Does the tedious task of filing finished work and sending it home cause you pain every time you think about? Have you ever nervously watched as those papers continued to grow, but your tight schedule prevented you from "tackling" it at the moment? We teachers have all struggled with the dilemma of finished work piling up, begging to be sent out of the classroom before it overtook every precious square inch of our classrooms. Before I found an effective system, I dreaded (and therefore put off) stuffing my student's folders with their finished work. I didn't know there was a fast and more effective way of sending out their work until one day, it just came to me!
    My previous system was a major FAIL simply because it was too tedious and time consuming. Let me explain. Each student has a red folder that I call the "Friday folder" because I send finished work home in them on Fridays (pretty self explanatory, right?). As I checked student work, I would put it in a special tray just for out-going student work (I still do this). Then, whenever I would get a chance during the week (you know, with all that free time I have as a teacher), I would take their work and put it in their folders. I DREADED this task. It took up my time and there were a million other things I needed to work on. One day I wondered to myself if it would be possible to have my students help me with this (they are 5 and 6 years old). I thought about the logistics of how this would look, and finally it hit me! I had myself a new plan.
     I started to think about our morning routines. The kids come in, they put their homework folders away, and then they go sit at their carpet square. What if we had just one more step? What if the students put their own papers into their own folders before they went to their carpet squares? So, I decided to try it. The system would still be similar, except they do the work. What would be different is I would pass out their red folders on their desk before school started, then place their papers on top. When they came in, they would be expected to put their finished work inside their folders, then put their folders on a desk where I would store them.
      Like everything that is new to our students, I had to first model what I wanted them to do. I demonstrated by walking into the classroom, going to my desk, putting the papers into the red folder, then putting it on the desk next to their homework folders. Then, the next day as they came in, I reminded them what to do and they sucessfully did it! Since we work mostly with manipulatives and not too many worksheets, I only really need to do this every other day. However, it's now very fast and by Friday their folders are ready to take home. Sending out-going work has never been easier or faster. This system has saved me time and stress, and I hope it will do the same for you.

     If you're like me, you want students to have easy access to all their materials (okay...that's not really a "me" thing, is it? That's more of a "good teaching" thing). That is why when we got iPads for the first time, I found myself a little lost on how best to store the iPads, not to mention the headphones. I needed a safe location, but also one that would be easy for students to access independently. I had to play around a little before I found the answer to this storage problem.
     Storing the iPads turned out to be not so complicated after all. My school purchased a lockbox that stores and charges the iPads. I keep the iPads in this box during the day so students can easily get to them. Before I go home, I just close the box and lock it. It couldn't be easier. This eliminates my having to take them out of their stored place and into an easily accessible place each day. The two are one and the same.

     With the problem on how best to store the iPads now solved, I was then faced with the dilemma of where to keep the headphones. This did not prove to be as easy as the iPad storage situation. I really had to try a couple of different systems before I found "the one". First, I tried sprawling the headphones on a desk with the cords hanging down (yeah, in hindsight this just sounds awful). This didn't work. Students threw them back on top of the desk, entangling the cords, even knocking the headphones over as they walked by throughout the day.
      Then I tried putting each headphone into a large ziplock bag. It seemed like a brilliant idea until I actually tried it. Students were supposed to nicely put the headphones into the ziplock bags and leave the  bags on the desk. What could go wrong with that? Apparently a lot. Now the cords were getting tangled with themselves (even though I had them rubberbanded (is that a word?) together to make the cord short....but the kids could not resist undoing those rubberbands). Students were now spending most of their iPad time trying to detangle the cords. MAJOR FAIL!
     Finally, someone gave me the bright idea to use hooks to hang the headphones. Upon hearing this, I rushed to the store to purchase my ever-needed hooks. This turned out to be the answer to my headphone dilemma. Now, the headphones hang on hooks at the students' level, and right next the iPads. I still have the cords shortened with rubberbands, but the students are better at not undoing the cords (maybe the novelty wore off).
    If you're looking for an effective way to store headphones in your classroom, I highly suggest using hooks. They keep the headphones organized and accessible, making iPad time more enjoyable for all.

