Sunday, August 24, 2014

Kagan Structures

     I am so excited! Two weeks ago, my school finished its first all day training on how to use Kagan Structures in our classrooms. The entire school is participating in three training sessions throughout year. I have been teaching for a long time and didn't ever think there would be any training I could receive that would improve my students behavior during group work. Well, I was so wrong. When Kagan instructors say, "It's all about engagement," they are so right. In the past when my classes have worked in groups there were always those students who just did nothing, while others would just hide from me. Some students would work hard and others would be talking and off task. It was hard to keep them all engaged. So here are a few things that I learned and started using with my classes this week.
    The first thing I needed to change was how to get my classes to be quiet and listen. I have always used the 3-2-1 countdown, given them the stare or said, "Shhh, shhh, shhh." I became very frustrated that I had to waste so much time on this. Our trainer said that simply saying, "Signal Please,"  then raise your hand and have all the students raise there hand and look at you. You say nothing else, just sit and wait. When everyone is quiet and looking at you say, "thank you," and then continue with what you want to say. Now this seemed very elementary to me but I saw it work with the 50 middle school teachers in my building during our training. Now if you can get middle school teachers to stop talking that is quite a feat! I started using the quiet signal this week with my students from day one. These were actually the first words out of my mouth in all of my classes. I am here to tell you that I am shocked that it is taking less than 5 seconds to get everyone looking at me and quiet. We also had our first assembly Friday and the teacher leading the assembly used this quiet signal and over 700 students became quiet and attentive. All of our teachers are using this quiet signal so the kiddos know exactly what to do. So simple, how come I didn't know to do this years ago?
     The next thing I changed was how my classroom was arranged. All of the tables or desks are now in groups of four and at an angle so that everyone can see the teacher without turning around. In the center of each of the tables are Kagan mats.Click here to see Kagan Mats from the Kagan catalog. I am still in the process of placing the finishing touches on my room. Pictures of my classroom will be posted later this week. (Our open house is Thursday so you know it will be finished by then!) A teacher at my school made mats that are similar and I cut them into four parts placing one on each desk. Unfortunately, my desks do not make a flat surface so the mat won't stay put. Cutting the sections apart and securing them with packing tape should work for awhile.
     The next step was to keep the kids engaged and accountable for their learning. Every ten minutes you need to change your engagement to keep their attention. The first day consisted of getting to know you activities. The next day the problems were math based. I wanted the kids to understand that there are many ways to solve a problem and that some problems can have multiple answers. I guess the easiest way to explain this is to give you an example of some of the problems we did in class last week. 

     Warm up #1

Which number does not belong and why:
36     81     9     25     72

Teacher: I am going to give you 1 minute of quiet think time to find the number in the list that does not belong. Write the number you found with an explanation of why it does not belong with the other 4 numbers.

     I put on my timer, click here for an Online stopwatch, and let them work. After the timer went off I said this:

     Teacher: You will be working with your shoulder partner and explaining what number you chose and why that number does not belong with the others. If your partner has a different number than you write down their number they along with their reason. You will have one minute  to share. Partner A will start and Partner B will listen. Ready, go.

   It is important to give the instructions first and save who is going to begin til last. That way everyone is listening to the directions. I put the timer on and walked around the room while students shared. Then we did the same thing with partner B explaining the number they wrote down. Next, we shared as a group with the student 1 (look at the mats) explaining what their partner had and going around the table. The group created a group list that we shared as a class when they were finished. I gave them 3 minutes to do this.
    As you can see, everything is timed, and anywhere from 25% to 50% of the students are talking and explaining during the activity. Instead of me explaining everything, the students are explaining and learning from each other. There are no more students hiding and not participating. The activities we started with this week have no right or wrong answers so I am creating an environment where they feel safe sharing with each other. ( I of course thought that 72 didn't belong because it was not a square number. Other possibilities, 9 is the only single digit number, 25 is not divisible by 3 or 9, and 25 because the sum is not = to 9.) Any other answers that you see?

                                                   Warm up #2

                                         How many squares do you see?

     This was a puzzle I found on Facebook a couple of years ago. The kids love this one and there is a short video that shows the best answer for this problem. Again, I stressed that the question is, "how many squares so YOU see?" There are many different answers, none are wrong, but one answer that is the highest number of squares. Click here for a video that shows the best answer for How many squares?

                                                  Warm up #3
        Find a word worth $0.60 when A=$0.01, B=$0.02, C=$0.03,etc.

