Academic "Hot Spots"

Lately, in the spirit of the new year, I have been trying to get my life in order. I like to think I have good ideas, but I have terrible follow through, partially because I am *so* profoundly disorganized. I’m one of those folks who has stacks of papers all over their classroom, often loses things, and leaves their clean laundry in the basket for weeks and weeks (usually until I’ve used enough of it that the basket is empty again.) I don’t like living this way, and I think it sets a terrible example for my students, so I’ve really been working on it. One website I ran across is It’s a little hokey, but some of the ideas have been really helpful, and I think I’m driving my husband and my custodians less crazy.

This is not just a confessional, though, I think two of the ideas from FlyLady are definitely applicable to my classroom. While they aren’t exactly revolutionary, they are new to me, and I would, of course, love to hear some feedback from anyone who has any!

The first is “you can do anything for 15 minutes.” This has really been helping out a lot at home and at school. At the very beginning of my planning period and as soon as I get home I set a timer for 15 minutes and do something I usually procrastinate about. Usually this means grading papers or putting away laundry. I want to use my experience as an example and encourage my students that they, too, can do anything for 15 minutes. I bought some timers for my classroom (I especially like this super-cool one which turns green, then yellow, then red as time runs out. Note that it is NOT the learning resources one, which I have found to be an overpriced piece of junk.) Especially with my freshman geometry class, I want to use this both as an individual intervention and a class wide attitude towards practice and cumulative review. I can picture students bringing in their own timers to use (and maybe having a competition for the silliest one) and using them to motivate themselves for practice. Like anything else, I can’t over use it, but I’m hoping it will be effective for at least some of the students and give them a tool that I desperately could’ve used in high school and college.

In conjunction with the 15 minute strategy I want to adopt a kind of centers approach with something called academic hot spots. FlyLady talks about hot spots in your classroom or house, places where junk gathers or you tend to collect mess and clutter, and setting aside time or taking advantage of extra time to address these areas. Academic hot spots would be areas, either prerequisite or current content, where I know students struggle. Of the of my head, that would mean rational expressions, radical expressions, solving for an unknown, solving absolute value equations and inequalities, piece wise defined functions, etc. Ironically, that list would remain virtually the same regardless of whether we’re talking about my geometry class or calculus class!

Below is an example of something I might use as a “solving equations” hot spot activity. It’s kind of a combination of notes and practice (I am recycling something I used as guided notes in the past, so it’s not perfect.)
Solving Equations

What I’m thinking write now is that these “centers” would be set up around the room all of the time, and whenever we had a little extra time, needed a break from what we were currently working on, etc, we would take time to “put out our fires,” or address academic hot spots. Students could choose (with guidance if necessary) what hot spots they wanted to work on. I also want to give students a chance to suggest topics for hot spots, and the hot spots could change throughout the semester (good opportunity for review and remediation.)

Like I said, these are not exactly new ideas, but I’ve never used them before. Anyone have any experience with anything like these they’d like to share, or any ideas I can add to the mix above?

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