Math = Love: A Bellwork Addition

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Bellwork Addition

Every once in a while, I am just struck by how crazy of a profession this is that I have chosen to dedicate my life to.  Okay, that sounds a little extreme.  I'm 24.  I've been teaching for 1.5 years.  As of now, I don't have any plans to leave the classroom.  Twenty years from now, I see myself still teaching, still learning, still tweaking how I do things.  This is a job I will never master.  I will never teach a perfect lesson.  There will always be room for improvement.  And, I guess I'm thankful for this.  It means that this job will never become boring.

Just before Christmas Break, I made a tiny addition to our bellwork routine in Algebra 1 and Algebra 2.  When students walk in my classroom, there is always a bellwork problem projected on the Smart Board.  I take these questions from the test and item specifications for our end of year state test.  I do this for several reasons.  My students become accustomed to what format the questions on the state test will be in.  I continually have my students review concepts from months ago.  It allows me to spread the test review over the course of the entire year instead of cramming it in the week before the state test.

And, surprisingly, my students love the bellwork.  Students from last year often pop their head in during the passing period to try their hand at the projected question.  Students compete against each other to see who can solve the problem the quickest.  Bragging rights are earned among one's friends by correctly solving the bellwork question.

So, what was the addition?  It's the box in the upper left hand corner of the screen.  I started writing out exactly what supplies my students need that day.  Why didn't I think of this sooner?  The idea came to me out of frustration.  I would ask my students to get out their notebooks.  Three hands would shoot up.  Mine's in my locker.  Mine's in my car.  Can I go get mine from so-and-so's room?  Ugh.  Wasted learning time.

Then, there was all the time we wasted going to the back of the room to get scissors or glue or rulers or whatever was needed when I asked students to complete a task involving any of these.  Some days, students would go ahead and get scissors when we didn't need them.  I would look up to see these scissors being swung around their pencils when they got bored.  Seriously?  Yes, I promise I teach high school.  My students just don't always (or ever?) act their age.

My students now have no excuse for not being prepared for class.  And, you know what?  My students LOVE this.  They love knowing exactly what they need.  I am empowering my students.  I am helping set them up for success.  No, I am helping them set themselves up for success.  And, it's something that takes me 30 seconds out of my day to do.

I became convinced of the power of this last week when I overheard one of my special education students talking to herself before class started.  She is one of the sweetest girls you could ever meet.  Math just doesn't come easily for her at all.  But, she tries so hard.  Here's what I overheard:

Notebook?  Check!
Writing Utensil? Check!
Dry Erase Board?  Check!
Marker? Check!
Eraser? Check!
Calculator? Check!
I'm on top of it today!  

I'm less frustrated.  My students are less frustrated.  We're using time more wisely in class.  I just can't figure out why I didn't think of this earlier.  Did I expect students to read my mind?  I don't know what I thought.  But, I guess it doesn't matter now.  This is going to become a permanent part of how I run my classroom from now on.


  1. Great idea! So simple but so helpful. I really enjoy your blog and I'm still amazed that you are a second year teacher. Your foldables are wonderful!

  2. I love finding simple ideas that really change how smoothly things work. My two for this past semester were having copies for the day out on a table that students picked up at the beginning of class, and numbering my copies to have the page number for the INB. Stopped most of the "what page does this go on" nonsense.

    1. I really want to find a way to have my students pick up their copies for the day when they walk in my room. I just haven't figured out how to do that yet. My classroom is TINY, and I just don't have room for a table to put the materials on. Hmmm... I'm sure there has to be a way, though. I'm going to make this one of my goals for next year. I just absolutely hate the amount of time it takes to pass out papers to my students to put in their notebooks. The page numbers on the copies is brilliant, too!

  3. Thank you very much. I have used your laws of exponent book recently with my students. I play lets get ready to rumble while they follow the directions on creating their books. I enjoy seeing the excitement in their faces and when students are having trouble with some of the directions others step in to help.