Getting to Know You Survey

I’ve taken to surveying my students on or near the first day of school. Last year’s surveys taught me much about the kids right out of the gate — I was able to engage the Belieber about her favorite song and the Marvel fan about her favorite characters, for instance.

As I wrote my survey this year, I wanted to add a few quirky questions. Naturally, I hit up Twitter for advice.

Other ideas included favorite mythical creature, 2 truths and a lie, and favorite superhero (with justification).

And from this conversation came this gem:

That said, here’s the survey I whipped up with the help of my awesome daughter (she’s 16 going on 17) and the advice of my Tweeps, above.

Screen Shot 2013-08-03 at 10.52.09 PM Screen Shot 2013-08-03 at 10.52.27 PM

Anyone else want to share their fall surveys? I’d love to see what you ask your kids. Drop the links in the comments.

Every student has pencil & paper every day

made4math_smallTired of taking up a left shoe in exchange for a pencil [1]? Or attaching various non-pencil accessories to your pencils [2] so they don’t walk out on you? If you have kids unprepared for class on a regular AND you don’t like methods you’ve already tried, I have a system that worked for me.

First, a description of the environment: a majority of my students regularly entered class empty-handed.

Ingredients: gallon size zipper bags, composition books, pencils, storage crates.


Gallon size zipper seal bags. I bought the “storage” rather than “freezer” bags, they’re cheaper. Yeah, they’re less durable, but I found them ok for a semester. Composition books. Found notebooks for $0.50 at back-to-school sales then resold them to students at cost. Benefit: everyone has the notebook on the first day. Even if you wind up paying for these out of pocket, it’s worth it: $0.50 for a whole semester of paper you NEVER have to provide.

My students kept their interactive notebooks in a gallon-size resealable storage bag along with a few other supplies. Because these kids have no problem walking into class empty-handed, I decided to store all they needed for class in the room. No one took anything home, or even to their lockers [3]. Ok, so we took care of paper above. How about pencil? Keep reading, dear friends.


At the beginning of each month, I gave each student two #2 pencils (purchased in massive quantities at back to school sales). At the end of each class, the bags got closed up and stored in one of these guys staged around the room.

Each crate could hold about half of a class’ bags. I rounded up (or is it down?) and bought three crates per class, spread out all over my room. Students kept their bags in whichever of the three crates for their class. I spread the crates out to avoid traffic jams at the beginning and end of class. This worked well.

How do you make sure students are prepared for class daily?

[1] There seems to be a lot of precedent for the shoe-for-pencil exchange. I never liked it because, hello, puberty –> stinky feet.

[2] Though I do love the idea and not just because the creator is my very own roommate at #TMC13.

[3] That’s a lie. In practice, some more responsible students often took their materials out of class to do homework or to study. The default remained “keep your materials in class”.

Providing Space to Ask Questions in Class

How do you make space and time for students to ask questions in class?

No doubt you’ve been to a teacher training session that uses the parking lot. It works, kind of. Sticky notes fall off all the time, I’m always too shy to get up front and put my question on the board, and maybe I’d like to preserve the questions and their answers after the meeting. My aim is to explore additional options.

Google Moderator

h/t to @occam98 for first showing me this tool.

What is it? Space to ask free-text questions or give feedback + a voting tool for existing questions.

How’s it work? You provide a link to students and they ask and vote on questions.

What do I need? ComputerAndroid | iPhone (no native app yet, use the mobile browser)

Cool feature: That voting feature is super-cool. It’s like bringing reddit to your classroom! But that’s not even the cool feature I want to mention here. Instead: I can post responses right there in Moderator. Students can revisit for answers, links, hints, or whatever I choose to leave for them.


At #TMC12 last week, I learned about Socrative from @colinmac10 and @ehelfant.

What is it? A student response system for anything with a web browser. (That means Socrative is useful mainly as “clickers” are. I’m bending its utility here.)

How’s it work? Direct students to and give them your room number.

What do I need? Computer | Android (teacher or student) | iPhone (teacher or student)

Cool feature: E-mailed, color-coded reports are very nice.

Poll Everywhere

I’ve known about this one forever, so I can’t remember who first told me about it. Probably someone on Twitter.

