Focusing on Celebration Posted on August 8, 2016 Discussion iStock_000029071852Large

As the days of summer vacation start to dwindle down I cannot help but begin to alter my focus to the upcoming school year and begin my gradual shift back into teacher mode. This inevitably leads to planning (or thoughts of, at the very least). Having taken two professional development sessions over the vacation pertaining to reading and writing workshop, I am feeling excited and energized to get started with some general planning. One thing I am choosing to focus on in my balanced literacy program next year is the “celebration” aspect when closing out a unit. The celebration is a great way for the children to reflect on the learning and accomplishments that took place throughout the unit, it also provides children with closure and a positive transition to the next unit of study. This got me thinking about how this can be replicated in math instruction as well. In fact, it can serve the exact same function it does for our literacy block. While the type of celebration will vary the idea behind its purpose remains the same: to celebrate the learning and growth that took place during the unit. A great way to do this is to end with a culminating project that includes the content covered. For example, if your classroom is wrapping up the unit on composing and decomposing numbers 1 through 10 your students might work on creating a class book where each child creates a page for the book illustrating a way to compose and decompose a specific number. Kids can be paired up in groups and given a number for a more strategic way of targeting levels and/or needs. There are many different ways this could be done but the main point is that the students create something; whether it be individually, small group, partners or whole group that can be shared and help them to reflect on their learning while celebrating the end of the unit. Particularly at this age, I feel like this strategy could be for more powerful than a test or more formative assessment. However, depending on your school or district requirements you may consider the celebration project as simply another way to assess your students at the end of a unit and help inform your instruction as you move forward. As you begin your unit planning for next year for math keep in mind ways in which you can celebrate the end of each unit and purposefully build those celebrations into your teaching. You might be surprised that you will start to look forward to those days as much as the kids!

Growth Mindset Posted on August 8, 2016 Discussion growth-mindset_407x341

Recently the term “growth mindset” has been trending in education. Having a background in social psychology I absolutely love learning and talking about this stuff.

So, what is growth mindset?

Psychologist Carol Dweck presents us with two types of mindsets, fixed or growth. People who have a fixed mindset believe that their success is based on their talents or innate intelligence. People with a growth mindset believe that success is based on hard work and persistence.

How does this connect to math instruction?

As teachers, I would hope that we all believe in the growth mindset. Whether or not we use those words I don’t think you would be in the field of education if you didn’t believe that hard work and persistence would pay off for your students. How could you encourage, teach, and have hope for your students if you felt their success was already determined with their basic abilities or intelligence? What would be the point of all those math sprints and math fact fluency practice if you felt that there was a handful of students who just wouldn’t get it.

How do we promote a growth mindset in the classroom?

The power of having a growth mindset is such good news for our math students. Here is a great article in the Harvard Business Review, written by Carol Dweck herself – https://hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means. She says that one of the most common myths with growth mindset in the classroom is that teachers just praise and reward effort. Rather we need to reward learning and making progress, because effort that is unproductive will not lead to success. She explains that it is important to promote strategies and process that are productive, such as learning from a mistake, trying new strategies (you know we love to solve problems multiple ways in Singapore Math), and seeking help from others (hello group work and math talk!). I’m sure that most of you are already promoting growth mindsets in your classroom and I hope that this post affirms you in that practice.

Math Talks Posted on August 8, 2016 Discussion re

Here we are, the end of summer is upon as. As we all go back to school I hope you are feeling rested, excited, ready to get to know your new students, and that you don’t lay in bed dreaming of all those summer morning you got to sleep in. Ha! We all know that the first few weeks of school are crucial for teaching routines and setting up a positive classroom environment. One of the routines that we have to make sure we teach is how to have conversations about math in the classroom.

By the time our kiddos come to us in 6th grade we would hope that they have already experienced many math talks, but you can’t assume that they are comfortable with talking about math. It’s also good to keep in mind that we all have our style of moderating math conversations so it’s always a good idea to be explicit about your style with your students at the beginning of the year.

Anchor charts are a great way to introduce a routine. I like them because they help keep me focused and on topic – because you know that otherwise I would go off on a tangent about how little Tommy used to just say the funniest things in math class about, like that time he stopped another students explanation to ask him why he was wearing red shoes – uh oh,  I’m doing it. So yes, anchor charts keep you on topic, ensure that you go over all necessary routines, allow students to read and see visuals as you talk, and they are a great resource to hang up refer back to throughout the year. Here are a couple of great ones that I found on Pinterest.

