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.
Anna Vance was called out by last week’s inaugural How I Teach blogger @mathymeg07. By the time I messaged her a few hours after posting, she had already finished off the responses you see below. I would expect nothing less from a teacher with the handle @TypeAMathLand. Anna blogs at Type-A Mathland.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Math 1, 2, and 3 teacher (i.e. high school integrated math)
One word that best describes how I teach:
Current mobile device:
some sort of super heavy laptop. Haha…
What software or tools can’t you live without?
Snipping tool, definitely.
The group maker by Super Teacher Tools – saves so much time and I can actually change groups regularly and randomly instead of the dreaded, always imperfect seating chart.
Unpopular, but: Kuta software. I love spiraling my HW/Warmup but it was taking *so* long for 3 preps. I started using this at the end of last year and it saved so much time, and the copy assignment function was awesome to then edit for the next week. Also great for creating multiple versions of SBG tests/quizzes, extra practice for students, or problem sets to use in an activity.
Google sheets – I create a google sheet for each course at the beginning of the year/semester with the pacing set out. Of course this changes with events, weather, needing longer on a topic, etc. but to be the more structure I have the easier it is to know how I can change/be flexible.
What was the last tool that you adopted that was a game changer?
Hm, gonna have to go with the aforementioned group maker. Now I actually change groups, and can quickly to VRG quickly for my VNPS (vertical whiteboards) for partners without any sweat. Speaking of whiteboards, can that be my tool? I love my vertical whiteboards. Such awesome conversations, math talk, and on task working through problems. Really helped me see who needed help, or if we needed to press the pause button and do some whole-class reteaching.
What’s your workspace setup like?
I actually form an office in my classroom by using desks/tables to mark off an area. I have everything I need to plan (activities, copies, binders of resources) within easy reach. And of course everything is labeled and color coded. I love my trays for each day of the week that keep copies and materials. I fill them up at the end of the week for the next week.
How is your classroom set up?
Groups of 4. I love my colored felt on the bottom of desks that indicate what color group they belong to, makes it super easy to turn out desks into rows for tests and then put back on their own. I also have a table when students come in where they pick up all their copies for the day.
Where at your school can you honker down to get shit done?
At my desk (in my “office”). Although I do my big picture planning usually at home laying in bed. Work at school is just the nitty-gritty.
What non-math stuff do you do at your school?
Non-math stuff exists? But really, I’m at a new school this year so I don’t know. In the past I’ve been the Mu Alpha Theta sponsor and helped with prom. Obviously, I love planning and decorating so prom is a great fit.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
Meal prepping. I’ve done everything from a week, to a month, to 3 months. IMO, anything is better than nothing. I eat so much better, save money, don’t waste food and eat more of a variety by meal planning/prepping ahead of time. Otherwise I pretty much resort to an undisclosed number of meals of peanut butter chocolate ( 2 TB peanut butter, cover in chocolate chips and nuke for 1 min)…Nutritious, right?
What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
I’m still a paper and pencil girl, but after spending much of my first two years teaching searching for the random post-it, envelope, scrap paper, or notebook that I wrote my lessons/to-do list on…I decided to upgrade to a nice planner I would actually use. I use an Erin Condren Life Planner to keep my running to do list and keep track of everything in my non-school life. For lesson-planning/grades I’ve made my own planner this year, but in the past have used an Erin Condren Teacher Planner and Plum Paper Large Teacher Planner. I just really like writing things down.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
Have to go with my Life Planner – it is as gadgety as I get and keeps me sane.
What gadget or tool or software is a necessity for your particular subject?
Hm, this isn’t exactly answering the question but one thing that helps me is to have different types of activities that I like to do with templates so that all I need to do is input questions for a particular topic. I also always try to have practice sets be self-checking in some way so students know if they are on the right track and I can help with partners/groups that need more guidance.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?
Planning and thinking through details/being prepared. Pretty much everything I do in and out of the classroom has been thoroughly researched/though about/planned. Oh, and color-coding/labeling everything.
When it comes to work, organization, teaching, what do you need to work on the most?
Paper flow, believe it or not. I have all this organization for the things I predict (copies, grading, resources, etc) but somehow my desk still ends up being a disaster zone by the end of the day. I’m going to try cleaning it at the end of every day this year.
What is the key to good classroom management?
Structure (shocked, right?). I think when students have a routine and know what to expect, things go so much more smoothly. Now, of course you can be creative within the routine, but having some sort of grounding as to what to expect seems to really help.
How do you manage the flow of paper in your teaching? How do students hand in paper? How do they get it back?
Have students pick up copies for the day as they come in – saves so much time and I don’t have any of that around my area. Keep upcoming copies in tiered trays ready to go with other supplies/activities needed. If I am not going to grade it, I don’t collect it. Students can keep it in a binder if they want, but I don’t require it. Doing almost everything in our INBs keeps a lot of paper off my desk. Mostly I’m just dealing with HW once a week (now every 2 weeks with alternating block) and tests. I put the assignments in a folder in my grading binder and take that home. Or just clip and put them in a tray to take home. I stink at returning papers (HW) though…might go back to student folders or have a student pass back once a week.
What do you use to plan? Do you use a different tool for the bigger picture (unit/course)?
I actually have a blog post from last year that pretty much explains my process. Basically: google sheet for long-term planning, lesson planner for the nitty gritty parts of the day’s lesson, and my life planner to keep track of tasks (call/email this person, make these copies)
How do you manage your time in the classroom?
This year I’m trying to spilt my block schedule into 3 sections: new material/spiral review/practice new material. When doing a new activity I always way underestimate how long it will take…
How does your grading system look different from anyone else?
I call my grading “SBG-light”. Tests broken into skills, scored on a 5-10/10 so that they still fit with “normal” grades since my school isn’t SBG. I love it and haven’t had any issues with parents/admins once I explain the system once.
Any time-saving grading tips?
Be selective about your questions. You probably don’t need as many questions as you think. Grade one page at a time. If you have any help, have them check just for correctness (just put a check) and you go back to evaluate score/points based on any errors.
What do you listen to while you work? Do you play music in class?
I was actually a music major and find it really difficult to focus if there is any music in the background when I’m working. If at home I probably have a TV show on in the background. If I do want to have music on it is probably either cello (go Yo-Yo Ma) or choral music (I love Eric Whitacre).
What are you currently reading?
The new NC math standards….no seriously. I haven’t read fiction for pleasure since high school…
How do you recharge?
Drink lots of tea/go to afternoon tea with my mom. Play with my cats. Abstract paint. Sing/play cello (just learning cello). Binge watch Netflix like no one else.
What’s your sleep routine like?
I really need like…8+ hours to function. I literally never pulled an all-nighter in my life and only stayed up past midnight for school 3 times in college. I’m definitely in bed/asleep by 9:30/10 on school nights. Way earlier if beginning/ending of semester/year
I’d love to see ______ answer these same questions:
Sarah Carter at @mathequalslove
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Be yourself. I spent so long trying to be like the other great teachers from the #MTBoS, but I finally realized that I just needed to be myself with my particular quirks, strengths, and weaknesses. With my students, I stopped hiding that I’m a total nerd and really love math. Not that I have every been or really tried to be *cool* but really owning up to my uncoolness and nerdiness upfront has really led to better connections with students.