Warm-Up System: Again

I loved having warm-up schedules last year, but for pre-algebra in particular, the formatting was not as cohesive as it could’ve been. By only having a template for Thursday and Friday, I had to print out the pages I wanted from What’s Next and from Week by Week Essentials, and then I had to order all of the pages before running through the copier. Occasionally, I made a mistake. Also, my students really struggled with finding and completing the patterns and with answering all 10 questions. Sometimes, they just gave up and we’d end up using a lot of class time doing the warm-up together.

This year, I’ve reformatted the warm-up schedule to incorporate some of Sarah Hagan’s fun tasks:


On Monday, the students will do 6 mental math problems, which will be projected on the board. I think I’ll pull 6 of the 10 featured in the Week by Week Essentials. I’m using “Marvelous Events” instead of “Good Things” just because I wanted the first letter of the subtitles to match the first letter of the day of the week.

Tuesday is going to incorporate a timer and 20 basic facts. I wasn’t sure what to do as the second part (I wanted to keep fun facts on Friday, so I didn’t want to do trivia again), but then I saw Elissa Miller’s newest post with talking points and loved it. I think it’ll be really interesting to get the students’ perspectives on those statements.

On Wednesday, I’ll be incorporating patterns by using Fawn’s Visual Patterns, but I won’t have the pre-algebra students do as much as I expect from the Algebra I students. I want them to be able to draw the next step and then describe how the pattern is being generated. The second part is Wittzle, which I hadn’t heard of until I saw Sarah’s post, but it seems very similar to Krypto, which I teach my students during the first week of school. I think this will be a good challenge every week, similar to how I include KenKen for Algebra I.

Thursday still features “Would you rather…?” questions, but again I rephrased it. The teaser will come from the Wackie Wordies section on CommonCoreSheets.com.

Finally, Friday has a new feature. I’m going to show a mistake on the board for students to analyze. They have to figure out what the mistake is and how they would recommend correcting it. The fun fact is a fill-in-the-blank trivia statement, just like I did last year.

The whole week relies on a template, like my Algebra I did last year, which will make preparing copies so much easier! I hope that the new schedule will work even better than last year’s. I really think the variety and the community-building will pay off. I’m so grateful to everyone that has shared their warm-up strategies and ideas!

Laminate Everything

I wish I hadn’t waited four years to buy a laminator. I bought one at the beginning of this school year and even though there’s some work involved putting all the pages through the laminator (and in some instances, cutting apart the pieces), I anticipate the wonderful feeling of being able to pull those activities easily next year. I’ve even forced myself to organize my filing cabinet in order to fully immerse myself in the laminating experience.

Laminator and Kettle


I bought a Scotch laminator from Amazon for $30. I’ve probably gone through almost 1000 sheets this year (I’d been buying the good stuff, but I’ve recently found that the Amazon label is comparable).

Alas, in March, I feared that my love of lamination had gone too far. The barrel that rotates inside to pass the laminator sheet through stopped moving. I could shake the laminator a bit to get it going again, but that wasn’t a great long-term solution. I sent a note to Scotch on their website contact form just to see if there was a simple solution. Within a day, I received a response:

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for contacting 3M, the innovation company, Stationery & Office Supplies Division.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you with your Scotch(TM) Thermal Laminator. Without having the product in hand, it is difficult to explain the reason why this might be happening.

In order to best serve you, we ask that the machine be sent in for evaluation and repair or replacement. We will send a postage paid label for your convenience. In order to do so, we will need your complete mailing address, including your last name. Once we receive that information, you should receive the label in 7-10 business days.

Please include the following information when returning your machine:

Your name
Your return address
Your phone Number – for any questions or issues with the repair
Problem with the laminator

Our lab technicians will attempt to repair the unit, and if it can be repaired, it will be and then returned to you. If the unit cannot be repaired, a new unit will be sent out. Please allow 3-5 weeks from when the machine is sent in for shipping and repair time.

Thank you for your interest in 3M products.

If you need any further assistance, please feel free to contact us directly at 1-800-328-6276. We are available Monday through Friday from 8:00 – 4:30 CT.



I followed up by sending in my information, and sure enough, I received a shipping label within the week, along with some 3M coupons. I packed up my laminator and sent it off for repair. Four weeks later, during my spring break, I received my new laminator (at least, I’m pretty sure it’s a replacement). It works marvelously and I’m back in business.

I was pleasantly surprised by Scotch’s willingness to offer to repair/replace a $30 laminator. Great customer service!

With summer in sight, I plan to bring my laminator home with me over the summer just in case.

MTBoS Mission #6

I keep getting farther behind, but I think anyone in education knows that beginning-of-quarter/holiday season is crazy. Per Mission 6, I am definitely loving all the MTBoS goodness going on.

