It seems that many teachers leave the profession early because they feel isolated and don't have opportunities to collaborate with other educators. To combat this problem, many schools have implemented Professional Learning Communities (PLC) to enable teachers and administrators to work together to improve student learning. These groups are meant to set common goals and collaboratively achieve the goals through meetings, classroom visits, and cooperative planning.
Last year, my school established PLC's by building time into teachers' daily schedules to meet with other members of their curriculum team. Four days per week, the math teachers met either as a large group or as a grade-level team to discuss issues and upcoming activities in their classes. Sometimes, the conversation focused on helping struggling students, differentiating instruction, or incorporating test-prep. Other times, the teachers reviewed the curriculum and tweaked lessons or units to ensure their schedule stayed on track. We also invited special education teachers, administrators, or district leaders to the meetings when their support was needed.
While our time last year was well spent, we did learn that implementing a successful PLC is a challenging endeavor. It's easy for teachers to spend the period discussing challenges of their day or even non-school related issues. And, sometimes, we struggled with knowing where to begin when tackling a tough topic. This year, I'd like the math PLC to collaborate to develop more units - perhaps even cross-curricular units. I would also like to arrange visits between classrooms so teachers can see what their colleagues are doing in the classroom. Then, I'd like to bring a discussion back to the PLC to establish a common core of our school's best practices. From here, we can identify weaknesses and begin to build a stronger team to help all of our students succeed.
Do you participate in a PLC? If so, what structure and activities have worked well with your team? Share your success stories!
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Every once in a while I come across an article that is so timely and simply written that I have to share it with my colleagues. In Teaching Secrets: Making Math Meaningful for All, Cossondra George provides 6 relatively simple suggestions for making math lessons more meaningful. Reading the article will provide you with more insight into each of these suggestions. I've provided some simple commentary below. Which of these suggestions have you tried successfully?
Purchase a set of student whiteboards for your class. I cannot tell you how valuable these have been in my teaching. They are simple tools that engage students with their learning. It's more motivating to use a marker and whiteboard instead of pencil and paper. Every time I bring the boards out, students are more excited to get started on the day's lesson.
Create real-life examples of concepts you are learning. I mentioned this in a previous blog entry. It's so important to make the math meaningful and interesting. And, don't forget to ask students how they might use this skill outside of the classroom!
Use small groups and presentations where students teach each other as well as the entire class. Students love to help one another. Providing students with the opportunity to play teacher motivates them to learn content thoroughly and, as the article states, if a student can explain a concept to another it indicates that he or she has a deep understanding of that skill.
Teach the power of "Is your answer logical?" This is so often overlooked. Students compute an answer and write it down. They don't take the time to think about the answer, to use estimation or other techniques to determine if it makes sense. Start asking your students, "Is your answer logical?"
Integrate technology to capture student interest. If it's available, technology is a great motivator for students. So many kids are using technology every day outside of the classroom. It makes sense that they want to use it in school, too. Even getting into the computer lab for one or two lessons a month can help students relate math to other areas of their lives.
Encourage, require, demand re-do's. People make mistakes. Adults seem to understand that, but kids have a difficult time with that concept. Allow students to fix their work and make sense of their errors. If they can determine what they did wrong, it is likely to prevent them from making similar errors in the future.
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Throughout this school year, one of my primary tasks will be getting to know and truly understand the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. My home state, New Jersey, recently adopted these standards along with many other states in the nation. While the adoption of these standards will not immediately affect classroom instruction, many educators will have to start thinking about and planning for the implementation of these standards over the next few years.
The Common Core State Standards were developed as a collaborative effort between teachers, administrators, and experts to ensure that students throughout the country are learning the same core skill at about the same time during their educational career. In the past, states have created individual sets of standards that were often quite different from one another. This created a challenge because it was difficult to compare students from one state to the next. It is also difficult for students who move between states because the content they have learned in one area of the country could be quite different from the content they are expected to know in their new school. Now, states can opt to adopt the Common Core State Standards to provide consistent expectations to students. Additionally, the Common Core State Standards are research-based and meant to ensure that all students are prepared for college or the work force.
