Top Organization Things of 2016-2017

This week’s topic for Sunday Funday, organized by Julie, is “Everything Organization”.  This post has been sitting in my drafts since the end of the school year, and although there probably isn’t anything new in this post, I figured I would join in on this week’s topic anyway.

As a teacher, you have so many things going on all at once and having an organized classroom helps me immensely when my brain is being pulled in multiple directions at the same time.  Here are a few things last year that helped keep my room organized, thus helped keep me somewhat sane all year!

  •  Command Hooks & Binder Clips – I think I got this idea from Sara Van Der Werf, but I’m not exactly sure.  It’s such a simple idea, but it’s been so useful, especially to keep papers that typically would have been in a pile on my desk off my desk and easy to find.  I use it to keep my list of students who need to make up tests along with the tests themselves.  I put seating charts on another one and class lists on another.  I also have one next to my calculators with the list of students and the calculator that’s assigned to them.


  • IMG_5363Calculators – At the start of the year I had two bins with calculators that I took out for students when they needed calculators.  This was a pain.  I was constantly checking to see if I got all the calculators back, and I learned that students do not know how to neatly put calculators back.  Partway through the year I decided to number the calculators and put them in the shoe holder I already had in my classroom for cell phones -it’s a school policy that this is where students put phones during class.  I assigned students who needed calculators a number in each class and posted it next to the shoe holder (using a command hook).  This worked SO much better than the bins!  It was easy for me to check at the end of class if all calculators were returned, and if one was missing, I knew who to talk to about the missing calculator.
  • Unit Binders – This may have been the biggest game changer for me this year.  In the past, I found the biggest binder I could and shoved all of my originals and answer keys in there for as many units as possible until it was full, and then I found another huge binder.  I would also have one pile of stuff I was currently using with the intent that I would file the stuff when the test was over.  I never did.  It was nearly impossible for me to find anything in these binders, so I didn’t really use them much.  This year, I decided make a binder for every unit for each of my classes.  I originally saw this from Gina Wilson, but I wanted ones to match my own units.  I recognized the fonts and created my own version to go with my classes.  My mom always says that if something makes you smile, you’ll use it.  She’s right.  These binders and covers make me smile.  This is the first year that I actually kept up with filing my originals and answer keys every week, every two weeks at the most.  In the front of the binders I also have the learning targets and vocab sheets I post on the board.



  • Task Card Bins – I have several (ok..more than several) bins of laminated task cards, card sorts, etc.  This year I have them labeled on the outside with the class, unit, and general topic of what’s inside.  On the top, I have a card with exactly what’s inside as well as how many copies I have of each.  (I also have a folder on my computer labeled “Activities” where I have folders for each unit for each class with the activities I have in these bins.  Then if I’m lesson planning at home I know what activities I already have copies of.)IMG_1388



  • Supply Bins – This isn’t anything new, but having these bins with labels on them have been great.  My classroom is right next to the senior locker bank/commons area.  They will often come in asking for scissors, glue, etc.  It’s nice that I can direct them to this area, and they can find what they need without having to stop whatever it is I’m doing.img_8377.jpg
  • Copies – I’ve been doing this for a few years now, but I have different colored file folders labeled with the days of the week for each of my classes.  I use these to keep the copies I need for that day.  I also have one for “last week’s copies” to keep handy if a student needs a new copy of something from the previous week.  My goal is to file the copies from 2 weeks ago every week, but that rarely happens…  One great thing about this system is that my co-teacher can easily find copies, and if I end up being gone unexpectedly, I can direct someone else here and they can find what they need.IMG_3192
  • Hand in/Return Bins – In the past, I had file folders for papers that needed to be returned to students in the same bin where I kept my copies.  I found this tray at a garage sale and thought it was perfect for this.  I’m terrible at returning papers to students, so having it sitting on the counter not only helped me remember to this, it also encouraged me to actually pass them back when I got sick of looking at the stacks in the trays.img_5027.jpg
  • Paper Tray – I got this tray for papers on my desk so that papers I still needed but didn’t want to deal with right away weren’t quite so cluttered on my desk.  If the stack became taller than the tray, it was time to deal with some of them.  I didn’t let myself have random stacks of papers other places on my desk.


I’m looking forward to reading the other Sunday Funday posts this week on organization to pick up a few more ideas from the rest of you to try to stay organized this year!

100 Numbers Task Version 2

Last year I used Sara Van Der Werf’s 100 Numbers task at the start of the year and LOVED it.  Absolutely loved it!  I can see myself using this in the first week of school for the rest of my career.  You can read Sara’s post here on why and how she uses it with her students.  I can almost guarantee your classroom will look exactly like Sara’s in her blog post.