My feed reader of choice is InoReader. I have a Feedly account, too, but I am not here for their search being a paid feature. I am a poor teacher / graduate student, so I am happy to say that InoReader has search available for free (Google Reader, it must be said, still stands as the best, RIP). It may not be as snazzy looking as Feedly, but I find that the Light Theme with Modern Blue icons looks just fine. I forget how many feeds I follow – something like 70? – but of course, they don’t all update frequently. I still get excited when I see that I have new posts to read.


I don’t keep a virtual filing cabinet. I keep links organized and tagged with delicious, which was thankfully spared a fate similar to Google Reader’s. When I was still in college (2008), my educational technology professor had us all create accounts and I’ve stuck with it ever since. If I think there’s any possibility that I will ever use any files, I download them and keep them organized in a hierarchy of folders. Also, very importantly, these files are all saved in Dropbox because I had a scare my first year teaching and fear losing everything. There’s folder for each class, subfolders for each unit, and then subfolders for each skill. And all files are sorted by type with a prefix in their names. This year I’ve been trying to be better about deleting junk that I’ll never use, but I admit that I hoard files.


For everything I print out and laminate (card sorts, scavenger hunts, bingo cards, etc.), I’ve started organizing by filing cabinet. I bought hanging files and hanging pockets to hold everything (units organized by color and using the included plastic labels). This is a work in progress, but it’s making everything much easier. If there’s anything I could go back and tell my first-year self, it would be to buy a laminator then and use it constantly. This is my first year with it and it’s glorious.

Theoretically, I also keep binders organized by class and unit to keep masters of everything I print out during the year (in plastic sleeves, too), but honestly, I stack all the masters in a pile near my desk instead. I don’t think I’ve updated a binder since September. I guess I can’t have it all.

MTBoS Mission #5: Chatting

Even though I am behind on blogging still, I did actually attend the Algebra I twitter chat last week. Following the chat was no problem; I followed along on my laptop (so, the web version of Twitter, no special apps). I even participated by responding to all the questions. It was so exciting! My iPad app, despite not using it, kept dinging to let me know I had responses. When I’d refresh the page, there’d be several new responses – I was multi-tasking (making cookies, working on lesson plans, and chatting). It was fun to read everyone’s responses to the questions as well as the conversations that developed from the responses. Everyone was so thoughtful and encouraging.

Overall, I would like to attend & participate in more chats. It seems that the algebra I and middle school math chats are always at 9pm EST (which makes sense to include people to the west), but I like to go to bed early, so staying up until 10 every week or twice a week isn’t likely to happen. However, I will pay attention to topics that are of particular interest to me and I can always read back on the tags later.

MTBoS Mission #4: Listen and Learn

I’m a week behind, but I’m going to try to attend a twitter chat tonight or tomorrow to catch up.

I wasn’t able to attend the Global Math Autumn Special Event on Saturday because I had other plans, but I started with watching “My Favorites: Problem-Based Lessons and Tasks” because not only is this something I’ve been trying to incorporate more and more each year, but it’s become a hot topic in my district and even at the state level. I went to a VA SOL institute last month and the focus this year was on creating tasks. I have collected various tasks for geometry, measurement, and proportion, but I have very little for algebra. Of course, it’s also difficult to change the culture of math learning; students aren’t used to problems that take a while to solve, when they have to look for information, etc.

  • I like how Julie Reulbach showed real tasks that she’s used, like the Four 4s and the Busch Gardens cups. In the beginning of the year, I use Krypto, which is similar to Four 4s, and I’d never thought about it as a task before. I don’t think I encourage students to work on those enough.
  • Alisan Royster reminded me about the NRICH website, which I haven’t looked at in a while. Number pyramids would be a good way to incorporate more tasks into pre-algebra. Many of my students lack a solid foundation in number sense, so it’s important to incorporate that with patterns and problem-solving.
  • Megan Schmidt also talked about NRICH. I’m glad that she mentioned the tags, because I’ve found those really helpful.
  • Finally, Justin Aion talked about Mathalicious, which is a fabulous website that I’m guilty of not using more often. I have a couple of their tasks saved up for future topics, but I haven’t used anything yet this year. Justin mentions that his students are used to being able to work quickly and getting answers right away, which is something that rings true for my students as well. I looked at his blog post on his students’ work with the Domino Effect and I love seeing the creativity. This reminded me that I don’t allow for nearly enough projects in class (Why isn’t there enough time to do everything I want to do?).

I’ve never visited the Global Math site before, but there are several that I want to go back to watch. It really is wonderful to have access to so many resources and I think I can consider myself a new fan of the webinars and podcasts.

