Transitioning Back to School

The first four school days of 2023 are officially in the books. This school year students and teachers had about 2 1/2 weeks off from school. Teachers came back for an institute day on Monday, and students returned on Tuesday. I find that every year, the transition from winter break back to a regular school routine can be rough. Students and teachers alike make a hard stop and transition back to commuting, eating at certain times, sustaining attention for a certain amount of time, and remembering expectations, etc. Having an institute day on Monday before the students arrived back was helpful in preparing to gradually move students back into school mode. The planning of the first few days reminded me of the first few days of school. They are actually similar in acclimating students to a routine, building a classroom community, and putting together expectations. I made an extended effort to build these in place as students entered the building on Tuesday. This post is primarily used to remind myself of what to do next school year and to share what seemed to work/didn’t work.

On Tuesday studetns came back and I gave time for them to discuss their break with their peers. Most of the students did not have a chance to talk with each other over break so this was a time to reconnect. After that students worked on filling out a 2023 reflection sheet that was created by @druinok.

Students had no problem coming up with 2 good things that happened in 2022 and 2 things that they were looking forward to in 2023. They had a bit of trouble with something to stop and the three goals. The class brainstormed a few ideas about what to stop and a common theme was procrastinating and having a positive attitude. Students then took the sheet and made a few edits after thinking it over. I mentioned that we will be revisiting this later in the school year.

After completing the sheet students added their responses to a Desmos deck that had similar questions. Students logged in using their Google credentials so I could provide feedback.

Students filled out the deck and confirmed their selection on slide seven. Later that evening I went into each submission and wrote a few comments.

One was related to what they did over break and the other was about their goal(s). Students reviewed the feedback the next day. I need to remind myself to do this next year as most students enjoyed this time and I was able to reconnect with them individually.

The second activity involved teams and involved blending math, puzzles and teamwork. Fortunately over break I found a terrific 2023 puzzle by @mathequalslove. I printed out the puzzle at home and tried it out. The “easy” puzzle was a perfect fit for my class as the pieces went horizontal and vertical. Students were randomly placed in groups and assigned the task of putting together the puzzle. I mentioned that the pieces could go horizontal or vertical. I didn’t realize that (or didn’t read it carefully enough) when I put it together at home and had to reach out to Sarah to find a solution. Some students had a challenging time putting together the puzzle. I had a few groups that thought it was impossible, but then they prevailed. Students cut out the final product, put a few designs on it and I put it on the wall. My hope is that when students see the wall it will bring back positive memories of persevering and working through a challenge.

The third task to help with the transition involved order of operations and collaboration. I have to give props to @seewins for putting together the 2023 year game challenge. I alwsy look forward to this amazing resource as Craig as been creating them for years.

Students worked in stations to find as many solutions as possible. The class worked on this for around 20 minutes and there were cheers when the class found a solution – talk about teamwork! I left the task open this week and some students even got their sibilings involved. One kid with the help of an older sibling was able to get 100.

On Friday students finished off the week by reflecting on the last four days. They reviewed their goal sheets and filled out a simple deck on how they were feeling.

The results indicated that many students were in the easy or not there yet. Only a few indicated that it was really tough. I believe we are making progress, but not fully in a routine yet. I feel like using activities like these mentioned inthe post has helped make the transition a bit easier and I will most likely use someting similar after long breaks moving forward.

Supply Lists

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Like many teachers, I’m reporting back to school soon.  My classroom has changed and I’ve been told that all of my furniture and supplies have been moved to a new location.  At some point next week I’ll enter the school, grab a new set of keys and find an unassembled room full of boxes.  It’s overwhelming at first.  I’ll probably spend the first few hours just unpacking and setting up shop.