This activity is awesome!  It has numbers so it seems mathy, even though it really isn’t.  It’s low risk and engages all students –every group ends up being a productive group simply by the nature of the task.  This allows us to have a conversation about what group work should look like in class throughout the entire year.  We’re also able to talk about how math is the study of patterns and that as mathematicians we notice patterns, describe patterns, and generalize patterns.  (I made a poster on that idea.  The blog post is here, and here’s Sara’s post on that topic.)

As I’m starting to put together plans for the first week of school, I plan on using this activity again.  The only problem is one of my classes is a group of students I had last year who have already done the activity.  I still want to review what good group work looks like as well as reiterate that math is the study of patterns, so I still want to do this activity with them again.  I thought about using the same sheet and having students count backwards like I had seen Sara do at a PD session one time.   Then I saw someone post on Twitter about creating different expressions for the numbers.  Brilliant!

I came up with this:

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I kept a pattern, but switched it up a bit from the original version.  If you divide the page into 4 quadrants and start in the upper left and move clockwise around, it goes 2-1-1 and then repeats the 2-1-1 in order to keep the total number of expressions in each quadrant the same.  You can sort of see this below.  The yellow is the first 4 numbers, purple is the next 4, green, and then blue.

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I would LOVE feedback on this.  I like it, but I think there’s room for improvement.  Below are some questions I have.

  • Is it too much?  Too busy?  Obviously the expressions take up more space than a single number so there is more on a page.  Is it too overwhelming?  Would I be better off going up to 50? or 75?
  • I had originally planned on using all operations, but when I finished I ended up only using addition and multiplication.  I decided this was ok because students will only have to focus on two operations, but is even 2 too many?  Would it be better to just have one operation?

I won’t have a chance to try this out with students for a few weeks, but if anyone uses it, I would love to hear how it goes.

Here’s the pdf version of what I made.

Update 8/17:  When I looked at the version I created the next day, I was a bit overwhelmed by all the numbers.  I figured my middle schoolers would likely be overwhelmed by it.  I updated the font and that helped a bit.

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After doing that I also took some of the expressions out and replaced them with the numbers.

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You can download pdf and word versions of both of those here.

Version 3 (Summer 2018 Update)

When I used the version I created last year with students, I found that it was definitely much more challenging than the original version.  I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing at all.  Our conversation after the activity was a bit different.  At first, the students didn’t necessarily feel successful because they remembered doing the activity in the past and knew they had gotten farther.  They were quicker to find the numbers in the original version, so they felt more successful doing that one.  However, this lead into a conversation of how we defined success.  Was success finding all 100 numbers?  Was success working really quickly? OR Was success working together?  Was success not giving up when the task was more challenging than you anticipated?

With that being said, I decided to create a third version of the task that I think we be in between Sara’s original version and the one I created last year.  I have still included some expressions, but there are a lot fewer of them than the version I created last year.  I think the pattern is also easier to see in this version.  It goes top left, bottom right, bottom left, top right, and then starts over.

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I’m not sure how I will incorporate this into the start of the school year yet.  I may use this version first with students and then maybe later on in the week, or partway through the school year, when we need to revisit what good group work looks like, use the version I created last year.  Students ALWAYS ask to do more of these activities.

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You can download all of the versions I’ve created here.

Quote Posters 2017-2018

In the past 24 hours my excitement for the start of the school year has grown exponentially.  Up until yesterday afternoon, I wasn’t ready for the school year to start and for summer to be over.  I took a couple math courses this summer and finished up my last final yesterday, and as soon as I got home from working on that I was ready to start thinking about the school year.

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I really enjoy creating things for my classroom.  I like that I’m being productive, but it doesn’t feel like work.  Last year I shared some quote posters I had made in this post.  Every year I like to create a few new ones.   Last night when I got home, finding quotes for new posters was one of the first things on my list of things to do for school.

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I thought I’d share what I made in case anyone else wants to use them in their classroom.  Here is the link to download the posters, and again here is the link to last year’s post where you can download the other posters I’ve made.


I recently got back from Twitter Math Camp (TMC), and in the words of David Butler, “That was unreasonably awesome.”  Yes.  Yes it was.  I’m having a hard time putting into words what I’m feeling after this conference.  I feel I can’t adequately describe my experiences.  It is so unlike any other conference or PD I’ve attended.

Everyone was there to learn and grow.  Everyone.  As David Butler said, “Everyone is worthy to present.”  Whether you had written a book, a curriculum, were presenting, a veteran teacher, or a newbie.  We were all there to learn and grow from each other.  As Jonathan said in his recap, “Everyone gave a crap.”

Just to forewarn you this post contains a ton of pictures and a ton of links -so I can find everything later! 🙂


On Wednesday I was able to spend the day learning from the Desmos staff.  I am looking forward to spending time playing around with some of the new features they shared with us.  Meeting Eli Luberoff, the founder of Desmos, was definitely a highlight for me.


Morning Session

I attended the Rich Tasks morning session with Cal Armstrong, Peg Cagle, and Bill Thill.  It was sort of a spur of the moment decision to go to their session, but I’m so glad I did.  I have been wanting to implement more rich tasks into my classroom, but was unsure how to go about doing this.

