things have a space?  If they don’t, it’ll just end up in a pile, or worse…lost! I have a spot to keep my copies of the notes I give (sorted by period) and a pre-worked key of the examples I plan to give that way I don’t have to go searching for it as a new class is coming in.
8. Plan out your first day(s) of school.
Now that you have the basics out of the way, it’s time to think about how you’re going to set the tone for the year.  The first days of school are so important.  I would suggest telling them a bit about yourself letting them know what to expect during the year (your classroom structure, etc.), and show them that your subject can be FUN! Don’t forget to be incredibly consistent with all of the rules and routines you’ve decided upon for your classroom.  During the first few days, students will notice everything.
My first year teaching, I had a pair of twins in my Algebra 2 class.  The class was given an assignment to write about the similarities and differences in the process of graphing each of the three main trig functions and, when I went to grade them, the two twins’ essays looked remarkably similar–almost as if they filled out a Mad Lib and just picked different adjectives.  Turns out, one twin snuck into the other’s room and copied her work.  I took this to the administration but since I didn’t have a plagiarism policy in my syllabus, not much happened.  Lesson learned.  Long story short, think about the last school year.  Was there anything that happened that you wish you would’ve had a specific policy stated in your syllabus?  I find it can be incredibly helpful when dealing with parents to be able to say that the policy was fully detailed in the syllabus…which you signed and were aware of.  I, for example, need to be much more specific about the late work and test retake policies for my college credit classes and how those policies differ for students who take the class for college credit or not.  Also, this is a great time to reflect upon your grading scheme.  Is there anyway you can spend less time grading, but still give impactful feedback? If you only give one quiz per unit, did you find that was enough feedback for students along the way?  Maybe you give 2 quizzes per week–were students exhausted or did it motivate them to stay on top of things?  Reflect.  Change what didn’t work and keep what did.
For years I had a regular classroom website (I used Weebly), but this last year I had a Google Classroom site for my Statistics classes, and I must say that I’m a convert because it took much less time to update.  Whatever platform you plan to use, make sure it’s set up and ready to go that way you can explain it to parents at open house night and show it to students at the beginning of the school year.  I use my classroom site to share review keys with students, a PDF of our textbook, the syllabus, and other useful links.
11. Create an Open House flyer or presentation.
I love to use Open House as a way to share the spirit of the class with parents, but also let them know all of the basic information that will help their student be successful in my class.  I include things like supplies they’ll need, how and when to get help, what to do if you’re absent, etc.  Here’s the flyer that I use each year (you can download it for free!).
12. Prepare emergency sub plans (x3).
If you have kids or elderly parents, this “to-do” goes double for you.  Most of the time when we need to get a sub, we can adequately prepare sub plans and (most of) our students will be able to engage in some sort of lesson or activity that will move them along in their learning. Unfortunately, to make sub plans like this for all of the different classes I teach in a day normally takes a good hour or two, for me.  If you are ever in a true emergency situation, then you will not have 10 minutes, let alone an hour to work on sub plans.  I have a binder I keep on a bookshelf in my classroom labeled “Emergency Sub Plans” and inside of it I have general classroom policies and expectations and I have three sub plans along with a key for each one.  Next to that binder, I have 200 photocopies for each of those three sub plans put into large, labeled expanding file folders (they expand to 6 inches wide!). Luckily, I have never had to use my emergency sub plans, but I feel better knowing that I have them if I need them.  Here’s what I have for emergency sub plans:

• Emergency Sub Plan 1: Logic Puzzles
I have a packet of logic puzzles from Weatherly and emoji logic puzzles from Mrs. E Teaches Math.  I love including logic puzzles because it reinforces group-work norms, paying attention to detail, and the emoji puzzle is really solving equations in disguise.
• Emergency Sub Plan 2:  Person Puzzles
I have a ton of “Person Puzzles” that I got from Clark Creative Math that are perfect for an emergency sub plan.  I typically Person Puzzles for a few different topics that I know will always be good to review and revisit.  Students enjoy doing these because they get to learn something new about someone famous, or they get to prove that they were right about them all along.
• Emergency Sub Plan 3: Pattern Sheets
I have a bunch of Algebra coloring sheets from Aric Thomas that cover every Algebra topic you can imagine.   These are great because they end up being fairly self-checking.  The way it works is depending on what answer you got, you shade a box with a particular pattern.  If you’re doing it right, the overall image ends up having a cool pattern to it.  Students can easily compare with others to see if their patterns are coming out the same and then can fix any mistakes.  Just like the last emergency sub plan, I pick a few of these that I know my students will always need review on, and use this as an opportunity to keep their skills fresh.
13. Make a teacher binder.
A teacher binder should be an extension of you.  What do you need on a daily basis?  How will you keep everything together?  My teacher binder includes a section for my rough year-long pacing guide, weekly plans, PDU log, parent contact log, meeting notes, meeting handouts, CCSS power standards, a mapping that shows how much each standard gets tested on SBAC, and our school schedule (we have three different schedules each week, so I like to have it handy).  It doesn’t need to be fancy, just functional!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

14. Plan out your first two weeks of content instruction.
This is a big time investment (unless you have already taught the class for a few years), but it is so worth it and you’ll thank yourself later.  If you can stay a bit ahead from the beginning, your year will run much more smoothly and you won’t find yourself scrambling when something pops up that eats up all of your after school time.  The first weeks of school are exhausting enough, so having a solid plan all worked out will lessen the stress and make the transition into the school year much easier.
15. Run copies for the first week.
Spend a quality hour with the copy machine and print everything you will need for the first week of school.  Aside from having a game-plan for the first week, nothing reduces my stress levels like having all of my papers printed and ready to go.  Have you ever had that gut-sinking experience where you NEED those copies for your first period class only to find out that the copier is broken, out of ink, or out of staples and there’s only 45 minutes before school begins? Just thinking about it induce a feeling of anxiety.  To sleep easier at night and not have to worry about whether or not I’ll be able to make my copies before school starts, I like to get the first weeks worth of copying done well before any of my students ever show up on the first day.
16. Revise materials from last year.
If you still have energy at this point, try and review the materials you used last year and see if anything needs revised.  Personally, I’m just way too busy during the school year to fix things as I go so this gets left as a summer task, but I do leave notes to myself or I highlight things I need to change in orange as a note to my future self that something wasn’t right.  You don’t need to fix everything at once, but look through the first few units and see if there’s anything glaring that needs to be changed (like when I wrote “assment” instead of “assignment,” or when I gave my students about 1 vertical inch of space to write something when they really needed 5).
17. Find ways to use your walls as a resource for students. If you’re not utilizing your walls as a resource in your classroom, then you’re missing out!  Think about what your students need frequent reminders of or common themes that continue throughout your course and think of ways you could create a reference section on your wall.  My favorite sections on my wall are the perfect squares/perfect cubes area, my special right triangle area, and then the parent functions area.  I use these three sections in Algebra 1 through Pre-Calculus nearly every single day.  My wall almost becomes a public record of our learning and the common themes of math.  Whatever it is that you teach (from English, History, Science, Math, Art, etc.), think about what’s essential to your subject.  If you teach math, here’s a few free wall displays to get you started!  One last thing on this topic: don’t worry about making it super pretty.  Your first priority should be function.  If you have the time to make your classroom walls #pinterestgoals worthy and doing so would make you happy, then go for it! Otherwise, make it functional and your students will get the exact same use out of it either way.
18. Prepare a few freezer meals!
Okay, so my last two “to-do’s” aren’t about school, but they are important.  I like to prepare a few freezer meals (meals that you pre-prepare and store in the freezer until you’re ready to just pop them in the oven or crockpot) before the school year starts.  Teaching can take a LOT of our energy and time, and taking care of ourselves can easily fall to the wayside.  I don’t know about you, but some nights I come home and am just not up to cooking.  Luckily, I know I have a few back-ups in the freezer that I can just transfer straight into the oven for an hour and then we’ll have a nutritious dinner ready with about 1 minute of work (take out of freezer, put into oven, done!). If you search Pinterest for freezer meals, you’ll come up with more recipes than you could ever possibly make.
19. Relax, seriously!
Like I touched on in the last point, teachers have a tendency to overwork themselves and not take enough time to fully recuperate from the previous school year.  You can’t be your best teacher if you’re not feeling your best, so take care of yourself.  Enjoy your summer vacation! Do something you love, spend time with your family, have a few lazy days (or a lot, you’ve earned them!). Don’t feel like you have to do everything on this list.  Feel free and take my permission to treat it as food for thought and pick and choose what works for you.

