Saturday, September 8, 2018

First Week 2018 Recap

In the years past, I tried to begin the curriculum as quickly as possible.  Usually this meant we were starting on the second or third day.  This year I considered all of the things I wanted to do to get to know my students, and it just made sense to spread them out over the first three days.  This allowed me to get everything done (almost).  Normally I end up over planning, and then stressing about getting everything done.  Spreading everything out was a welcome change.

Wednesday, September 5th
Our very first day started with the instructions to fill out an"All About Me" page and scan the syllabus.  My goal was to not rush students through the "All About Me" questionnaire.  This year, I used the questionnaire from Five Foot One Teacher (@fivefootoneteacher on Instagram).  It is available from her First Day of School Packet on Teachers Pay Teachers.  Overall, I liked the questionnaire.  It asked questions that I usually wouldn't ask.  However, if I use it again next year, I am going to have to make a few adaptations.  Very few students understood the prompt "My family consists of...", the question about goals suggests becoming a better reader or writer, which is not totally applicable to math, and one question asks about what students did over the summer.  After reading a post on facebook about how some students are just surviving the summer, the question does not sit well with me, especially because I work in a school district with at least 70% of the student population living in poverty.

After students finished the questionnaire, I went over the highlights of the syllabus, but didn't go over every little thing.  I encouraged them to read the syllabus (it was part of their Do Now after all).  Then we went over the important safety information.  I did no other rules after that because I wanted to students to understand how important our safety procedures are.  I did a brief "About Me" presentation.  When I was a student I always liked the teachers that shared a little personal information the most.  It helps students to see that you are human and relatable, and that you have more to teach than just your subject area.  I keep it simple.  I share my age, astrological sign, family info (husband, baby, pets, birth order), my favorite things, and my high school activities.

Side note:  I shared that I was the Battalion Executive Officer (2nd in command) of my NJROTC unit.  We don't have a JROTC in our school, so I get to explain a little about it.  I am proud to share that I am teaching a future Marine, and he salutes the flag every morning during the pledge.  I then had the opportunity to give him some pointers on his positioning.  A deeper connection was made.

The highlight of my first day was playing "Save the Dinosaur!"  This is from another Teachers Pay Teachers product from Five Foot One Teacher. (The original activity is titled "Save the Chicken," but I had a dinosaur instead.)  I don't want to share exactly how the game works because it is all explained in the product, but here is what I can share:  The game can engage the whole class.  It is a team effort, so if your students try to resist, they will be peer pressured into participating.  Students will need to strategize to complete the task, so you will see your natural leaders emerge, and get a sense of how your students approach challenges.  It was very low prep; I just had to act out a part and purchase a toy dinosaur.  I made this a competition between classes, so I also had Jolly Ranchers for the winning classes.  My only disappointment was that my students had a good strategy right away, so I didn't get to witness too much trial and error.

For the first time ever, I had extra time at the end of the first day.  I gave my students time to catch up with each other.  If I use the same plans next year, I want to have a simple, no-prep back-up activity ready.

Thursday, September 6th
I started the second day with a syllabus quiz. (It's not a real quiz.)  I projected 7 questions on the SMART Board, and had students answer in teams.  I used these buzzers from Amazon to make it more engaging.  Students in my smaller classes loved it.  Doing this activity with my one large class was a struggle.  I wish they had a set of 6 buzzers, but I worked with what I had.  We went over the basic rules about cell phone use and tardies.

Then we had a scavenger hunt to help students familiarize themselves with the classroom.  I taped cards around the room anywhere there was something I wanted students to know about and/or use.  Each card displayed what the item was, a description of what it was for, and somewhere in the description was one letter that was bolder and larger than the others.  After finding all the things, students had to unscramble the letters to reveal a message.  Students worked quietly throughout the activity, but it took forever.  On the student's recording sheet they were asked to identify each item, explain it's purpose and location, and record the letter from the card.  I've already decided to use this activity again next year, but I'm going to type the purpose for each item onto the record sheet so student's only need to find the item and the enlarged letter.

Friday, September 7th 
On Thursday, I intended to go over the procedures after completing the scavenger hunt (when students knew what I was talking about and where it was).  I had to do this on Friday instead.  For the Do Now, I projected each class' assigned seating arrangement.  (I number my desks, so I simply list each number, and the type the students' names next to their seat numbers.)  I started each class with an "Algebra Skills Inventory," and then we went over the entrance and exit procedures.

I decided to save the 100 Numbers Task for this day because I wanted students to experience working together with their table partners.  It also served as an ice breaker for any students that did not already know their table partners.  I'm sure everyone knows about the 100 Numbers Task by now, but if you don't, check out the original post from Sarah Van Der Werf.  Instead of giving out Jolly Ranchers for the team that found the most numbers, I gave the Jolly Ranchers to the team that had the greatest improvement.

