Two Organizational Things I Do

I don’t know if I’ve blogged about these things before. These aren’t Two Classroom Ideas That Will Completely Change Your Teaching or anything. In fact, I’m willing to bet that many of you have tried or currently do something similar. But for me, these two things have made my life easier and my classroom run more smoothly. So in case this helps…

The First Idea

In Geometry, I want my kids to learn to use multiple tools, and find the tools that are the most useful to them at any given moment. One moment they might need patty paper to trace something. Another moment they might need eraseable (this is key!) colored pencils to emphasize different things. Another moment they might want to pull up Geogebra on their laptops. And another moment, they might need a ruler to draw a straight line. Who knows. So what I did at the start of the year was create geometry buckets, populated with the tools that each group might need at any given time.

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I have a different bucket for each group. I color coded most of the items in the bucket (with the exception of the protractors, because I didn’t want to cover any of the angles!). I store the buckets in the room. At any point, kids are allowed to grab them. Sometimes they have to, because they are asked to measure an angle, or draw a circle. When I have them use the giant whiteboards, they have their dry erase markers and an eraser in the buckets. But most of the time, when a kid needs some patty paper, or a ruler to make a diagram, or colored pencils to organize their ideas or annotate a diagram, they’ll just grab the bucket and bring it to their groups. And at the end of each class period, the kids will just put them back.

I thought things would get lost or mixed up. But it’s been a semester, and I just went through the buckets and have found only a few colored pencils were in the wrong boxes, and only a single compass migrated from one box to another. I love these buckets of geometry tools!

The Second Idea

I do tons of groupwork in my classes. And I try to switch up groups often enough for some spice, but let them work together long enough so they can learn to work together (I try to do it two times a quarter). However, when kids are in groups, passing things out and collecting things can be annoyingly time consuming. And if my kids know one thing about me as a teacher: I don’t waste time, not a second.

So here they are: something I’ve been doing for the past few years. Folders. Specifically, each group gets one folder.

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On the front (not photographed), I have a label with the kids’s names on it. Inside are two pockets. The left hand pocket is for things I normally would hand out. (Mainly: the packets that I make for kids to work collaboratively through.) The right hand side has two purposes: (1) I have kids turn in nightly work sometimes, so they will put it in there, and (2) when I mark up the nightly work, I put it back in there and students collect it the next day.* There are also some “The Dog Ate My Homework” forms for when a kid doesn’t turn in their work. Instead of them calling me over and giving me a story explaining what happened, I just have them fill out that form saying why they didn’t have their work.

One huge benefit for having these folders is that it allows me to mix up where the groups sit each day.** When I walk into the classroom, kids aren’t sitting down usually. They are waiting for me. I throw down each folder on group of desks, and then kids sit at the group of desks with their folder on it. That way: kids are in different locations each day, mixing things up. The group in back won’t always be in back! Sometimes I give a kid the folders to put down, and sometimes the power, the sheer power of who sits where, goes to their head. (“Oh, you’re standing by this group of desks? Too bad, I’m putting your folder waaaay over at that far group of desks.”) Fun times.

Now you might say: each day you have to put in the packets you’re going to hand out the next day? Nope.Well, sometimes. But usually not. In classes I’ve taught before, where I have my ducks in a row, I do a massive photocopying of the papers for the entire unit. I lay them out, and fill up the folders. Then I’m pretty much set for a week or two (or more!). Below is a picture of me doing that today!

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That is all. Go back to your regularly scheduled lives now.

UPDATE: I forgot to say: I color code the folders for each class. So red folders = my geometry class, blue folders = one of my precalc classes, green folders = the other one of my precalc classes. I also use a lot of file folders to organize things for me. And for those, I use the same color folders for each of my classes. So, for example, when I give a geometry test, I bring a red file folder to class. And then I keep the taken geometry tests in that file — and when I’m going home, I just throw that red file in my backpack so I can mark ’em up.

*The fact that there is one folder per group also has the added bonus that when one kid forgets to put their name on their nightly work, you know exactly whose it is, because it is in the folder for that specific group (and usually all the other kids put their name on it).

**Someone, somewhere, told me that there was some ed research that suggested that kids sitting in the same spot every day helped them learn better. I have my doubts about that.

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13 comments

  1. Reblogged this on Risky Math and commented:
    I really like the idea of the bucket of tools. I do believe this would help the students “use appropriate tools strategically” ,instead of waiting for the teacher to tell them what to use…

  2. Whaaa!

    Love this idea. I usually try to make copies for the week ahead, so I can totally see this working.

    I love the idea of being able to move kids tables around too at the drop of a hat (err, folder).

    Also, might definitely steal the “no homework” slips. I would like more insight as to why students don’t do homework, and I definitely like the idea of saving some time by not having individual conferences every time. Plus, I HATED when teachers talked to me about missing homework when I was in school. Yes, it’s missing. I suck. Leave me alone.

    Do you have students who just don’t fill out the slip? What do you do in this case?

    1. Good questions. The truth is, it is so rare that kids don’t do their work, and when they don’t, they just fess up to it. The few times that this has happened, I email the kid and ask what happened, and then after they respond, I let them know that they should have filled out a slip. The slip is non-threatening, and let’s them know that if this only happens once in a very infrequent blue moon, it isn’t a big deal, and though it sucks to forget something that home or forget to do it, it’s life and sometimes things happen.

      I suppose there would be simple ways to get kids to fill out the slip if it became a problem. But if it became a problem, I wouldn’t fret. The whole point is for them to have an opportunity to explain what happened without taking up class time. But it’s not important enough for me to force happen… It’s more for the kids’s peace of mind — so they can explain that they forgot and feel bad.

  3. Firstly, great post! Posts like these are so useful for new teachers; I even created a category of posts for new teachers on my blog as my student teachers have expressed a liking for informative tricks & tips like these.
    I wanted to comment on your last bit about research of sitting in the same desk. I have heard & read research that shows your performance is better if you’re sitting in the same desk for tests as the one you’ve been learning in. But I would imagine that if you change desks often, then this effect goes away? My students sit in different desks daily with the system I use (https://mslwheeler.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/visibly-random-groups-vertical-non-permanent-surfaces/) and I haven’t noticed any negative impact to their learning; in fact I think it’s been quite positive for them in terms of collaboration, social interaction, and learning from their peers.

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