Day One:  We were given the following task.  It is similar to Fawn Nguyen‘s Visual Patterns.  After we complied a list of all of our responses, we paired up with someone who wanted to look into the same thing and start playing with the problem.  Julie and I had a great conversation as we worked through the task.

I’m not sure yet how I would use something like this in my own classroom, but it was a lot of fun to be given so much freedom when working on this activity.



Day Two: We watched a few videos of teachers from around the world teaching and discussed their teacher moves and the reasoning behind the tasks they were using with their students.  Peg said a couple of things that day that stood out to me.

  • “Focusing on your goals doesn’t please everyone, but we have to keep in mind why we’re doing what we’re doing.” -Peg Cagle
  • “You can’t build on your strengths if you don’t own them and recognize them.” -Peg Cagle

Day Three:  The last day of our time together they focused on how to take every day tasks and make them richer.  They shared with us several prompts that could be used with a worksheet that would result in a richer task and students thinking more deeply about the problems.

  • Which 3 problems would be hardest for you and which 3 would be easiest?  Why?
  • Which 3 problems do you think will be the most challenging to the most students in our class and why?
  • Which 3 problems do you think would be most useful to a student preparing for an assessment on this material and why?
  • Which problems will students make mistakes on and what will those mistakes be?

I LOVE these prompts!  One of the things I love about these prompts is that it will likely slow students down.  They will have to analyze the problems and almost start doing them in their head before they actually start working out the problems on paper.  Peg also shared the following, which gave me something to think about:  We typically put the easier questions at the beginning of an assignment.  Students work on those problems in class with their groups and then have the more challenging problems for homework.  What if we switched the order of the problems so that the students had the easier problems for homework?

Peg also shared this with us to close our time together, “Remember that there is no single right answer about which task to use or how to implement it.  The right answer is whatever best supports your students in making progress towards your identified mathematical learning goal.”

And lastly she shared this, “Good to Great:  Any change in our practice is likely to begin with a drop in productivity.  Expect that things will get worse before they get better.  Give yourself and your students time to re-acclimate.”

As I was thinking about this session, something hit me.  Implementing a new routine in my classroom is sort of like teaching new math concepts.  I wouldn’t just jump in and start teaching solving systems of linear equations by graphing to my students if we hadn’t done anything with graphing lines before.  When it comes to implementing more rich tasks in my classroom, I need to start smaller and build up so that my students can use their experience and skills working with the smaller rich tasks on the bigger ones.  So, my #1TMCthing is to incorporate more rich tasks into my classroom this year.  I plan to start by using some of the prompts given to us on the last day and see where things go from there.


More Math


  • I went to Annie Fetter‘s session titled “Sense Making:  Is it at the Core of Your Classrooms?”  (You can download Annie’s slideshow here.)
    • Math is really about relationships, but kids think it’s about numbers.
    • Ask about ideas, not answers.  “Tell me something about problem 7?” instead of “What is the answer to problem 7?” because everyone in the room can tell me something about problem 7, even if they don’t know the answer.
    • Ways to become a better listener:  Ask questions that you don’t know the answer to.
    • Annie was the second person to mention recording your teaching for 10 minute segments by putting your phone in your pocket and recording yourself.
  • I missed Norma Gordon‘s session on Smudged Math, but I plan on going through the resources she shared on the TMC Wiki.
  • I also missed Pam‘s session on asking good questions.  Her presentation is here.
  • Several of the “My Favorites” sessions that were shared were based on blog posts I had read by these people, but it’s always fun to hear them talk about it in person.
  • I loved Pam Wilson‘s Make a Difference Monday

Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t a great teacher.  Ever.  And don’t tell yourself that.  Ever.  -Lisa Henry & Sam Shah


When I went to TMC last year in Minneapolis, one of the things that stood out to me most was the relationships people at TMC had with each other.  It was SO evident that these people didn’t just see each other one week out of the year and that was it.  These people had formed true friendships with each other.  Because I hadn’t really been super active on Twitter prior to TMC last year, I didn’t really know anyone apart from a few MN teachers.  I remember shyly walking up to Casey on the last day of our morning session and asking if I she wanted me to sign her book.


Shortly after TMC last year, I wrote this post, which prompted Casey to adopt me as her little sister.  She has been a constant source of encouragement and made me feel like I had something to contribute to the MTBoS (Math Twitter Blogosphere) community.

Over the past year I have participated more in conversations with people on Twitter.  I so wished I had done that prior to TMC last year so that I could meet all of these people who were helping me out so much in person.  So needless to say I could not wait to meet everyone in person at TMC this year.

One night several of us when to The Varsity, which claims to be the world’s largest drive in.  It was one of my highlights of the week.

There were several of us from Minnesota that made the trip to Atlanta!

And a few last pictures.

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