Warm-Ups Transformed My Classroom

I have always had a love/hate relationship with warm-ups and flashbacks.  At the school where I teach they are required and I truly to get the “why” behind using them to start class.  After all, I honestly need that 5 minutes to take attendance, answer questions, and deal with whatever 7th grade crisis just transpired in the hall.  However, I have always struggled with what that warm-up or flashback should look like.  So I have done what many teachers do, that good old skill and drill warm-up.  You know the process, you give the kids the five questions, they pretend to do them, you go over the answers, they write the answers down and pretend they got them all correct.  Great learning going on there right?  (Side note, sometimes I think about the ways I have taught kids in the past and cry a little on the inside)

Time to Change

Enter this year’s teacher led TMC conference.  No I didn’t attend the conference but I felt like I did.  I anxiously awaited every tweet, read every blog post that came out of it, and resolved that even if I wasn’t there I could certainly still use it to make myself a better teacher.  Of course, I quickly became overwhelmed with so many amazing ideas at once so I decided I needed to focus my efforts and energies so I started working on my warm-up dilemma.  I started by reading this blog post and then that quickly led to others and as I read post after post about teachers who had leveraged their warm-ups in the classroom to really improve student learning.  I knew this change was needed for me and was doable so I created this Warm-Up to use this year in my class.

Each day we do Estimation 180.  I know some only incorporate it once or twice a week but due to the fact that I love it and the kids love it I knew I needed to do it every day.  The kids fill out the hand-out provided on the website and also send their estimate in on their clicker.  This allows me to provide an incentive to our best estimator (using our team money system) and once I display the live results it gives us some great talking points.  We talk a lot about the estimates, what we know was too high or low, why some answers were more popular than others, etc.  Besides just the reasoning and number sense provided by the activity I love the focus that we have been able to place on finding the percent of error.  Percent error is such a big 7th grade Common Core Standard and is so valuable in students being able to reason with percentages.  I have been amazed by the results so far.  In a class that is about 30% English Language Learners and 45% students with disabilities, 92% of students turned in an Estimation 180 sheet for the first 20 days of school that was filled with beautiful reasoning strategies and high quality percent of error work.  I can’t begin to tell you how rare it is for students to put that much effort into a warm-up sheet.  And to date, 84% of students in that class have currently mastered finding the percent of error with no formal instruction only the focus we have placed on it during our Estimation 180 time.


The rest of our warm-up time changes based on the day of the week as follows:

Math Talk Monday

Counting Circle Tuesday (There are tons of great resources out there for this, just google Counting Circle!)

Would You Rather Wednesday

Tough Pattern Thursday 

Find the Flub Friday  (I just write a problem on the board and purposefully work it out incorrectly.)


I love the focus this has allowed us to place on mathematical reasoning and processing and not skill and drill.  I love that the kids have a few minutes to share their ideas and just talk about math.  I love that kids the used to pretend to do their warm-ups and then just wrote down the answers have bought in and work diligently so that they have something to share with the class.  I love that we are focusing less on the right answer and more on the right reason.  I love that when I read their warm-ups at the end of the week that I can see the effort they have put in.  I love that warm-ups have went from my least favorite part of class to the most valuable time we spend.

Classifying Rational Numbers

I feel as though teaching classifying Rational Numbers to my 7th graders is probably not the most exciting lesson of their mathematics career.  There is no awesome Mathalicious lesson on it and most of the resources I have found are pretty dry and boring.  This is the story of how I developed an understanding of Rational Numbers without falling asleep.  If you have a suggestion on how to make it better I would love that!  I always struggle with this standard and making it come alive for kids.  I do however feel it is an important place to start in 7th grade.  Before we can really start to work with integers it seems logical to me that they must first understand different types of numbers and what integers really are.

The Hook

I always start the lesson with a blank venn diagram of the Real Number System on the board.  I have the kids call out numbers while I place them in the correct category.  The goal of the game is to get the students to figure out the characteristics of each group of numbers.  I provide rewards each time a student figures out a classification.  Generally the students repeatedly call out natural numbers and get frustrated when only the inner most circle is filled with numbers.  After a few minutes they usually branch out into the whole and integer categories but that elusive outer ring usually leaves them baffled.


It is always a major breakthrough when someone calls out that first rational numbers and then the kids start to pick up on the system more quickly.


And then once someone throws Pi into the mix if really starts to take shape:


Eventually after a lot of discussions the kids usually come up with descriptions for each category and I help add the vocabulary in.  




The Follow-Up

We followed this up with a sorting activity.  The students drew the Real Number System diagram on their tables and I provided cards with different numbers on them.  Students then worked in their groups to place each number in the correct category.  I provided feedback to groups as needed and asked guiding questions to help tables who were struggling.



As a separate follow-up activity we also completed the Is It Rational FAL activity found here.  What I love about that activity is that it really helps kids focus in on looking for the pattern in what really makes a number rational or irrational.  I feel like too many kids have the misconception that rational numbers = fractions when the definition is actually a ratio of two integers.  There are plenty of examples of things that look like fractions but are not actually rational numbers and it is important kids can recognize the differences.

