Category: Five Minutes

Five Minutes – Two Sentences Tuesday

Five Minutes – Two Sentences Tuesday

I tried out a new routine this past Tuesday during the last five minutes of class. As I’ve mentioned before, I love hearing what my students have to say. Additionally, my district has reading and writing across the curriculum as its focus this year. I’ve already shared one experience with student reflection this year (excited/nervous from Day 6), and here’s something I came up with last weekend.

When the alarm went off signaling five minutes to go, I flipped to the next screen of my Google Slides presentation and told my students that we’d be thinking about math class for the remainder of our time together. Each student, I explained, would grab a small sheet of paper (like the ones from the excited/nervous reflection) and write two sentences addressing one or more of the four prompts on the board. Those prompts asked students to write about:

  • something you’ve learned in math recently
  • something you still need help with
  • something you have questions about
  • today’s class

I deliberately chose open-ended prompts that would allow every student to at least write something. The featured image at the top shows one student’s awesome explanation of our recent work with sequences. Here are some other interesting responses along with my brief comments.


I’m never quite sure what to think when students tell me they had fun in class. Sure, I’m happy to hear that they enjoyed class, but I always wonder where the balance between fun and learning lies. Learning can certainly be fun – I just don’t know how if I always properly gauge when the fun interferes with the learning.


I definitely need to follow up on this one. Is “too crazy” a problem or just an offhand remark? I’m curious to know if this student thinks my “craziness” has detracted from her learning.

These comments reflect a general concern among many of my students that they have retained little of what they learned last year. I’ve always tried to include continual review in the work I ask my students to complete, and I plan to do so more than ever this year. Too often my students’ struggles with eighth-grade content occur because of misconceptions about or incomplete understandings of sixth- or seventh-grade content.


This is a good thing, right?

What refreshing honesty from these two students! I attribute much of the success I’ve had to the faith I’ve shown in my students to take responsibility for their learning. I could certainly tell these students to focus more or to keep themselves under control, but it’s so much more powerful for students to draw these conclusions themselves. My task, then, becomes not so much to discipline students but instead to help them to be the learners that they want to be.


I love hearing the phrase “fast + fun” to describe my class. Having taught at a high school where the students were content to sit and listen to me, I often have trouble pacing my class appropriately. I talk too much or we spend too much time on one part of the lesson. I continue to push myself to keep things moving, so I’m glad to see I’m improving!

I’m thrilled with how Two Sentences Tuesday went, and I fully intend to do this most Tuesdays. I hope my students find it as valuable as I do.

Five Minutes – Mental Math Monday

Five Minutes – Mental Math Monday

No calculators. No pencils or pens. No fingers. No air writing.

(Gosh, I sound so negative!)

You’ll have some time to think about the multiplication problem on the screen. After a few minutes, I’d like volunteers to share the strategies they used to calculate the answer. Be ready to explain how you arrived at your answer. Right now, your method is more important than your answer. It’s OKAY to be wrong. We will all learn from hearing about different ways to do this multiplication. Everybody ready? Here we go!

I display 5\times 34 on the screen. Everyone starts multiplying in their heads. One or two students get frustrated and reach for paper. I give a gentle reminder to do everything mentally. Some students finish quickly and exclaim “Got it!” I calmly state that there’s no rush to get an answer. After a minute or two, everyone looks ready to go.

Okay, let’s hear some strategies. Remember: I’m not really interested in the answer. I’m excited to hear how you got that answer.

“I knew that 5\times 30 is 150 and that 5\times 4 is 20, so I added them and got 170.”

“I thought 10\times 34=340, and 5 would be half of that. So it should be 160.”

“I did the 10 times thing too, but half of 340 is 170.”

“I did 34+34=68. Then I doubled it to get 136, and I added 34 more to get 170.”

We only have about a minute left, so I project another problem. This time I want the class to calculate 6\times 34.

We’re almost out of time, but before we go, I want you to give this multiplication a try. You might think about using one of the strategies your classmates shared.

My curiosity gets the best of me, and I cut things short to hear some strategies.

“I did 6\times 30=180 and 6\times 4=24 and added them to get 204.”

“Wait! If 5\times 34=170, wouldn’t 6\times 34 just be 204 because you just add another 34.”

