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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Back to School Math Tips

Take a deep breath and relax for another day or two because it's just about time to think about going back to school. One of the things I love most about teaching is the chance to start over each year and this year I am looking forward to changing things up even more now that I've completed a full year at fifth grade. This second year is going to be a lot better. Right now I'm teaming up with some of my favorite math teachers to bring you some of our back to school ideas. Regardless of what grade you teach, you're sure to find some great ideas here.

Tip #1 Spiral

I didn't realize how much I needed to do this until this past year. When you're teaching first grade, it seems like the entire year is spent on addition and subtraction that just gradually increases in difficulty. But as you move up in grade levels, the amount of content just seems to get larger and larger. There's so much to teach and I didn't have time, nor did I want to build in time, for a lot of review. So it's important to not let students forget what they already know.  There are a lot of ways to spiral your math content, but here are a few easy ways I'm using that just fit right in.
  • Number Talks - Last year I wrote a post about starting number talks in the classroom (you can read it here). Number talks were one of my favorite times of the day and they are a great way to bring back past content. They don't take long and you can easily embed your review into the daily routine. Don't just move from addition to subtraction to multiplication and finally division. Mix it up. Keep your students using everything they can. One of my favorite ways to review fractions was setting this up as the daily number talk:

  • Math Tasks - I love using larger problem solving tasks and these are a great way to bring back past content. I often use a multi-day problem that's tied to a holiday or integrated into other curriculum as a way to change things up from time to time. It also gives me a great chance to get my students using multiple concepts at once.

Tip #2 Student Driven Anchor Charts

Rather than coming up with a clever anchor chart that looks great, let your charts be student driven either by making them with the students or letting the students make them. Here are a few examples from my classroom. They aren't as beautiful as the ones I see on Pinterest, but so much learning and solidifying of math concepts goes into the making of each of these.

 This one was made over the course of a few days as we worked at the beginning of our unit on fractions. As students discovered different rules for comparing fractions, we recorded them together with me as the scribe. The last rule was really discovered over the course of a conversation by 3 students whose first names just happened to arrange in a consecutive alphabetical order. The great thing about this chart is that everyone in the class knew who they could ask for help.

This next chart is completely student made. All of the students worked in small groups to create a chart that helped them convert measurements within the metric system. Each groups explained their chart and we picked one that was easy to read and understand to hang up.

These student made charts are from our math word wall. I gave different math vocabulary words for our fraction unit to small groups of students who then wrote definitions, refined the definitions with feedback from the class, and designed the word wall cards.

An InLinkz Link-up

Have a great year!


Friday, July 8, 2016

Balancing the Equation

Welcome to day 4 of our Balancing the Equation blog hop. To start at the beginning, hop on over to Kids Math Teacher by clicking on the button below.
Kids Math Teacher
Today I'm talking about "The Common Core Mathematics Debate" which is chapter 3 from the book Balancing the Equation

Clicking on the cover will take you to Amazon.
How did a nonpartisan effort to develop a set of common standards by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers become so controversial? Why after complaining about the Common Core, still no one can tell me what they specifically hate about it? What is so objectionable and how should I respond to parents? 

These are questions I think most teachers have asked themselves more than once. So why is the Common Core creating such an uproar? The authors of Balancing the Equation list four issues that are the basis for much of the opposition.

Issue #1: Federal Intrusion on States' Rights

The CCSS were envisioned at the state level, written at the state level, and implemented at the state level. So why all the fuss? Federal monies were offered based on states having college and career ready standards. Many people have viewed this as requiring the use of the CCSS, but in reality each state can determine the standards they want to use. Implementing the Common Core was the easiest way to demonstrate that individual state standards were college and career ready, it was not a federal government requirement.

Why is there even a picture of the president on this post? And it feels like high school peer pressure....everyone hates it, you better hate it too.

