Monday, May 15, 2017

Testing is Over: Now What?!

Testing is over… now what?  Get inspired with these 14 end of year ideas for your classroom!  Student and teacher tested and approved!

Testing is over now what?  Get inspired with these 14 end of year ideas for your classroom!  Student and teacher tested and approved!  J

Review Project
Put your students in the driver’s seat for their learning.  Before final exams assign students to groups to review topics from throughout the year.  Presentations can include a lecture and an activity to help their classmates practice the skill.  So fun!

Extension Project
For your higher-level classes, give them the opportunity to research a topic you did not discuss in class.  Allow students to set up projects around the room so their peers can review the research and make notes of interesting facts or connections.

Preview Topics for Next Year
I think I enjoy this more than my students but it’s a goodie!  There are definitely times when structure is better at the end of the year.  Have students take notes on a topic related to what you’ve been learning but didn’t have time to completely cover or will be covered in the following year.  As an Algebra I teacher, I love previewing connections to Geometry or Algebra II.

Testing is over… now what?  Get inspired with these 14 end of year ideas for your classroom!  Student and teacher tested and approved!Chalk Practice
Do you catch your students staring out the window when it’s 80 degrees and sunny?  In New England we only get a few of these days before school gets out so I love to bring the practice outside!  Give students a list of problems to complete on the pavement with chalk.  So much more fun and much less complaining!

Outdoor Class
Or hold the entire class outside!  Give students a packet or activity and a clipboard, and let them work independently or in pairs outside in the grass.  This is my favorite thing to do after state testing because it gets students fresh air and allows them to work at a casual pace after they’ve already worked hard all day.

Played just like the regular version, allow students to group up.  Have a list of academic topics and/or funny memories from class prepared.  Students then select a paper and act it out!

Surveys are great way to gather student feedback, especially if you tried something new.  One of my favorite things to ask is the rank of their favorite projects.  I don’t always realize along the way which projects students loved and which were more of a pain.

Organize Classroom
One of the last few days I put my students to work!  They love to help clean and organize shelves and closets.  Best of all, it saves me from having to stay late on the last days of school!

Testing is over… now what?  Get inspired with these 14 end of year ideas for your classroom!  Student and teacher tested and approved!
Clip Art by Sarah Pecorino Illustration
Test Markers and Other Supplies
Students will enjoy doing other monotonous jobs as well!  Have students check markers and pens to see if they’re still working.  Throw away or upcycle whatever is dried up.

Watch a Movie
Setting up a content-related movie is a great plan when collecting textbooks or passing back lots of work at the end of year.  For 8th grade math, Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land is always a favorite!

Advice for Next Year’s Students
Have students write down their best advice for incoming students.  What inside knowledge do they wish they had starting the school year?  Shana of Scaffolded Math and Science has a great resource for this.  You may even be getting your bulletin board done for the fall!

Game Day
When all the learning is done but you still want a semi-structured activity, host a Game Day.  Students bring in their logic-themed games and sign up to play the games of their choice.  Promotes cooperative learning and critical thinking so you can even write some objectives on the board for your administration.  J

Letters to Teachers
I inherited this activity from a retired teacher and it is awesome!  Give students 20 minutes or so to write a letter of appreciation to an adult in the building who had an impact on them throughout their years at the school.  (I teach 8th grade math so my students have been at the school since 6th grade and are heading off to high school.)  Then sort through the letters by teacher and scan for appropriateness.  Deliver this pleasant surprise to teacher mailboxes.

Locker Clean-Out Trick
Have you seen how much stuff gets thrown out on locker clean-out day?  I leave out two boxes and stand near the trash.  Any pencils or other writing utensils being thrown out go in one and any binders, paper, notebooks, supplies go in the other.  Awesome way to start a collection of extra supplies for next year!

Subscribe to receive a free middle school math resource!  Then stop by the links below for more great ideas and resources!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Free to Discover 8th Grade Math

Interested in learning more about Free to Discover resources?  Read on!

As a math educator, I have always had one mission.  Make learning fun.  I was attracted to middle school because I felt there was so much untapped potential to reach students and help them see the magic in the mathematics. 

I want my students to:

DISCOVER big ideas and concepts themselves in order to experience those amazing “aha” moments.
ORGANIZE the information they are learning so that they can make sense of the topics we cover.
WORK at a pace or level that works best for them so that they don’t feel like they need to give up because they are too far behind.
ENJOY something {or many somethings!} they learn in math class and get them to admit it’s pretty cool.

Thus Free to Discover resources were born!


The Free to Discover discovery-based worksheet series has been specially designed to engage students in learning that moves beyond traditional skills practice. Students will develop a deeper understanding of the big idea and will make connections between concepts. These worksheets make a great introduction to a new topic or summary at the end of a lesson or unit.

These activities probe further into the “why” and “what do you notice” types of questions.  When I deliver direct instruction I tend to insert comments like this into our discussions, but having a guided worksheet gives more students the opportunity to make those connections simultaneously and fosters student independence.

You can read more about discovery-based learning here.


Students need to do math in order to learn math.  Worksheets are easy to come by or create but students {and teachers!} lose interest in the monotony of rote practice on a piece of paper.  Hands-on learning experiences keep students actively learning and sometimes they don’t even know it.

Types of activities that you’ll find among Free to Discover resources include task cards, stations, card games like Math War and Old Math Guy, scavenger hunts, matching games, card sorts, cut and paste activities, BINGO games and partner stations.

You can read more about some of these hands-on activities here.

