Goals?
It's the beginning of the year (semester, quarter)  let's set some goals! Have you done this with your students? If so, how did they do with their goals? Did they achieve them? Or, as happens with so many adults, did they try really hard for a few days and then kind of forget about them? Why do we have difficulty achieving goals? As adults, we often fail to stick with the actions needed to get us there. Or we set goals that are 'too big' or require an incredible change in our behaviors. And it's hard to change behaviors! I'm not going to pretend to be an expert in behavior and change. But according to sources I've read and listened to lately, our brains resist change  they really want to keep us in the same patterns, with the same behaviors, because it's comforting and safe. If that's the case, then it's a little easier to understand why students have difficulty too. If their young brains also want to keep them in the same patterns because it's comforting and safe, how can we, as teachers, help them to break out of those patterns to meet new goals?
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A Word Game for Any Subject
ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK
Have you tried this Mathline probability lesson? If not, you may want to give it a try  "Rock Around the Clock" is a great activity for your middle school math students!
Overview In this lesson, students are presented with a contest situation: in packs of gum, there are photographs of six different rock stars. The first person to collect all six pictures, AND take them to the radio station that is sponsoring the contest, will win an allexpensepaid trip to any location in the US. The Question The question posed to the students is this  "What is a reasonable number of packs of gum you should purchase in order to collect all six pictures?" This question is discussed as a class....to think about the fewest number of packs possible, but also to consider how many packs would be reasonable.
Simulating the Contest
The students are put into groups and each group is given materials to simulate the contest. I have used this lesson twice; once I used dice and once I used colored disks (on which I wrote the rock stars' names). When using the dice, students simply roll the die and then record the number that was rolled (each rock star would need to be assigned a number). When using the disks, the students picked a disk from a cup, recorded the star that was chosen, and then returned the disk to the cup. The lesson suggests that each student complete their own trial; I had the groups complete two trials together rather than each student completing their own. I also had all groups use the same materials  the dice one year and the disks another (the lesson plan suggests that the students use dice, spinners, OR disks for their trials and that the lesson then include a discussion about the possible differences in results based on the method used....I did not address this part, but it is definitely an option, especially if you have a longer math period).
Could you use a quick math activity to help your students practice identifying decimals in standard and word form? How about some comparing and ordering of decimals? I've got an activity that covers all of those for you:)
When I created this one, we were just beginning our work with decimals (in grade 6), and my students had done a little bit of work with writing decimal numbers in word form. They had also worked on comparing decimals several times during the year, in our Daily Warm Ups book. Using the Decimal Matching Activity The first step in the activity is to match each card with a decimal number in standard form to the card with the correct word form. I allowed students to work alone or with one partner, and the matching didn't really take that long. I did have similar numbers (like 9.68, 9.068, 9.0068 etc), so that the students had to read carefully and take some time to compare those similar numbers.
I'm sure you use a variety of review activities in your elementary or middle school classroom  have you ever used Footloose activities? I've mentioned the activity in my blog posts before, but have never really explained it on this blog (I did on my old one, maybe 5(!) years ago), so unless you've used one of my Footloose activities in your classroom, you might not know how it works. It's an activity that is enjoyed by students of all ages, and can be used with just about any topic you're teaching. I use it mostly for math, because that's what I teach; but in the past, when I taught different grade levels, I used it as a review activity in other subject areas as well.
It's amazing how quiet and engaged students are when completing this activity. They are up and down, out of their seats, and you'd think they'd be very distracted...but no matter what the grade level (I've used it with 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grades), students stay focused and work hard to complete the questions!
Have you played the math game, Krypto? It's a great activity for problem solving, reasoning, and practicing math skills (fractions!), and I think your students will love it!
Krypto is an activity I learned about at a conference where Dr. Lola May presented (in like 1993, I think!). I didn't realize until a long time afterwards that it was a commercial game that could be purchased :) I believe it's also available as an app now. I've used the game idea from time to time, following the rules as laid out in the book I got at the conferece. Krypto can be played with whole numbers or fractions (and with positive and negative integers as well, I'm sure!). Playing Krypto With Fractions The rules are simple (kind of like the "24" game): 1. Choose 5 common fractions, with denominators of halves, thirds, fourths, sixths, eighths, tenths or twelfths. 2. Students add, subtract, multiply, and/or divide the fractions to make the 5 fractions equal the target number of 1. 3. Students receive points for meeting the target number of 1. For example, if they reach the target of 1 using only 3 numbers, they get 300 pts; 4 numbers = 400 pts; if they use all 5 numbers, they get 1,000 pts. You can set up the point system any way you'd like. Krypto can be used as a team effort/team game or individual enrichment activity.
What's your favorite time of the school year? I'm guessing that it probably isn't testing time, nor the test prep weeks leading up to it! In spite of the fact that we never want to teach to the test or prepare students just for a test, the fact remains that students have to take the standardized tests, and we want them to do the best they can. So, how can we best use our test prep to help them?
1) Spiral Review The most effective test prep method I've found is using spiral review throughout the year. The warmups I use review previous concepts, reinforce current concepts, and introduce new ones. This way, we are always solidifying concepts ("prepping for the test"), and as we get closer to test time, the warmups give us a chance to discuss concepts that might show up in the testing, but that we won't cover until after the testing occurs. Using these warmups may put me a little 'behind' in the curriculum on a daily basis, because they take time; but it helps solidify understanding and puts my students a little ahead with other concepts at the same time. I'm good with that:) 
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