If there’s anything else that you make sure to do each year, let me know in the comments! Also, if you’d like to know more about any of these “to-do’s,” let me know and I’ll gladly make a separate post!

## 6 Things You Can Do to Stop Wasting Your Own Time in the Classroom

If you’re looking to regain some of your essential time, this is a post for you!  Many of the daily systems teachers have setup for themselves and students can quickly turn into time-sucks.  Now, I’m not talking about the ever-important relationship building part of teaching, but the nitty-gritty paper passing out, finding absent work, and making seating charts side of things.   I’ve found a few ways to streamline my routines and classroom practices so that I can stop wasting my own time by being inefficient.  Here’s my tips for you:

## 1.  Post your “Office Hours” for the Week

I have posted “office hours” each week right next to my desk.  This makes it really easy for students to plan ahead and know when they are going to be able to get help or make up a missing assessment.  It cuts down on any, “well, I stopped by but you weren’t here” conversations, and, despite telling them EVERY DAY when I’m available for help (insert eye-roll), I was always asked, “are you free after school for _______?” about 50 million times a day.  Since I started using this poster, those conversations have gone down to almost zero! I’ve gotten really positive feedback for my students who work and do sports because it makes their planning for the week that much easier.  Download the poster here!

## 2.  Streamline the Seating Chart Process

Over the summer I got the idea to put numbers on my desks.  I didn’t really know what I was going to do with it at first, but it has become one of my best ways for saving time making seating charts!

I have a template of my desk arrangement saved on my computer and I hand-numbered it the way the desks are numbered in my classroom and have a pile of photocopies ready to go whenever I want to mix up the desk assignments.

To make things quick and easy (and obviously fair), I’ve come up with a popsicle stick system.  The desks up front are reserved for students with poor vision and IEPs/504s.  The rest of the desks are for anyone else.

On a new seating chart day I’ll stand outside my classroom door and catch students as they walk into class.  They’ll draw a stick out of the appropriate container, and I can write down their names on the seating chart.  For my biggest classes (~35-37), this is completely done within 1 minute of the bell ringing.

On the majority of days that I’m not making a new seating chart, I just stack them and keep it in a cabinet.

## 3.  Don’t Waste Class Time Passing out Papers

Have a dedicated paper pick-up area in your room–preferably, near the door.  My students are trained to pick up whatever is on the counter on their way in.  I leave papers for the day and any supplies they might need (scissors, glue sticks, highlighters) here.

## 4.  Let Class Start Itself

As students walk in, they are trained to pick up whatever is on the cabinet by the door and then read the instructions that are projected on the SmartBoard.  I have a PowerPoint file on my computer that I never close and have a color-coded slide for each period (Algebra 1 is green, Statistics is yellow, and Algebra 2 is purple).  This frees me up to do whatever I need to be doing as class is starting.  It also gives us a few more precious minutes each period. Here’s a few of our most recent slides (there’s a large date gap because of snow days).

## 5.  Let Students Take Care of Their Absent/Missing Work

At the end of each class, I put any extra papers in the corresponding class-bin.  Each bin has tabs labeled 1-31, for each day of the month.  If an Algebra 2 student was gone on the 23rd of the month, when they get back they know to look in tab 23 of the Algebra 2 box to find any papers they need to make up.  Students are trained to ask a classmate for a picture of the notes they missed, and if they need extra help getting caught up they can stop by during my office hours for the week. This system practically runs itself.

## 6.  Immediately File Missing Assessments

This has been a HUGE game-changer that I’ve added this year.  In the past I have just piled up extra assessment papers and I was often left scrambling to sort through my disorganized pile of tests and quizzes to find an assessment a student wanted to make up from when they were absent two months ago.  Most of the time I was able to find the assessment, but sometimes that led to the pile of tests and quizzes falling all over the floor.  Sometimes I’d have to print a new one. It wasn’t efficient and I didn’t feel good about that system (it could be embarrassing at times when a student was waiting and I was empty-handed).