One of my favorite ways to have students practice math is to use mini-whiteboards or my front whiteboard.  All you need is a list of practice problems ready to go (with answers).  You can even just open up a textbook if that’s accessible for you.  Or I’ve even been known to just make up problems off the top of my head and quickly do the math before students finish the problem.  You can make it work even with minimal prep time. 
For mini-whiteboards, students show their work on their board and circle their final answer.  It typically works best if you can have students wait to hold up their board until all or most students are done.  Before holding up boards, check in on students whom you know may have some difficulty and quietly help them.  This will give them some confidence when it’s time to hold up boards.  Then scan the room for answers, and talk about it at the front board if necessary. For the front whiteboard, call up 4-5 students at a time.  I select volunteers first then move to “non-volunteers” so everyone gets a chance or two at the front.  Students at their seats require paper and pencil so that they can do the work too.  Then say a problem verbally.  Students at the board do the work with a whiteboard marker and students at their desks do the work with paper and pencil.  Check the work at board and point out notation or strategies that you especially love.


I have always been fascinated by differentiated instruction.  In fact, I have multiple blog series dedicated to differentiated math strategies that you can use in your own classroom.

Catch up on all the posts here.


If you are eager to implement discovery-based learning and hands-on activities into your class, scoop up my new 8th Grade Math Discovery and Hands-On Activities Bundle.  I’ve done all the work for you!  Just print and go discover fun math connections with your students.

If you are looking for differentiated notes and practice to meet the needs of all students in your classroom, look no further!  Invest in the Free to Discover 8th Grade Differentiated Curriculum today.

And if you LOVE it all, scoop up the 8th Grade Math MEGA Growing Bundle to have access to all Free to Discover 8th grade math resources from now until forever.

Now it’s your turn to join the conversation!  What other discovery-based or hands-on activities do your students enjoy?

For more ideas and resources, subscribe to the Free to Discover blog!  You’ll receive a free resource via email just for signing up!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Differentiation 2.1

Differentiating note-taking in the middle school math classroom

Differentiation IS for every classroom.  However, the degree to which you differentiate is up to you.  This series is all about getting started.  Catch up on these other Free to Discover posts from my first series about differentiation for additional ideas.

Differentiating note-taking in the middle school math classroomOk, so where do you start?
If you teach middle school math, you probably do some degree of note taking.  In eighth grade, I taught Accelerated Algebra I and Algebra I Part A (Standard Math).  There are a lot of differences between the two courses, but a big distinction is in note taking procedures. 

Students in accelerated math spend a larger amount of time taking notes.  The majority of these students are motivated, organized, and able to keep up with a fast pace of instruction.  In addition, they take their own notes – meaning they copy what I write on the board.  I keep my format structured and organized and spend the first week or so emphasizing directions for how to take good notes.  Here's a basic example of how notes look in my Accelerated Algebra I classes:

Differentiating note-taking in the middle school math classroom

Differentiating note-taking in the middle school math classroom

This would not fly in my standard eighth grade math class so I differentiate how I present and organize notes.  The first difference is the amount of time we spend taking notes.  In this course, I stick to 15 minutes or so.  More than that and it seems there is probably too much new information for one day.  These students generally need plenty of class time for practice and check-ins.

The second difference is the format of the notes.  I almost always provide skeletal notes for my students in standard math.  This allows students to worry less about organization and more about the math concepts involved.  The hope is to avoid common pitfalls that can occur such as copying the wrong problem, leaving too much or too little space between problems, and keeping up with the pace of the class during note taking.  Notice in the image below that only basic information and problems are typed out, then students fill out the rest.

Differentiating note-taking in the middle school math classroom

One way to differentiate for students who are very organized and perform exceptionally well is to offer them the opportunity to practice organizing their own notes.  They can skip the worksheet and copy everything they need into a notebook.  This is great preparation for high school math.

For students who require teacher notes or have accommodations on a formal or informal document, I provide the examples written out with blank space for practice problems.  This is an accommodation that is common for students with hearing disabilities or fine motor difficulties.  It is at the teacher’s discretion and/or specifics of a student’s plan to determine whether the student should try the notes first, then be given a filled-in version or whether they should start class with a filled-in version.  Some students may highlight or underline as you go over the notes and others may just listen to absorb the information.  {Note: The lesson shown in the image below is available for free here.}

Differentiating note-taking in the middle school math classroom

What if students have been absent?  For my students in advanced math, I check in about the missed sections and ask them to copy the notes from a classmate.  For students in standard math, I try to have a copy of teacher notes ready for them so they can use it for reference when completing the missed homework assignment.  The image below is an example of completely filled in notes.  These are great for reference as students work through the practice they missed.

Differentiating note-taking in the middle school math classroom

Thanks for reading!  Next time I’ll share ways to easily differentiate in-class practice and homework assignments.

8th grade math teachers, let me help you differentiate in your classroom!  When I was teaching full time I never had enough time to keep up with everything on my plate.  I used to get frustrated when students required “teacher’s notes” because, honestly, I didn’t always write out my notes ahead of time.  I knew what and how I wanted to teach and in my busy schedule I skipped the step of writing them down.  So it became more work for me to have to write them out – neatly – for a student or two.  Now that I have taken on a supporting role for teachers, I have the time to meticulously create differentiated notes for every topic in 8th grade math.  Save yourself A LOT of time and headaches by investing in my 8th Grade Math Differentiated Notes and Practice Bundle here.

8th grade math differentiated notes and practice

Now it’s your turn to join the conversation!  How do you organize note-taking in your classroom?  Any tips or tricks for differentiating instruction?

For more ideas and resources, subscribe to the Free to Discover blog!  You’ll receive a free resource via email just for signing up!