After the 100 Numbers Task, I introduced Five Foot One Teacher's One Word Project.  The basic premise is that students choose a word they want to live up to for the year, and meditate on the word while writing it out repeatedly.  I love this whole idea.  It's an informal and different way to set a goal for the year, and I love that it is about becoming a better version of yourself and not about grades.  I made an exemplar to show students, and I chose the word 'Fearless.'  I opened up to my students that I chose the word because there are so many things I want to try to make myself a better teacher for them, but since these things are out of my comfort zone, I usually chicken out.  Being fearless when trying new things is my goal as a teacher this year.

This week has been difficult too.  It's a tough transition becoming a mom, but becoming a back-to-school mom is another thing I am going to have to adapt to.  I love teaching and I'm so happy at school, but I miss my little boy.  My older cat's health is declining and we have to give him subcutaneous fluids twice daily.  He's not eating and it seems it's only a matter of days before we have to say goodbye.  I feel like I'm already super behind in planning, but overall I had a fantastic week of school, and I'm honestly sad this is a three day weekend because I want to be with my students.

See the vlog of my first week here:

Friday, August 17, 2018

INB Syllabus Cover Page

What happens to the syllabi you pass out to students at the beginning of school every year?  My guess is that they find their way to the garbage can before the end of September.  One of the benefits of using interactive notebooks is that students (usually) have the contents for the entire year.  So why not include the syllabus for reference?
 (INB Syllabus Front)
(INB Syllabus Inside)

I like to keep the syllabus on the inside front cover of interactive notebooks.  It is useful to have all of the information that students may need to reference throughout the year so easily accessible.  I hesitated to share this template because it is very much customized for mine and my students' needs.  Yet, so many people have asked for it that I decided to share it.  Feel free to customize the template to fit your needs.  You may need add or delete some text boxes and change fonts.

You can download a template to adapt here.

Information that I share on my INB syllabus:
  • my email address
  • my website address and QR code
  • Remind sign up info
  • online textbook log in info
  • reminder to update notebook from absences
  • notebook requirements
  • goals for final grade and regents score
  • grading break-down and descriptions
  • absence policy
  • supplies list
  • message to students
I used a whole mess of fonts to help break up the information (and just because it was fun).  You can change the fonts to anything you like, or you can download the fonts I used.  With one exception (linked below), all fonts are from Kimberly Geswein, and you can download her fonts for free from here.

Fonts used:
  • When Oceans Rise
  •  Behind These Hazel Eyes
  • Lego House
  • Be Still and Know
  • Piece by Piece
  • First Time In Forever
  • Dark Side
  • Love You Through It
  • Counting Stars
  • Throw My Hands Up in the Air
  • Miss Kindergarten
  • Part of Me

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Teacher Time Investments

Vlogging is great and all, but I want to do more.  I started finding a focus for my weekly vlogs when possible last week.  This week's focus was Teacher Time Savers.  I have more, lots more coming on this topic, but this week I went through my regular routines and discussed how they save time.  Overall, I spend more time on the front-end to save time - I like to think of these as time investments.

#1:  Print to SMART Notebook Document Writer
If you are SMART Notebook user, you should have the option to print to the "SMART Notebook Document Writer."  This will take any Word document or PDF, and convert it into a slide in SMART Notebook.  I use this feature weekly to display worksheets and activities that we are working on in class.  (Be careful if you want your pages to print landscape orientation instead of portrait.  You may have to change this option.)

#2:  How to Save Time Grading Tests
I actually already dedicated an entire post to this topic.  You can read about my routine here.

#3:  Quick & Easy Homework Passes
I make my homework passes out of business cards.  I've been using Vista Print for years for this purpose (not sponsored).  I choose a pre-made template, and add in my own info to convert the business card into a homework pass.  Vista Print often has sale codes available.  Last time I made a new set of homework passes, I paid $10 for 2,000 cards.  As a result, my homework passes are no-prep, and cannot easily be duplicated.

#4:  Print Notes for Absent Students
Teaching Geometry means that many lessons are new for students.  I mean completely new.  Students need a good base of background knowledge to be able to complete practice exercises, and I take notes very seriously.  Since I use SMART Notebook, I have all the notes on my computer, and can easily print them out.  Every day that I give new notes, I print out notes for all absents students during my morning prep.  I peek at SchoolTool for my later classes to estimate how many students are going to be absent, so I unless students are dismissed early, I don't have to worry about absences again throughout the day.