Although the students really seemed to grasp on to the concepts of classifying numbers I am always looking for ways to improve.  How do you teach classifying rational numbers?


If You Build It They Will Come

I have no idea why but 8 days into a new school year and I feel like this quote from Field of Dreams best describes what we have going on.

My collaborating teacher and I knew that we would have our work cut out for us this year teaching two collaborative classes. Both classes are filled with students who hate math, students who have been taught that they can’t do math and believe they aren’t as smart as the other students in the school. Although I realize we still have a long way to go it has been amazing to watch their mindsets change in the few days we have spent with them.

 How to Learn Math for Students

We made the choice over the summer to have the kids go through Jo Boaler’s How to Learn Math for Students course. WOW. I can’t say enough about this course. The kids love the videos and they are really buying into what Jo is saying about math ability and growth mindsets. Their reflections on the videos have been beautiful to read, just a few of the comments thus far have been:

“I never knew everyone could be good at math”

“I know I am not bad at math I just had a bad experience”

“Anyone can learn math”


And those are just a handful out of many more like them. I am so excited to see how their growth mindset continues to develop as a result of this course.

Skill and Drill No More 

Equally as important has been a shift in our classroom warm-ups thanks to the MTBOS. I will not lie I was one of those terrible drill and skill warm-up teachers before this year. However I spent all summer pouring through blogs and reading everything that came out of the TMC 14 conference to figure out a better way to engage kids in math. I settled on Estimation 180, Math Talks, Counting Circles, Would You Rather, Visual Patterns and Find the Mistake along with a weekly reflection.   This one shift has probably had the biggest impact on the class. From the moment they enter my students are engaged in high level math and having deep discussions that we rarely had before.  I will make another post just on the warm-ups later!


What I Know

We are eight days in and I can’t guarantee you that every child will master every 7th grade standard or that every child will leave as a mathematician. Here is what I do know though:

Kids that have never enjoyed math come into the room smiling

Kids that said on the first day that math was their least favorite subject wrote on their first weekly reflection that is was their favorite class

Kids that always failed every quiz passed our first one with a B or better.


Maybe it has just been 8 days but it has been the most beautiful 8 days of my teaching career.

Classroom Remodel

The Wall

I am not by any means the craftiest, neatest, most organized, or creative teacher in our building but I still decided to take on the project of redoing my classroom decor this summer.  My biggest problem has always been my “wall”. My classroom has a removable wall that is made of some sort of upholstery like fabric that drives me crazy because it is dull an dingy looking.  The first year I was there I did nothing to it and years  two and three I covered it with fabric but I was tired of looking at that as well.  The biggest problem with the wall is that we have to be able to open it for team incentives, open house, etc so I knew I had to be able to cover the panels individually to keep the functionality.

The "Wall" before the redo

The Wall Before the Redo

Enter Pinterest

I found this pin with lots of different uses for scrapbook paper but I knew I would have to toughen it up to get it to last for 177 days with 120+ kids.  I found a scrapbook paper pad that I liked that had 20 different patterns with 4 sheets of each pattern.  It took 2 to do the wall and and another one to finish up some other stuff I wanted to cover.  Purchased on sale at Hobby Lobby the wall cost right at $15.00 and the whole room was $21.00…way cheaper than the fabric I had purchased in years prior!

I laminated each sheet individually and then cut them out (yes there was lamination scraps all over my house!).  Next I just pieced them on the wall and secured with a staple gun.  I did have to trim some of them so that they wouldn’t keep the wall from opening but in the end it still turned out great. I also made my bulletin board match and hot glued extra sheets to the sides of my book cases and filing cabinets to add to the effect and cover up some ugliness!  

The new wall

The New Wall

I also found some great storage containers to match for  $1 at Dollar Tree and was so grateful to Sarah’s blog for the FABULOUS classroom posters.  They were the perfect finishing touch to my room.  

Matching bulletin board


All in all, my entire remodel was less than $30.00 and I am thrilled with the results.  I just wish I had taken more before pictures to show!

7th Grade Common Core Taboo Cards

One of our MDC PD days last year included a math vocabulary taboo game that was really fun. I printed the cards out to play with my 7th graders but found myself removing lots of the cards that were high school vocabulary based and that my students didn’t know yet. I developed these cards by 7th grade Common Core Unit with the thought that I would print each unit on a different color paper so I could quickly identify what unit the vocab came from. If you can use these in your class please do! We always have days were we have assemblies and come back to class with five minutes left and need an activity or the power is out and we need a back up activity or we got done with a test early and need an activity so I am hopeful these will help make good use of that time.

Also, after you have made taboo cards for rate, unit rate, constant rate, proportionality, etc the taboo words begin to run together so if you have a suggestion to make one of the cards better please let me know!

Expressions and Equations Taboo

Geometry Taboo

Number System Taboo

Ratios and Proportions Taboo

Stats & Prob Taboo 

Find Your Local Teacher Education Program Today!

If you don’t have a strong relationship with the teacher education program in your area you are missing out on one of the most valuable tools available to you.  Through a series of really fortunate events I have come to develop a really strong working relationship with the STEM Education Department at the University of Kentucky and it has transformed my teaching career.

