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Friday, January 31, 2014

Getting Families Involved in Math Education Part 4

If you are new to this series, we are taking a look at this book:

Today we are looking at HOMEWORK!

First let's take a look at what this book says about homework
- Gives kids a chance to extend learning and parents a chance to see what kids are learning
- Helps kids take responsibility for their own learning
- Newsletter goes home explaining homework expectations
- A homework diary can be used for families to give feedback about how each assignment went
- Notes to parents about ways a parent can help while still respecting the kid's way of doing things
- Homework is best given weekly and should be given and collected the same days each week

Clip art by Illumismart

How I use homework to get families involved.
- First of all, I have a major confession to make.  Every year I believe less in less in homework for elementary students.  Ideally I love the idea of sending home some of the great math games we use in school and seeing families sit around the table playing and learning together.  In reality, families are very busy and the kids who would benefit most from the extra practice are often the ones who are least likely to get it.

With that being said, we do have school and district policies surrounding homework and it is pretty clear that students should not be getting more than 10 minutes per night per grade level.  (Third grade gets 30 minutes max, etc) So here are my golden homework rules if it has to be given.

1. My Number 1 rule for homework is that I never EVER send home something that we are working on developing a conceptual understanding of in class.  For example, in second grade we spend a great deal of time developing conceptual understanding of double digit addition and subtraction.  I never send home double digit addition and subtraction practice with second graders for homework.  If a kid asks their parents for help, they will most likely be taught the traditional algorithm which is not something I wan my second graders exposed to.  Instead I give homework such as addition and subtraction facts or geometry games we have been playing in class.  The same thing applies in subsequent grades as kids first start learning multiplication and division.  As soon as I send it home, I invite the algorithm into my classroom so I wait until I am ready for that to happen.

2.  I believe all homework in elementary school should be due weekly and consistently.  A teacher should have a routine that homework folders go home Friday (or any consistent day) and are due back a week later.

3. I love the idea of math games and centers that students have already done in school going home for extra practice, reinforcement and to show parents the type of thinking their kid is doing in the classroom.  I know there are kids who do not have families who will do this type of homework for them and so I try to pull in an older student or classroom volunteer that each student who does not have home support gets to show the game to.  It is really great if this can be a consistent person.  

4.  If homework is important enough for you to assign and require, there should be a natural consequence of not getting it done.  If our goal with homework is to teach students to take responsibility for their own learning, we need to make sure their actions have consequences.

5.  I love the idea of a homework diary for kids of all ages.  This works very well in a planner format once kids are in grade 3 or 4 but including a homework diary in folders of younger students can be a great way to open lines of communication with families.   

How does homework help get families involved in your classroom?  Please respond in the comments below.

Want to check out all 6 parts, here they are!
Part 1: Newsletters 
Part 2: Open House
Part 4: Homework

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Someone took the 11 card! A Teachable Place Value Moment

Something amazing happened today.  I was about to start a whole group lesson in first grade when a student shouted out "someone took the 11 card."  Now a student in first grade shouting something out when they are not supposed to is not the amazing part.  The amazing part is that we are a few days into a unit on geometry and I was planning to use my whole group instruction time to look at attributes of shapes and do some 2-dimensional shape sorting.  Quite often with first graders I will have a first grader who speaks when it is not their turn and usually I go on with things, but this time was very different.

This students' interruption caused me to change my plans for the first ten minutes of class.  Completely changed.

Here is what the student was talking about

These are arrow cards.  I use them to help kids learn to read and write numbers (and much more!) If you have not seen these used in the classroom, check out my guest post at Kid's Math Teacher.  

Anyways, I noticed last week when I did some formative assessment that 5 students in this first grade classroom were having a hard time seeing the teen numbers as ten and some more.  The student who shouted out that the 11 card was missing was one of these kids.  

I decided right then and there to seize the opportunity and see where it would go.  I am so glad I did!

I jumped right on the comment and asked her how she knew the 11 card was missing.  She replied "because I don't see it."

Not exactly what I meant so I tried again.  "Where does the 11 card belong up here?"

After a 10 second pause she says "It goes right after the 10."

