Saturday, October 8, 2016

3 Easy Tips For Organizing Classroom Supply Cabinets

I recently snapped the picture below of one of my supply cabinets after my students finished a microscope lab. The students got their own materials out of the supply cabinets, including the microscopes, and put them away after they were finished.

I didn't touch the cabinet after they put the supplies away. No extra cleaning up. And I wasn't even standing over them while they did it!

A few years ago, I would never have trusted my students with putting their supplies away like this. I would have spent time before class setting up each microscope and walking back and forth from cabinets to tables setting everything up perfectly. I might have asked students to do things like wrapping up the cord on their microscopes, but other than that, I would have cleaned up everything too. Last year, I decided that I was done babying my students. I don't want them to wait to learn these basic lab skills in college! I've come up with three super simple ideas to give your students the same independence in your own classroom. It will take some time to set up, but once it's done, it will run itself!

Tip #1: If you can put it in a container, put it in a container.

Having supplies in containers seems like a small thing (and it takes a lot of containers!) but it makes things so much easier! It's hard for students to stack supplies neatly in cabinets. It's easy for students to put things in bins or buckets. It also makes it easier on you- if students need to use bingo chips or dice, you can pull the whole container out and they can get what they need.

Things that take up more space should be in bigger containers. This sounds simple, but sometimes we try to make things fit. If something only fits in a container when it's put in a certain way- your students won't be able to keep up with it. For example, I have a million Ziploc bags that students borrow. I could probably fit them all into a much smaller container than the large crate on the 4th shelf- but my kids will never fold them neatly back up. Putting them in an easy access bin makes more sense.

Tip #2: Double-label EVERYTHING.

Labeling containers is great. Labeling shelves is great. But having matching labels on the shelves and on the containers is where the magic happens. My students might not recognize what the "cell membrane model" looks like. Having a container labeled "cell membrane model" means nothing if they don't know where I expect it to go. But when they can match a label on a container to a label on the shelf, even the most difficult student can't claim they don't know where it goes!

This system also makes it easy for students to locate supplies on their own. For example, if I tell them they can get a plastic bag out of the cabinet and point them to the right cabinet, they know exactly where to go.

The shelves lower in the cabinet get labels on the top of the shelf because they're easier to read than the side of the shelf!

Tip #3: Make sure everything has a place.

"A place for everything, and everything in its place" sounds cliche, but it's true. When everything in your room has a place, everything can go in it's place. I have exactly one container labelled "Miscellaneous Supplies" in my classroom, and it has things that truly are miscellaneous- a half container of chalk, a single piece of charcoal, a few stray pipe cleaners. Everything else has a place, either in my cabinets or in my storage room. Even my glassware is sorted by size. This means that when it is time to put something away, students KNOW that there is a place for it- there has to be, because there's a place for everything else.

Now, I used to look at posts like this and think "wow, look at that super organized person. They have it together. I could never be that organized." The truth is...I'm not very organized at all. I put these systems into place because without them, I am disorganized and crazy, and I hate letting my students see me frazzled. My students putting their own supplies away is just a bonus!

Do you do any of these things? Do you have any other ideas for organizing supply cabinets? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

My Science Classroom Decorations

I'm always confused when I hear other teachers say that you shouldn't bother to decorate your secondary classroom because it doesn't matter to students. While it's definitely not necessary to decorate your classroom, having a classroom that is neat, put together, and color coordinated makes me happy AND encourages both my students and myself to keep the room in order. I will admit that my classroom is sometimes a little crazy-looking between my decorations and my flexible seating arrangements, but I've worked hard to make sure that my decorations are both cute and functional and I thought that I'd give a little "mini-tour" of my classroom walls. This isn't everything, but most of the bigger things! Also, I should apologize in advance for the lamination- my room is super humid, and anything that isn't laminated will curl up. I did my best to avoid the glare from the lamination.

First of all, my room has an AMAZING set of cabinets along one side of the room. They're amazing for storing supplies and also for poster displays! The cabinets closest to my desk are used for my personal supplies and have important school information posted on them. These are the middle cabinets and hold my graphing and experimental variables reminders. The DRYMIX variables posters remind my students how to identify independent and dependent variables and determine what axis on a graph they belong on. TAILS is the acronym that I use to remind my students about the parts they should be checking/including in their graphs. We use both of these acronyms in our interactive notebooks, so these are just a reminder for students to look at when they're creating graphs. This set of posters is available bundled together in my TPT store! I just printed them onto Astrobrights paper.

A lot of my students really struggle with taking notes, so we work throughout the year on ways to make their notes work for them. I try to introduce one or two of these skills every month for students to use while they're taking or reviewing their notes, and I keep the posters up in my room year-round as a reference.