Because I have been doing my best to stay on top of the Common Core State Standards Movement, I hope that I can share perspective and insight through this blog as the year rolls on. Stay tuned to future blog posts for information about how to plan for and implement the standards in your district. In the meantime, visit www.corestandards.org for comprehensive and up-to-date information about the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
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Recently, the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM) released a position paper about the role of motivation in math instruction. Early in my career, when I worked with high school students, I found that motivation was a huge factor in student success. Now that I have the opportunity to work with younger students to mold and shape their beliefs about learning, I try to develop students' motivation and improve their attitude about learning mathematics. The NCSM believes that students who are motivated to learn and who have a positive self-image about their ability to learn will meet greater success. I tend to agree with this belief. It is critical that educators help students recognize the value of setting goals, work hard to achieve those goals, and understand how the phases of the learning process lead to greater understanding and appreciation for the knowledge attained.
NCSM offers eight suggestions about how teachers can foster motivation and positive self-image. These suggestions are summarized below:
- Provide rich, engaging activities while setting an expectation for students to learn
- Help students reach mastery through persistent and effective effort
- Reflect on your own beliefs about who can and cannot do mathematics—think about how this might affect student learning
- Challenge views about "smart" kids or kids who "can't" or "won't" learn a skill
- Eliminate policies that don't allow students to reflect on or revise their thinking
- Research classroom best-practices on increasing student self-efficacy in mathematics
- Implement assessment for learning strategies
- Establish an understanding that persistent effort improves achievement and instills beliefs that anyone can become smarter
In reading the suggestions, I think the goal is for educators to throw away preconceived beliefs about students, forget what previous teachers said about a student's ability or inability to learn, and recognize that every student needs to see value in their current mathematical skill level and develop persistence and attitude to successfully move forward from that point. Tell me, what do you do to motivate your students—especially those who don't believe that they can learn math?
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In my role as a math specialist, I have the opportunity to work with students in all different grade levels. Most of these students struggle with math and are targeted for additional instruction to boost their math performance. In working with these students, one common thread that I see is that they really don't understand why they have to learn math. I don't fault them for this—I just don't think they've learned math in a context that is meaningful to them. I also think it's challenging for parents to highlight mathematical experiences in the students' daily lives. It's so easy for kids to understand why reading is so important—mom reads a good night story, uncle reads the newspaper, dad reads the street signs on his way to work. But, the occasions when math is used aren't always highlighted.
The greatest opportunity for kids to see math is when dealing with money. Even young students come in contact with monetary transactions almost every day. However, they often have little to calculate with today's electronic cash registers. So, one of my strategies for helping students see math in their lives is to ask them – every time I see them – how they've used math (outside of school) recently. The first time I ask this question, I usually get some strange looks and often a superficial answer such as "I counted 3 cookies that I ate for my after-school snack," or "I looked at the clock and saw that I went to bed at 8:30." These are a great start but, trust me, if you keep asking, the answers will get more and more interesting. Students will start to look for math in their everyday lives. They'll start to see how often they use math and might even start conversations with parents and siblings about occasions when they use math skills. This may seem like a simple strategy, but it helps students recognize that what they're learning isn't just applicable in school; they are skills that will be useful every day of their lives.
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About a year ago, the US Department of Education published a practice guide with 8 recommendations for helping teachers use Response to Intervention (RTI) to identify and help students in need of math interventions. We've found this guide to be an invaluable resource and worth mentioning as you think about your RTI plans this fall.
So, where should you start with RTI this fall? The US Department of Education recommends universal screening to determine which students are likely to need intervention. The practice guide provides a checklist for following this recommendation.
From Assisting Students Struggling with Mathematics: Response to Intervention (RtI) for Elementary and Middle Schools
Recommendation 1. Screen all students to identify those at risk for potential mathematics difficulties and provide interventions to students identified as at risk.
__ As a district or school sets up a screening system, have a team evaluate potential screening measures. The team should select measures that are efficient and reasonably reliable and that demonstrate predictive validity. Screening should occur in the beginning and middle of the year.
__ Select screening measures based on the content they cover, with an emphasis on critical instructional objectives for each grade.
__ In grades 4 through 8, use screening data in combination with state testing results.
__ Use the same screening tool across a district to enable analyzing results across schools.
Download the full list of recommendations and their corresponding checklists from the Institute of Educational Sciences website.