Just this week, my spouse has started listening to Welcome to Night Vale, so it seemed fitting that my first Infinite Tangents podcast was Welcome to Night Tangents. I couldn’t hear the weather song very well, but the rest of the show was a perfect mix of MTBoS and WTNV. I’ve added the rss feed to my reader so I can keep up with new episodes of the podcast.

I’m so glad to have found these new resources, though it reminds me that I could seriously work 24/7/365 and still not absorb and apply everything. Still, I’m grateful for everyone’s hard work and the collaborative environment the MTBoS has online.

MTBoS Mission #3

The math teachers of the MTBoS have done an outstanding job of making interesting resources available. Just reading through the mission, I saw so many sites that I’ve heard of and used, and then there are even more to look through! I couldn’t pick just one to blog about:

  • I’ve been inspired by 101 Questions. Just today, I came across Gas Pump, which would be great during my upcoming proportions unit. I want to incorporate as many tasks and real-life examples as possible because students don’t seem to get a chance to talk about those enough. There’s no more home economics classes or shop classes to get to apply their math skills and I’m under the impression that not a whole lot goes on at home for most students either.
  • I use Estimation 180 every day in my enhanced (remedial) pre-algebra class. It’s the warm-up each day and after the first couple of minutes, during which the students complete the too high, too low, estimate, and reason, I call on someone to write all the estimates on the board; there are 15 students in the class. We compare them and see if any repeat. During the video answers, we’ll pause and ask if anyone’s changed their answers.
  • Visual Patterns is part of my Algebra I weekly warm-up schedule. The students, for the most part, seem to enjoy these days and they’ve gotten much better at sketching step 27. At first, they balked at the idea and either tried to draw the entire step 27 or they gave up all together. Sometimes they have trouble figuring out the equation and I’ll give them a hint or I may leave it until the next day so that they’ve had more time to think about it.

In the future, I’d love to use Daily Desmos, but that may wait until I teach Algebra II. What a great Problem of the Day! Also, I’m going to check out Mathagogy and Collaborative Mathematics. So many great resources to check out! I’m so grateful for stumbling onto all of them.

MTBoS Mission #2: Twitter

If I don’t do this blog post now, it’ll never get done.

I joined Twitter last year so that I could follow other math teachers. Primarily, I lurk and read posts and conversations (overpowered by shyness), but occasionally, I’ll respond to something. My first tweet was almost exactly a year ago:


For the MTBoS mission, I’ve followed a few new people, tagged a couple of things with #MTBoS, and shouted out to Robert Kaplinsky for inspiring me to write a task like his What Rides task. Originally, I was just going to borrow his images from the Knotts Berry Farm, but since I’m in Virginia, I decided to go with a Busch Gardens theme, since most of my students have actually been there.

I haven’t gotten the gumption yet to really introduce myself via the blog or Twitter (which of course, per the mission, should be something I try). I’m more of a passive, gently-insert-comment-into-conversation type. Maybe soon?

Hopefully I’ll contribute more to Twitter this week. Last week flew by so quickly!

MTBoS Mission #1

Per Sam’s post, I’m responding to the second prompt:

  • What is one thing that happens in your classroom that makes it distinctly yours? It can be something you do that is unique in your school… It can be something more amorphous… However you want to interpret the question! Whatever!

I have two activities that I reuse every year for enrichment: 1) the Soma cube and 2) SET. They are two things that my students come to associate with being in my classroom and the students are eager for both challenges.

Soma Cube Template

1) When I was in college, the delightful Professor Dana Johnson introduced us (the math-ed undergrads) to the Soma cube. She instructed us on how to build each piece and we glued them together and labeled the sides during one class period. Whenever my students finish an assignment early, they race to be the first person to get the cube. Some students figure out a way to put it together in minutes; others take several attempts to figure it out. My pieces are labeled by number so that the students can write up their solutions. With over 200 ways to put it together, I encourage multiple solutions from those who are quick to figure out one method. Putting the cube together is one way for students to earn achievement stickers, which is a monthly competition between the classes (the winning class gets cookies).

SET game cards

2) SET is my go-to game when there are a few minutes left in class. Once I introduce it to my students, usually within the first week of school starting, they’ll start asking me if they can play the pattern game. The great thing about using the New York Times’ puzzles is that they change daily and there are four levels ready to go. I just project the game onto the Smart board and call students up when they see a SET. Like with the Soma cube, each level of SET is worth an achievement sticker for the class. This is one of those great activities that generates discussions on what makes a SET and why a certain combination didn’t work. We discuss the mistakes and sometimes I’ll give a hint if they’re close to finishing a level but short on time. It’s a great way to keep the class from descending into chaos when there’s a couple of minutes left.

