School's Back in Session

It's been quite awhile since my last post.  I got wrapped up in the pre-year prep and forgot everything else, as can also be seen by the giant stacks of laundry I just folded on my bed.

We've had 6 days of PD and teacher prep. and 3 days with students.  It seems like a lot of time without kids, but they used to give us a day here or there over the next 9 weeks and it almost felt like we never saw our students during this first quarter.  So this year, they gave it all to us at the beginning and besides federal holidays, we pretty much go straight through until conferences in October.  I might be singing a different tune in late September, but right now I am very happy with their choice as I feel the most prepared I think I have ever felt.  I literally have no school work to do today.  It's a miracle!  Thus, I have time to blog.

So I thought I would share some pics from my classroom and what I do to stay organized and in control in the crazy world of 6th grade math.

First of all, I got this crazy idea to dive back into my elementary years a little and decided to make my students, all of my students, all 120 of my students, a little treat to welcome them on the first day.  It was the first year we ever tried just having 6th graders come on the first day and I think it was a great success.  Not only could they get used to the building and their lockers and class rotations without the pressure of 7th and 8th graders looking at them, but we also had the 7th and 8th grade teachers there to help us all day long.  So for their first day, each one of my kids received this little treat.

Secondly, I like to use color to help separate things in my head, so I color code each class and everything about them is that color for the entire year.  I use the rainbow as a guide, because most people can remember the order of the rainbow without much trouble.  My first class of the day is red, my second class is orange/yellow (I mix those two together since yellow can be hard to read), my third class is green, my fourth class is blue, and my fifth class is purple.  Whether it's the ticket jars, the color I write their agenda in, the color of their portfolio folders, etc. their color stays with them all year long and it helps me to keep class periods straight and separate.  You can see it in these pictures below.

Lastly, I wanted to share my seating arrangements.  I use pods to group my kids, but I don't just put them in groups of four that I think will work well together and not drive me crazy.  There is a bigger picture and a lot more work behind the scenes to my groupings.
I group heterogeneously, and I do so very systematically.  I read this all in a lady's book and I wish I could tell you who, but it was so long ago, I forget and all I can remember now is that it was a female. Anyhow, taking my students most recent standardized scores, which in our case is MAPs testing done in our first full week of school, I break my kids into four even groups based on their test score.  Since studies show that I can pull that lowest kid up by pairing them with higher kids, I want to do that.  Yet studies also show I can pull my high kids down, and I want to avoid that, so I try to use something that is fairly evident at most dinner conversations.  We tend to talk to people directly next to us or across from us, but rarely diagonally across from us (apparently it's too far or too awkward).  So I place my kids (one kid from each group) in such an order to keep my highest and my lowest diagonally across from each other.  Using the colors on the pod above for an example...the red sticker would be a kid from the lowest group, blue would be a kid from the third group, green would be a kid in the second group, and the yellow sticker would be a kid from the highest group.  So my highest kid (yellow) is diagonally across from the lowest kid (red) in that pod, yet the lowest kid still has the second and third highest kids to talk to and build off from, hopefully improving along the way.  And let me add the caveat here, that our classes are already grouped somewhat by ability so we are not talking a radical difference here between first and fourth anyways.  If this was a genuinely heterogeneous group I would probably have to rethink my seating arrangements some more.

So that's some of what I do to start the year and keep myself sane and organized.  What do you do/use?
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