Decorating and Organizing Ideas for the Secondary Classroom

Welcome to my secondary Math classroom! It is functional and organized. And, it. is. cute! Yes, it is decorated. I have seen so much advice on the internet for secondary teachers that students HATE cute. Funny, because my students rave about finally coming into a room at the HS that is inviting and comfortable. They go out of their way to compliment the decor. I think the key is functionality must trump. There is room for color-coded items and a theme, but there needs to be a bigger picture. It needs to serve the student learning in some way. Decorating just to decorate can become clutter quickly. However, having said that, teachers are the ones who spend endless hours a day in there and it needs to be aesthetically pleasing to the teacher.

Here is the "before."

So, here it is. I have highlighted a few parts of the room, in case you are looking for ideas.

I have a general nautical theme in my room. It is not overwhelming- just a few things here and there. There is a big anchor hanging on the wall, a life preserver on the bulletin board, nautical framed quotes (that you can find here, if interested), and the word wall is called "Anchor Words." Subtle, but it gives me something to tie the decor to.

I am so in love with my word wall! I have an extra white board at the back of my room. One half serves as a command center and one half is for current geometry unit terms. I print each unit's terms onto the same colored paper, laminate, and stick magnets to the back. As we learn a new term, I stick it to the board. They stay up throughout the unit and after we have moved on to the next unit (which has terms printed on a different color), I move the old ones to the ceiling. The metal strips that hold our ceiling tiles are magnetic. It is a perfect place. They are still in sight in case they need to be referred to, but are not cluttering up valuable space for current content.

I use interactive notebooks and LOVE them! However, the supply battle is a tricky one. What I have found that works best is for each table to have their own drawer set. Each set has a few pairs of scissors, a tape dispenser, highlighters, a handheld sharpener, and any tools we are currently using in that unit, such as a ruler, compass, or protractor. This year, I painted the Sterilite drawer frames so that now each table has a name. They are the "Purple Team," for example, and it makes it easy to call on groups to share out or take turns doing things. 

Fighting absenteeism is almost as bad as fighting the pencil battle (my all-time most loathed classroom management battle). With interactive notebooks and block schedule, it is really hard to catch a student up when they have missed. I created this command center from ideas I saw on Pinterest that families were using to curb confusion. The students check the calendar for what happened when they were gone and pick up any missed materials from the appropriate file folder in the crate. Then, they borrow an INB from me or a friend and copy the material. If they need a lesson, I will find them content from YouTube or arrange for the student to come early or stay late for a tutorial.

It also serves as a pencil station, where they can sharpen, borrow, and return pencils.

This bulletin board was designed by me, but the content came straight from my former Geometry students. My students filled out an end-of-year activity and one of the parts was to offer advice to my future students. I gathered their quotes and made them into this. The students really seem to be interested in seeing what the older students have to say about how to succeed in my class. It's really fun for my former students to come in and see their quote with their name. They are so proud to contribute!

So there you have it! Thanks for checking it out! Here are a few more pictures from around the room!


Christmas In July

I find that no one loves a sale more than teachers. I also know that even though teachers say they love summer because they get so much rest, their brains are always working to plan for school.  So, a group of teachers that sell on Teachers Pay Teachers have come together to throw the perfect sale...Christmas in July!

Sellers are taking four of their products to mark down significantly and one product to make a flash freebie! There are two ways to check the sales! 1. Just log on to Teachers Pay Teachers and type the hashtag #christmasinjuly in the search bar. You will have access to all the products of the participating teachers. Some are winter/Christmas/holiday themed, and some are just higher-priced products. 2. Check out my friend, Yara's blog for a link-up to all the participating stores!  Yara's Sea of Knowledge Blog 

Here are the four products I am discounting by 50%. I will also be selecting one product to make a flash freebie, so check my store next Monday and Tuesday!

See you there! Happy shopping!

Two for Tuesday with Kacie Travis

Two for Tuesday! 50% off TWO great products!

If there is one thing teachers need to do during summer break, it’s rest. If there is one thing teachers actually do, it’s prepare for the next school year. Actively or passively, yet constantly in thought, our brains don’t completely shut down. We are always thinking of ways to make it a successful year.