I’ll be bringing my own supplies like I usually do at this time of the school year.  I try to be somewhat minimal with what I purchase each year as I tend to move classrooms almost every year.  Also, my district provides a sum of money for classroom purchases and this is where I spend the bulk of that funding. For the past few years or so I tend to get a staple items that are standard in my room.  This post will highlight what I tend to purchase before school and the reasoning behind it.  It’s also a good reminder for me to look back at and reference (think next August). The supplies work for me and I’m not affiliated in any way with the companies involved with the products.  This post actually stemmed from the whole #clearthelist initiative that seems to making the rounds on Twitter.  As I look over those lists I wonder what’s truly needed and what’s considered a priority purchase.

To give context context, I teach multiples sections of math to different grade levels.  I have around 100 kids pass through my door each day along with four different grade levels.

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Student math journals

I tend to purchase one of these notebooks for each student.  I try to color code them so that a certain grade level is a specific color.  That doesn’t always work as it depends on the supply they have at Big Lots or Walmart.  These notebooks are primarily used for student math journals.  Students write about their math experience, take notes and reflect on assessments within the journal.  Since I loop with the students they keep this journal for three years.  At the end of fifth grade they take the journal home.

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Student folders

Each student also gets a folder.  I usually get the folders and notebooks at the same place around the end of July.  The folders are color coded based on the grade level.  I usually purchase the cheap ones that don’t include special hole punches or brads.  Students grab these folders when they enter the classroom and their morning routine work is located inside.  Students take and return these folders from the same place when they arrive and leave the classroom.  The folders barely last one whole year.

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Popsicle sticks for groups

These popsicle sticks/tongue depressors are winners in my book.  I get a large back from Hobby Lobby, but I’m sure you can also find them at other places. I organize them by color and assign each group a grade level.  I use white address labels to print out the names on my roster and attach them to the sticks, folders and math journals.  These sticks are used to group students or randomly pick a student for a response.

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Like many teacher, I tend to grade using some type of Flair pen (long live the Flair!).  The problem is that it’s not erasable and I haven’t found one that works for me.  When I make a typo or error with the Flair I dig out this.  They cover the mistake and I’m able to write over it without issue.  I gave up the liquid white-out a long time ago as I can’t wait for it to dry – my issue.

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Notes and sometimes grading

I’m a fan of the Sharpie pen.  I use these for grading or for taking notes.  Love that it doesn’t bleed through my notebook.  Was able to get this on Amazon for a decent deal about a week ago.  A 12 pack will last me all school year and then some.  I ration these and keep them under lock and key.

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Did you forget a pencil?

Last year I ran out of pencils around March.  This year I’m trying to be a bit proactive and ordered 150 pre-sharped pencils from Amazon.  I almost went with golf pencils, but decided to go with a regular size. I have a pencil jar/bin that’s for anyone that needs one.  I try to keep it stocked up as much as possible, but usually after a few months I see pencils that are on life support as you can’t even jam them into a pencil sharpener.  I’m going to put our a few each week and then resupply them the following week.  Like that they’re pre-sharped as students don’t have to line-up to sharpen them and lose out on time in class.

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Not really a staple, but a good find nonetheless

I found this stool at Harbor Freight about a week ago.  This will be perfect for my small group table.  It has wheels which is a major bonus in my view.  Last year I remember kneeling down or bending over to work with my early elementary students.  This might be another flexible way to get to my students during small group time.

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STEM project

My third grade students have been creating paper roller coasters for the last five years.  I keep on going back and getting another copy because of how much teamwork, math and creativity it showcases.  The booklet comes with different colored yardstick.  Students basically follow the instructions and create different parts of the roller coaster track.  Students will need to fold, score, cut and tape the tracks together to create the final project.  It takes my students almost the entire year to create the entire coaster.  Students work on this after they finish independent work or during small snippets of scheduled time throughout the year.

Every classroom is different and each teacher has their own supplies that they can’t live without.  This post highlight just a few staples that I tend to get before the year starts.