#5:  Save Notes for Students
This tip goes along with number 4.  After I print out the notes for absent students, I save a copy of the notes as a PDF.  When you're in the SMART Notebook file, go to "File," "Export As...," and select "PDF."  I save copy just in case, and I can upload the PDF files of the notes to our class website.  (These also come in handy when I have students assigned to ISS.  We have to send their work before school begins, and I won't have notes until after I've taught the lesson.  What I do to compensate is use the notes I saved from the previous year when possible.)

#6: Communicate with Absent Students
To easily communicate with my absent students, I created a slip to attach to any work that absent students need.  It lays out what students missed, what needs to be turned in, when it needs to be turned in, and if the student missed a quiz.  This eliminates questions that students would understandably have after receiving multiple pages of work after an absence.

#7:  Make Absent Work Easily Accessible
If you follow any teachers online to see how they organize their classrooms, you've probably seen an absent student system that includes a crate, and file folders for each day of the week.  Absent work is filed for each day, and students look for the materials from the day they were absent.  This is certainly easier than what I do. However, I don't think this would work for my students.  (They have a hard time finding the extra homework from the previous day because they start with the current day's folder.)  Also, there is nothing to grab their attention to remind them to look in the bin.

What I do is staple a folder for each class period to my bulletin board (pictured above).  I put the packets I make for absent students in the folders.  This grabs their attention, and when it doesn't, it grabs mine and I can remind students they have absent work.  (This is usually the case for the students that are rarely absent, and therefore forget the absence procedure.)  My process also streamlines where students have to look to find their missing work.

#8:  Organize Up-coming Materials
In the fall I made a video about how I organize worksheet/lesson materials here.  What I have changed since then is including the answer keys.  This has been very helpful.  Firstly, it keeps everything I need for the day in one location.  (Before I would start teaching, forget the key, have to look for the key, etc.)  Secondly, it separates each day's materials.

#9:  Prep for the Next Day
Most afternoons before leaving, I prepare for the next day.  I move the lesson materials I need for the next day to the front of my classroom, and I put the papers that students will pick up in their respective bins.  I update my whiteboards with the next day's standards, objectives, and information that students need, such as homework assignments.  Doing this each afternoon helps relax me, and makes my next morning much less stressful.  It only takes a few minutes, but it saves me more time in the morning when I'm moving slowly and have more on my mind.

See these tips in action in my latest vlog:

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Making Changes in 2018

Every year I plan to continue blogging throughout the school year.  Every year I fail.  Every year, when I finally get around to writing a blog post, I share my lament about not blogging regularly throughout the school year.  Here we are yet again.

Today I'm blogging about all the changes that I made/ am going through.

1.  My Pencil System
I've updated my pencil system yet again.  I actually never shared my current pencil system on my blog before. 
I like to keep it simple.  I (or more accurately a student volunteer that receives community service hours) attach a piece of mini-duck tape to the top of each pencil to remind students that these pencils do not belong to them.  Then I clip them onto the cookie sheet attached to my wall as shown above.  Students take a pencil for the period when they need one, and (ideally) they put it back at the end of the period.  I know so many people like to have students write their name on the board when they borrow a pencil, but (a) I don't have time to hunt students down at the end of the period to make sure that they return my pencils, (b) I don't leave markers out because I have students that draw (sometimes inappropriate things) on my marker board, and (c) my marker board is not even magnetic, so keeping the pencils on my white board is not even an option.  I like to keep my system simple, and just accept that I won't always get 100% of my pencils back.

My students this year seem to eat my pencils.  I put up new pencils every Monday, then by Tuesday I have 1 or 2 pencils left.  One day, while angrily ruminating on this issue, I remembered something.  I changed the title of my "participation" grade to "professionalism."  Students can earn up to 5 points each day, and one of those points was meant to be preparedness, but I never thoroughly kept track of it.  Once I remembered this, I reminded my students that coming to class prepared is part of their job.  Then I told them that should they ask me for a pencil or to go back to their locker for a pencil because all of mine had disappeared, they would lose their preparedness point for the day.  This may seem harsh, but it forces them to solve the problem on their own (borrow from a friend, pick-up the pencil in the hallway, etc.).  There is always a way to come to class with a pencil.  And realistically, it's only 1/25 of their professionalism grade for the week that is only 5% of their overall grade. 

2.  My Attitude
Every teacher anywhere knows that our to-do lists are never ending.  I always used to panic about getting all the things done.  There's just never enough time.  I'm in my 6th year of teaching, and I've finally realized something.  Anything that I needed to have done was completed in time because I prioritize.  Realizing this has been life changing.  I can cut myself off when it's getting late and I'm getting tired because I will have the most important things done when they need to be done, and everything else that needs to get done will have it's own time.  My new motto for this year has been "it will get done when it needs to get done," and this motto has brought me so much freedom.  I've also noticed that I've really mellowed out the past few months, and I think it's because...