     Math centers is an excellent addition to your math block. In fact, in my class math centers really is the heart of our math block. This is where students get to review previously learned concepts, as well as new ones. Some of the activities are individual activities, while others are games or meant to be done in a partnership. In my personal experience, math centers is usually the time that students look forward to most during math time. Read on to learn more about how I implement math centers in my class.
      To begin, I teach 6 and 7 year olds. Therefore, I need to keep them moving, moving and moving! Math centers is a great way to do this, especially if you include activities that are interactive, exploratory, and kinesthetic.It's also a time that allows me to work with students one-on-one or in small groups. I essentially use this time the same way I use the time students work on literacy tasks in reading workshop: I will either work with an individual student or with a small group. I will also use this time to observe students and gather information about their performance. This in turn allows me to determine appropriate next steps for students, as well as decide how else I can help students in their learning.
     What are the logistics of running math centers in my class? Well, I have a pretty simple math centers system. I am not one who likes to fuss with too much prep, so I look for activities that are fast and easy to put together. If it's too complicated or too much work, it doesn't go into my centers. Period. Essentially, I have 5 different centers in my math centers. This is because I have 5 table groups. If you have 4 table groups, you would have 4 center activities (if you followed this system). Students do only 1 a day (I allot 20 minutes of my math block to centers). This eliminates the constant rotating of students and/or materials (again, I go for easy and simple). Centers are labeled "A" to "E". I have a basket for each center activities, and the basket goes to the table group that has it that day.

 Here you see a picture of my center baskets. A is graph paper for area graphing. B is our Math Notebooks where students work on different problems. C is making numbers with playdoh. D is a Bump game. E is Kodable (nothing is in this basket because they play Kodable on the iPads, which has their own home). 

To keep track of which group does what center, I make a little graph on a small whiteboard that I keep next to the center baskets. Whenever we start a new cycle, table group 1 always starts with center A. Then, I rotate every group down. For example, Monday table group 1 starts with center A. On Tuesday they do center B. Wednesday center C, etc. If you look at the graph to the right, you can see this rotating sytem. Each time a center is completed for the day, I erase the table group numbers (in red) and then rewrite them for the following day. To make it easy for me, I always move table group 1 first on the chart so I don't get confused and rewrite it incorrectly.

A few tips:

1) Center activities must be pre-explained to students (yeah...I probably didn't even need to mention this one, right?). I will do this by having students sit in a circle as I introduce the activities.

2) Games taught to the whole-class can become center activities: This tip has saved me a lot of time! Typically when we play a new game for the first time, I teach the whole class at once and we play at the same time. Then, that becomes a game that can be played in centers (they already know it!).

3) You don't have to do math centers every day: Some days I will not do math centers because I want students to work on an activity that might go into their math center time, or our schedule has been modified for some reason, or (insert reason here) and so we simply don't have time. That's okay! Let math centers enhance your math block, but allow for flexibility.

4) New math centers do not have to start every Monday, or on a Monday for that matter. I'm giving you this tip because I just realized this, this year! For as long as I have been doing math centers, I've always felt the need to start new center activities each Monday. Why? Who made that rule? Once I figured this out, I was liberated! I start new math center activities (which I actually call a "math center cycle") when I'm ready to start them (i.e., when we finish a math center cycle). This means sometimes we will start on a Tuesday, perhaps a Wednesday or Thursday, but there's no actual set day. We start a new cycle when we are ready to start!

5) Try to have games or activities that can be modified into different versions. This makes it easy to frequently incorporate the game or acticity as students will already know how to do it, and you'll just have to explain the modification. For example, we like to play Bump in our math centers. Bump is a fantastic math game that has MANY different versions (addition, subtraction, 2 more, 2 fewer, doubles, etc.).

     As you can see, math centers do not have to be complicated. This system has proven to be easy and simple for me, requiring very little preparation. If you aren't currently doing math centers in your classroom, I encourage you to give it a try and let me know how you like it.

What I Eat To Feel Great Part 1: The Genesis of My New Diet

         This started as a podcast episode, but I just had to turn it into a blog post as well. To preface, I am not qualified to give a...