What is it? Like Socrative, a student response system. But this one uses SMS text messaging, so there’s a lower barrier of entry. I’ll bet my mom is the only one in the country who can’t text.

How’s it work? You ask a question and give a SMS short code (5 digit number). Students send a text message with their response. It’s all anonymous.

What do I need? Computer | Android | iPhone | any SMS-capable phone

You *must* check out their How it Works page. There’s a reason these guys dominate the industry.

Downside? Poll Everywhere is gonna be best when you have multiple choice questions or feedback opportunities. I haven’t seen a way to view other students’ questions and upvote them.

My #Made4Math 1: Handout Organization

I hear you’re chomping at the bit to use Interactive Notebooks in the fall. Have you considered how you’ll manage the handouts you’ll be giving kids to tape in? (Yes, I generated a lot of copies using Interactive Notebooks. Yes, it’s bad for the Earth. Can we tackle that issue in another blog post?)

How to manage your Interactive Notebook copies in three simple steps:

1. Format as much as possible to print 2-up on a page. You will make half as many copies and they’ll fit in a composition book easily.

2. Put a sticky note on the top of the stack with the Interactive Notebook page number and the date you gave it out. Keep the sticky notes and a marker with the wall organizers. Ooh, if they’re printed 2-up, go ahead and cut them in half (you have no idea how many kids won’t even realize they’re taking 2 copies when they grab a full sheet of paper).

3. Go get yourself a wall organizer ($15 each) from the Container Store for each prep you teach. They’ll hang almost anywhere if you use Command Strip hooks (mine were up all year long and came down with nary a mark on the cinderblock wall). I rotate the most recent stuff into the top pocket and shuffle older stuff down. When papers get to the bottom, I file a copy and pitch the extras.

If you want this to NOT stress you out & be easy to maintain longterm, farm all of steps 2 & 3 out to a student. I usually hand a stack of papers to my helper and she knows what all to do.

Hmm, what else are you going to ask me about?

  • On average, I’d guess I had about 3 handouts per week in math. They were usually problem sets or tasks/projects. They often were attached to right hand pages (the input side of my notebooks).
  • Don’t ever let kids leave the room without attaching papers in their notebooks. This spirals out of control quickly if you let it go till tomorrow.
  • Kids can keep everything they need for your class in a gallon resealable bag. Mine held a composition book, a pencil, colored pencils, and a glue stick (which I recommend against in the next bullet — read on). Scissors were community property and easily accessible to all.
  • If you have a choice, use tape to attach handouts. If every kid could have their own roll, you’d save a tremendous amount of time getting handouts into the notebooks. With experience, I can suggest against glue sticks and staples. The glue gets too brittle with use and everything falls out anyhow. Staples bulk up the book and can rip pages too easily.
  • Dinah Zike wrote the book on foldables designed for notebooks, literally. Check it out.
What am I glossing over? Throw down in the comments so I can update with answers.

In closing (did I really just 5 paragraph essay y’all?), deciding to go with Interactive Notebooks does invite a certain amount of paper clutter. Trust me when I say to get a kid to help you manage it. Once I trained mine, I barely thought of the system the rest of the year.

There ya go. Something I made for math class. This is part of the #made4math Monday series invented by @druinok and @pamjwilson.

Advice for the Floating Teacher?

My school has two types of teachers: those with their own rooms and floaters. The floater is a teacher with no room of her own. She moves every class period to a new classroom, annoying the crap out of the teacher whose room she visits because that teacher is trying desperately to relax plan.

I think I’m going to be a floater.

Which really sucks because I have this guy with no place to put him:

What advice do you have for me?

Stuff I am worried about:

  1. Feeling discombobulated as I rush into a room to get set up in time for the kids.
  2. Feeling like a guest all the time.
  3. I will have a desk in one of the classrooms I float into. During my planning, that room will be in use. See #2.
  4. How can I not use the rolling cart that makes teachers look like bag ladies? That is, how can I cleverly avoid carrying my crap around all day?
  5. Dealing with the mess other teachers leave. I keep a tidy classroom. Some of my colleagues, less so.

How have you seen it done well? What pitfalls do I need to avoid?