New things in Ms. K’s classroom: WODB and Plickers

This is my third year teaching the same 6th grade curriculum. This is the first year that we’re trying block schedules at my school. This brings up my time with my students to 76 minutes per day instead of 45 minutes. I’m excited to be able to do some of the things that I’ve wanted to do in years past, but was reluctant for a variety of reasons. Feeling like a newb and time among them.

Which one doesn’t belong?

We’ve been having 3 day weeks due to holidays. Even though school started September 9th, my first actual math class (where we weren’t doing advisory or giving benchmark assessments) was on Thursday, September 17. I decided to allot the first 20 minutes of class to have students determine which one doesn’t belong? I first learned about this website at TMC15 and was eager to use it throughout the year.

I posed the following set to my students. My classroom is set up as quadrants, so I had students move to the quadrant that corresponded with their shape. I figured that most students would gravitate towards quadrant 4 (bottom right), but I was shocked that almost all of them chose that shape. In my first block all, but ONE student chose the pentagon. What was more surprising, is that some students refused to accept the reasoning of the sole student who chose the top right shape as the one that didn’t belong. His reason that it was the only shape that “had designs” inside was not mathematical enough for some of the students. Other students responded by going back to the original question “which one doesn’t belong?” and gladly accepted his reason. Thinking back, I wish I had them pause and reflect on what it means for evidence to be “mathematical enough”.

I changed the task for my second and third block. First I gave students 5 minutes to independently decide which one doesn’t belong. Then I assigned quadrants to them. When they moved into their groups, there task was to come with as many reasons why the shape did not belong. The groups that moved to the top and bottom left struggled the most to come up with reasons, but someone eventually was able to share that the top left was the only one where all the sides weren’t of equal length.

We reflected on the this exercise for a bit after everyone settled back in their seats. I asked them what there take away was from this exercise. Students in all my blocks shared that each could have a reason for not belonging or that there was more than one correct answer. There were still a few students who were convinced that there was only one lens through which to look at these shapes and that there was only one right answer. Others acknowledged reasons why the other shapes didn’t belong, but believed there was one shape that didn’t belong more than the other, (the pentagon in this case). I didn’t push too much because that is a notion that has been reinforced for much of their math experience and one exercise was not going to change that. I’m eager to try this again next week with another set and see how it goes.


I’ve decided to use plickers for a quick midpoint check-in. Plickers are essentially “paper clickers” that can be scanned through a mobile device. I tried them once last year, but made them mistake of laminating them with glossy pouches and they were a total waste. This year, I had them laminated on matte and so far I’m happy with them. I was a bit nervous it would take a while to scan them, but here is what I learned the few times I used them:

  • I can scan them by standing in one spot as long as students don’t block each other. To make this easier on me I’ve asked my students in the back to raise them up high, the ones in the middle to cover their face, and the ones up front to hold them low so I can scan in one or two swipes across the room.
  • It scans so much faster than I expected and the students are really excited to get the immediate feedback. I use the graph to reveal the answer.plicker2
  • Yes, it’s multiple choice, but having this immediate feedback is a kick off point for math discussions. In the above example, it led us into a discussion analyzing student error.
  • Use “live view” (love live view!) to keep track of which students have been scanned. As soon as their card is scanned, their name is checked off. Now I know after my second swipe, I need to focus on scanning student #14’s card.


I learned that there is a class set of electronic clickers somewhere in the building, but I like the fact that I don’t have to pass/collect the plickers. It saves time. The students put it in the flap of their binder which never leaves the room. I’m able to give every student their own plicker which I wouldn’t be able to do with the electronic clickers. I’m planning on using a sound cue that indicates, “It’s plicker time – take ’em out” and another to tell students to put them away. We’ll see how this goes and if it doesn’t work out…I guess I’ll have to try out the electronic clickers.


Three Days in. Third Year Plans.

Third Year Reflection
I can’t believe that I’m in my third year of teaching. Sometimes I can’t believe that I’m entrusted with the future of my students. It’s surreal to me. Every time students listen or are working on the appropriate task, it amazes me that they actually listen. Other than that feeling, this has been the best first week of school. I’ve felt the most confident walking into a room full of students. This may be in part to that fact that the past two years, I was sharing an advisory (think homeroom) with more experienced (and truly inspirational) teachers than me. I’ve always been hesitant dealing with students when they have conflicts with each other (and middle schoolers do that A LOT). I was able to deal with my first conflict resolution session this year without having to think through it. It just felt natural. I’m not really sure if that is the right word for it, but I can’t think of anything else. It’s a hard feeling to put into words.