As a veteran teacher, I can assure teachers that the key to a wonderful year is to have well-taught and well-practiced procedures. Today, I am showcasing my two Procedure PowerPoints, which provide teachers with a comprehensive list of procedures to teach with a fun, interesting spin on how to teach them. Each slide has a detailed description with suggestions for how to set up your procedure and ways to practice them with your students. There are relevant brain breaks built in throughout the presentation to add to the fun!

I am linking up with Chalk One Up for the Teacher for Two for Tuesday which means the two products will be half off for the Tuesday only. Grab the design that best fits your style while ½ off!

Why I Love Grading Interactive Notebooks

This is my first year using interactive notebooks (INBs). I have previously had my students keep binders with 5 organized sections and they worked very well with my 7th graders. But, I moved to the high school this year and the Geometry department wanted to try INBs and the idea seemed right up my alley. And I have LOVED using them! We don't have textbooks, so they are a great resource and the students are much more fluent with using it as opposed to a book because they have created it.
When we were researching different methods associated with the INBs, we discovered so many ways to organize, store, and grade. It came down to what fit with our personal style of teaching and organizing.
I teach 5 periods of Math and each class has their own crate for keeping the notebooks in the classroom. They are allowed (and encouraged) to store them in the classroom unless they need it to work in or study from. They are required to bring it to class every day and I reserve the right to collect and take a grade from them at any time (although I usually give a few days' warning).
This is my 10th year teaching and the first that I don't HATE grading. As far as grading goes, I actually love grading the INBs. Here's why:

1. I can't take them home. There are too many and they are too heavy. I have to park quite a distance from my classroom and my weak arms can't carry one crate home...let alone 5. So, I have to grade them in my classroom. What a gift! It forces me to manage my time while at school- on my planning period, before school, at lunch, and after school. Why is that so awesome? Well, when I leave school, I am not taking hours worth of grading home. I occasionally bring quizzes or tests home and I still do some planning at home, but the time I spend working from home has been dramatically reduced. I can actually spend time with my guys when I am home. I feel more in control of my time. Work is done (mostly) at work and home is done at home. 

2. I can take several grades at one sitting. Even if a couple weeks go by between collecting and grading INBs, it is easy to catch up. Students do their Bell Work in the notebooks, so each week is one grade, they have several assignments and tasks that should be in the notebook, and I take a grade strictly on the notebook. It takes no time to catch up because it is all RIGHT THERE! And, if it is not, I don't have to go digging for a paper in a wrong stack...each assignment has a page number so it makes grading a breeze.

3. They are so organized. There are no orphaned papers without names for which I have to try to track down an owner. Names are on the front of the notebook and on the first page. Everything has a place and they are given time and supplies to insert things in the correct place. I am clear about pages numbers and give ample time for taping, cutting, writing, etc. (Sidenote: I think this is another benefit of INBs. These things take a couple minutes and are therefore, built in brain breaks.) Grading the INBs is so much easier than the stacks and stacks of paper I used to load up and carry home to bring it right back the next day (often undone.) I remember standing at the "Incoming" tray sorting students' assignments and feeling so overwhelmed by the thought of grading all those papers. 

So, you must be wondering about my process. Well, unfortunately, it is not anything ground-breaking, but in case you find it helpful, I want to share as much as possible. Please feel free to ask if you would like clarification or more details!

Say I need to grade two weeks worth of pages. That will be two Bell Work weeks and I give them 5 points per day, so that works out to be two 25 point grades (unless it's a short week or we didnt have BW one day for some reason). It will also include any notes (teacher or student driven), activities, completed foldables, or assignments. I take the two BW grades, plus create a mini-rubric (usually on a note card, see example above) and give a final notebook grade.  And voila! Notebooks graded and 3-4 grades entered into the grade book! I write a little comment and a score in the notebook for feedback for the student.

Do you have any great ideas or methods for grading INBs? I would love to hear about them! Please leave a comment below!

Have you heard of Diana Salmon and her inspirational story?

What happens when hundreds of wonderful TpT sellers decide that a fellow teacher is in need?

A MASSIVE fundraiser happens! That's what!

We call it Teachers Helping Teachers, and it came about after TpT teacher-authors heard the story of Diana Salmon, a New York teacher who lost a leg in a tragic hit and run accident. Diana is an inspiration to all who know her, sending a message of strength and resilience by returning to the classroom just months after the accident.