Also take a moment to have students role-play having math conversations. You can give them an example problem that has already been solved, or you can solve together and then let them role-play being the speaker and listener. This could be down in small groups or as a whole class. Is role-playing isn’t your thing, and I know it’s not for everyone, then consider giving an “easy” math problem and have them practice a math talk. While introducing and reviewing the routine of a math talk you don’t want your students to be frustrated by the actual problem. They’ll have plenty of time for that throughout the year. Let this practice just be a way of mastering how math conversations happen in your classroom.

Last but not least, have fun! My 6th graders love the chance to talk in class and are always willing to stick to my routine and guidelines if they have been effectively taught first.

Next Years Plan Posted on July 22, 2016 Discussion 2016-06-28_1042

My plan for next year is to get all the manipulatives I plan on using organized and ready to be given out to the students. My school started using a new curriculum last year so I had the privilege of working with a lot of new manipulatives but I definitely did not take FULL advantage of all the materials at my disposal. Ideally, I am looking to find a way to organize the manipulatives so that each child has access to them on a daily basis and we are not wasting instructional time passing out and collecting them.  I think the best way to plan this is to look ahead at the lessons you plan on teaching for a particular unit or chapter and then build a manipulative kit for each child ahead of time. You can use freezer bags, small plastic bins or even a visit to your local dollar store could provide you with a solution. The point is to find the system of organization that works for you. If you don’t own it, it won’t work. I found that the kids work the same way. If they have their own set of manipulatives to work with, something to store them in and are provided with daily access, they take ownership and the engagement and learning that takes place is tenfold. If manipulatives are limited, children can share a kit. This for the younger ones is best if it’s not more than two kids per kit. Sharing also helps with communication, social and negotiation skills that are all a big part of the common core state standards. Also, a little mantra I have created for myself is, “I can do this lesson without manipulatives, but how much BETTER would it be with them?” I do this because last year I found that because I wasn’t a huge fan of my system I felt like the manipulatives wasted time and many times I wouldn’t use them and the kids didn’t have access to them. Despite the abundant research showing how well kids learn with manipulatives, I found that the “burden” of them outweighed it. After serious reflection I came to the conclusion that I just needed a better system in place to best utilize these amazing tools in my instruction.

How much BETTER would it be with Manipulatives Posted on July 18, 2016 Discussion 2016-06-22_0912

My plan for next year is to get all the manipulatives I plan on using organized and ready to be given out to the students. My school started using a new curriculum last year so I had the privilege of working with a lot of new manipulatives but I definitely did not take FULL advantage of all the materials at my disposal. Ideally, I am looking to find a way to organize the manipulatives so that each child has access to them on a daily basis and we are not wasting instructional time passing out and collecting them.  I think the best way to plan this is to look ahead at the lessons you plan on teaching for a particular unit or chapter and then build a manipulative kit for each child ahead of time. You can use freezer bags, small plastic bins or even a visit to your local dollar store could provide you with a solution. The point is to find the system of organization that works for you. If you don’t own it, it won’t work. I found that the kids work the same way. If they have their own set of manipulatives to work with, something to store them in and are provided with daily access, they take ownership and the engagement and learning that takes place is tenfold. If manipulatives are limited, children can share a kit. This for the younger ones is best if it’s not more than two kids per kit. Sharing also helps with communication, social and negotiation skills that are all a big part of the common core state standards. Also, a little mantra I have created for myself is, “I can do this lesson without manipulatives, but how much BETTER would it be with them?” I do this because last year I found that because I wasn’t a huge fan of my system I felt like the manipulatives wasted time and many times I wouldn’t use them and the kids didn’t have access to them. Despite the abundant research showing how well kids learn with manipulatives, I found that the “burden” of them outweighed it. After serious reflection I came to the conclusion that I just needed a better system in place to best utilize these amazing tools in my instruction.

Summer Shopping Posted on July 12, 2016 Discussion fec14d28623b5a3b66957ba74ce539e4

It may seem like your summer break just started, but you know that stores are about to start their back to school ads. It also seems like a cruel joke when those ads hit and it will always be “too soon”. That being said, I always regret not taking advantage of the sales and somehow ending up scrambling to get those last supplies the night before school starts. Wasting my precious last few hours of break and spending way too much money.