Photo credit: http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/
As students make their way back to school, teachers are gearing up to identify students’ diverse academic abilities and put them on an appropriate course of instruction. We’ve learned a lot about how to make that process easier and more effective by working with MetaMetrics on the release of our newest program, Scholastic Math Inventory. Today, our friends at MetaMetrics®* are sharing their expertise with you through this guest blog about differentiating math instruction. Enjoy!
Within a classroom, there will be a range of ability levels—from students who perform above grade-level to those who struggle to meet grade-level expectations. In order to meet the needs of individual learners, teachers will differentiate the math curriculum—by remediating or accelerating instruction, when necessary, and providing all students with opportunities to learn and grow. That’s where The Quantile Framework® for Mathematics can help.
The Quantile Framework measures student mathematical ability, the curriculum and teaching materials on the same developmental scale. Quantile measures help teachers determine which skills and concepts a student is ready to learn and those that will require more instruction. Educators can then use this information to better focus instruction to incorporate the necessary prerequisite skills that may be missing and accurately forecast understanding.
Quantile measures are available from a growing number of mathematics programs and assessments, including the new Scholastic Math Inventory. One of the benefits of these metrics is that they allow educators to link interim and benchmark assessments with year-end tests. Quantile measures provide valuable insights into students’ expected performance on these high-stakes tests so that educators can monitor whether each student is on track to meet the state standards throughout the school year. For more information on Quantile measures, visit www.Quantiles.com.
MetaMetrics, Inc. is focused on developing new methods of linking assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning. MetaMetrics built the Quantile Framework for Mathematics to provide a common, developmental scale for measuring student mathematics achievement, the difficulty of mathematical skills and concepts, and the materials for teaching mathematics.
I was recently intrigued by an article in Teaching Children Mathematics, titled 'Communication speaks'. Communication in the math classroom has been a passion of mine throughout my teaching career. This article discusses how communication can benefit the math classroom. It also provides ideas and tips for incorporating communication throughout math lessons.
Research has shown that students who are able to communicate mathematically are able to develop a deeper conceptual understanding for math. Requiring students to justify their answers and debate with one another engages students with the math and allows them to discover the how's and why's behind the math. In an educational generation that is often focused on passing a test, educators often look for the correct answer but don't necessarily see the benefit of allowing students to communicate why an answer makes sense. Such communication can come in the form of asking questions and sharing ideas, both verbally and in writing. It also requires the ability to listen to and understand the language of mathematics. A focus on proper vocabulary and an attention to the rules of mathematics help students recognize faulty arguments and develop rich explanations for why a technique may or may not work. It provokes students to take risks with the math; to say "What if..." and to lead students to the investigation and discovery of mathematical ideas that might not make sense if they were explicitly taught by the teacher.
While introducing open communication into a classroom does take time, the outcome is well worth the effort. Not only will students select the correct answers on those high-stakes tests, but now those answers will make sense. The math will have meaning, enabling students to advance their mathematical learning with a solid foundation. As you think about ways that math instruction can be improved in your school this year, think about how it might be beneficial to tell students to talk more, rather than talk less; to debate more, rather than to stop arguing; and to understand that developing language and vocabulary isn't just for Language Arts class.
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As a former high school math teacher and current K-8 Mathematics Specialist, I am eager to share my thoughts with you about the state of math education through this blog. By sharing my thoughts, ideas, and perspectives about how to best foster our students' love of mathematics, I hope to start a dialogue that helps us provide our students with a rich, inspiring education.
As we prepare for the start of another school year, I'm already wondering about the preparedness of our students. We hear a lot about student learning-loss over the summer, and many districts create packets or other learning materials to distribute to students to foster their brain-power throughout the summer. But, what about the teachers? Just as students spend the spring counting down the days until summer break, many teachers are doing the same. After a year of early mornings, late evenings, and lots of hard work, we're ready for summer fun, too! While most teachers do plan, create, and think about the upcoming school year over the summer, there is still a shift in mentality that needs to take place as we prepare for another school year.
