In the How I Teach series, teachers answer some questions on the tools and strategies they use to get stuff done in and out of the classroom. Each teacher will work off a set of questions (some of which are borrowed from the lifehacker series) and answer what they like.
The inaugural edition of the series has Meg Craig (@mathymeg07) breaking open her process. Meg contributed to the question set and was a strong supporter of the series from the start. Thanks! Meg blogs at Insert Clever Math Pun Here.
Presently ACT Prep teacher but previously Precal & Alg II teacher
One word that best describes how I teach:
Current mobile device:
Sony Xperia Z5 Compact (it’s the smallest Android available that actually works)
Dell XPS ultrabook
Mr Craig’s hand-me-down PC
What software or tools can’t you live without?
Microsoft Word. Anyone who says gDocs is just as good doesn’t want to face the truth.
ShowMe videocasting app
CamScanner pic-to-pdf app
The Old Reader blog reader. I really don’t know how people can follow blogs without a reader.
What was the last tool that you adopted that was a game changer?
My phone! I had “smart” phones before that were smart-in-name-only. Now that I have a phone that works I understand why people are on theirs all the time.
What’s your workspace setup like?
At school I have a separate “work” desk (for grading and lesson planning) and computer desk. (actually I have the same at home as well, except the work desk also doubles as a craft desk)
How is your classroom set up?
My classroom was set up in groups of 4, my teacher desks in an “L” on a side wall. My favorite thing is my standing desk that has really big shelves below it. It has room to spread out my papers and my document camera and pens and such on top. It’s like having the world’s biggest flat podium. I got it from overstock about three years ago and it was fairly pricey but if you spread that out over the school days I’ve used it’s probably less than $.75/day and SO worth it. I’m a big believer in making the space where you spend the majority of your waking hours into something pleasant. So yes, I spent a lot on that podium and also spent some money on a nice desk chair (I do a lot of typing and grading). I also put up a Wall of Cute that has old pictures from Cute Overload calendars because sometimes you need a corgi butt or a disapproving bunny to make your day better.
Where at your school can you honker down to get shit done?
Fortunately in my classroom.
What non-math stuff do you do at your school?
I do some tech workshops for teachers-stuff like how to use word, timesaving tips, etc. I’m more of a curricular teacher, not an extra-curricular. I am helping out with prom this year.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
I have two! One is picking out my clothes for the week on Sunday. I’ve been doing this since high school and it just makes mornings so much easier. Some people are overwhelmed by it but try to have some basic categories to limit your decision making. I usually have two dress days, two skirt or pants days, then jeans day Friday.
My time-saving shortcut for tech stuff is actually creating a shortcut: clicking and dragging the address of a website to your desktop to create a shortcut to it. I have ones for our online gradebook, email, and class google docs.
What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
A 5 x 7 lined post-it pad.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
My Kindle. At least 50% of the book I read are free downloads from the library with-get this-NO late fees! (And if you’re in the middle of a book that’s about to be due, just go into airplane mode!)
What gadget or tool or software is a necessity for your particular subject?
Calculator and desmos. ☺
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?
I can make a one-sheet graphic organizer or worksheet like nobody’s business. I’m known for putting tables inside text boxes inside tables just to mess with people’s minds when they try to edit it.
When it comes to work, organization, teaching, what do you need to work on the most?
Organization throughout the school year. All of my files are super organized, and I know what I’m doing each day, but I’m really bad at having just a big pile of “important” papers that just grows through the year.
What is the key to good classroom management?
Have a plan for bell-to-bell. If kids are occupied, they are less likely to act up.
While you’re teaching, what do you have in your hand (if anything)?
A Flair pen.
How do you manage the flow of paper in your teaching? How do students hand in paper? How do they get it back?
Students put papers in a turn-in tray on my desk. I’m really good at grading & returned tests by the next day. But classwork? Free response practice questions? Those just linger forever, traveling back and forth from school to home and back again ungraded. And then I can never find time to hand them back.
What do you use to plan? Do you use a different tool for the bigger picture (unit/course)?
I use the textbook as a course outline. I usually do the homework for each section to figure out what the issues are going to be to make sure I address them. I then make a NoteTakerMaker (graphic organizer) for each lesson and my own homework worksheet as well. I usually use Sam’s virtual filing cabinet to see if there’s anything cool I should add in from the MTBoS.
I keep everything that I create/use in a binder (usually a 4 inch one per semester)-that means a blank NTM, a filled-in NTM, worksheets, reviews, tests. If something doesn’t fit in the binder, I’ll add a sticky note (“speed dating review for 3.4” ’Use polar battleship app”). I also use sticky notes to remind myself of things I want to change for next year or maybe a really good explanation that a student came up with.
I have a 1.5-inch binder that I put the current chapter’s stuff in from each class so I can take that home easily.
How do you manage your time in the classroom?
I am really bad at this! I always underestimate the time it will take for anything. I do use my timer cubes and a regular timer a lot just to keep us on track. Again, I usually underestimate the time but at least it’s a start.
How does your grading system look different from anyone else?
We are forced to use a grading system by our school. I will refrain from further comment.
What do you listen to while you work? Do you play music in class?
We don’t listen to music in class, but after school I listen to my “Awesome Happy Songs” or “Good Indie Songs” playlists that usually involve Lumineers, Jack Johnson, and a surprising amount of ‘60s music for someone my age.
What are you currently reading?
Good as Gone by Amy Gentry. It’s quite the page-turner!
How do you recharge?
I admit to playing Two Dots when I come home from school because my brain usually needs to unwind. I also like to play in the dirt in my garden, watch television, and read. And as much as I hate to admit it, I usually do feel better after I exercise so am trying to make that a 5-days-a-week thing.
What’s your sleep routine like?
I need at least 7 hours but would prefer 8. During school I usually fall asleep for a half hour while watching tv and still go to sleep by 10. I set the alarm for 5:30 so I can have 3 snoozes before waking up at 6.
I’d love to see ______ answer these same questions:
Anna Vance (@TypeAMathLand) I feel like she’s going to have some awesome system for everything.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. It’s really easy as a teacher to feel guilty taking time for yourself when maybe the lesson you have planned for tomorrow isn’t super-awesome. But sometimes you just need a SportsNight marathon or a trashy book to read or just a night on the patio doing nothing.