Unfortunately, the extensive injuries Diana sustained require an expensive bionic knee for her to be at her dynamic best. This is where Teachers Helping Teachers comes in. Diana's fundraising store, Bionic Teacher, is now the home of TEN limited edition resource bundles promising HUGE savings to all who purchase one. There is a bundle for everyone, and they all contain the most amazing products from top sellers! Best yet, 100% of the profits go to Diana's fund!

Visit Bionic Teacher, download the freebie for Diana's Story, and take a look at the bundles. You will be happy you did!
Resource Bundles = Great Deals for You! Check it out here!

If you would like more information about Diana, go to

Secondary Sunday with Mel and Gerdy

Hi y'all!

Sweet Mel and Gerdy from Getting Nerdy with Mel and Gerdy are hosting a link up geared toward supporting secondary teachers in their quests to find awesome resources for their classrooms.

This Sunday, they are focusing the link up on FREE resources. I am going to add my favorite FREE resource into the mix. Here are exit tickets for an entire Percent unit. They are great because they quickly assess a skill, but also ask a follow-up for students to rate their confidence level. I find these types of exit tickets to be particularly helpful when using them to guide instruction because it helps you know how much more time to spend on a skill.

Percent Unit Exit Tickets- FREE
And be sure to check out Mel and Gerdy's Link Up each Sunday to get ideas and resources to help you in your secondary classroom! Have a great week!

Teacher Evaluation Systems: How to Excel and Retain Your Sanity

Note: This post is part II of Teacher Evaluations. Part I, a Teacher’s Perspective, can be found here. The current movement in teacher evaluation systems that is sweeping through districts across the nation needs an overhaul. But until there is a better system, teachers need to figure out a way to be successful in the current one. Here are some tips.
1. Get educated. Read the accompanying text. You cannot perform well on an observation when you don’t know the underlying principles being sought. And frankly, as I mentioned in Part I of this post, I think the authors of these books are smart educators with fantastic ideals. There is a lot to be learned from the books, even for seasoned teachers. 

2. Get informed. Schedule a meeting with your administrator/observer to discuss their exact expectations.

With the Danielson model and surely others, administrators have to pass an intense battery of tests to become an observer, so you would think they are all on the same page, but they aren’t. Be specific. Bring the list of evaluation requirements and ask them what they expect. At a meeting last year, I heard an administrator from a different building say, “I know teachers can’t be perfect every day in every period, but for their formal observation, I expect to see every component in Domain B and C at the Distinguished level,” and she did expect that. Other principals I’ve spoken with have more of a focus on growth and improving in the area of the teacher’s Professional Growth Plan (PGP).
Speaking of the PGPs, ask them to help you select your area of focus. They may have suggestions from last year’s observations and getting their input would create a sense of buy-in from them, which could turn into extra support for you. If they help you develop it, they will care more about seeing your success.
Coming to your observer to ask about these things will demonstrate care about having a successful school year. They like that. And, it will make their expectations more transparent to you, which for teachers, is like hitting the lottery.

3. Get Organized. The proof of, I mean artifact collection can become overwhelming, so make a plan early and document and collect everything. My saving grace was developing a system that worked for me. Identify your organizational strengths and find a system based on that. Some teachers I have worked with wanted accordion files that had a tab for each domain. This worked for them because they could just drop things into a folder without taking a lot of time. Some teachers use electronic portfolios, scanning and taking pictures of everything. I am a binder girl! I like binders because I can see the artifacts at a glance and quickly turn to and find what I need. If you are also a binder girl (or are a binder boy), or need a system, check out what I created to help me. I created a few versions and uploaded them to my TpT store and they are among my best sellers. 
Navy Professional Theme
Red Professional Theme
Fun Purple Theme

The “binders” linked above include title pages for domains and components, but also have templates for Table of Contents because I like to see exactly what I have collected for each domain. By listing the artifacts as I collect them into that section’s table of contents, I can easily see which domains need my attention. They also include multiple templates as example artifacts and give suggestions for which components they would support. 
Examples of Artifact Templates

Here are a few quotes from buyers:
·  “It is exactly what I planned on making myself, but without any time to do so.”
·  “What a wonderful way to help organize my evaluation and show documentation!!”
·  “Great resource for organization and becoming more informed on the examples!”
·  “I absolutely love this product. It made my portfolio stand out!! It looked so professional.”
·  “I couldn't wrap my mind around how to organize my evidence binder and I really appreciate the work you put into this file!”
·  “My principal loved how organized I was! Great product!”