Nice work today, everyone. Enjoy the rest of your day!

Five minutes wasn’t enough time for the in-depth discussion I’d like to have. But these are 8th grade students, and I’m not sure how I can justify spending much more time on multiplication when we have so many other areas to work on. Besides, they’ll have calculators on the AIR test…which I don’t actually care about. I want to help every student strengthen his/her number sense. I just don’t know how to fill in all the gaps. I’d love to say that reinforcing multiplication strategies now will pay off in the long run – I know it will! Will it give me the same bang-for-my-buck that working on fractions or graphing or solving equations or so many other topics will?

(Interestingly, I saw these multiplication problems written on a few desks when I cleaned up my classroom at the end of the day. I’m intrigued that some students apparently wanted to get a correct answer so badly on a no-stakes activity.)

I stopped doing Mental Math Monday midway through the year. Mystery Monday took its place, and Get On My Fraction Level! involved some mental computation as well. So what’s the plan for this year? I’m not sure yet. Number sense has been a major area of weakness the past two years; I expect it to be one again this year. Perhaps a combination of these three routines will give me the results I’m looking for, and of course, I will continue looking for new ways to help my students develop their number sense.

Five Minutes – Shouts-outs

Five Minutes – Shouts-outs

Of all the routines I use during the last five minutes of class, Shout-outs is my favorite. It’s a simple premise: At the end of class on Thursday, I shout out students who did something in the past week that deserves recognition. Then, I give my students an opportunity to shout out anyone that they would like to recognize. That’s it. Simple, but incredibly powerful.

As I thought about who to shout out each week, I looked for specific examples to mention. In class one day, a young man who often had trouble regulating his behavior (he liked to throw objects) participated in our lesson about systems of equations and answered some tough questions. During Shout-outs that week, I made sure to point out his contributions to the class, and I told him in front of the entire class that even when he’s having a rough class, I know that he’s capable of doing excellent work. When a student struggled on an assessment but came in to work on corrections and a retake, I complimented that student during Shout-outs for his/her commitment to learning from his/her mistakes. I noticed one student who went out of his way to help his classmates by lending them materials, picking up dropped items, and otherwise just being a kind, generous young man. This isn’t the type of behavior that typically receives much recognition in school, so I’m glad I could acknowledge his actions. These three examples are but a small sample of the wonderful behaviors I celebrated each week during Shout-outs.

But my Shout-outs were only half the story. Students often had their own excellent Shout-outs to give. I remember an especially touching moment when a girl gave a Shout-out to the kind young man I mentioned earlier. In front of the entire class, this girl, with tears in her eyes, expressed how deeply moved she had been by how kind the student was to everyone on our team. Wow! If that alone isn’t reason enough to do Shout-outs, then I don’t know what is. Other notable student Shout-outs include the boy who, week after week, shouted out his teammates for working hard and for supporting him on the field; the many, many students who shouted out classmates for working hard to improve their grades; the class period that shouted me out for something like twenty weeks in a row; and the student that had great difficulty staying on task who chose to shout out the most focused student in the class for never letting anyone keep him from learning. Some weeks no students had Shout-outs, and some weeks students had silly ones. But for the most part, students offered great Shout-outs that made the whole exercise worthwhile.

I decided to start Shout-outs this year because I wanted a way to build a stronger culture in my classroom and to make every student see what I value as a teacher. It often seems like two types of student stand out in class: those who do especially well and those who struggle academically or behaviorally. Students in the “middle” unfortunately don’t always get the attention they deserve. I hoped that by pointing out the good things they did I could reinforce and validate their behaviors. But more than this, I just wanted students to hear good things about themselves and about each other. Every student deserves to know about the good things that they do. No matter what grade a student has, no matter how hard a student works, no matter the number of times a student has been sent to the office, no matter how much a student struggles to focus or to behave appropriately, no matter whether a student likes you and your class, no matter whether you like that student, no matter ANYTHING, I guarantee that every student does at least one awesome thing every week that the student deserves to know about and to be proud of. I can’t claim to even come close to recognizing students to this degree, but it’s not for lack of effort. As I continually discover through my teaching, my most important actions have little to do with content. I truly make a difference when I help students to see their tremendous capacity for great deeds and incredible accomplishments.