Making Plans and Reality

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Three days are in the books. Students arrived on Wednesday and it’s been organized chaos for the last few days. Maybe not organized chaos, but it surely has been hectic and fast-paced. With all the scheduling, drills, trainings and professional development it can be challenging to find time to sit down and reflect on what has happened.

A few weeks ago I made my first day plans. The plans indicated a number of different activities and beginning of the year strategies.  Here’s what actually happened:

Day 1

I planned to have the kids for an hour, but that didn’t work out. Instead, I had around 30-40 minutes with my third and fourth grade classes. My fifth grade class was involved in expectations training so I missed their class on Wednesday. I ended up having students come into the classroom, find a seat, and use the “get to know you” and “get to know your teacher” activity.

Both of these activities were great. Students caught up with their peers and learned a lot of new information about their teacher. Even though I’ve had some of the students for five years, many were left guessing.  Major Kudos to Sarah for sharing this idea. I’ll be using it again next school year. Even more, the students were straight-up giddy about creating a quiz for their teacher.

I ended up having a very short amount of time to review the arrival/dismissal flow charts. By then, the time was gone and students had to move to their next class.

Day 2-3

During the second day I had students follow the arrival routine and sit in the same seats that they occupied yesterday. I randomly grouped students for their assigned seat for the first unit. Students graded their quiz and I was lucky to get a couple answers right on each page. I learned a ton about each student though.

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The class moved into the Number Trouble game. Their new seats already grouped the students into table teams. I distributed the 100 paper to the teams and explained the instructions. Each group had two minutes to find all 100.

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At the end of time every group found around 15-30 numbers. I gave the groups time to look for different strategies/patterns and create a plan. They were given an additional two minutes. Most groups had between 50-90 the second time around. One group made it to 100. I later found out that one of the members of the group used this activity last year.  Afterwards, I brought the classes to the carpet and we discussed what went well and what didn’t. The class created a list of positive behavior interactions and then that discussion spilled over into what the expectations should be for the school year.

Students signed-off on the expectations and then went back to their seats.

I then introduced the name tents and feedback forms. Students wrote their names on the front and I explained what students should do on feedback side. Students weren’t quite sure what to write, but eventually they jotted down what came to their mind. Time was up after this activity and the second day was finished. Later that evening I wrote back to each student.

Students also started their puzzle piece. This is a bit different than in past years. Most students haven’t finished and that’s something that we’ll work on next week. We’re making progress, but I’m hoping when it’s all said and done, the door will be outlined with the student pieces.

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This was my puzzle piece trial.  Eventually, each student will receive one puzzle piece and it will should make a border around the door.  If any remain, I’ll most likely start filling in the border.

I’m looking forward to planning a few lessons and recharging over the weekend.

Math Class – Day One

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Updated on 8/11

My school officially starts in about two weeks.  I’m in the process of editing my digital files and revamping them for the new school year.  It’s a process that I tend to complete every year around this time.  Part of me is already thinking that summer is finished (even though I know it’s not), while another part is excited for the new year.  To be honest, I haven’t fully turned the switch to school mode.  I’m gradually moving in that direction though.

I’m putting together this post to collect my thoughts, reflect on what’s worked before and become a bit more organized with my planning.  In the back of this browser I have a bunch of documents open. My Evernote is in my second tab as well as Tweetdeck.  Each document is somewhat related to an ideas of what I can potentially use during the first few days of school.  Some are activities that I’ve used in the past with success and others are brand new to me.

I usually stick with a similar plan for the first few days of school. I generally play it conservative during the first few days.  I’ve used similar activities during the past five years or so.  After all, building the classroom community and creating a math atmosphere is so pivotal in laying the groundwork for a successful year. Right?  So I tend to use activities that I’ve found successful in the past.  That’s interesting because I tend to try out many new activities/tools as the year progresses, but I keep those first few days standard.  This year I’m planning on doing a few things differently.  I’ll be keeping some of the routines the same, while adding a few newbies (to me) in the process. I have to also keep in mind the fire drills and other logistical pieces that are often required during those first few days.