     The last problem that the kids work on last week was the = 0.60 cents problem. It was so much fun watching the groups work to try to find a word that would = a sum of 0.60 cents. Watching the kids, I realized that I need to work on problem solving strategies with them. I thought the very first thing the groups would do was to make a list of the alphabet with the corresponding numerical value next to each letter. They didn't! Most of them were counting through the alphabet for every single letter. Using the guess and check strategy most groups did come up with a word. They loved this problem and my Algebra classes wanted more time to work on it the next day.
     One of my students was excited because he found that the word, yes, added to make 60 cents. However, he had the letter s as being worth 20 points when it should have been 19. When I looked at his list of the alphabet the letters were in this order; m, n, o, p, q, U, r, s, t .... At first I laughed to myself and explained to the student that q is followed by u in words but not in the alphabet. I was also sad because it reminded me of how much background knowledge I think my second language students have but may be missing.
     The structures I have used so far are the rally robin, round robin and stand up-touch down. I am also using random grouping until I have some test scores for my classes. I will explain how to create groups and what these structures look like in a later post. I need to go through it on my own first. 

Til next time,

 Disclaimer: I am not a certified Kagan instructor. All of the information given are my thoughts and reflections of the training I attended, as well as activities that I decided to implement.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Free Foldable Templates

     It's the beginning of the new school year and I am trying to improve my Interactive Notebook from last year. Most of the time I create foldable templates myself which is very time consuming. Sometimes I have students make their foldables freehand without a template to cut, but that takes more time. I needed to save some time so I went to one of my favorite sites,, to see what templates I could find for free. ( I spend way too much money on my classroom so I always look for free items first.) Having a blog, I wanted to have templates that allowed for electronic downloads.   Most of the free templates did not allow that. Bummer! After searching for awhile, I found a few I that would allow this. The first five in the list can be used to share electronically. Of course, if I use these I will give credit to the person who created them. I thought that some of you would like to have a list of all the free templates I found as well so here they are! Have fun!

Free 6 door flap book foldable available from Miss Mathematics HS at

Free 8 door flap book foldable available from Miss Mathematics HS at

Free Magic foldable template from Coach Academics at This is the foldable that I used for my Unit 1 8th grade Pre-Algebra vocabulary. It is awesome!  You really have to incorporate this one somewhere in you Interactive Notebooks.
Free pentagon foldable from Amy Hendricks at

Free Mini books and foldable templates by  Luanne Angelo at

Blank template for various subjects by Inspiring teaching design at 

Here are some templates and examples in Spanish but these templates can be used for any language. There is a cool word wheel that I may use for vocabulary by Cuevas' corner at

A large variety of templates that are not just for vocabulary as stated in the title from English 10 Mother Hen at

     I hope you can use these for your interactive notebooks and that it saves you some time. Everyone have a great new school year!

Til next time,


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Like terms/ unlike terms foldable

     Well I am in overdrive right now. My first day of school with students is Monday and I am scrambling to get things organized. The posts you are going to see in the next few days will be all over the place. The one below is an improvement on what I had the kids do last year on like and unlike terms. Sorry about the poor quality of the pictures, my battery was almost dead.

     Go here to see what I did last year with like terms.  The kids wanted to make their own shapes for the like terms and unlike terms and they turned out great. I wanted to add the section on combining like terms to the same page and then have a few practice questions for the students to do. I'm happy with how it turned out.

     Those of you who have read my blog for awhile know that I have students place their leftover colored paper in a basket. These foldables are made out of those scraps which makes me happy:) 

     The combining like terms foldable is from Sarah at everyone is a genius. I like the way that she has the students color code the different  like terms. It just gives an added visual for the students who need it. Sarah has so many good ideas on how to start your interactive notebook. If you haven't gone to her site go there now! You will be happy you did.

  Click here to get a copy of the like terms practice sheet.  I may decide to put this on white paper and have students color code the like terms. I do think some of them will still need the color coded visual.

     Well I'm off to try to do another foldable. I need to spruce up my square roots and cube root pages. 

Til next time,

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Algebraic Expression Foldable

     I just realized that I have not shared a foldable with you since June! Yikes! So here is a foldable I made for algebraic expressions. One day I saw a worksheet somewhere, I can't remember where, that had coefficient, variables, terms, constants, operation and algebraic expression definitions all together. After seeing that worksheet I knew that it I wanted to make it into a foldable. You have no idea how many different foldables I worked on before I finally finished one that I liked. In my Interactive Notebook I've placed it next to my most used graphic organizer. This will give students a quick reference when writing algebraic expressions from words.

I like the matchbook foldables because the flaps don't end up flipping over.

There are also some practice problems. 

Yes I know it should say algebraic expressions (plural). I changed it on the sheet you can download.

When you pull down the flap there are definitions for term and algebraic expressions. When you open up the next flaps I placed arrows to show the section that is a term and that the entire problem is an algebraic expression.

I liked color coding the different vocabulary words to  give an added visual for students.

Student practice sheet.

Click here for a copy of  the algebraic expressions foldable and writing algebraic expressions practice sheets.

     I will use this foldable for my Algebra and Pre-Algebra classes this year. Last year I did Interactive Notebooks only with my pre-algebra classes. This year I plan to start using them in Algebra as well. I'm excited about that. 
     The summer has flown by. I start school next week and on Friday for our in-service we are having our first Kagan strategies training. I can't wait. Look forward to a post next week with reflections about the training.
                                                                                        Til next time,


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