Triad of Responsibility

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My students finished their seventh day on Friday.  The students and I are in the midst of a timely three-day weekend.  For the most part, I’d say that students and teachers are starting to get into their school routines.  There have been a few bumps in the road (there always are), but the school, teachers and students are making progress and we’re off to a great start.

This past week started off with discussions about expectations and routines for all stakeholders. Staff emails and student assemblies reinforced these expectations for teachers and students.  Early in the week I had the opportunity to have a class conversation about responsibility.  This stemmed from Caitlyn’s blog post and her experience with the NYC Math Lab.  Students were placed in groups and given a marker and anchor chart paper.  Each group was expected to create a list of at least five statements related to what ______ sounds/looks like.

  • What is  your responsibility to your class?
  • What is your responsibility to your partner?
  • What is your responsibility to yourself?

I gave each group around 10 minutes to discuss and write down their thoughts.  It took a while for the groups to decide on what to write, but they eventually came to somewhat of a consensus and documented their answers.

After the ten minutes, I brought the class back together and hung up the anchor charts around the room.  Students were given two stickers and asked to visit an anchor chart that wasn’t their own and place their stickers next to two statement that they thought were the most important.  Students were then given an additional two stickers to place on the remaining anchor chart.  Basically, students weren’t allowed to vote for their own anchor chart.  Afterwards, the class met as a group and analyzed the two most important (as surveyed by the students) statements.  Those statements were used to create the responsibility expectations for the classroom.

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I used this activity with three of my classes and compiled the results. I thought it was a decent activity and it had students thinking about their responsibility.

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Looking back, I probably could have took a math angle to this activity and ask students to think of how each responsibility applies to them as a a mathematician. Maybe next year.  : ) I’ll be referring to the “triad of responsibility” as the year progresses.

Personalizing Classroom Design

“I’ve seen first-hand how teachers are making an effort to “modernize” their own classrooms. Some teachers have ditched desks and moved towards tables.”


I believe that a positive classroom environment plays a significant role in the classroom. Students need to feel safe in order to take risks and contribute to the class. That safety can take on many different forms. During the beginning of the year teachers often use strategies aimed at constructing a classroom community.  A classroom that is built on a firm foundation gives students opportunities to express themselves and have a voice in classroom decisions. This type of classroom environment often pays dividends throughout the year as students are vested in their classroom and learning.

The environment isn’t just isolated to how students feel, but it’s also established in the physical make-up of the classroom.   How classroom space is utilized has been throughly discussed over the past few years. Students are expected to work collaboratively, research, present, and create content to showcase understanding. How are students able to engage in these types of learning activities in a traditional classroom?

I’ve seen first-hand how teachers are making an effort to “modernize” their own classrooms. Some teachers have ditched desks and moved towards tables. Other teachers have decided to use a variety of stations in their classroom designed for students to work collaboratively. More often than not, classrooms in elementary schools are generally composed of individual desks formed in table groups. This isn’t always the case, but most elementary schools that I visit have this type of model.  At my school most student desks are combined to create groups of three, four, or even five. Students are expected to work in groups in the classroom so the teachers are putting in place what works for their individual class.

One amazing teacher at my school has moved away from the whole individual desk idea and put tables in her classroom. The tables used to have chairs, but the chairs were replaced with a different type of seating.  Click on the pictures to enlarge.

She found an amazing deal at the local Target and stocked up.  Students sit on the ottoman and actually store their supplies inside.  From what I see, this type of thinking has created less clutter for students and allows students the freedom to move their “seat” wherever they desire. The ottomans don’t screech against the floor and you don’t have to worry about someone accidently injuring themselves or others with the metal legs on a typical student chair.

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This type of thinking can help others move towards modernizing their own classroom. There’re so many possibilities, but teachers need to find the best fit for their students.

How are you changing your classroom to best meet the needs of your students?

Math Station Setup

Classroom Stations

I’m always on the lookout for classroom furniture. The reason comes from a belief that classrooms should be setup in a way to allow students to work together.  Having classroom furniture gives students places to work in the classroom. That collaboration can take on many different forms, but having set spots in my room helps organize the process. Opportunities to share ideas, debate, work though problems and come to some type of consensus often exists when students are given time to work together. Talking through their math processes can help students practice their math communication skills. During that process students have to validate their mathematical thinking, especially if there’s some type of disagreement between peers.

Teachers use many different methods to create student groups. I still use the generic popsicle stick method to choose groups. Lately, I’ve been using Michael’s super grouper 3.2 spreadsheet. This has saved me so much time in organizing my student groups for stations. Many functions are available within the spreadsheet and I have only explored some of the features. Feel free to download Michael’s amazing creation here.

Super Grouper Excel Sheet
Super Grouper Excel Sheet

Once students see their group on the whiteboard they head towards their specific station for the day. I then turn on my timer and students work.  Sometimes the stations are used for individual journal writing and other times they’re used as an area for students to utilize math manipulatives. All of my math stations are setup around the perimeter of the room.  Each station has a name so it’s easy to assign particular places in the room. I decided to go with a coffee theme for my stations.  I put a logo on each table to make them easier to identify.  Click on an image below to see the station in more detail.

I periodically check in with each group to ask questions and observe math understanding. I jot down notes, take pictures or record math conversations that can be used later. When the timer goes off all groups go back to their seat and the class debriefs. So far this system seems to be working well.  I’m looking forward to using these types of stations throughout the year.

Math Classroom Setup


This Monday students will be entering my school for the 2013-2014 school year.  Classrooms have been buzzing with movement all this week.  The sound of  bulletin boards being put up, desk being moved, pencils being sharpened, and some major cleaning has all happened during the last few days.  Friday’s in-service day covered the topics of security and community.  This year the district and state have decided to focus on social/emotional learning standards and making sure students feel like they belong, not just attend school.  It looks like eventually school AYP will be connected to school climate data.  Teachers were asked to keep this in mind when starting the school year and setting up their class.  Generally I’m not a fan of filling in all my wall space before school starts.  I like to leave some major room for student work as the year progresses.   Below you will find a few photos and short explanations of my class setup this year.

desk setup

I decided on changing my desk setup after reading  this inspirational post.  My class now includes connected rows and group tables.   Students usually pick their own desk to start the year.  Students randomly switch seats approximately once per month.  I find that a combination of rows and tables is conducive for a lot of group work that takes place in class.

procedure wall

As soon as students enter the classroom they take a sharp right turn and see what’s in the picture above.  Students turn in their homework/notes and pick up their math folders.  Students then sit down in their desks and work on individual assignments in their folder or directions that are displaced on the whiteboard.


Community building and procedures are emphasized during the first few days of school.  I’ve used the right and left charts in the past to remind students of the procedures used in class. The middle poster is a percentage/stats/probability that’s used with my math curriculum.  Using the arrival and departure charts helps maximize instruction time and learning.

We all fit in

This blank canvas is filled with a completed puzzle by the end of the first week. (example)  The puzzle is cut out by the teacher and each student fills out their own puzzle piece.

puzzle template

On each puzzle piece, students put their name, favorite math topic, one activity that they participated in over the summer and whatever else you’d like them to write.  Students then put the puzzle together and it fits right on the blue tarp for the remainder of the year.  This activity also gives insight to the group dynamic makeup of your class.


I put my excess tarp into use as a bulletin board.  The lines were actually constructed with thin duck tape. This grid will be used throughout the year for our algebra units.

At some point I want to have some type of “genius board” in the classroom where students can ask questions about math topics.  Eventually the questions will spur topics that will lead to our genius math projects.

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