I know that I’ll be seeing at least three classes on the first day of school.  Each class will last about one hour long.  It’s never really an hour long because of commuting time, lockers, materials, and other reasons.  So I basically get around 55ish minutes for the first day.

I’m planning on having a slide on the whiteboard when students enter the classroom.

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This slide is still a work in progress.  I’d like the students to find any seat that they want.  The tables are already setup in groups of three or four.  Generally students gravitate towards their friend crew, although I have a limited amount of seats so that isn’t always possible.  I’m also thinking about giving kids a card and that’s associated with a particular table.  Still mulling around this idea.  My fourth and fifth graders have had me as a teacher before so they’re usually expecting what they saw last year.

After they all sit and quiet down (which is usually so quick on the first day) I’ll review the agenda.  I’ll introduce myself.  I’m not going into details this time.  Usually I say that I’m Mr. Coaty, a Harry Potter fan, live in Illinois, am a swimmer, and so on…  Instead of doing that, I’m borrowing from Sarah and using a “Getting to know Mr. Coaty” quiz.  I don’t have questions yet, but will in a couple days.  We’ll review the quiz as a class and then the kids will give me a multiple choice quiz.  I’ll basically copy Sarah’s amazing idea and have them put this together and turn it in before the end of the class.  I’m thinking this quiz activity will take around 15 minutes or so.  I’m planning on taking the quizzes after students leave.  I think this a fantastic way to get to know your students and is also a positive step towards building rapport.

After the quiz the class will play a game or two of the geometry game.  It’s similar to Simon Says, but with geometry and number terms.  For example, when I say acute angle, students make an acute angle with their arms.  I show the students the motions associated and then we’ll practice.  This shouldn’t take more than five minutes.  This game is revisited throughout the year as more vocabulary is introduced.

I’ll then pass out the standard “beginning of the year” papers.  At one point I almost went  completely digital with this, but I had issues getting back all of the documents.   My information letter explains the curriculum, policies and all of the other formal pieces.  The Twitter letter explains how the class uses Twitter and how to follow the class on our journey.  The parent information letter is homework for the parents.  Parents fill out their name, contact information and any other comments that they feel I need to know about their child.  I tend to get everyone of these sheets back.  About half have comments and sometimes a couple are more than a page long.  I appreciate hearing from the parents – it gives me a different perspective. The last part of the packet is the math unit letter.  The letter comes from Everyday Math and explains what’s included in the first unit of study.  I’ll review the entire packet with the kids and then ask for questions.  Students put this away and we move on.

This is where I’ll explain the arrival/dismissal flow chart.  I will (hopefully by next week) have flow charts hanging up in my class explaining what to do during arrival and dismissal.


I try to make this as concise as possible.  The class will practice the arrival process.  We’ll go in the hall and then enter back into the classroom.  I find elementary students need this practice at first.  I’ll give examples and counter-examples.  I go a little overboard with the counter-examples, but I think the kids have a good understanding of what’s expected.  I’ll do the same with the dismissal flow chart.  This takes a good 10 minutes.

If we have time, my plan is to start Sara’s 100 numbers activity.  The students will already be in groups, so I’ll plan on following Sara’s example that she showcases on her blog.  I’m hoping to have students start to see the positive benefits of working in groups. I’ll be taking pictures and videos that the class can discuss afterwards.  I think this will be a good lead-in to when the class discusses appropriate critiquing later in the week.  This will probably take at least 20-30 minutes.   I might even have to extend it into the next class period.

Near the end of the class I’ll pass out the student consumable journals.  We’ll review the dismissal flow chart and I’ll send my kids to their next class.  I might end with a teaser about how we’ll be looking at math puzzles tomorrow.  I realize that this is a lot to accomplish in one class session.  I’m flexible in moving the 100 activity to the next class if needed.

