Stay in the Loop Posted on September 14, 2016 Discussion mom-at-school2

One of my biggest pieces of advice is something we all know but maybe aren’t doing as well as we could. Keep parents in the loop! I have written about this before but I cannot express it enough how much better the school year will be if you have established and healthy lines of communication with the parents of your students. I need to let you in on a not-so-secret-secret: LOTS OF PEOPLE ARE SCARED OF MATH! You may even be one of them. As teachers we all know that we are required to “wear many hats” as the expression goes. It is one thing to help with the anxiety of a child learning something new, but we also can’t forget about the parents. Common core is like a swear word in some parental circles and I have discovered that this is largely due to the fact that there is a lot of misinformation out there. As a teacher you can help rectify this. You can be the source of correct information! One thing I am planning on doing this year is holding a parent workshop with my grade level to specifically go over math standards with the parents and give them real strategies they can do at home to help improve their child’s math skills. The beauty of common core is that it’s so mindful of making sure kids know why they are learning something and how they can and will use it in real life. Busy parents can incorporate math in many ways at home they just sometimes need to be showed how. Simple things like setting the table (counting how many plates there are, etc.) or going on “Number Hunts” are quick, fun ways to work on math that go beyond traditional homework. Knowledge is power and by working hard to inform the parents of your students you empower them and reduce anxiety they might harbor around math and in turn they become better teachers to their children. It’s a win-win-win!

Get Organized and then Explore Posted on September 13, 2016 Discussion 2016-09-07_1154

As I write this we are about to start our fourth week of the new school year. It’s always an exciting (and hectic) time for any grade but in kindergarten it can be downright crazy! A thing I did over the summer and something that I blogged about that really has proven successful was getting all my math manipulative organized and stored in way that is accessible to the kids. These first few weeks are all about getting our routines down, lots and lots and lots of behavior management and just overall getting used to being in school. The kids in the beginning undoubtedly see all the math manipulatives as toys. Instead of immediately pushing against this idea by explaining what we can and will use them for, I let them approach them as such. During the first few days of school when we practiced our centers I would have manipulatives at each center. As the kids got used to rotating and the attention signal and all that other stuff they had time to freely explore the manipulatives without direction or explicit instructions from me. For the record, the manipulatives they were exploring were: counting links, unifix cubes, dominoes, counting bears, pattern blocks and number magnets. This gave each child time to use and handle all these new “toys” and allowed me to make observation about this new group of little people I will be spending the majority of my day with. Naturally the children counted, sorted, made up stories and built with them.  All the things we will eventually do with them in a more formal and purposeful way. All the things we want them to do as it relates to the common core as well. By allowing them to approach the manipulatives each within their chosen way, while also being able to see how their peers chose to use them we are simply capitalizing on what young children do innately without the need for explicit direction from the teacher. Obviously the direct teaching will follow but in these early days of our new kindergarten classroom it is so important to allow for exploration and discovery. Lastly, something else I discovered by allowing the students this time with the manipulatives was that it removed their stigma in a way. What I mean by that is in past years they were taken out during math and put away when we were done and not readily accessible to the children and therefore the kids didn’t really have ownership of them. Having this early exposure in the beginning will also save time when it gets down to lessons where the children need to be using them and not “playing” with them. It really is a great investment of your time as a teacher and for your students to allow them the exploration they so readily need and desire in their new classroom!

The Twenty Minute Division Problem Posted on September 12, 2016 Discussion FullSizeRender (002)

As math instructors aren’t we always just walking that fine line between fluency and conceptual understanding? We know that the answer lies in both. Our students need to have fact fluency, but that fluency is only meaningful if they can problem solve. We know this, we teach this, we preach this – but you won’t believe how I saw this play out with a new student in my class.

During the first couple weeks of school I like to work problems out with each of my students during independent work time. I like to talk to them and watch them work so I can hopefully get a better understanding of how they process math. And I have to say that I saw something this year that I have never seen before from a sixth grade student. We are studying decimal operations right now and the problem I’m about to show you was a decimal division problem.

Here’s the problem. (See Step 1)

So he realized that the first step was the move the decimal in the divisor and then dividend. Then he knew to see how many times 4 goes into 11. Here is where it gets so interesting! He applied a division strategy of drawing a picture and representing the division with circles. He drew 11 circles and then grouped them into groups of 4. He realized that he could only make 2 complete groups of 4 in 11, so he put a 2 above the 11.  Here’s a picture of his work. (See Step 2)

Next he knew that he needed to multiply 4 times 2. Let’s stop for a quick second, this should be a fluent memorized fact, right? Not here! Instead the student drew 2 sets of 4 tallies and counted that there were 8 tallies together.  Here’s another picture of this step. (See Step 3)

By this point I was completely mesmerized. He has a great conceptual knowledge of the meaning of multiplication and division, but this process is so slow! He continued working the problem this way and got the right answer, but I swear it took close to twenty minutes! This was such an eye opening experience and further cemented the fact that we have to prioritize our students building fluency for their own efficiency. Have you ever seen anything like this? I was amazed, impressed, and absolutely shocked – and I sent him home with some flashcards.

Teaching Kids How to Study Posted on September 9, 2016 Discussion 2016-09-08_1158

Sometimes I think my students are so good giving a blank and utterly confused face that they must practice it at home. This week we are having our first chapter test and so I instructed them to open their agendas and write “study for math chapter test”. It’s like I was speaking another language. The confused faces set in and everyone began asking what it means to study. Yikes!

As educated adults we take for granted that someone along the way had to teach us how to study, especially how to study for a math test.  But we must remember that we do this year after year. Each August (or September if you’re lucky!) a brand new batch of students walk into our classroom and our job is support their growth as learners and mathematicians. Our job is to take those deer caught in headlight looks on their faces and help them turn them into looks of intrigue, creativity, and problem solving. In addition to teaching our students the math curriculum we need to teach them how to study and how to prepare for tests, projects, presentations.

Take the time to review ways of studying – whether it’s doing practice problems, completing a study guides, reviewing notes, flashcards, tutoring, math games with friends or classmates, or whatever you like to promote in your classroom! Then make sure you take the time to practice these study skills in the classroom. This gives you the chance to watch how your students study and give out some helpful tips, because if your students are anything like mine, they definitely need some direction and coaching. Taking the time to be explicit and walk your students through a typical math study session will definitely pay off in the end!

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!

 

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