Math = Love: Ways I'm Staying More Organized This Year

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Ways I'm Staying More Organized This Year

Every school year, I tell myself that "This is the year I'm going to finally get organized."  And, then I fail and find myself saying the exact same thing again the next year.  I'm not sure what's different about this year, but I'm finally feeling semi-organized.  I am teaching in a different school which means a new classroom.  If you haven't been following along, my district decided to combine our middle school and high school into a single building, so I still have my exact same job.  I'm just doing that job in a different building.  Having a new classroom has made it a bit easier to think about new organization systems.  You can see pictures of my new classroom here!

So, here's what I'm doing differently this year.

Answer Key Book

In the past, I've kept my answer keys in a pile.  A messy, disorganized pile.  Whenever I went to grade something, I would have to dig through the pile and *hope* I would be able to find the answer key.  This was not ideal, but I guess I had myself convinced that it wasn't too bad.

This year, in a moment of insanity, I decided I was going to write four versions of each quiz.  My main motivation for doing this was that there is a cheating epidemic going on at my school.  For the past few years, I've known that there were certain students who were cheating their way through my classes, but I never was able to catch them in the act.  Having students in groups of four meant that four versions of each quiz was a natural thing to do.  Since I do SBG and allow retakes, having different versions means that I can easily give a student a retake without having to write new questions off of the top of my head which is how I've always done SBG in the past.  So, writing four versions of each quiz actually helps solve two problems.

It created a new problem, though.  Soooooooooooo many answer keys.  I took a binder I had bought previously for another organization project that I failed at and some sheet protectors from my "I'm going to save a copy of every activity I ever do" days.  And, I made myself a life-changing answer key book.

There are post-it notes to separate my quizzes for each different prep.

You'll also see that I use post-it notes to write myself notes for how to do things differently next year.  
The quizzes are in chronological order, so it's super easy to find old quizzes when grading retakes.  It also helps that each quiz has a code on the top left corner.  The quiz in the photo below is MS1A.  That means it's Version A of the 1st quiz of the MS (Mathematics of Science) Unit.  

This binder lives in a special place in my desk where it is out of sight of students. It saves me so much time when grading, and I know I could never go back to my old system of keeping my answer keys in a pile.

Extra Copies Organization

I'm using these two filetastics (find a similar file system (affiliate link) by Scholastic here) that I picked up on clearance at Mardel to organize my extra copies of interactive notebook pages.  I've done something similar in the past with hanging files in a crate, but I found that my students would take the folders out and leave them on the table instead of putting them back up.  That hasn't been a problem with this new system!  

Each file is labeled with the name of a class and the unit.

Whenever students are absent, I can point them to the folders at the back of the room.  I tell them to take a look at a neighbor's notebook to figure out what they are missing.

This has worked pretty well this year.  Students sometimes get papers out and put them back in the wrong folder, but I don't get too worked up about it because I never have to get papers out of the files myself.

Plastic Sleeves

I'm not totally sure what to call these plastic-y bits of goodness that keep my desk so much more organized during the school day.  Pendaflex calls them "Project Pockets."  Avery calls them "Plastic Sleeves. (both affiliate links).  These plastic pockets are only closed on two sides.  This allows you to easily slide a stack of papers between the two layers of plastic.

I learned about the existence of this organizational tool from my husband.  We originally ordered a few packages for him, and he kindly let me borrow a few to test them out.  Soon, I was ordering more packages because I needed them for my classroom, too!

Here's a picture of part of my collection of these sleeves.  The ones on the left are thicker and much more durable.  They are Pendaflex (affiliate link) brand.  The ones on the right are quite thin, but they do the exact same job.  They are Avery (affiliate link) brand.  When I go to order more, I will probably splurge on the thicker ones, but the cheap ones really do just as well.

These awesome plastic sleeves make every trek to the copy machine with me.  As each set of copies finishes, the copies are slid in a plastic pocket.  This means I can easily stack all of my copies without having to try and alternate the orientation of each stack of papers.  You probably already know that alternating each stack works fine until you need to take out a middle layer!  

I would take a picture of these in action, but it's Christmas Break.  This means that the only thing currently setting in a plastic sleeve on my desk is a set of dividers for our next unit in physical science.