Update:  8/11

After thinking about it and talking with a number people on Twitter, I’m going to switch up some of these activities.  We’re allowed to change our plans, right?  I guess this post is a living a document.  : )  I boxed the changes.

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I decided to give students the opportunity to create name tents.  This is straight out of Sara’s post.  The back will have a daily feedback form for the first five days.  I’ll probably start asking them questions by the time days 3-4 roll around.  I’m going to give a lengthly amount of time for this during the first day.

So I decided to move the 100 activity to day two.  I’m afraid that the class won’t have enough time to complete that entire activity in the limited time that we have.  I’d rather have students complete that activity in its entirety, instead of splitting it up into multiple days.  I think it loses some of it’s bang if it’s split up.  The puzzle activity will replace the 100 activity.  Students will each be given a puzzle piece.  Students will fill them out and the pieces will be compiled to border the class door.

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I just need to remember to give out an appropriate amount of pieces to each class so it actually makes a rectangular border.

The second day looks like this:

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This is what’s scheduled to occur, barring any fire drills or expectations meeting.  I read about the triad of responsibility chart about a week ago through Caitlyn’s blog and thought this would be another great way to emphasize classroom community.  It also emphasizes the math component.  I think this anchor chart has a place in my classroom.  It’d be great to have the class co-create it and then it can be referred to throughout the year.  Major kudos to Caitlyn for writing about her experience at NYC Math Lab.  I could see this working really well with my own classroom.

Another piece that I added this year is related to a math claims wall.  I’d like to use a full bulletin board for this and claims will be added and the modified as the year progresses. Something similar to this:

Since I teach multiple grade levels I might split up the board into three parts.  This is my first year trying a math claim wall out so it’ll be interesting.  🙂

I’ll be introducing the paper roller coaster on day two.  Usually my third graders complete this. This is one of my students’ favorite activities and it usually lasts for the majority of the year.

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For the past few years I’ve bought one set and used it as a math station.  Students work on creating a base and foundation for the coaster.  They have to cut and score the card stock and eventually create around a five foot roller coaster.  I’ll only have time to introduce the project, but it’s a real exciting time as students enjoy the creative aspect of this activity.

We’ll end day two with the tent feedback forms and a look at factors.  Over the next few days the class will start Estimation180, write in their math journals and work on the first unit of study.

I’m looking forward to what this new year brings!

Math Bell Ringers

My school officially opens up for students in about three weeks.  Teachers can enter in about a week or so since the floors are being waxed and cleaned.  Like many educators during this time of the year, I’m starting to plan out what my first few days are going to look like.  I had a chance to review my schedule and it looks like I’ll be teaching math to students in grades K-5 next year. Right now, all of my materials are in about 30 boxes in my new classroom.  I had to relocate over the summer because of enrollment and extra sections.

As I was looking over the #TMC17 and #MTBoS tags this weekend I started to notice other teachers are also persevering through the planning process.  I also had a chance to catch up on a few blogs yesterday. Reading other peoples’ reflections ignited my own reflection process and I started putting together this post.  One part of my school day that I’m planning out relates to my advanced math class bell ringers. For me, bell ringers have been an ever-changing process from year to year.  A bell ringer is what my students complete during the first 10 minutes of class.  I have a 60 minutes math block for my 3-5th grade classes.  I tend to have students come into my class at different times because of band, orchestra, or other circumstances.  Usually I get all of the students in my class within the first five minutes.  Some students are waiting outside my door at the exact time the math block starts, while others are not.  When students come into the classroom they follow the flow chart and take a look at the agenda that I have projected on the whiteboard.