This root words bulletin board is on the opposite wall from the cabinets. I don't have a single "real" bulletin board in my classroom, so this is a black plastic tablecloth from the Dollar Tree that I stapled on to the wall and stapled border on top. I'm making an effort to use more root words in my teaching, so I put some common roots up there to begin with and plan on adding more as the year goes on. The letters are from the Dollar Tree, border is from the teacher store, and the cards are from Biology Roots' TPT store (these are the smallest size).

This area is where I display student work. On the far right side, you can see the root words board from above and some of the pompoms I have hanging up. The papers are just black scrapbook paper with Astrobrights on top. As you can see, the student work that I'm displaying is a little rough because of the humidity- I have clothespins up right now, but I think I might put page protectors up instead so I can slide work in and out without worrying about it curling! The "Remember that you matter" decal is vinyl that I cut on my Cricut. It's important to me that my students know how important they are!

I am not 100% happy with this (it's not centered!) so I will probably end up redoing this one but I got this idea off of Pinterest, printed the words in some of my favorite fonts, and put them on astrobrights. This little half-board was made the same way as the other!

Finally, these are my only classroom guidelines. I keep them right in the middle of the room, between my whiteboards, so students can see them at all times!

I hope you enjoyed this look at what's on my walls!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

High School Student Supply Organization

I'm going to start off my blog with a topic that never gets old for me- organization! Specifically, student supply organization. I love looking in to other teachers' classrooms through blog posts, youtube videos, and just popping my head into my coworkers' rooms, and supply organization is one of the first things I always notice.

My classroom has tall (standing-height) lab tables, and because our chairs have to be picked up every day for our floors to be cleaned and the table is so tall, there isn't really a logical place on top of or under tables to store supplies that students need. I loved the supply towers I've seen, but they just don't work when students have to get down off of their stools and walk around the table to retrieve them! I've used everything from supply bins to caddies, and I think I've finally reached a solution I love. 

This is the first part of my student supply corner. On the far left on the floor is a large roll of poster paper for my Student Council kids and a pink bin that holds my whiteboards and meter sticks (they're usually neater than the picture!) The bookcase contains anything that we use infrequently (markers, dry erase markers, bottles of glue, calculators, highlighters, rulers, etc) and extras of the supplies we use frequently (scissors, glue, colored pencils, crayons, rolls of tape). The colored bins are all from the Dollar Tree, and the boxes are from Michaels.

Moving to the supply table, the blue bin (also from the Dollar Tree) holds tape dispensers and extra rolls of tape. There are a few hole punches and staplers. The white dish tray has some smaller organizers inside with compasses, protractors, single hole punches, and a staple remover. The green organizer is for pencils and the tall drawers are my group drawers. The black organizer is my absent work file, which I'll cover in a future post. Underneath the table, the two 3-drawer organizers hold colored and lined paper, additional boxes of things like pencils and glue sticks, and supplies that we occasionally need in class but that students don't need access to (for example, we use window crayons to write on our tabletops sometimes). The large clear bin is part of my testing/lab procedure.

Here's a closeup of my pencil organizer and (most of) my group drawers. I put colored paper on the inside of the drawers and used my Cricut to make the letters for the outside. The pencil battle is one that I choose not to fight- I got a large number of pencils donated last year and shop the back-to-schools sales, and will now provide a pen or pencil to any student that needs one. If a student needs to sharpen their pencil, they just put their pencil into the "dull pencils" drawer and take one out of the "sharp pencils" drawer. It's easy and convenient for the students, and I use sharpening pencils as one of my detention tasks, so I never have to sharpen any of the pencils themselves. There's one drawer in the black organizer for each group, and they are colored coded to the same colors as my tables. I cut the tabs off of the sides of the drawers so they are easy to slide in and out of the organizer. 

Here's a peek at the inside of my supply bins- I am fanatical about the kids keeping these organized, and they do a pretty good job. This contains everything that my students need on a daily basis for their interactive notebooks. The large container has enough scissors and glue for each person at the table to have one. When a glue stick runs out, they throw it away and get one to replace it. The two sliding pencil cases have a set of crayons and a set of colored pencils.

 Each container has a piece of velcro on it that matches the velcro inside the drawers. These sheets, which I printed on colored paper and laminated, help the kids remember where their supplies should be. These keep the drawers nice and organized, and make it easy for me to do a quick check of each drawer at the end of the day.

Overall, the system works pretty seamlessly. Students check the daily slide on the front board for the supplies that they need. This is usually just their group drawer but occasionally includes rulers, calculators, or highlighters. Some students also grab the tape dispensers to add things in to their notebooks. If a student needs something during class, they are welcome to walk over to the supply corner and grab it. If students need something special for class, like colored paper or window markers, I can pull them out and place them on the table for students to pick up as they come into the room, then easily put them away at the end of class. I don't have students asking me for supplies because they know where they're kept. It's taken a lot of the organizational responsibility off of me and put it on to the students, while also making sure that students always have the materials that they need!