By now most of the rest of the class has their hands up and are wiggling in their seats.  She can tell that they know something she doesn't.

I ask other students if they have seen me show the number 11 on the arrow cards and they all agree that I have.  I then ask students to give a hint about what might have happened to the 11 card.  

A very nice young lad tells her so kindly, "you need to use 2 of the other cards to make the 11 card."

She thought about that for a bit and then I could see the light-bulb moment of her getting it.  With great enthusiasm, she rushes up to the board, grabs the 10 and 1 cards, put the arrows on top of each other and proudly exclaims that she found the 11.  I then wanted to push it a bit farther for her and the other students who showed difficulty with the teen number last week.

"I notice that the 17 is also missing.  What do you think happened to it?"

Without hesitation, she grabbed the 10 and 7 and made 17.  She said "10 plus 7 equals 17"

I asked her to sit down and quizzed a few more selected students on what happened to the other teen numbers.  They did amazing.  I will follow up with more formative assessment later this week, but I think they all got it now!  

Apparently today, the kids knew better than I did what they needed to learn next. 

Have you ever had a lesson go completely off track but really help your students' understanding?

Getting Families Involved in Math Education Part 3

If you are new to this series, we are taking a look at this book:

Today we will look at the authors suggestions for parent conferences and I will tell you about how I use parent conferences to get families involved in my school.

Litton, the author starts by giving some great advice on scheduling and preparing for conferences.  She then gives these suggestions and many others to ensure a successful conference.    

- Start on a positive note
- Ask parents to tell you what is going well and what their concerns are
- Show specific examples of student work that illustrate what you are saying.  
- Go over assessment results including individual interviews
- Plan ahead for conferences by regularly collecting student work
The chapter ends with a WONDERFUL appendix that shows many examples of student work that would be useful to share and gives ideas about comments you could make that illustrate current understanding and what their next steps are.

Clip art by Illumismart

Parent Conferences in my own school
      As the math specialist I get invited to attend the difficult conferences.  If a student is behind or in some cases very ahead of their peers, I will often be asked to join the conference.  Classroom teachers also invite me when they know parents have specific concerns or when it is a student I have a lot of contact with.  Sometimes I am asked to sit in on a conference because the parents are very difficult or have expressed opinions about their students math learning that do not show understanding of how or why we are teaching math as we do.  Depending on the reason for the conference and what the concerns are, I have many approaches but here are a few things I always do in conference situations.

- I like to start on a positive note by sharing a recent piece of student work that illustrates something they can do well or something that shows how far they have come.  Because I do so much formative assessment, I have a lot of student work samples available to choose from and can always find something positive.
- I then like to have parents share how they think their child is doing and any concerns they have.
- I am all about data driven decision making so then I will share any assessments.  For primary students this often includes individual interviews, especially if a student is behind.  I go over the current assessment results and show their progress over time if applicable. 
- I show other student work and point out specifically how the work illustrates them progressing or not progressing toward meeting the standard.  I also like to explain what the next steps are in terms of what we are working on next.
- I prepare myself to answer the hard questions.  Why are you teaching it this way instead of that way?  These big questions parents have when they are new to my school or my way of thinking about math used to really challenge me.  As I have become more experienced and read more research on math education  I have been better prepared to answer these questions.  I like to show parents that it isn't MY way of teaching that I am going for but rather what the research says works.  
- I focus on the big mathematical ideas for that grade.  For each grade level I can think of 3-5 things that are the most important things kids have and understand in order for them to be successful in the next grade.  If a student is behind, I focus the conference on the most important skills and make sure my discussion focuses on how to move a student forward with these big ideas.

I sometimes have parents at conferences who want to be able to understand the math their kids are doing but need to brush up on their own skills or have a reference to use as their students' math gets more challenging.  I have several copies of these books that I lend to parent and also many parents who have purchased their own copies.

Grades 3-4
Grade 5
Grades 6-8

How do you get your math message out to parents during conferences?
Want to check out all 6 parts, here they are!
Part 1: Newsletters 
Part 2: Open House
Part 4: Homework

Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday Math Literature Volume 28

If you missed last week's post about a great book to challenge early finishers, you can check it out here!