I also have a standing policy that any student can drop by during any period of the day to make up missing assessments.  I have many seniors that that have early release and are only at school for 4 or 5 periods of the day.  Instead of coming before or after school, it works best for them to just stay an extra period and take their quiz/test in the back of my class or in the ELA (my school is made up of pods of 4 classes and there’s a common area in between them called the Extended Learning Area.  All of the walls that back up to the ELA are made of floor-ceiling glass, so I often let students take assessments out there, so long as I have their phone and backpack behind my desk).  When students pop by to make up an assessment during another class, I needed a way to be able to find their test/quiz ASAP, and my old system was failing horribly in that regard.

This is the ELA.  There’s 2 more classrooms to the right of this photo. My classroom is the one with the door open.

My solution?  I found this paper organizer in the staff room of my building being given away for free (seriously, staff rooms have the BEST stuff!) and have a folder for each class that I teach, as well as for no-names.  When I’m giving a test or quiz and the students are quietly working, I will write the names of any absent students on a quiz and put it in the proper class period folder.

For my statistics classes which are college credit, I have to be very strict with the makeup policy (students are required to make up their assessment within one day of their return, or it’s a permanent zero in the grade book) and remembering the dates for 2 classes of students was too much to keep track of.  Now, I just write the date that the assessment must be made up right on the paper when I’m filing one away for an absent student.  When they show up to makeup their assessment, it allows me to remember if they can or can’t at that point.

These systems and practices take very little time of your own to set up, but yield great time-savings throughout the year.  I hope this gives you a few ideas to use in your own classroom!

-Audrey

## Open House Flyer Templates – Editable Freebie

Back to school season is stressful, can we all agree? I remember when I was a new teacher and the thought of Open House was terrifying to me (I mean, it’s still fairly stress inducing, but I’ve found ways to minimize that). Dozens of parents in one room staring at you (with what feels like a far more critical eye than their students) is enough to make anyone feel the pressure. It was always important to me to make a good impression during Open House so it could set the tone for the year. It is the first point of contact for many parents, after all.

Something that really helped calm my nerves was to make sure that I had an informational and professional looking handout that I could give to parents that gave them all of the necessecary information they’d like to know in one place. It also helped ME by giving my 15 minutes with them during Open House structure and I was really comforted by having something tangible to reference that they could all see with me.

I wanted something parents could physically take home with them because going to open house is overwhelming, especially if they have multiple children. I chose to make a short flyer that covers the biggest takeaways for the class and I wanted it to be something they could look back to over the school year as a reference for the course (where to contact, ways to get help, ect.). This flyer doesn’t contain all of the information for each class, though. Once school actually starts, I’ll send home a syllabus with all of the nitty-gritty details.

Although still a bit stressful, I love open house because I get a chance to meet parents face to face prior to confrences over Thanksgiving (that’s a long, long way into the year), and I like having the chance to speak about required materials before the year begins. I’ve been shopping for school supplies for long enough that I know most of the deals and can let parents know the best places to shop for what. I know money is tight for a lot of people, so this is also a chance to talk about priorotizing  and what the school has a limited supply of for students who need it. For example, our school has a small amount of calculators that can be checked out for the year from the library, but a lot of students don’t know about it! This is the perfect thing to discuss prior to the school year starting.

I’m also a fan of Open House because I have the chance to tell parents about the many ways students can get help throughout the year and give them an idea of what the classload will be. On the back side of the flyer (not pictured), I photocopy some school-specific information about how to access the online textbook and I print a HUGE picture of a few calculators I’d reccomend buying/checking out, if they don’t already have one.

Here’s the flyer I’ve used year after year. I’ve tweaked it to work perfectly for each of my classes!

If you’d like to use my open house flyer in your classroom, I’ve got good news for you! It’s an exclusive freebie for the Math by the Mountain Club! It’s 100% editable so you can customize it to your exact needs. Join here!

I hope that this can make back to school season less stressful for you! I sure know it’s helped me.

-Audrey