Math Clinic

The See Blue Math Clinic partners pre-service teachers with struggling learners at my school.  It is a program that benefits our students and the pre-service teachers equally.  Our struggling learners receive an hour and a half of free hands-on and interactive tutoring that focuses on conceptual development and the use of manipulatives.  The pre-service teachers receive experience engaging learners and the use of multiple instructional methods to reach all students.   Each pre-service teacher is paired with 3 students to make sure that all learners can receive adequate instruction.  The clinic meets once a week for 90 minutes at our school.  The student’s classroom teachers provide instructional information and student needs to the pre-service teachers in order to further make sure all learners are having their needs met.

Family Math Night

As a part of the See Blue Math Clinic we were able to start a Family Math Night at our school.  In this fun event each math teacher designs a short math game that can be played in about 60 seconds or less and is paired with a pre-service teacher or STEM Education Club member on the night of the event to help facilitate the games.  Dinner is provided for all the families that attend in addition to lots of door prizes and a program that includes instructions on how to play all of the games at home.  In our first year we had over 600 people attend and it was one of our most popular school events.  There is nothing better than watching a gym full of parents have fun doing math with their kids.

See Blue STEM Camp

I also get the opportunity to work with students each summer at the See Blue Stem Camp.  This week long camp serves students in 5th – 8th grade and is designed to get students more interested in STEM related careers.  I won’t lie sometimes it is hard to give up a week of my summer but I am always amazed at how much fun I have with the kids and how much I learn right along beside them!  Read more about our week at STEM Camp here:  http://www.margaretmohrschroeder.com

Professional Development

Finally, my work with the STEM Education Department has also allowed me the opportunity to travel to and present at both the Regional and National NCTM conferences.  I have grown so much professionally as an educator due to my involvement with the pre-service teachers and other programs in place.  I highly encourage all teachers to who are lucky enough to have a teacher education program nearby to form a relationship with the professors, staff, and students.  It will be some of the most valuable time you spend!


Our Presentation Team at NCTM NOLA: Dr. Christa, Jackson, Dr. Margaret Mohr-Schroeder, Dr. Craig Schroeder, and myself!

Time to Emerge

Thank goodness that so many people I follow on twitter are at a fabulous conference this week. It has given me the motivation I need to emerge from my summer hiding and begin getting ready to go back to school which starts in just 3 short weeks. It has been a fabulous summer filled with some much needed time to focus on my own two kids and take a break from the daily pressures that come with the regular school year. However, it is time for me to get out of summer mode and start attacking all those “I’m going to be a better teacher next year” projects that I have been putting off.

New Challenges

I have accepted some new challenges for the coming school year that I am equally nervous and excited about.  I agreed to teach two collaborative Pre-Algebra classes.  It is a new idea we are trying where the kids 6th grade special education collab teacher is going to loop with the kids.  This means a few different things for me:

1)  I will get to work with absolutely hands down the best special education teacher I have ever known.  I have never had the pleasure of teaching with him but I am so excited for the opportunity we will have to really push some kids that are struggling learners.  One of the goals I have is to prove that Steve Leinwand is absolutely correct when he says that we have an instructional gap not an achievement gap.  This group of kids got off to a fabulous start in 6th grade with a phenomenal teacher and their special education teacher.  Now if I can take that progress and build I am hopeful we will see a real difference in their so called achievement gap.

2)  I am going to have to get more innovative than ever before.  In addition to the students I will teach that are identified as having an IEP I will also teach a very large population of English language learners.  I feel like every student that comes in my room deserves the best I have and I worry that it will be hard to meet all of their needs daily but I am also excited that I have the opportunity to meet their learning needs.  Although some teachers dread teaching such classes and look “down” on it, I consider it an honor that my administration feels that I can really help these kids.  I just hope I can live up to the expectations. 

New Leadership Roles

I am also equally excited and nervous about some new leadership roles I will be taking on.  I agreed to serve as Math Department Chair for the coming school year which I am hopeful will be a great way to not only serve my school as a leader but will be a chance to improve instructional opportunities for all learners.  This role will be a challenge for me though.  I am not always thick skinned enough and know that there are going to be times that my colleagues may not agree with or like the direction we are going.  I am planning on doing a department book study of the NCTM book Principles to Actions that I know will open up some unpleasant discussions for some but I really hope that I have the ability to start an open dialogue about some of the productive and unproductive practices discussed in the book.

With the implementation of the new Kentucky TPGES evaluation system I will also be serving as a Peer Observer in our building as well.  I am really looking forward to that role for selfish reasons.  I love getting in classrooms and learning from other teachers so I am incredibly excited to spend time in a variety of teacher’s rooms in order to help them grow while I learn from them at the same time.

I have no doubt that the next year will be a mixture of both success and failure as I continue to push myself professionally.  I already have lots of things I am planning on sharing so I hope you will follow along, provide feedback, commentary, thoughts to ponder, or just support as I begin another year’s journey with 120 fabulous 7th graders!