Five Minutes – What’s the Question? Wednesday

Five Minutes – What’s the Question? Wednesday

I had two different routines I used with five minutes left in class on Wednesdays. I’ve already written about the more frequent one (I wonder… Wednesday). Although I wonder… Wednesday had its drawbacks, students found it engaging, and I thought it was a nice change of pace during the middle of the week. Additionally, the alternative, What’s the Question? Wednesday, had drawbacks of its own. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

I’ve read about the power of having students come up with their own problems – with or without a predetermined answer – so I decided to make an activity of it. I decided to display 3-5 answers on the screen, one at a time, and ask students to come up with questions that would lead to those answers. For example, \frac{1}{2} might be the answer to “What’s the slope of the line given by the equation y=\tfrac{1}{2}x+3?” or “What’s the square root of \frac{1}{4}?” When I came up with the answers, I usually had a question or two in mind, but I never expected students to think in any particular direction. Rather, I hoped they would be creative, and I encouraged them to ask any mathematical question that they wanted. I was excited to see what interesting questions my students would ask.

The results of the first What’s the Question? Wednesday surprised me. The answer 10 led to all sorts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems. The answer \frac{1}{2} led to questions like “What’s \frac{2}{4} simplified?” and “What’s 0.5 as a fraction?” The answer \sqrt{7} led to very few questions, with most of them something like “What’s the square root of 7?” The vast majority of questions, regardless of class period, resembled these examples.

So why did my students’ questions largely consist of arithmetic or 6th and 7th grade standards? I’ve identified several possible reasons. First, five minutes at the end of class was simply not enough time for students to really think deeply about the answer and formulate a great question. Second, despite efforts to connect topics as much as possible and to continually review, students had trouble thinking about particular concepts outside of a context or a problem specifically dealing with that concept. They could use a graph to calculate a slope of \frac{1}{2}, but seeing that number did not immediately make them think about slope. Third, this activity differed so greatly from what students have done throughout their mathematical careers that they had difficulty knowing where to start and how to proceed.

Fortunately, these issues seem to have fairly simple solutions. First, I need to do a better job introducing the concept of “What’s the Question? Wednesday” and modeling the process of formulating a question. Perhaps I can demonstrate it during the first week with 0.5, a number with connections to fractions and percents, two major topics from 7th grade. Second, I need to give students more time to think. If I want to keep this as an activity for the last five minutes on Wednesday, I could give only one answer and have students spend four minutes thinking of questions, with the last minute reserved for presenting those questions. Or, if that doesn’t work, I can use this activity as a warmup on Wednesdays or as a sort of brain break during the middle of class on Wednesday. I think What’s the Question? Wednesday has a lot of potential, so I will definitely explore these possibilities.

Five Minutes – I wonder… Wednesday

Five Minutes – I wonder… Wednesday

At some point during the first quarter, I was in another 8th grade math teacher’s support class. The teacher asked me for a number, and I suggested 3435. When someone asked why I chose such a seemingly strange number, I told the class that 3435 was my third-favorite number. Again, someone asked why, so I asked everyone to raise each digit to the power of itself and add them all together. After clarifying precisely what I meant, students calculated 3^{3}+4^{4}+3^{3}+5^{5} and were surprised to find their answer to be 3435. I don’t recall exactly what happened next, but my colleague and I ended up briefly discussing how our students have trouble “wondering” about numbers, ideas, and objects in our world. I decided that I needed to challenge my students to wonder. This was the genesis of I wonder… Wednesday.

As I thought about ways to get my students wondering, I decided that I would display interesting or strange pictures on the screen and ask everyone what they wondered. At first, I tried to find pictures that would lend themselves to “wonderings” with a mathematical bent, but I soon began to include pictures that might not have any obvious mathematical properties or concepts attached to them. I saw I wonder… Wednesday as about more than just math. It was an opportunity for students to think about their world and all of the incredible things that happen on it.

Here is a sampling of I wonder… Wednesday images and notable responses.

Racing – This might be my favorite picture ever.

Sand sculpture – Amazing! Many students wondered how long this took to make.

An interesting lady – This picture speaks for itself!

Bridge – Good questions about steepness, height, and speed.

Throwing hats – “I wonder if it’s after Labor Day.”