This summer I’m making myself a promise to stay organized and ahead of the game. I’m prioritizing the supplies that will really help my students and trying to stay as far away from the Target dollar section as possible. It is a trap! You know you never really need all the things you buy there. I hope that my list can help you with your summer shopping. I’d love to hear what others have at the top of their school shopping lists.

  1. Composition Notebooks – My school actually provides these so I don’t have to buy them. But I do need to make sure I request them early enough that the supply closet doesn’t run dry. I use these for my interactive notebooks each year. They are small, sturdy, and have enough pages to last the year. While I do get them for free I will be keeping my eyes on the ads for graphing composition notebooks. If possible I would love to switch from the regular lined paper to graph paper interactive notebooks. I’ll be writing another post soon about my INBs. They are an absolute lifesaver when it comes to direct teaching lessons.
  2. Colored Pencils and Pens – If you’re lucky you can get these from your school supply closet. I’m not so lucky so I’ll be packing up my shopping cart. Colored pencils and pens are a great for the Interactive Notebooks. Color-coding helps students organize their notes and thoughts. Tip: Go ahead and splurge for the nicer brands. They will end up lasting much longer and save you money in the long run.
  3. Small Ceramic Tiles – What? Yes! Those little tiles that are usually used for a kitchen backsplash or shower accents. The 1 inch tiles are perfect to have in a sixth grade math classroom. I learned how to use these as manipulatives at last year’s Singapore Math Summit. They are the perfect size for building hands on bar diagrams. The best part is that you can easily get them to free. Check in with your local hardware or tile store. They are usually more than happy to donate a few tile sheets to a teacher in need.

So what’s in your shopping cart this summer? Shop smart, work that sad teacher face, and get as many things for free as you possibly can!

 

Yay for Summer! Posted on July 4, 2016 Discussion 2016-06-21_1051

Yay!! Summer is here and it’s finally time to take a deep breath, relax and reflect. However, before slipping into full-on relax mode I encourage teachers to take some serious time to reflect on the past school year while it’s still pretty fresh. Now I’m also not here to tell you WHERE to reflect, and if you were to ask my opinion poolside reflection can be pretty powerful! As it relates to math, I decided to reflect on the pacing plan that my grade level used, which was very much in line with our curriculum’s recommended plan, with the exception of a few things. In order to inform our pacing plan for next year it is crucial that we address the successes and places for improvement of this year. As we know, no set of students is the same, but we can always use past successes to guide our planning. Look at the plan you used for this year, highlight some of the successes. Where did the kids do particularly well? What lessons really stuck out to you as engaging and powerful? Make sure to include those in your plan for next year. Another important thing to think about is if there was a chapter or concept that was longer than it needed to be? Did the kids absorb something relatively quick and then their engagement peter out? Conversely, was their something you felt went too fast? The kids needed more? Do you need to supplement? It is important to consider all these questions as close to the end of the year as humanly possible, and I say this because we ARE human and we DO need a break. Simply put, it’s just easier for us to remember what happened if we do it sooner rather than later. Another great thing to do as you consider your next year’s pacing plan is to think about the materials you used, didn’t use, and wish you had used. What were the kids super into? What were the things they could not have cared less about? I know that my kids were IN LOVE with their unifix cubes this year, and I think this was largely due to the fact that they had access to their own small set daily. This was one of my successes and will be part of my plan as I move forward with the next year. Getting a general plan in order, along with the materials you plan on using is great investment of your time and energy before you take full advantage of these restful and vital weeks.

Summer, is that you? Posted on June 27, 2016 Discussion 2016-05-12_1324

Preach! Summertime is just around the corner and we are all more than ready for our well-earned breather. Here are a few tips to make sure you get the most out of your summer.
1. Relax and Renew
You deserve it and you need it, so be a little selfish when you can. Take the time to relax and get your mind off of work. It’s amazing what 30 minutes of relaxation each day can do for your overall mood and outlook. Spend time with family and friends, take a trip, exercise, meditate, do whatever it is that revives you. Remember, your energy level and mood really drives the classroom. Spend the summer gearing up for a positive new year.
2. Planning
By putting some serious time and thought into planning for the upcoming year you can help decrease you stress when school starts back up. Reflect on your past year and decide what you want to keep and what you want to change. Summer is a great time to step back and plan some larger units. Keep the planning tangible and realistic. It’s easy to get lost in grand ideas. Make sure to jot doing all those great ideas you read about or hear about from colleagues, and then whittle it down to what will really work in your classroom.
3. Professional Growth
This summer make a plan to grow as a math educator in one specific way. Pick one area that you have been wanted to develop and find seminars, workshops, or a mentor who can help you grow. I cannot recommend SMARTTraining NOW’s Singapore Math Summit enough as a great way to cultivate you math instruction. I attended last year and so much of what I do in my classroom is from something I learned at one of their seminars.
And last but not least – have fun and enjoy yourself!