Three Days In
The students have been back at school for three days and we already have a 4 day weekend. Due to Jewish and Muslim (yay!) holidays, we won’t be having a full week of school until the last week of September. Throw in a bunch of benchmark assessments, there isn’t much teaching going on right now. I’ve used this time to set expectations and some routines for my students. I’m taking my time with this because my first two years I was just trying to just make it to the end of the day without losing my sanity, but realized too late that rushing through the introductory stuff (expectations, norms, routines) added to the chaos that was my room. I need to slow things down with entering 6th graders so, I’ve literally been narrating and modeling all week.

Some things I’ve taken into account:

  • desk organization – expectations of what students have on their desk as soon as they enter.
  • sound cues – last year I had a transition songs for the beginning class. This year I plan to have more sound cues.  So far I have introduced the entry ticket song: Peter Hollen’s cover of Bastille’s Pompeii.  Thanks to Matt Vaudrey, I’m planning on using some shorter sound cues for things other than work time.
  • Expectation of listening to each other – I’ve been cold calling students to summarize what they heard a peer say. I’ve found that many weren’t paying attention initially or couldn’t hear what was said. I then had a student who did hear summarize and then go back to the original student. Then I cold call another. I’ve also modeled to them that they can raise their hand and ask a peer to repeat what they said because they couldn’t hear or didn’t understand.
  • turn in bins – I’ve more or less been a traveling teacher every year so I didn’t think it would be helpful to have a place for students to turn in things. I would just collect everything at the end of the period or have a student collect and then give it to me. There have been times when things have not made it back to me because students put it on top of my laptop, somewhere in front of the room, or I misplace them. NO MORE! Students will turn in things in the turn in bin. This way even if I have to rush out of the room to my next class, I know exactly where they will be.
  • student roles – I’ve been doing way too much and this year my goal is to train my minions…errr my students as much as possible with day to day tasks. This year, I had students apply for house jobs and will be letting them know who was hired by next week.
  • accountable talk – this is a school wide expectation/goal for our students to be engaged through meaningful discussion. Our plan is to roll out a few accountable talk stems. Right now, I am focusing on I agree/disagree with —- because…. and I’d like to add on…

Top 3 Priorities for Year #3:

  1. My #1TMCthing: Vertical Whiteboards (or Vertical non-Permanent Surfaces – VNPS)
    I went to TMC (Twitter Math Camp) for the first time this year and my mind was blown. I want to do everything! But then again, I want to also not burn out by the end of this year. Everyone at TMC could relate to this and thanks to Mattie B, #1tmcthing was born. I didn’t tweet out (oops…) my 1TMC thing because up until the end of August I didn’t know what it was. The vertical whiteboards are the thing that I have been the MOST excited about this year. One of my colleagues also jumped on the bandwagon. And then the teachers whose rooms I travel to, agreed to let me hang some whiteboards in their room!I’ve always found students to be more excited writing on the board. The pairs that worked at a whiteboard during work time also seemed to be collaborating the most. I didn’t realize this observation was backed by research (Peter Liljedahl).  I think the amount of tweets on VNPS and this pushed me the most to make it happen in my room.

    I’m still in the process of hanging them up, but I’m super excited to see how it goes.

  2. Interactive Notebooks: This was the one thing that I knew I wanted to do sometime in June. I was tired of giving students guided notes every day that would end up on the floor. While I won’t be using everyday, the INBs will be used for students to synthesize a few days of class in some sort of graphic organizer, a place to put reference materials, and work on some guided practice problems.
  3. Being ORGANIZED: This is my personal goal for the year.
    • creating lists: I’ve been creating lists and crossing things off as I do them. I give myself at most 3 priority tasks to finish for each day. If I don’t get to the others, it’s okay because they weren’t the priority.
    • labels: I’m in the process of labeling things in my room so that each group has its own items that they are responsible for.
    • Place for everything: I’m trying to give everything a home in my room and then being conscience of putting them away immediately. I also have specific nook for students. They can take things from there when I am not in the room instead of allowing them to go into the supply closet.
    • Having multiple of things: I’m traveling to three different rooms this year, so instead of moving things around, I’ve gotten multiple whiteboards, markers, and manipulatives.
    • Using preps wisely: I never really plan what I want accomplished in my preps. This will change this year!