Both of these activities are important for various math skills (spatial reasoning, pattern recognition), but I think they’re special in my classroom because the kids remember them year-to-year. For the students who I have more than once, they immediately gravitate to one or both upon returning. Even students who come to visit like to try their hands at the cube before they leave. I like the activities because they remind everyone that it’s okay to make mistakes, because we learn from them, and that it’s important to persevere.

Classroom 2013

It’s year 5 in the same classroom and this is the first year I’ve ever felt really organized at the beginning of the year. We’re three weeks into the year and my room still looks pretty organized; I’ve been making a serious effort to not let things get behind or for the papers to get piled up.

When I first got back in August, my room was mostly a blank slate. The school just had some major work done, so most of the furniture was just returned the day I got back, and everything I liked had come home with me for the summer.

Blank Slate

Blank Slate

I spent a lot of time putting my room together. I spend way too much time in it for it to be barren and cold. This is my little corner of the room:

Teacher Corner

Teacher Corner

I have an extra bookshelf this year, which is great because I was overcrowded before. I still haven’t hung anything on the cork board behind my desk, but I use those plastic files to sort unfinished quizzes by class period. I also plan on actually using my hot water kettle (a gift from my grandmother) to make tea this year. Also nearby: my laminator. I’m enamored with it and I have the MTBoS to thank.


I’m also excited about finding a paper sorter (left in one of the lockers last year), so I’m using it to sort my colored paper and upcoming papers for the week (assuming that I can actually copy them a few days in advance).

Bulletin Board

I’m also really happy with how my bulletin board turned out. The main feature is the “When are we ever gonna have to use this?” poster, which another teacher-friend of mine had last year, so I got one, too. This poster is bordered by the wonderful Mathematical Practices set from Everybody is a Genius.

Problems of the Week

To the right of the posters is the Problem of the Week / Weekly Krypto area for students who finish early.

Bulletin Board Wall

This was taken before I used washi tape to border the Expectations poster. It kept falling down.

Class Achievements

On the other side of the room, I’m keeping supplies and the class rewards systems. There are two: one for behavior (10 stickers = 10 free minutes one day after a lesson is finished) and one for achievements, like putting together the Soma cube or solving Krypto (the most stickers at the end of the month = cookies for the class). All the classes are sorted by color.

Class Files

Each class also has a file crate; each student has a hanging file. This is where they keep their warm-up folders. It’s also where I return exit tickets and quizzes (otherwise all the papers pile up somewhere and it takes too much class time to pass them out individually.

Two Minute to Dismissal

This is one of my Pinterest-inspired areas. I haven’t explicitly gone over this year but I’m hoping the students read them when they go to their files at the beginning and end of class.

Volume Levels

More Pinterest inspiration. I’ve only referred to it a few times and I need to get better at it.

Weekly Schedule

My whiteboard, to the left of the Smart board is the schedule for both types of classes. The current day is detailed and the other days are just overviews. The tallies are for the class behavior stickers – keeping all three earns 2 stickers, keeping one or two earns 1 sticker.

Positive Posters

These posters are partially decoration, partially covering holes in the wall. The No Whining poster came from Urban Outfitters and, oddly enough, the poster is more effective than me saying it over and over. I bought the Accept and Be poster back when CB2 was selling them in 2012, thinking that it would be a great message. The Never Say Never poster is mostly to represent my love of Char Mar, but I also like the message of not giving up. Though, I usually just get asked if it has to do with Justin Bieber.

Window Stars

I love getting natural light in through the windows, but since my view includes students entering and exiting the building (distractions abound!), I hang up these window stars to cover up the lower part of the window. We make the window stars every year after the SOL test and I keep the ones that no one wants to take home.

Wall of Champions

Finally, I’ve set up my own wall of champions! This was taken before the first quiz, but now it’s adorned with many sticky notes (also color-coded by class).

Hopefully the cheerful colors and organization will help make this year a successful one.

Class Survey Summaries

Inspired by Kathryn’s and Sarah’s posts on learning about their students, I gave my students the surveys this past week (the first week of school). I followed Kathryn’s suggestions for the order – learning style on Tuesday, true colors on Wednesday, multiple intelligences on Thursday. Then, they compiled their data on Friday with the “Me at a Glance” sheet. I had them turn that sheet in to me and then I used Excel to summarize each of my classes.


There’s definitely a trend among my classes for being an orange personality and kinesthetic learner. I think I’m gold and visual myself. But of course, the goal is to use this data to tweak my lessons to suit each class. On Friday, we did a word sort and note-taking that involved walking to different stations around the room.

I created this Excel file to organize all of the data for each class and then to create the graphs. I then copied the graphs into Word and edited the fonts and sizes. I think there’s still a few missing “Me at a Glance” sheets that weren’t turned into me, so I’ll check on Monday to see if anyone has one to turn in. Once I have everyone’s data, then I’ll print out all of the classes’ summary graphs so that I can post them in the classroom.