So, if you are overwhelmed by the job of collecting artifacts, don’t know where to start, or want to improve the professional aspect of what you are doing, check it out for ideas. But overall, whatever system you choose to use, start early and remain diligent. There are too many demands to throw one together at the last minute.

4. Get real. For your observations, choose lessons about which you feel confident. Don’t try some crazy lesson plan that won’t support your teaching style. Don’t throw something at the kids that they will balk at. Be genuine and teach them so that there is evidential learning. Just like you do every day. The observer will see straight through the dog and pony show. You may even get questions from students like, “Why are you being so nice?” or “You actually want us to talk to each other?” or “Why are you talking like that?” You want to teach spectacularly each day so that the students and the observer will not be surprised when the engagement and learning levels are so high throughout the lesson. It is natural for you and the students.

5. Get sincere. I fully believe having an honest and sincere rapport with your students will conquer all. (Well, almost all.) Administrators want to see you connect with your students and their needs. Students are more successful when you are so in tune with them, that the learning is so relevant, that you are able to genuinely meet their needs and adjust the learning goals midstream. Just walk this line finely and refer to “Get Informed” because some observers really have to see each domain in action for you to pass. If you take a cue from a student and capitalize on a teachable moment, but miss out on some key part of your lesson, unfortunately, the system may get you. It may be worth it to you and if so, right on! But, if you are serious about getting on with this evaluation, toe that line. Students come first. Unless in that particular moment, you think it would mean losing your job. (Gosh, even writing it hypothetically sounds so wrong.) You can’t help students if you don’t have a job.

Parting words to all the teachers out there. You’ve got this! There is a reason you are a teacher. Make a difference in lives and don’t get bogged down by the evaluation system. Don’t get upset if someone tries to comfort you by saying “It’s okay to live in proficient and vacation in distinguished.” Instead, ignore it. A system does not dictate where you live or where you vacation. Your heart and your students’ hearts know where you live.

Teacher Evaluation Systems: A Teacher's Perspective

Note: This is part one of a two-part blog series. Part two is linked at the bottom of this post.

You know the conversations. Chances are, you have been a part of one recently. Maybe the consoler or the one who feels like breaking down at any given moment.
They are the conversations that are happening after school and in passing, in workrooms and in closed-door classrooms. Some are short need-a-moment-to-vent rants, some are lengthy and may involve tears and/or anger, but they almost always involve frustration. They are the conversations that are taking place among teachers. Teachers who are expected to work miracles (not in the cliché sense, but in the literal sense). Teachers who are expected to do the impossible that have to lean on one another to save their sanity. There is a lot of venting about the pressures of all that teachers are facing, but there is more than that in these conversations. They are unfalteringly supportive. “What can I do to help?” “Let’s come up with a plan of action.” “Here is something I have tried that occasionally works with [insert the name of any student who is particularly challenging behaviorally, academically, or emotionally.]” While the fact that teachers will help each other through whatever difficulty they are faced with at the moment is amazing, things aren’t getting better.

Teachers have never been under as much scrutiny as they are now and teachers (novice and experienced) are leaving the field at a staggering rate (according to a report by the Alliance for Excellence, about 13 percent of the nation’s 3.4 million teachers move schools or leave the profession every year) and it has little to nothing to do with the students. Teachers are faced with impossible jobs- doing whatever it takes to make every child successful. So. The system has to improve. Politicians feel the pressure to improve, so the Department of Education pressures superintendents, so they pressure principals, who in turn pressure teachers. The pressure is coming from so far up and is so widespread, it is too much to bear. Teachers cannot do what is being demanded of them. But, it is the spirit of a teacher to try. They will try, but it is this pressure to be more than perfect that is making so many teachers leave. 
Teachers accept the challenges thrown their way with a willing spirit. No one wants to see a child be successful more than a teacher. Teachers are working endless hours to try to meet the unique and wide-ranging needs of students, but as soon as a child does not score “worthy” on an assessment, the teachers are interrogated, um, I mean…questioned by the principal/assistant principal/instructional facilitator/coach/all of the above. “What have you done to ensure success for this child? Can you provide documentation?” “What else can be done to help this child?” “Have you tried [insert latest-flavor-of-the-month-trend in teaching]?” So, even though teachers are worn frail, they gladly accept the guidance and agree to try something else.
Teachers expect to work really hard to help students. And, if this was all the job was, I think teachers would be very successful. But, teachers are also expected to attend daily and weekly meetings, sponsor a club or an organization, be a member of a professional organization, contribute to professional learning teams (non-school time professional book studies), chair committees, meet with/call/email parents, attend athletic/choir/band/drama/art functions, etc. Once again, I think teachers could even handle all those things that come along with being a teacher. But, I think the straw that has broken the backs of so many teachers is that now they are required to prove what they do. Teachers must provide extensive documentation of excellence for every part of their job. (Some say there are 22.) Teachers must be observed informally and formally frequently, observations which are usually accompanied by pre- and post- observation conferences. This added facet of documenting a teacher’s job nearly doubles the amount of time he/she already takes to do it. But what happens when they are already spending more than half their day working? Precisely. These recently adopted teacher evaluation systems have made a teacher’s job nearly impossible.