Overall, I loved the questions my students asked. My students impressed me with the thoughtfulness of their “wonderings.” Many of them truly wanted an explanation for a certain phenomenon, a more detailed description of an object or location, or the context and background knowledge needed to interpret the picture. Perhaps the best part of I wonder… Wednesday was seeing students who rarely participated raise their hands and share their thoughts about an image. Whether insightful, funny, or just weird, the “wonderings” my students offered made for an awesome last five minutes each Wednesday we did this.

Interestingly, student response to I wonder… Wednesday was bimodal – they tended to love it or to hate it. Many students loved seeing what crazy pictures I found each week, even if they didn’t volunteer any questions. And quite a few students pushed themselves to wonder about every single image. Other students, however, found this activity entirely pointless. One student complained that she came to class to learn math, so I wonder… Wednesday was a waste of her time. On their end-of-year reflections, students responded that I should keep I wonder… Wednesday just as frequently as they suggested that I get rid of it. I guess strong reactions are better than no reaction at all!

So what, if anything, should I change about I wonder… Wednesday? I’ve thought about pushing students to ask more mathematical questions. I’ve also considered only displaying a single picture, coming up with a good mathematical question to ask, and estimating an answer. To be honest, though, I think these changes would diminish I wonder… Wednesday. Part of this activity’s joy lies in escaping math for a few minutes and just thinking about the world. I told my students once that it’s not too much to spend five minutes a week doing something unrelated to math that is good for their brains. I stand by that statement. Although I may do I wonder… Wednesday less frequently, it will definitely be part of my classroom this coming school year.

Five Minutes – Mystery Monday

Five Minutes – Mystery Monday

Because 6th, 7th, and 8th grades all run different schedules, we don’t have a bell to mark the beginning and end of each class period. That means I need to know the time! This year, I decided to set an alarm that would ring with five minutes to go in each class period. I had two goals: to make sure I ended class at the right time and to do something together as a class each day before we went our separate ways. I’ll write about all of the different routines in the coming days. Let’s start with Mystery Monday!

Mystery Monday came from silly beginnings. As I brainstormed different ways to end class, I searched for words starting with the same letter as the day. I did Mental Math Monday for a while and decided that we needed a change. Mystery Monday sounded awesome, so I had to give it a try! Of course, I had to figure out what Mystery Monday would actually involve. Here’s what the first day looked like…

“Okay everybody. I’m thinking of a whole number between 0 and 100. You get to ask me five yes-or-no questions. Then, I will choose one student to give the class’s answer.”

I had no idea what to expect. Maybe a group of 8th graders would find this too simple or too juvenile. Maybe five questions would be too many or not nearly enough. Maybe everyone would just be bored by the idea and not be interested at all. The results pleasantly surprised me.

“Is the number bigger than 50?”

“Are both digits the same?”

“Is the number even?”

“Does the number have a 1 in it?”

I received a lot of interesting questions. Many of the questions helped narrow down the choices, although not always in the most efficient way. One student started her class’s questioning, for example, with “Is the number bigger than 25?” Sometimes students asked questions that didn’t fit the information or didn’t actually narrow down the possibilities. Students didn’t always think through their questions, and not everyone participated. But for the most part, the class was engaged. As with many activities, several students played the largest (sometimes dominant) roles. Every student, however, seemed to think about the mystery and felt like he/she could contribute. Mystery Monday turned out to be a success.

As the weeks passed, I added complications. I went from two-digit to three-digit to four-digit numbers, and I even tried using a pair of numbers or a letter. I decided to keep score between class periods to make Mystery Monday into a competition. I rewarded the 3rd quarter winners with donuts and the 4th quarter winners with pizza. It was a fun addition to a day that often ends up being the most challenging of the week.

So what would I change? Although some students loved Mystery Monday and most students found it reasonably engaging, I know that I never reached 100% (or even 75%) participation and engagement. I considered breaking Mystery Monday down within class periods. Rather than have the entire class figure out the number, each of the 7 tables within the classroom would attempt to figure it out on their own. I didn’t try this because I never came up with a good way to manage the abundance of questions I’d have to answer. I plan to keep Mystery Monday this year, but I’m definitely considering ways to get more students involved. Let me know if you have any ideas!