21.10.18

TOP SECRET Math Files Your Students Will LOVE!

Don't you just love those inspired, yet somewhat crazy moments of teacher-genius?!? So many of my best ideas are spontaneous or come to me at an odd time (like when I'm "listening" in a faculty meeting) and are almost always born out of a need for better efficiency in the classroom. I'm so excited to share my latest, greatest (and crazy-simple) idea - "Top Secret Math Files!"


Now that I'm teaching second grade I've found myself searching for new ways to increase, and maintain student engagement. We've completed hands-on class projects, made some awesome class videos, and even transformed our classroom into a campground for a day! (More on all that later!) Big ideas that use the element of surprise or require a high level of student-input are always heavy hitters in the game of keeping students engaged. BUT sometimes engagement can come from simply turning the mundane into exciting... and when you sprinkle in lots of student choice and differentiation you have a recipe for high-interest, high-level student engagement.

To be honest, I'm not typically a "worksheet style" teacher... primarily because I don't believe worksheets alone foster student engagement and I don't believe in wasting class time. However, I DO realize that some focused, purposeful paper pencil tasks are necessary to grow students' independence through practice and prepare them for assessments. In my teaching reflection a few weeks ago, I felt like my students weren't getting enough independent practice with math skills AND my students working above level in math weren't getting enough opportunities to hone their skills on more complex math concepts.

And that's how my latest, greatest idea was born!
Day 1: Building Anticipation...
I started by giving each child their own file folder and told them it was to be their TOP SECRET Math File. I handed out a cute cover for them to color, cut out, and glue on the front. (You can grab it for FREE here!) I told the class that every day we would take 15 minutes to work on math files... starting tomorrow.
Day 2: Setting the Ground Rules...
I was stunned when my students were so intrigued by their top secret files that they begged to know more and start working on them the moment they entered the classroom on the morning of day 2! When the time came for students to take out their files I handed each student a stack of 3 math review worksheets... each one was differentiated to meet students' needs and they marveled at the fact that they didn't all have to do the same tasks. 
I then explained the rules for Math File time:
1. What they work on is their own choice. There's no set order or time frame in which work must be completed.
2. They can ask for help - from me OR each other.
3. As they complete each task they can bring it to me to be checked and earn a sticker for each task with which to decorate their file.
4. Math File time will only be 15 minutes max per day. If tasks are incomplete they are to be left in the file for continued work the next day.
Day 3: Keep them wanting more...
To up the excitement level during Math File time I started streaming Kidz Bop music through our Bluetooth speaker. My students eagerly and happily sang away while practicing math skills ranging from addition facts to place value to telling time on day 3. 
When the first student finished all 3 of his tasks I very seriously asked him if he was ready to accept a challenge. With wide eyes he nodded. I slowly handed him a new worksheet and said, "If you think you can handle it... this is for you... it's multiplication." 
He solemnly took the paper, gulped, and said, "It's times?!?!" I nodded and smiled. He dashed back to his seat only stopping long enough to whisper to a friend, "I got a times page! 
This is the best day ever!" 
When the 15 minute working time ran out I promptly turned off the music and asked students to put away their files... and they were disappointed and asked to work longer! For a fleeting moment I thought of saying okay, but then I told them no... because the newness, the novelty, and the time limit all play a role in maintaining their engagement. 

When I got home on that third day and told my 7th grade daughter about it she said, "They're just doing math worksheets? And they love it?" 
"They LOVE it!" I answered, "And they cheer when it's time to work and they're disappointed when time is up. I think, today, I AM THE SMARTEST TEACHER ALIVE!!!" 
She laughed and said, "I don't know about that, Mom, but I wish I had more teachers like you... you're so extra." (From a 7th grader that's high praise, and I'll take it!)

Do you want to give Top Secret Math Files a try in your classroom? Grab your FREEBIE folder cover sheet HERE.

Once your files are created, it's time to start filling them with differentiated math tasks!
I've partnered with Education.com to help get you started with this FREE Multiplication Worksheet and answer sheet!

Your kids will jump into multiplication practice with this autumn themed worksheet! Be sure to check out more math activities at Education.com! 


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