 Artifact collection has sucked the joy out of classrooms. Teaching is a joyful thing because the triumphs of seeing a child light up far outweigh the negatives of teaching. But when it is required of teachers to prove that they are doing their jobs well, it is causing teachers to not do their jobs well. Teachers are sacrificing time that should be spent preparing lessons and going to basketball games and calling parents to now find a way to document that they read and used a recent article to write their lesson plan and to write a little blurb about how much more effective the learning was because of the article.

Teacher evaluation systems vary across the country and even within states, but the common theme heard from teachers from multiple states with multiple systems is that the new evaluation systems are hurting education. Some are tied to student test scores and some require artifactual (not a word, but should be) proof. Some of the ideas and principles on which these systems are founded are great, but the ways they are being manipulated into teacher evaluation systems are not. Charlotte Danielson, Madeline Hunter, Robert Marzano, CEL-5D, etc. are not unlike No Child Left Behind…fantastic in theory, but misery in real life.

Glitter Meets Glue Charlotte Danielson Meme
Meme by Glitter Meets Glue Designs
So, my message to the powers-that-be is this: Please hire educators that you trust to do their job and LET THEM DO IT. Observe, critique, support, but allow them to teach without piling their plates so full that they cannot.

My message to the teachers out there is this: Persevere. The pendulum will swing soon and hopefully land in the middle for a while. Hopefully before all the good teachers leave. And, stay tuned. Part II of this series will give useful strategies to help through your evaluation process. Until then, my sincere good wishes to you!

Part II of this post can be found here.

Happy 2015

2015: The year my side business takes off. I am determined to put more energy and effort into Managing and Motivating Math Minds. I am passionate about what I can share and I am blessed with the opportunity to make it happen.
Over the Christmas break, I sat down and came up with some monthly goals that I thought were challenging, yet attainable. But only if I work really hard and have some visual to keep me accountable. I love a good checklist, so I came up with these monthly checklist cards.

I printed them onto card stock and bound them with a key ring. They are sitting on my desk next to my computer and will hopefully help me stay on track as I progress with my store and blog.

You may notice that there are only two blog posts per month on my goal checklist. That is not a lot, but for me, I think that is good. I do not want to post just to post. I want to write sincere and hopefully helpful posts.

I love my TpT store and all that has come with it. Here are a few reasons why I do it:

  1. It is a wonderful creative outlet for me. I love making the content, but I love the design element, too!
  2. It has made me a better teacher. More thought goes into my lesson plans and activities. Not all of my lessons are turned into products (or ideas for products), but I consider things in a lesson that I didn't consider before.
  3. It has given me a meaningful hobby as opposed to time-wasting hobbies, like watching TV or playing on my phone. I can work on the computer and actually feel productive.
  4. It gives me extra spending money. I would like to share without being insensitive or impolite, but there is not a delicate way to say that some months I have almost made four digits in earnings, but I average over $300 a month, after commission. That's a nice chunk of shopping money. :) And that is with only a handful of products.
  5. I get to collaborate with educators from across the world in the seller's forum and Instagram. It is so helpful and those people have become friends.
If you are looking for a goal to help you in any of the ways I listed above, consider opening a store. If you have questions, you can ask here in the comments or email me at Or, if you are ready to get started, click the link to open a seller's account. It is free until you decide to upgrade your account to premium.

Remember, your first product must be free to give potential buyers a taste of what your paid products are like, so make it good! After that, sell away!

Good luck in whatever goals you have for 2015. May it be your best year yet!