Movement: A Game Changer in my Middle School Classroom

Much of my first year teaching was spent trying to figure out what on earth to do with 6th graders!  While I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, I always said I never wanted to teach middle school, and when I got my first job knowing I would be teaching 6th graders, I was really at a loss.  When I was a 6th grader, I was still in elementary school.

I felt that my job as their first math teacher in the middle school was to teach them how to be a middle school student.  I still fully agree with that statement; however, my view of what it looks like to teach them how to be a student is drastically different now than it was  as a first year teacher.

I went to two sessions at two different conferences my first year teaching that were game changers for me when it comes to teaching middle schoolers.  By my second year teaching, I was able to honestly say that I loved teaching my 6th graders, but without those two things, I think it would have taken me a lot longer to be able to say that I really truly love being a middle school teacher.  I am now teaching middle schoolers all day and love it.  I’m exhausted all. the. time. but I love it.

The first game changer was the idea of using games to get students practicing different skills.  I blogged about one of the things I took from that session here.  The second was a session on incorporating movement into the classroom.  One of the presenters was none other than Sara Van Der Werf.  (Sometimes I feel like all I write about are ideas I’ve stolen from Sara.  This entire blog could really just be an ode to Sara.  Thanks Annie for saying that so much better than I ever could!)

Anyway, I took SO many things from that session that I was able to implement immediately into my classroom and so many ideas that I was able to build upon to make work for me.  I mentioned one of them, Balance Points, here as well how I use her Stand and Talks here, but there are so many other things that I continue to use from her session.

When I started incorporating more movement activities in my classroom, I was worried they would take away from the precious time I have with my students.  However, I quickly realized something.  The times when I knew my students needed a brain break but tried to push through to finish what we were on were often way less productive than the times I would stop and give them a quick break.  There are still times that I literally stand in amazement in my classroom over how focused my students are after giving them a short break.  I also worried about the transition time from class work to brain break back to class work.  Yes, the first time I do a brain break with students it takes a bit longer to explain it, but after that, as long as I give it a name so students know what I’m talking about the next time, the transitions go pretty smoothly.  I also found that these brain breaks are a great way to review concepts we had previously covered.

My goal is to post semi-regularly on a different movement activity I do in my classroom.  We’ll see how consistent I can be, but today’s activity is what I call Divisibility Hop.

While writing this post, I looked up Sara’s version of this game from my notes from her session and realized that it has morphed into something a bit different in my classroom.  I think both versions are great.

Sara’s version is called Factor Hop.  She puts a number in each of the 4 corners of the room -these numbers are the factors.  She calls out a number, and if the number you are standing by is a factor of that number, you hop to another corner of the room.

I’ve been calling the game Divisibility Hop.  I put 4 numbers in the corners of the room.  They are generally 3-4 digit numbers.  I call out a number, and the number I call out is the factor.  If the number students are standing next to is divisible by the number I call out, they move to another number.  I will change up the numbers periodically.

The first time we play this I tell students something along the lines of, “The name of the game is Divisibility Hop, so you can’t walk to the other number.  I don’t care how you get to another number as long as you don’t walk, you’re safe, and everyone around you is safe.”

I’ve had students do the worm across my room, penguin walk, seal walk, you name it.  For many kiddos, this is the perfect sensory activity!

Today I had a student curl in a ball and start rolling across the room and say, “They see me rollin’.”

Yes, I truly love teaching middle schoolers.  They are the best.


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