Just as we expect students to set goals for their learning, it's important that we set goals for our teaching as well. I try to set goals that fall into three categories: goals to help my students, goals to help my teaching practice, and goals to help my school community. This year, I'd like to better prepare students for high-stakes testing by creating a daily test prep warm-up. I'd also like to motivate students by developing activities that relate to what is going on outside the classroom. Last year, I created a 2-week long Math Olympics during the Winter Olympic Games. I've never seen students so excited to start their math lessons! To improve my instruction, I'd like to research and come to a conclusion regarding the role of homework in the instructional process. Homework is often over-emphasized, and I'd like to create a policy that best serves the students. Finally, I'd like to support the school environment as a whole by creating an after-school math club. Students love playing math games to enrich their skills but there's not always time during the school day to incorporate such activities. Providing students this rich opportunity after school could have tremendous benefits for students' attitudes and motivation to succeed with mathematics.
Just thinking about all of the things I'd like to accomplish this school year is getting me excited about heading back to school. So, as you look forward to the upcoming year, what are your goals? What are you doing to prepare yourself and your students for a wonderful school year?
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In a recent speech at the Urban League's 100th Anniversary Convention, President Obama announced that “education is an economic issue – if not “the” economic issue of our time.” It’s true that people often forget about the implications of education for the next generation of our country’s leaders. The government may be doing all it can to fix the economic crisis now, but who will be there to do the same in twenty years?
So education is an economic issue both in the immediate sense—how to budget for it in a struggling economy—and in the more long term sense—how well are students prepared to enter the real world. Right now, 21st century skills, which include competence and facility with technology, are crucial prerequisites for many 21st century jobs. The President noted that unemployment among people who have not gone to college is almost double the rate for those who did attend college. Thus, as I pointed out in my last post, engaging students so they want to pursue higher learning is critical.
As the government introduces numerous reforms, incentives, and grants, it’s great to see that the importance of education has grabbed so many people’s attention. There may be heated debate over what approaches are most effective, but keeping the conversation going is essential. How can we keep our students competitive in a global society, not only in terms of their test scores, but also in terms of their skills, motivation, and perseverance? The President’s message is: don’t settle with the status quo.
Photo Credit: http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/president-obama
Walt Gardner’s recent blog post on “The Importance of Affect in the Classroom” brings up the controversial issue of teacher performance and evaluation as determined by standardized achievement tests. But more interestingly, Gardner argues that these evaluations do not best measure teachers’ long-term success as educators. I think he has a point. If students learn the skills necessary to pass a state assessment each year, will they really benefit in the long run?
What may be at least equally important to monitor is student attitudes toward learning and school. A teacher may be succeeding in covering the material required by state or national standards, but if students hate the subjects that they’re learning, they will resist progressing any further than absolutely necessary. And they will certainly not pursue higher education. Furthermore, if students see a test as the end result of school, in their minds, retaining knowledge seems unimportant, so what they have learned will soon be forgotten.
It’s true that affective outcomes are difficult to measure (Gardner suggests the Likert inventories, introduced in 1932), and testing the cognitive outcomes of teaching still has its benefits. But instilling intellectual curiosity and love of learning in students early might determine whether they are more likely to do something meaningful with the cognitive results shown by their test scores. And shouldn’t promoting ongoing learning be a priority that teachers strive for in addition to strong performances on assessments?
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According to the press release for a recently published study by Ming Ming Chiu of the University of Buffalo, the informal conversations parents have with their children about current affairs can boost math performance. Chiu examined math scores, along with country, school, and family characteristics for over 100,000 students in 41 countries. His results suggest that chatting about events like the BP oil spill can help children develop mental models of mathematical quantities and processes. Those models support formal instruction in the classroom, translating into higher scores.
The benefit of these conversations, however, appeared only in rich countries. The full study, published in the journal Social Forces, offers interesting insights into the relative value of school and cultural forces in shaping mathematical achievement. For instance, in poorer countries that lack informal resources, schools can make a bigger difference than in richer nations. The marginal value of access for formal instruction is higher when children don’t have access to libraries, calculators, and parental support. In richer countries, on the other hand, where access to public education is readily available, it is often the informal opportunities, like dinnertime conversations with the kids, that can have the greater impact on academic performance.
Sadly, Chiu found that these conversations happen rarely, regardless of social economic status or ethnic background. Maybe we can do something as educators and publishers of educational materials to help boost the occurrences of these valuable current events chats inside and outside of school. These conversations don’t have to be word problems, but it would help if they are mathematical. Getting kids thinking and imagining quantities, rates, and exchanges can give them models to help them make sense of the abstractions in math. And it also gets them more civically engaged in the world around them. That seems worth some effort to me.
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