What is Fluency? Posted on June 21, 2016 Discussion 2016-05-04_0916

While timed testing has been shown to create a burst of adrenaline, resulting in improved long-term recall of math facts, there are other areas in the classroom where you can integrate fluency. Of course, the following examples can always be adapted to meet your specific grade level.

  • I would like you to turn in your textbooks to the page that is the product of 12 and 16.
  • Turn in your textbook to the page that is equal to the number of years the Civil War lasted divided by 2.
  • Class games:
    • #1: Starting with a number less than 100, double that number until you reach a 5-digit number. If the number you would say is a 5-digit number, you say STOP instead of the number. This is often integrated into calendar time in the lower grades. Starting with the number 23, the numbers called out by students would be: 46, 92, 184, 368, 736, 1472, 2944, 5888, STOP.
    • #2: Students play in teams of 3. Using a deck of cards containing 4 sets of numbers 1-9, have 2 students each draw 1 card without looking at their own card. The 3rd student should tell the other students the sum of their cards. The first of the students to name value of their own card swaps with the student giving the sum. Repeat for as many rounds as desired.
  • Separate a set of multiplication flash cards into easy and normal piles. As students leave the classroom for recess, lunch, or at the end of the day, they must correctly answer a multiplication fact from one of the stacks. Separating them into easy and normal allows for differentiation.

These are excellent examples showing that fluency is more than just timed tests. Most timed tests address the component of fluency known as automaticity – the ability to immediately recall a math fact answer. Some examples of such math facts include: 2 + 2, 3 + 4, 8 + 5. These are problems that most adults automatically know the answer to without calculation. The second part of fluency consists of the fluid and mental manipulation of numbers to arrive at the correct answer, 32 x 17 for example. This type of problem is typically solved through a mental calculation similar to (32 x 10) + (30 x 7) + (2 x 7) = 320 + 210 + 14 = 544. The Sprints books developed by Singapore Math, Inc.® are an example of timed tests that make sure to address both of the components required for true math fact fluency. To see how a typical Sprint is structured, you can see it being used in a 2nd grade classroom here.

Keeping it Neat in 6th Grade Posted on June 14, 2016 Discussion 2016-05-04_0949

Dealing with messy student work is one of my least favorite parts of teaching. The headache of trying to decipher what they’ve written accompanied by the horror of realizing they made a simple mistake because they didn’t line up their numbers. Unfortunately, I’m not a naturally organized or neat worker either! But with the help of some other great teachers and the wonderful world of Pinterest I’ve come up with a few key things that help me and my students stay organized and keep our work neat.

  1. Color coding

When I used to teach Kindergarten we color-coded everything! Bring this practice to my sixth graders has been a lifesaver.  This unit we’re working on one-step equations. I model using a different color for each step of the problem. Students then use their colored pencils and gel pens to solve their problems with the same colors. When we’re working on modeling and using bar diagrams they know our bars are always blue. Color coding not only helps keep their work near and organized, but it helps them make sure they followed every step. Not to mention that they love being able to use their gel pens in math.

 

  1. Erasable Pens

Target sells these amazing erasable pens. They are nothing like the pens I remember having as a kid. They erase completely and the ink is very readable. This is a great alternative to pencils and comes in handy when color-coding. Being able to use erasable pens is a wonderful motivator.

 

  1. Graph Paper

This is not a new tip, but a great reminder if you aren’t already using graph paper for everything. Seriously, everything.  I always have graph paper available for my students to use as scratch paper. It helps them keep their numbers lined up and uniformly sized.

 

At the end of the day you don’t want messy work to be what’s holding your students back. Just remember that a lot of us aren’t naturally organized. We need help and tangible tips for keeping our work legible. I hope that these simple tips can inspire you to support those students who need the extra help.

1 2 3 4