Category Archives: Our classroom

Setting up my classroom


My classroom is long and narrow and in previous years, it has been set up as a traditional class.   This was becoming a problem for me with my class sizes and the amount of space left over to do activities.  I encourage group work during the students independent work time but his was becoming a problem for students to group together with my traditional style classroom.  So I decided to change up, the layout of my class.


I went through several initial ideas but they did not seem to work or at least work in the way that I had imagined.  The amount of usable space in my classroom was a big challenge for me.  I wanted something that allowed for small group work, activities, and learning stations, but also allowed students to be comfortable in the room.  I looked at several ideas on Pinterest about flexible-seating classrooms and loved the general idea.  The only problem, I don’t have the time to search for the items or the money, even if you find the items at resale shops or garage sales.  Temporarily, I have my room set up like this.

I am happy with it but will have to see how it functions once we get back to school.  I showed it to my administrators who really liked the change.  I will be looking at getting tables to replace the groups of desks if the set-up is functional.  Fingers crossed…maybe I will be getting different furniture soon to help make my classroom more flexible and inviting for my students.

Class Points

I normally drop a daily grade at the end of the grading period.  A few years ago I implemented something I call class points that correlates to the number of drop grades a class receives at the end of a grading period.

I made a poster that hangs at the front of my room that displays the class points.


This poster allows the student and me to keep track of their current points.  I have had some fellow teachers tell me that the concept seems very “elementary,” but it works wonders for my classroom environment in the High School.

The Basics of my Class Points System:

  • Each class starts the grading period with 2 class points. The goal is to keep all of your class points for the entire grading period.
  • Class points are maintained as a class. The students are responsible for monitoring each other to keep their points.
  • You can only lose points not gain them. The class can lose points for misbehaving for me or a substitute, being disrespectful to others, not returning the classroom to the way it was when they came in (I.E. not putting up their material like calculators), or not cleaning up properly after a lab.  The beauty of this system is you can use it to reinforce any behavior you would like for your classroom.
  • At the end of the grading period, the number of stars that remain on the poster for the class directly correlates to the number of daily grades I will drop. If your class does not have any stars left, then you do not get a dropped grade.

I continue to use this system because it holds students accountable for their actions and keeps me from constantly picking up after them.  At the beginning of the year, I will remind the students for about a week to put up their materials and straighten the class or lab room.  After that, my students take on this responsibility and remind each other to do these simple tasks at the end of the class. It’s a win-win for everybody.

Things to Say Instead of “I Don’t Know”…

Teaching students to specify what they need help with is one of our goals through out the school year. You would think that by the time a students reaches high school that this would not be an issue, but it is.

As a teacher, it is extremely difficult to help students when they don’t specify which part of the process they need help with.  By teaching students to ask for specific help, we are better able to help them and also enable their learning in the process. For instance, when students gets confused on a certain step in a math problem that we are solving in class,   many students will answer ‘I don’t know’ to every question we ever ask and think nothing of it. At that point, we don’t know which part they don’t understand.  Is it putting in the calculator, how to set it up, the algebra, or something else.  We need our students to think on their own and be accountable for their thinking and ultimately their learning.  So what is the solution?


Our students can no longer say, “I don’t know.” It’s fine if they don’t know, but they now have to follow that with one of these phrases to pinpoint where they are struggling

Here are some phrases that we have used that seem to work well with our students.

What to Say Instead of I DON’T KNOW:

  • “May I have more information?”
  • “I know how to do _________, but I don’t understand ________.
  •  “Could you please repeat/rephrase the question?”
  •  “May I have more time to think?”
  •  “Where can I find more information?”
  •  “I remember that __, but I am confused as to what they question is asking can you rephrase it?

While we are always willing to help our students, we believe they need to learn to help themselves first.  To encourage them to be responsible for their own learning, we expect them to have tried one or more of the following options before they ask us for help.

  • Search in your notebook for any references to the topic.
  • Work with another student at your table.
  • Search the Physics Classroom website for a different explanation.
  • Go to Schoology (or your class webpage) and look for any tutorial videos or notes that have been provided already.
  • Look in your textbook.
  • Google a tutorial video.
  • Come to tutorials.

We are not going to lie. At the beginning of the year, this process is a struggle! However, as the year progresses, it really is amazing to see our students really start to take ownership of their learning.  Over time, they become less dependent on us and isn’t that our ultimate goal to get students to become independent thinkers and learners.


Mass versus Weight

Our students seems to struggle with the concepts of mass and weight.  In general, people often use the words “mass” and “weight” interchangeably, but these words have different meanings.

Mass refers to the amount of matter in an object, and it does not dependent on gravity; your mass on Earth would be the same on the any other planet or anywhere else in the universe.

Weight is a measurement of the  “heaviness” of an object, or the strength of gravitational pull on that object. Your weight would change between the Earth and any other planet because the gravity is different in these places.  My students are required to memorize the acceleration due to gravity on Earth, 9.8 meters per second squared.

We have several class discussions to help students understand the differences between mass and weight, including units of measurement for each quantity.  My students also liked the explanations on the following website.



Number Line Classroom Décor

Do your students struggle with the concept of scientific notation and metric prefixes? We have constructed a physical number line in our classroom using the metric prefixes associated with scientific notation. We review the concepts of metric prefixes and scientific notation at the beginning of the year but have found that our students do not fully grasp the concepts.


We expect that our students be able to use the prefixes from pico- to tera- in our classroom.

Misconceptions our students have:

  1. Our students think that negative exponents mean its a negative number. Our solution: Zero and One are included in our number line
  2. Our student don’t understand that it is a scale based on the powers of ten.  They don’t grasp that the difference between 10^3 and 10 ^6 is really 1,000. Our solution: Pictures on the number line help students visualize the size difference.
  3. Our students are not familiar with the metric system even though they have been exposed to it.  Our solution: Students start off the year using the number line activity to reinforce the metric system.
  4. Our students are just use to moving the decimal and they do not understand what that actually means.  Our solution: We added the pictures to try to allow the students to visualize the size and scale of the prefixes. We also show the Powers of Ten video to our students.

If you would like to purchase the metric system number line classroom décor, please visit Learning 365 on Teachers Pay Teachers.

How to make your classroom interactive?

How do you make you class more interactive and have the students participating more during class? Here are several tips on making you classroom more interactive that we have found useful in our classroom.
1. Attention grabbing statements and questions to start your class.

We start off the day with our Question of the Day, our hook or bell ringer for that day.  We incorporate current news, video clips, and real world problems into this time to get our students “hooked” about the upcoming lesson.

2. Encourage student participation verbally, written, and electronically

We have various methods that students can participate.  We use whiteboards, calling on students randomly, poll everywhere, or plickers to help encourage student participation.
3. Integrate real world issues and problem solving in to class discussion

Giving students real world problems helps them connect the material from your class to their lives.  We get ideas from online science websites as well as scientific magazines.  Scholastic has different aged magazines depending on the grade level that you teach.

4. Ask higher level questions to students

These can be used as a bell ringer or closure/exit tickets for your students.

5. Partnering/Small work groups on classwork

When we do this sometimes students get to pick their groups and sometimes we assign their groups.  It also helps to assign specific jobs in each group to help the students keep on task.

6. Allow student’s to given feedback on class activities

This can be done at the end of a unit, the end of the grading period, or at the end of a semester.  We use google forms to collect the data, it makes it easier to read as well as easier to organize since it is electronic document.