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.
7th Grade Pre-Algebra teacher at University School of Nashville
One word that best describes how I teach
Current mobile device
MacBook Air and iMac
What software or tools can’t you live without?
Chrome with bookmarks that port from device to device
What was the last tool that you adopted that was a game changer?
This thing allows me to change my desk between stand-up and sit-down.
How is your classroom set up?
I have a truly enormous classroom. We could host polo games in my room. I have 24 of those huge triangular desks, and I could fit 10 more easily, with room to spare. After 15 years in this room I finally feel like I sort of have a sense on how to use the space effectively.
I also have a dry-erase wall, which is pretty sweet.
Where at your school can you hunker down to get shit done?
My classroom is about the best bet. Space is at a premium campus-wide, so most places are in use most of the time. If I have a couple of free periods per day, though, and I can usually get stuff done in my classroom. It’s a pretty work-friendly zone after school also.
What non-math stuff do you do at your school?
I’m the 7th grade team leader, I’m co-coach of the Mathletes, and I’m one of two faculty representatives on the Board’s Strategic Planning committee.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
I’m training myself to do photosynthesis so I can stop wasting all this time “eating” and “drinking” and maybe even “breathing”. I’ll let you know how it goes.
What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
Google Calendar assaulting my phone with reminders and updates.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
My PS4. I am 40 going on 13.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?
Everyone else? Nothing. But I’m a pretty good writer (for a math teacher), and I’ve had maybe half a dozen articles published over the past couple of years.
Also I have a nasty split-fingered fastball. Or I did when I was younger.
When it comes to work, organization, teaching, what do you need to work on the most?
Assessment. I do pretty well on formative assessment and informal observations. My tests and quizzes are only “OK”. I think because I don’t want to make TOO big a deal out of them with my kids, it translates over into the creation of them? They’re not bad, but they have a ways to go still.
What is the key to good classroom management?
I find if one of those is missing my class goes off the rails.
While you’re teaching, what do you have in your hand (if anything)?
Dry Erase Marker
How do you manage the flow of paper in your teaching? How do students hand in paper? How do they get it back?
OK actually this is what I need to get better at. I shove it in my bag until I grade it and then return it.
Tests and quizzes I actually do wonderfully on, I always get those back to the students the next day. I just carve out time to do it.
Smaller assignments are the ones that linger. I end up taking them on many unnecessary road trips to and from school.
What do you use to plan? Do you use a different tool for the bigger picture (unit/course)?
I wrote my own Pre-Algebra curriculum, so I’m just constantly tweaking that website to help me “plan” the big-picture stuff. I have had the same prep for 14 years now so all the planning I do is in adjustments and overhauls. The bones are there, and I have them pretty much memorized.
How do you manage your time in the classroom?
It varies widely, which I think keeps it interesting for all parties involved. I try not to speak for more than 10 minutes at a time. Even if it’s a “traditional” lesson I want to intersperse it with working time and group discussions, and maybe some moving around to help keep my voice to a minimum.
How does your grading system look different from anyone else?
It probably doesn’t, but what counts as a “test” or a “quiz” varies pretty significantly. For example, we do a literature study in my class. Students answer questions about our novel in a Google Doc and that counts as a test grade.
What do you listen to while you work? Do you play music in class?
I don’t play music in class. While I grade or plan, it varies from Rage Against The Machine to Sixpence None the Richer to client work that I have upcoming.
How do you recharge?
Sports fan (Nashville Predators, Toronto Blue Jays and Tottenham Hotspur are my teams)
I’m a bass player, I originally moved to Nashville for a music career. I have a home studio and play on a lot of projects. I currently play for joegildermusic.com and www.facebook.com/frankiebarrancomusic/
What’s your sleep routine like?
10:30 to 6 AM every day. Including weekends because I have two young boys who apparently hate me.
I’d love to see ______ answer these same questions:
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts. –Earl Weaver