Recently, I have found that Amy Axelrod who is the author of one of my favorite books for teaching time, Pigs on a Blanket: Fun With Math and Time has an entire series of Pigs will be Pigs books that are great stories that also deal with math content.  I have been on an ordering frenzy since this summer and have started using these books with students.  Here are a few of my new favorites

In this story the pig family heads of to the carnival for some fun on rides and playing games.  It is a great light way to introduce concepts about fair games, luck, chances of winning,  and odds.  The last page of the book goes into a definition of probability and talks about what makes a game fair.  There are some follow up questions based on the story that are a great way to see what students' current levels of understanding around probability are.  The book also shows the pigs spending money so I have also used this story with students who are working on money.  It is fun to keep track of the money they have spent so far.  I have used this book in grades 2-4.

In this story, the Pig family is traveling for Christmas and misses their flight.  Being a mellow pig family, they hop a plane that is scheduled for several detours.  They finally make it to their destination after traveling for quite a few hours.  Mr. Pig's watch doesn't seem to match that of the Taxi driver's when they arrive at their destination.  This story has been a great follow up to the one I reviewed a few weeks ago about time zones.  Because the students I used this book with had already been introduced to the idea of time zones, they really understood what was going on with the clocks not matching Mr. Pig's watch.  This book is also great because it is a good way to look at reading and writing numbers in the thousands and even adding numbers of this size if your students are ready.  There is also an element of proportional reasoning and some rate problems you could get into with the relationship between speed, time and distance.  There are many levels of math concepts in this story and I have used in in grades 2-6.

Have you used any of the pigs will be pigs books in your classroom?  Head to volume 29 to see a few more of my favorites!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Teaching Math with You Tube Videos: Counting

Clip art by Whimsy Clips
One of my newest tools this year when teaching math is You Tube videos.  I have always been a big fan of Intelli-tunes, Fun with Math and Music and other math music CD's.  They have some great songs that kids are really engaged with.  Although I still LOVE these CD's and use them often, I have added some You Tube videos to my repertoire this year.

I work in many different classrooms in a given day and now most of them are equipped with a SMART board or at least a computer with a projector.  Even when I work with a small group, I have an iPad that I can pull these videos up on.  Now that they are so accessible and easy for all students to see, they have found a place in my teaching practice.

They also provide a nice movement break for kids.  I often have kids get up and dance/sing along.  My students love making up dance moves or doing jumping jacks while they sing.  It gets them moving around for 3-5 minutes while still practicing math.

I also like to use them as a transition from one thing to another.  If I need 2 minutes to put out materials or get things ready to go for the next part of the lesson, it provides a quick way to keep the kids engaged and learning while I take care of housekeeping tasks.

Here are a few of my favorite counting videos.

Let's Get Fit Count to 100

A great way to practice counting by ones, this video incorporates counting and movement.  The movement changes every 10 number and is a great way to add some activity into your math time or transitions. This one is by Jack Hartmann who offers a huge variety of educational music.

Counting Super Hero 

This is another counting to 100 by 1's video with a fun superhero theme.  My students like to make up their own dances to this one.  This one is is by Pete from Harry Kindergarten Music which has excellent videos and songs to use in your classroom on a variety of topics.

I Can Count to 100

A favorite of my students' for it's catchy tune this is one that will stick in your head!

Counting By 2's Song

A fun monkey themed way to practice an important skill.  For other ideas about working on counting by 2's a to grab a few count by 2 freebies, check out this post.  

Count by 5's

Climbing Up This Mountain (Counting By 10's to 100)

Another great video from Harry Kindergarten!  I love the way this video shows the count by 10 numbers along with a base 10 representation.  

Counting With a Leprechaun 

A favorite in March or any time of the year, this catchy song is a great way to practice counting by 1's, 2's, 5's and 10's.

Do you have a favorite You Tube video to help kids with counting?  Please share the link in the comments below!

Count to 120

With the Common Core putting the responsiblty of numbers to 120 on first graders, it is great to have a song that goes up to 120! 

You might also be interested in checking out these great counting books!