I tend to use bell ringers to review math concepts that were taught earlier in the week.  I used to use brain teasers and different math games, but they weren’t exactly related to what was being taught.  Each grade level (3-5) uses a different type of ringer and some work better than others.  I’ve been looking at more quality ringers over the summer.  The first 5-10 minutes of class is so valuable and I want to make sure the ringer has students thinking about math in ways that benefit them.  Here’s what I have planned so far:

Third Grade –

I’m going to use Estimation180 as my bell ringer.  Students will come into the classroom, follow the flow chart, open their folder and begin working on the daily E180.  Last year my third grade class was able to make it to around 140 days.  This was something that my kids enjoyed and it was a low-risk activity that had them engaged from the start.  While students look at the day they filled out something similar to this sheet. This year, I’m thinking of having students complete open number lines for some of the days.  It might take a little bit more time, but I’m thinking it’ll be worth it as the year progresses.

Fourth Grade –

My fourth graders have been using Scholastic’s Dynamath for the past few years.  It’s been a great extension for some students, but not all.  I generally assign specific pages and then we review them as a class. I’m still in the process of looking for additional ways to use this bell ringer time more effectively.  I was thinking of possibly using VisualPatterns.  Maybe one pattern per week or something like that.

Fifth Grade –

Last year my fifth grade students used Math Magazine for their bell ringer.  Similar to Dynamath, Math Magazine is designed to reinforce skills taught and also extends into areas that aren’t as familiar.  The publisher designed this particular magazine for middle school math students, but it works well with my math class. At times, students needed to look up different skills to complete this magazine.  I’m thinking of having students use SERP’s AlgebrabyExample.  I started using it last year for a couple months.  I love the variety of problems and that students have to find and correct mistakes.   It also helps that it’s free, unlike the Scholastic resources. This is much different than what students are accustomed to doing in math class.  I’m thinking that students can complete one page per week.  What’s nice is that I can match the skills with a topic that the class is currently exploring.

I’m sure I’ll refine this before school starts, but it’s a start.  What do you use for math bell ringers?



We’re Back in Business


Students are scheduled to enter my school tomorrow morning.  It’s been a whole two weeks since I’ve seen my students.  Tomorrow, routines will be reestablished, backpacks will be filled, students will be chattering about their break, and students and teachers alike will get back into school mode after a brief hiatus.  As  tomorrow approaches, I’m reflecting on what my classes have accomplished and what still is on the plate ahead of us.  I spent a good amount of time yesterday planning out the next week of instruction and it confirmed my anxiousness to know that the school year is over half-way completed.  As I look over the next few months, I’m finding curriculum pacing guides, standardized testing, school performances and field trips all impact my instruction to a certain degree.  This happens every year and it has me thinking of what time I truly have left with the kids. I’m also aware that these next few months directly impact students in meaningful ways.  For some, this will be my last year with a group of fifth graders that I’ve seen since they were in second grade. I want to ensure that I make the most of that time remaining.  That doesn’t necessarily mean speeding through the curriculum.  I’m hoping to gives students opportunities during the next few months to make connections, reflect and set goals.  As we all come back tomorrow, I want to communicate the following to my kids:

1.)  The learning experiences that you’ll encounter in the next few months are intentionally designed for you to make meaningful math connections.  Perseverance will be key in helping you create these connections.  You might find that you don’t understand a particular concept when we introduce it.  That’s okay.  Learning is a process and we’re all in this together.

2.)  Group projects, individual assignments and standardized tests are on the calendar and will be approaching in the next few months.  Keep in mind that I believe you’ll will show your potential on all of these. The scores and marks will help teachers and your parents have a better understanding of your strengths and areas that might need to be bolstered.  Also keep in mind that the scores are a number and don’t represent who you are as a person.

3.)  Let’s celebrate a milestone.  We’ve worked hard and have made significant progress since September. Each student in here has made gains and I want us to reflect a bit on our success. There’s more to accomplish, of course, but reflecting on our past growth can also encourage us to move forward with additional confidence.

I’d like to communicate this to all my classes at some point tomorrow.  I won’t necessarily read off a script, but I feel like flushing it out on here is a decent starting point.

It’s time to get back into the routine of setting my alarm clock to wake up extra early.  I’ll be joining the trove of educators heading back into their schools this week.  I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

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