Friday, December 4, 2009

The Power of Goal Setting!

I am not a big reader.  I do not like reading books very much.  My lack of focus sets in making it difficult to persevere through novels, even ones I particularly enjoy.   Barnes and Noble purchases can be found unread in every room of my house. Overdue library books are on the coffee table, partially read.

Twitter and Facebook are the greatest inventions of all times.  140 characters, short blurbs with links if you want to read on are my type of reading. Thank goodness for the 21st Century. Uncle John's Bathroom Reader (The Twitter and Facebook of the 20th Century) was my favorite college read;  short, to the point, satisfying.  Newspapers are pretty good as well.  I'm too cheap to subscribe to them anymore though.  The iPhone covers most of the sources I need.

As a teacher my job is to help students become exceptional readers who can connect and interpret, analyze and write about a variety of texts.

How can I do this?

I do use the other students in the room.  The influence of readers around the room is a great incentive to those few who are unmotivated and unfocused (like me).  The students discuss and recommend novels and series daily. Unfortunately, watching and listening to others does not necessarily get some where they need to be.

That's where I come in.  Oh boy.  This is the hard part.  One student came to me on the very first day of school.  He told me that he hates reading.  Hates reading?  This is going to be a long year I thought. My response to him at the time was that hopefully we can change that this year. He looked quite skeptical.  I was quite skeptical.

We have an excellent program called Accelerated Reader.  (Click on the link to learn more information.) This program helps students become phenomenal readers in a fairly authentic and self-motivating way that I was quite skeptical about from the start.  My views have changed significantly since our students have found great success. The students set personal goals that they try to attain each marking period.

This boy did not respond well to this motivation.  So we went to the next step.  He chose a book. We did some math, he loves math.  We divided the number of pages in the book by how many days he wanted to take to complete it.  Then a sticky note was placed for each day on the goal page.  I checked in with him each day.  He finished one day early and said that he felt proud of himself for this big accomplishment.  He said that it was not as hard as he thought, and it was "pretty fun".   The final thing he said was "I didn't realize I could read a book so quickly".


I need to take my own advice.

Trashketball and Monday Morning Quarterbacks!

Today we played a quick game to help students understand the connections between fractions, decimals, and percents.  The students all know how to convert with ease between them.  Now we are focusing on real-world examples.

One thing I thought of on the way to school to make it interesting was to take five shots at a trash can and record your ratio (fraction) after each shot.  The students stand about five feet away from the can and take shots with recycled paper.  They record each students' scores as well.

Here were my scores:  1/1, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/5
I made my first shot, then missed the next four.

So what were the decimals and percents.
After the first shot, 1.0 or 100%, Then 50%, Then 33.3%, Then 25%, Then 20%.

The students then followed to complete this task.  (Most fared better than me.)

At the end of the lesson, one of the students said we should call this "Trashketball".
A quick google search found this to be a game developed by math teachers already for all kinds of math activities.  How cool.  I will be sure to  try some of their suggestions.

On Monday we will branch off into looking at the group as a whole, simplifying the fractions, comparing fractions within and between groups, adding and subtracting fractions.

Thanks to those of you who shared ideas. A former colleague sent along a great football idea.  Can't wait to try this Mrs. M.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Quest for Ideas to Shake this Turkey Funk

We are working on decimals, fractions, and problem solving in class.

I am feeling quite uninspired with ideas.  It must be the Thanksgiving fog I'm still living in.

I need your help.

I need a diverse group of people to respond to tell me how they use fractions, decimals, percents, with problem solving (because it is all problem solving) in their occupations or hobbies.

Don't worry if it doesn't apply to the sixth grade set.  That will be my job to make it real.  It just may shake me from this "Turkey Funk".

Happy December.

Did you know that if you add consecutive odd numbers starting with one they equal squares?

1+3= 4 (2 squared)
1+3+5 = 9 (3 squared)
follow the pattern.

Pretty neat!

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Busy and Productive Week!

What a week!  It felt like a whirlwind trying to cram every second of math into each day.  We were one day short due to conferences, but I think we made up for it.

This week's tasks:

Continue to master converting fractions, decimals, and percents.
Adding and subtracting decimals
Multiplying and dividing decimals
Estimating all problems before solving
A few tricks when estimating
Continue to plan and map out complicated word problems using
the organizational method learned from Arthur Hyde in his excellent book "Comprehending Math".

This method is awesome.  He calls it the KWCS

K( know for sure)       W( need to find out)    C(Special Conditions)


I call it the KFCS for two reasons.  It is easier for kids to remember (The chicken joint). It makes a little more sense to me.  The F for find out.

