Monday, July 9, 2012


I am a bit famous, in some circles, for creating materials and curriculum for teaching mathematics... and then either losing it or giving it away. I am constantly either trying to REcreate something, or, sheepishly, contacting my colleagues caretakers with short cryptic emails that begin, "Hey! Do you have a file or hard copy of the decimals/percentages unit I wrote last summer?" I have no good system for keeping track of my work life....yet. But I'm closer than ever with my new discovery (perhaps you've heard of it) called binders. Yes, binders.

Before binders, there were boxes. I brought home 6 boxes of work at the end of the school year, that I needed to organize so I wouldn't have to recreate things for my Chicago experience. The Thursday before I left, my living room looked like this:
 (Don't judge me.)

Boxes are bad for me because they hide so many sins. Duplicates, randoms, and weird objects make their way into the boxes. Further confounding me, is that I can't figure out a filing system for the boxes. I've tried file folders, but my descriptions on the tab that shows are never descriptive enough and I end up having to pull and look through every folder to find what I'm looking for. By the way, whatever I am looking for, is never in the box anyway.

By Friday night, my living room looked like this. In the binders, are several hundred plastic sleeves. The binders are by topic. Some are mathematical ideas that I think are key for the grade levels I specialize in. Some are pedagogy ideas that I think are crucial for teachers of mathematics who want to teach math in a sense-making, problem-centered way. Finally, I have one for the new Common Core Standards for Mathematics, one for professional readings I like teachers to do in the workshops (my crowning jewel! oh how I was sick of looking for and asking for and re-copying previously highlighted copies of, these readings!), and one for the tools and materials of the consulting group I work with.

In the one remaining box seen on the floor in front, I have duplicates of things that were leftovers. And in the red train case are my presenters materials, from the mundane (scissors, my favored chart pens, emergency dry erase markers, post it notes, and index cards) to the crucial (ibuprofen and safety pins, because nothing says "I have to stand up in front of 60 people today" like a migraine, a broken bra strap or a missing button).

Here is why it is so great for me to use plastic sleeves in binders: I don't have to care if they're organized, as long as they are in the proper themed binder. I can so easily flip through the sleeves that I don't have to care what order anything is in. If it's about The Number System/Place Value, it IS in that 2" space. Period. It takes 30 seconds to flip through and find what I'm looking for.

Also new for the last week I did in Chicago:  I took one empty binder and started populating it with sleeves from SEVEN other binders! A post-it note at the start of each section of sleeves told me which binders they originated from. That's why I was able to pack for 4 days of work and 3 days of play in a city 1800 miles from home in one carry on roller case and my tech backpack.  It's also why I was able to put all the materials back into their original binder in less than 6 minutes when I got home.

I started the Binders Are Delightful And Super Systematic (or BADASS) organizational technique with my classroom last year, and I can't wait to fine tune it now that I've had this break through with my math work.

I'm going to organize the shit out of this!


  1. Yay for organization! I went through several systems myself in my classroom... I started with plastic magazine holders (which were great but not big enough). I moved to binders for some things, but I had materials that wouldn't fit in either. Finally the last year I moved almost everything to plastic file boxes which could fit 3D manipulatives, books, and paper. I kept binders for assessments and some other things.

    I think your new system is great! Love that it lets you pull things out for travel and put them back in their proper places so easily.

    1. Yay! For some reason blogger is letting me comment! What the heck? lol

      My dear friend and mentor Mrs. Peaslee (I couldn't make that up) SWEARS by your method. She went so far as to tell me, "If you're doing it right, it is quite possible that you will end up with box that has nothing but a single sheet of paper in it"....she was THAT dedicated to her "file box per" system! lol

      I do have some theme boxes like that in my class, and nothing makes me feel more Zeus-Like than pulling out a box and finding everything I need for, say, the month long unit on ROCKS.....but I'm nowhere near where you are organizationally. Baby steps, my friend, baby steps.....

  2. "Boxes are bad for me because they hide so many sins. Duplicates, randoms, and weird objects make their way into the boxes."

    hehe, you said it's a sin when weird objects make their way into your box.