How do teachers organize their stuff?

by Stephanie Chasteen on September 13, 2010

Maybe teachers could have used this post during the summer, when you — theoretically — had some time to pay to organization. Still, I collected this short list of helpful tips from a listserv a while ago, and wanted to share.

For example, how do you keep your hands-on activities organized?  .  This link will tell you all about mini-labs (and there’s a link there to the Science Teaching Tips episode that I did with Zeke Kossover on them), which are a fairly focused set of hands-on activities.  They’re easier to run and bite-sized, but do take some organization to keep track of many different little labs within a unit.  Zeke shared some of his organization tips on how he manages this, which could apply to any type of hands-on activities.

  • Each unit gets a prefix.  “Sound” would have the prefix “S” on each file, for example.
  • Within each topic, I number the sub-units and use decimals to represent the activities. For example, in the sound unit, the number goes something like this:
    • S1 amplitude and frequency
    • S1.01 How does the cone of speaker move?
    • S1.02 How does the motion of a speaker cone move if the pitch is higher?
    • S1.03 Does the speaker cone move when the pitch is very high?
    • S1.04 How does the speaker cone move when the sound is louder?
  • plus ten more activities.
  • The next sub-unit is superposition. It’s “S2”.
    • S2.01 What happens when two sound waves are in the same place at the same time?
    • S2.02 What happens when a compression overlaps an expansion?
  • for another six activities.

He says:

Each handout is labeled with the code on the front and back and the file on my computer has the same code. I have added
activities over the years, but I just number them in the middle following a standard decimal system. So, there’s a topic S1.055 about the holes cut into the wall of a speaker and whether or not air is being blown out the hole. That way I don’t have to renumber old activities.

Students learn to refer to the activity by number because it is easier than trying to deal with the long titles. It also helps the students to be organized.

In my classroom, I keep a binder with all the left over handouts. Students can grab one if they lost their sheet. They can also use it to refresh themselves on what we have covered. I have tried to keep them on a website, but I’ve had difficulty.

I use folding boxes from office supply stores to keep my equipment that is specialized to a particular unit. I mark the outside with unit and number of the activities. This doesn’t work for every unit. Mechanics topics reuse bits of equipment over and over, so they just sit in cabinets.

Some other tips from Zeke, master of organization:

  1. Instead of giving lab groups numbers (which are forgettable) give them names, like Gell-Mann, Feynman, Meitner, etc.
  2. Use a school tray with a paper liner to organize labs with lots of small pieces.  Draw an outline of the equipment on the paper liner, and then you can easily see if students have put everything back.
  3. Students need to borrow something but you’re not sure they’ll give it back?  Have them give you one shoe as collateral.
  4. Use drop boxes for students to turn in assignments, a separate box per section.  This lets you avoid any ambiguity regarding whether a student handed you an assignment, put it on your desk, etc.  They’re all in one place.
  5. Make a manila folder for each student.  This lets you give them their work back privately, and quickly see who is absent.  You can include a private note to students, or any handouts they missed, by slipping them inside the folders.  Students return their folders to milk crates at the end of class.
  6. Then, of course, there is keeping your computer organized. Online bookmarking systems, save websites to your hard drive if you want to keep them (use Microsoft “save webpage (complete)” or GetRight for more complicated sites).

Please feel free to share more tips that have worked for you!

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