The students take the information from the problem and sort it out.  The K and the F are pretty self explanatory.  The C is quite interesting.  It asks if there are any special conditions, special things that the students need to know in their minds in order to solve the problem.   IF the problem involves time, they need to know 60 seconds in a minute, 60 seconds in an hour.  If the problem involves customary linear measurement, they need to know there are 12 inches in a foot, 3 feet in a yard.  You get the picture.

Having this information organized and sorted makes solving the problem so much easier.
Any tricks can be teased out by carefully reading the information a second time.

We are exploring the different ways to solve each problem.  This is our next important step.  We will be experimenting with different problem solving strategies, and learning to pick the most efficient method to solve.  This whole process is called braiding.  I'm only on page 50 or so of this book.

Click here to link to a clear and comprehensive explanation of this process.

Like with writing and reading, the students are stuffing their proverbial backpacks with a load of strategies and tricks to help them attack and conquer anything thrown at them.

Class Average over 90 for all of the tasks listed above!
I hope building these foundations now will make the rest of the year so much easier.

I can't wait to see what happens next!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Isn't it Important? It's All Important.

I was searching around the State Department of Education's website this week looking for the different possible certifications available in Connecticut to maybe someday in the future further my education.  Scrolling through the exhaustive list I found your run of the mill endorsements like Elementary, K-6 (mine) and English 7-12.  There were supervisory positions such as Superintendent and Intermediate Supervisor (Not for me).  There were even some vague ones like 039 Secondary Subject or 110 Unique Subject Area Endorsement?!  I even found one called "107 External Diploma Program/Noncredit Mandated Programs"  Bizarre!  

There was a comprehensive list for reading and reading instruction, at least six I could count.  These included Remedial Reading and Language Arts Consultant. These are quite essential and important to the programs within our schools.  

Curiously there was something missing.  Hopefully it was just evasive and I couldn't find the precious code. Maybe it was a misprint.  That is easy to do.  I doubt it though. 

There was not one supervisory, consultant, or specialist endorsement in the area of math education.  NOT ONE.

I could not find any university education programs that offered this as a program or certification within the state.

How could this be possible. Every school has reading specialists and math specialists.  How could there not be an endorsement or certification for math?  This sure needs some explaining.  

The State Department of Education includes the following lines in its position statement.
7. Appropriately assign highly qualified mathematics teachers who are knowledgeable about content and pedagogy.
 8. Recruit and train mathematics teacher leaders to coordinate and support mathematics instruction at all grade levels.

Knowing all of this shouldn't there be an endorsement called "Math Specialist K-8" or "Math Consultant".  

All this makes me think that the state thinks that math is not important.

I did find one proposal from November 18, 2008 in the minutes of a meeting. This stated:
"Math Specialist advanced endorsement: certification was generally seen as a positive approach for not interested in pursuing the 092. Elementary people would need the nine credits in math. Language should be modified to say program supervision, as opposed to supervision of staff. Districts can build upon these types of positions. Some of the job responsibilities are not unique to this position, but are qualities for all teachers. There was concern that those presently in these types of positions should be able to use professional development opportunities to fulfill the requirements. Some sort of caveat or “grandfathering” to address current teachers serving in these types of positions. Endorsement builds capacity of teacher leadership."

If this is the state's true intention, then get it started.  The kids depend on it!

Note: If you can find anything to contradict this information, please do so, and please let me know about it. My hope is that none of this information is correct. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Step Back For the Months Ahead

On my way to work together something triggered my thought process.  I don't know if it was an NPR news story or a story from one of the local radio stations in Connecticut.  Whatever it was, my thoughts immediately turned to my kids and how important it is during these difficult economic times and the holiday season coming up to be thankful for what we have.  Whether you have a small chunk of change, a giant portfolio, or the sixteen billion that Mayor Bloomberg (140 million spent on the campaign?!) has, it is important to remember how fortunate we are.

We need to remember to cherish the joy our children and families bring to us and not to get caught up in the holiday cycle that evokes high levels of stress in all of us.  I will do my best to treasure each wonderful moment, show them how much I care for them, and not let any economic, financial or occupational stress get in the way of my most important job, father and husband.

As the calendar turns to November and the ads turn from "Fright" to "Silent Night" sit back, relax, and enjoy the season that is upon us.

(There will be a lot of great math talk around all of the sales bombarding us for the next two months!)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Putting It All Together...