I have one corner of my desk that is designated for my stack of copies.  Each set of copies is in a different plastic pocket which means I can easily flip through all of my copies for the day/week.  At the end of the day, I take the extras from each pocket and put them in my hanging file folder at the back of the classroom.

I don't think I've done the best job of explaining how life-changing these plastic pockets have been.  My desk has always been a mess of piles.  It's still a mess, and there are still piles.  But, I spend much less time each day searching for that missing stack of copies.

Plastic Pockets

The plastic pockets I talked about above were made for temporarily storing documents.  I use them for organizing the copies I am going to use on a given day.  The plastic pockets I'm going to talk about now are made for long-term storage.

They are 9" x 12" and have velcro closures.  They were manufactured by Post-It, and I bought them on clearance.  I did some searching, and you can still buy them online.  But, they want like $10 each for them.  These pockets are awesome, but they are not worth that much!!!

I use these to store all of activities that I create.  Just before Christmas break, I labeled and alphabetized all of my activities from the first semester in my filing cabinet.  Now I can actually find stuff!

I love that I can see what is in each pocket without having to take it out of the filing cabinet!

Graded Paper and Interactive Notebook Organization 

I have a magazine holder that sits by my desk.  It is responsible for holding two important things: graded papers to be passed back to students and my copies of our interactive notebooks.  I'm learning more and more how important it is for everything to have a "home" in my classroom.  

For each different class I teach, I have a pocket notebook to keep the graded papers I need to hand back to my students.  

The inside contains six pockets.  I use a different pocket for each period of that prep.

This pocket notebook is made by Avery.  They call it a Flexi-View 6-Pocket Organizer (affiliate link). 

Technically, I guess I could get away with just using one of these since I teach six periods a day and each organizer has six pockets.  But, I'd worry that it might get a bit too full with all of my classes in one.  Of course, this might be because I'm not always the best at passing back all my papers in a timely manner...

Quiz Organization

My new desk in my classroom has a drawer that is made to hold hanging files.  This is  huge win on the organization front!  I have designated this drawer to hold my quizzes for SBG retakes.  Remember, I write four versions for each quiz to make retakes as easy as possible on myself.  

Here is my drawer of quizzes: 

The files at the front of the drawer are not actually quizzes.  They are file folders with documents that need to be easily accessible.  I keep these files in alphabetical order.  

Behind there, you will notice four "clumps" of folders.  These are the quizzes for each of my four preps.  Each quiz gets its own folder.  They are kept in the drawer in order with the "code" for each quiz written on the folder.  This makes it super-easy to find quiz RF-6 when a student asks to retake it. 

In the past, I would have a drawer that I kept all of my "extra" quizzes in.  Students would have to dig through it to look for a quiz they had missed.  It was a HUGE mess.  And, I would often end up re-printing quizzes because it was just too hard to find something when I went to look for it.  This new system has been a life-saver.  I can always find quizzes when a student needs one! 

So, I realize none of these ideas are revolutionary, but they are working for me!  And, hopefully I've inspired you to get your classroom more organized, too! 


  1. Thanks for posting this, I'm definitely piler as well. I'll organize my desk in "nice piles" before class comes in and by planning period my piles are everywhere. I have found the "Seville Classics 10 Color Drawer Organizer Rolling Cart, SHE16218B" to be a wonderful help. On each drawer I write "1st period in" "1st period out" "2nd period in" etc. The "in" is where I put papers I've collected from the students that need to be graded. The out is where I put papers to be passed out after they are graded. If a student forgets where to put a paper I will say "you turn papers in, I pass papers out," but most of the time I am the one putting papers in the in box after I have collected them. Like you I definitely forget to pass them out at times but it has really helped me stay organized with my kids' papers!

  2. I too was always searching for answer keys. I'm not sure why it never occurred to me to organize them in a binder but I'm sure glad you thought of it and shared it. I have already saved so much time not searching everywhere when I need to grade a late test or quiz. As always, thanks for sharing your awesome ideas!

    1. It's funny how we make life so much harder on ourselves without realizing it sometimes. Now I want to put EVERYTHING in binders!