3.  I'm expecting!
Between the change in my attitude, having more experience as a teacher, and my involvement in the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club, I finally feel ready to start a family.  It has been a fear of mine that I wouldn't be able to have a family of my own because teaching is so time consuming.  I'm sure that it will continue to be time consuming, but I feel that I can manage it so much better now than I ever did before.  In fact, most nights when I come home I don't have too much to do to prepare for school, and I need it to be that way right now because I've reached an all new level of exhaustion.
At this time I'm in my 19th week.  I'm due June 30th and will begin my third trimester as we *hopefully* start spring break.  My last day of school is June 22nd, so it will be fun to see what happens there.  I'm having a boy!  My husband and I are beyond excited, and enjoying the uninterrupted sleep when we do have it. 

I vlogged my experience as a teacher through my first trimester, and will continue to vlog through my second and third trimesters.

4.  My Classroom Management 
I saved this one for last because I am still working through this change.  I thought classroom management was one of those things that once you had it under your belt, you were done.  Not so much.  This year I learned that your classroom management techniques/style will continue to evolve with you.  One thing is guaranteed to change each year - your students.  My students this year are drastically different from the students I've had in the past.  In my Geometry classes, specifically, the boys outnumber the girls 2 to 1.  As I'm sure you can imagine, it makes my classes unusually difficult to manage compared to the years where my numbers are more even.  It is February, and I am still trying to adapt and find something that works long-term.

To add to my difficulty, I have been suffering from pregnancy congestion since we've returned from winter break.  (Fun fact:  Pregnant ladies don't get antibiotics.)  I've had a persistent cough and sometimes stuffy/runny nose.  This means that I've also had varying degrees of a sore throat and voice loss.  I still cannot use my teacher voice.  The bright side is I have no excuse to not work on talking less, which is a goal I've had for awhile. 

I currently have some solutions to try out for the next week.  Once I find something worth sharing, I will write a follow-up blog post.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Class Goals Poster

This year I decided to try something new regarding my class rules.  One piece of advice you always receive is to state rules positively, as in "do this," rather than "do not do that."  So instead of having class "rules" I decided to try class "goals."  I explained to students that these are the things we strive for in class every day (but we understand that some days we just aren't there).

All of this is coming from the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club.  I take no credit for the goals I am using (they all came from the club), but I do take credit for the signs that I am sharing in this post.
The goals are:
Listen with your full attention
Enter the room prepared and ready to learn
Always give your best effort on all your work
Respect yourself, others, and materials in the classroom
No excuses

Download your free copy here!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

My 40 HTWC Experience

As of yesterday, I am officially a graduate of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek  Club.  The club is a big investment, and I've heard from other teachers interested in the club, but not sure if the club is worth the money.  I can not definitively say if the club will work for you or not, but I can share my experience of the past year.

In November, I shared a video of my experience on my YouTube channel.  Initially, I wanted to write out a post for my blog, but since it's still winter break, I'd rather add an update and spend the time with my family.  Here's the link to my video:

Now that it is winter break, and my year is complete, I was able to accomplish something I never thought possible.  For the first time in my 6 years of teaching, I was able to do nothing work related over winter break.  I put in the work the week prior to break.  I have a routine that I previously blogged about in place that keeps me a week ahead.  I forced myself to maintain this routine despite everything else going on, I used a to do list from the club to organize my week, I was able to accept a minimum viable product (a good, not perfect project outline), and I even completed my household chores.  With the club, I was encouraged to try to reach this goal because I saw other teachers share their successes.  I'm empowered to give this strategy a try again this up-coming school week.  I hope that I can begin to take my weekends back.

The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club is accepting new members now through January 9th.  If the experience that I shared helped you decide to join, please include my name in your referral information - Brianne Beebe; email:

**This post is NOT sponsored.  All thoughts and opinions shared in the video and in this post are my own.

Friday, November 10, 2017

INB Templates

I use composition notebooks for my interactive notebooks.  An 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper (landscape orientation) cut in half fits perfectly in the notebooks. 

For the last 5 years I have been using the templates that I am sharing in this post.  With the first template I can choose to make a one-page or two-page spread.  With the second I make a mini-booklet of notes.

The templates can be downloaded below:
-INB Split-Page Template
-INB Mini-Booklet Template
(Print double-sided, flip on the short edge.)

First Week 2018 Recap

In the years past, I tried to begin the curriculum as quickly as possible.  Usually this meant we were starting on the second or third day. ...