Looking for other You Tube videos,  here are my favorite songs and videos about shapes, time,  multiplication, coins and area and perimeter.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Getting Families Involved in Math Education Part 2

In this post, we will be taking a look at getting families involved at back to school night or open house.

We will look at some big ideas from chapter 2 of this book and then I will give my take on how we apply these ideas and other things we do at open house to get families involved in math education.

In this book, the author acknowledges how challenging it can be to speak to parents and get a year's worth of ideas into one night but offers a few easy to do tips that can get you started.

1. Choose manipulatives.  Having manipulatives out for parents to see how they are used to develop big math ideas makes them feel much more comfortable with their use.  

2. Choose student work: Think about including work samples from a previous class that illustrate some of the big ideas students will be learning that year and some of the strategies and approaches they may have to the problem. 

3. Prepare the environment.  There are many ideas in this section to help make parents feel more comfortable such as making sure there are enough seats and materials.  

4. Think about what you want to say.  What are the big ideas you want to get across about how and why you teach math?

Clip art by Illumismart

Here is what happens in my school on open house night
     Our families have about half an hour to walk around classrooms, check out student work and have their students show them around.  The second half hour each classroom teacher prepares a presentation about the year's curriculum and expectations for homework etc. 

For part one of open house when parents and kids are mingling and looking around each classroom has around 2 math stations or games out that kids show their parents.  These are things from their current rotation of math stations that they already know how to play.  We usually try to make sure they are math games because the students really love playing against their parents.  We also might put out manipulatives for free explore, especially if that manipulative is new to that grade level.  These games are set up in each classroom.

Second graders demonstrate a math station to their parents.  This game is about finding pairs that make 100 using place value decks.  

In the hall by the main entrance, I like to set up a math information table.  Year to year it varies on what I present at the table.  If we have a new math program for a particular band of grades, I might have more information and sample materials from that program so that parents who have questions or what to know more can access this information.  Other years I have set up handouts about helping kids learn math at home or given demonstrations on alternative ways to solve problems besides using an algorithm.  I have also had copies and supplies for easy to make games that work on skills such as multiplication facts that parents are always asking me for new ways to work on these ideas with their kids.  As the math teacher this makes my presence known at open house, gives me a chance to interact with parents and makes me available for questions, comments and concerns.  

During the second part of open house when teachers make their presentations to parents, they try to highlight the big ideas of math learning that will happen that year and explain that students will be learning and creating strategies to solve problems that parents will not be familiar with.  Our math program has some very parent friendly handouts on what to expect in each grade level as well as a parent support website.  This information is available for parents to take home on paper.  If there is a new teacher or new program, I might present with them but most of the current teachers are quite comfortable with this part.

Also during the second part if at all possible, we like to have student work samples available (usually from a previous year with student names removed) so parents can see what types of math thinking their kids will be engaged in.  I do have to say that this can be tricky to get to on this night and if we don't get to it we try again during other parent interactions throughout the year.

Student work samples are great to display during back to school night

I like to find my way back to the front door as families are leaving, especially now that I know most families and they know what my role is.  This gives them one more opportunity to connect with me.  When I was first starting out, it was one more chance for people to figure out who I was.  

How do you get families involved in their students' math education at open house?

Want to check out all 6 parts, here they are!
Part 1: Newsletters 
Part 2: Open House
Part 4: Homework

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Valentine Addition Doubles

With January quickly coming to a close and lots of changes in our school schedule for February, I started thinking about February holidays.  I have many Kindergarten and first grade students and even a few second graders who have been working on doubles addition facts so I created this quick and easy game for them to play.  

All you need to do is print the game board, give each pair 20 bingo chips or other markers and a dice or some 10 frame cards and they are ready to play.  Also included is some follow up written practice. 

Head over to my TPT store and grab this freebie for your students!  Make sure you leave some feedback if it something you can use in your classroom.  
One more Valentine's day think I am excited about is this book I just ordered for my own kids.  They can't get enough of Pete the Cat.  