Issue #2: Distinguishing Between Standards and Testing

When the CCSS began to be implemented in 45 states, new testing followed right behind. The new tests were designed to assess higher level thinking, reasoning, problem solving, and conceptual understanding. They are also performance based assessments that students complete on the computer. The complaints from parents and educators are legit. The new tests take too much time, many schools don't have the infrastructure for testing online, and using student assessments to evaluate teachers all became major concerns. However, these issues with standardized testing are not solely based on the CCSS. Previous standardized testing focused on basic skills in isolation and only assessed at the lowest DOK levels. The new tests required so much more from students and schools. These are testing problems, not problems with the standards. We could go back to testing at the lowest DOK levels, but I think we all know better than that. We need to work on making the assessments better for our students, but we also need to realize that it's the testing that's the problem, not the standards.

We do have testing problems to fix, but they aren't because of the CCSS.

Issue #3  Standards Do NOT Dictate Curriculum, Homework, or Teaching Methods

I think everyone has seen one of those crazy "Common Core" math assignments. They always make me think twice about what I send home. I wonder if parents will understand the purpose of the assignment or if I will absentmindedly send something that I will eventually regret. The problem with these crazy assignments are not that they are "Common Core" math. They are usually assignments that are frustrating to kids and parents. They may not understand what is being asked or the purpose of the task. We have all given a task or assignment that didn't turn out the way we anticipated, even before the Common Core.  But today the scapegoat for all poorly chosen or frustrating assignments is the Common Core. People don't seem to realize that the new standards do not tell us how to teach, they are standards, just standards. Curriculum decisions, homework, and teaching methods are all left up to districts, schools, and most importantly, teachers.

Another key issue is helping parents understand that there is a purpose behind all of our teaching methods. We aren't getting rid of math fluency or the standard algorithms. We are professionals using research-based methods to build mathematicians. This is where we each need to be better about educating parents as well as students. When parents understand what you are doing, they are more comfortable and supportive. Here's a link to an article on Salon about how some of these crazy, viral "Common Core" assignments make more sense than people think.

Why do they always show something that makes no sense?  It took me a few minutes to realize they were decomposing the 37 and then counting on from 53. It could have been done in a much easier way, but that would have defeated the purpose of this post.

Issue #4  Opinion or Evidence?

Much of what we see on the news and in social media is based on opinion rather than evidence. A study of the impact of the CCSS debate on social media during a seven month period showed some interesting facts:

  • Those posting the most often about the CCSS are against them.
  • The most common topic with a Common Core hashtag is testing.
  • The support for the common core tends to base arguments on reasoning and facts, but the opposition tends to appeal to passion with words such as "threat to freedom" or "psychological harm."
These types of posts do more harm because they appeal to emotions and disregard facts. So how can we help people sift through all the information and understand the Common Core? When I searched for "common core" on Facebook, the first 5 minutes of scrolling through posts gave me nothing but negative postings. All of the images I've included in this post are from that search. It's possible for people to see all the negative and none of the good. The authors suggest challenging people to read the standards for themselves. This is something I have been doing for the past two years. What I noticed is that all the complaints I was hearing were very generalized. I felt like people were responding to what they were seeing on social media or in the news. So I began to tell them to read the standards at  and then let me know what they dislike about them. No one has ever returned back to report. There's not a lot in the core to object to as a parent, so it's really more about educating parents on what the CCSS are and what they are not.

I have to confess that I have read the CCSS many, many times and I always miss where it encourages sexualization of children and how it mines data about their behavior. Where do they get this stuff?

All of these issues really have nothing to do with the content of the standards. The Common Core calls for fluency with facts, it calls for learning the standard algorithms. The standards are meant to help prepare our children for a world that demands greater levels of reasoning and understanding. 

"The hope is that they will demonstrate exceptional procedural fluency, conceptual understanding, and problem-solving ability, and graduate college and career ready with unprecedented opportunities open to them." (page 55)

The next post on chapter 4 of the book will go live on July 9 at Math Coach's Corner. You can hop over there by clicking on the blog button below. And if you would like to win a copy of Balancing the Equation for yourself, enter the raffle below. All free copies have been donated by Solution Tree. You can also sign up for a free Balancing the Equation webinar with Matt Larsen on July 9 with this link.

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