Do you have any good Valentine math resources? Leave a link in the comments!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Getting Families Involved in Math Education Part 1

Recently I have had a lot of questions from other teachers about how I involve parents in their students math education, how I address the way things are taught now versus how they were taught when parents were in school and how I get parental involvement in classrooms.

I will be writing a series of posts that answer these questions and more.  I am hoping to give you the big picture of how I have changed the school and community climate around math over the past 9 years.  I will share some of my favorite resources with you that helped me get started and describe how things work in my school now.  Please remember that it has taken me a long time to get parents this far and if your school has a long way to go it is fine to start small.

Here is a book that I read when I first started teaching math all day

Over a series of blog posts, I will be sharing ideas from some of these chapters and telling you how I took what was in this book and applied it to my own school situation.  If you are looking to make a change with how math is addressed with the parents in your school community, this is the book I would start with.  It is fairly comprehensive, the ideas are easy to apply and there are tons of examples.  

Today we are going to look at Chapter 1: Newsletters

Nancy Litton, the author of this book identifies three reasons you might want to send a newsletter.

1. Explain what you are doing in math class.  This tells what is happening, what is being studied, what games or activities are being used and what homework will look like.

2. Explain why you are doing it.  This goes into more detail about the pedagogy behind the math.  It explains why kids are learning math different from the way their parents did.  If you teach multi-digit addition for example it might go into detail on other strategies their kids might be using and why they have not learned the traditional algorithm.    

3. Describe how math activities happen in your classroom. This recreates for parents some of the  activities and discussions had during math class and highlights the type of thinking you expect your 
learners to engage in.

This chapter also has many examples that illustrate these points as well as several more examples in the chapter appendix.  

Clip art by Illumismart

How we use newsletters to get families involved in my school community
- School wide newsletter: We have a weekly school-wide newsletter that goes out via paper copies and email attachments to all families in the school community.  This is the ideal place to feature small pieces about using math at home or in the real world.  When things are running smoothly, it is great if this can be a weekly feature.  This is a great place to keep math in family life featured.  In the past we have done ideas about how to practice math while cooking, shopping, vacationing, etc.  We try to pick topics that have a broad enough appeal or ideas that can be applied to younger and older students.  

- Grade level unit letters.  Our math curriculum includes pre-written newsletters to families that are intended to be sent out before each unit at each grade level.  With grade levels having between 7 and 9 units, these are something that go out just about monthly.  Many math programs have these now and if you can not find them in your curriculum materials, you may want to check the publisher's website as these may have been added or revised as more people purchased the program.  In the past, I have had teachers use parts and pieces of these letters along with their own words but as we have continued to use the program and they have made revisions, the pre-published notes to families have gotten quite good.  They explain both the what and the why of what kids are learning and even offer glances into the daily classroom routines which are all things highlighted by the Litton book.  These have made the newsletter part of getting families involved very easy for classroom teachers.  

Some other books you might be interested in looking at as you think about getting families involved in math education:

Want to check out all 6 parts, here they are!
Part 1: Newsletters 
Part 2: Open House
Part 4: Homework

Monday, January 20, 2014

Monday Math Literature Volume 27

If you missed last week's post about great books for teaching time you can check it out here!

I work with many students in many grades of all different abilities.  One of the things I find most common is students who are ahead in math and finish their work early and correctly.  There is at least one of these in each classroom and with testing and standards and trying to get kids to meet the standards teachers have very little time to spend with these kids who are exceeding.  I like to provide these students and their teachers with some fun and engaging math problems to work on that will keep them interested and engaged.  Here is one of the books I often turn to in order to help out these teachers who have very little time but still want to help these students.

Here are some of the things that kids can explore in this six chapter book

- Secret codes
- Calculating the day of the week you were born, or what day Christmas will fall on
- Mobius strips
- Multiplying huge numbers
- Calculating endless pi
- Einstein's insane equations
- Fibonacci spirals 
- Sports statistics 
- Number magic

I have used this book with students who are exceeding the standard in grades 3-6.  There are also several problems I have done with whole classes in grades 5 and 6 from this book.  This is a great way to increase or keep engagement in math and to challenge your students who are ready for it!

Head over to volume 28 to read more about the Pigs will be Pigs math literature series.