A couple of us got to talking and thinking last week.  This was not at a planned meeting, but one we chose to have in the hallway. (This is how most good meetings happen!) We have a decimal unit.  We have a fraction unit.  We try to deal with percents here and there.  Later in the year ratios and proportions units roll around and we have to re-teach the fraction stuff which we should have been working on all year but didn't have time for. One colleague said, "Why do we refer to these topics as units?"  His point was that we use all of these skills all of the time and they are all significantly interrelated.

We end up connecting the decimals to fractions and percents in the decimal unit.
We connect the fractions to decimals and percents.
We connect the ratios and proportions to fractions, decimals and percents.

So I'm sure you can guess the question.  Why not teach it all at the same time?

That's what we are going to do.

We started this week.  Here's the plan:

Start with teaching them the "how" of it all.  They will learn how to convert between fractions, decimals, and percents, to see the relationships.  They will become very proficient at this.  (They did a great job)

Next, probably the most important step.  Teach the "what" and "why".  What is it that you are doing and why would you ever do this.  They will use the newspaper, advertisements, baseball and football statistics to see how this all applies to most math they will ever do in their lives.  We will use percent circles, fraction bars, human beings, whatever it takes to make sense.

Money, money, money!  The students know all about it.  What better frame of reference!   We will even dabble into the stock market,  hopefully the stock market game at some point this year.

They will be experts at adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing fractions and decimals.  Fractions of a set, fractions of one, fractions of fractions.  They will be able to apply these skills to all problems that arise.

We will use current topics.  Today we listened to a Marketplace report from American Public Media which airs on NPR. This report about the assembly of the iPhone and the estimate of percent profit that each country involved in the design and manufacture earns.  This lesson involved estimation, converting percents to decimals, decimals to fractions, simplifying fractions, adding decimals, adding percents, and adding fractions.  This all came from a four minute audio news report.  Did I forget to mention a good practice in listening skills. I was really proud of them today!  This was followed up by a trusty old favorite "Maths Mansion".  This is a british television show that students love.  I can access it through Discovery Education.   The students learn in a fun and silly way how math works.  If you can watch it with your students.

By December 23rd they will be proficient and confident.  They will possess the tools to handle any problem thrown their way.  We will be sure stop and review but then push on!  It should be fun.

We are ready.
We will keep you posted!
Please check back for our progress.

Any suggestions...please, send them our way!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

More Science and Math!

Here is a link to a blog by Education Week about Education Secretary Arne Duncan seeing the need for more science in the curriculum because with No Child Left Behind, science is being "pushed" out of the curriculum.  I would use the word squeezed out!  This has happened in my school.  A link to the article is below.

Duncan said "I worry tremendously about the loss of science and engineering," Duncan said at one point. The main question, he added is: "How do we create the incentives so that students have a well-rounded curriculum?...We're thinking these things though."

Friday, October 23, 2009

What's the Problem? That's the Problem!

Oh, the age old problem...Word Problems!  Kids hate em.  They don't get em.  When you mention the two words the squirming in the seats begins.  The collective "Ugh!" ensues.  All of a sudden the teachers words sound like the teacher in Charlie Brown "Wha Wha Wha".  (If that didn't happen already.)

My goal this year in sixth grade is to break this vicious cycle of "Word Problem Phobia".  I want to get to the bottom of this.  I want to know exactly the reasons why each year there is a phobia, dislike, hatred for word problems.

I contend and tell the students that every single problem they will ever have to solve in their lives is a word problem.  That math they need to solve is connected to something, whether a trip to the grocery store, a home improvement project, or planning for a birthday party.  You never have to do a math problem just for fun, unless you want to.  (See last week's blog on Ken Ken's.)

So how will I get to the bottom of this?  How will this age old problem be fixed?  I'm not quite sure, but I will give it the "Old Intermediate School Try"!

Here's the plan:

~ Give them lots of word problems.
~ Not understanding what is being asked is the big problem.  Solving the wrong problem using the wrong numbers is the most common issue. So I will try to teach them specific reading strategies to help understand the problem.  We do this in reading, we will apply these same skills to math!
~ Teach them a system of how to organize the information and how to show the work for any problem.
~ The students will work together and help each other.  Isn't that how problems in real life are solved?
~ We will solve authentic problems that affect their daily lives.
~ We will use resources such as the wonderful book Comprehending Math by Arthur Hyde.
~ We will try to make it fun and exciting, not Charlie Brownish.
~ I will seek help from others.  Will you help me?  If you have any thoughts, ideas, suggestions, complaints, please let me know.  I am looking for input.

My next problem is to figure out how to get my kids to sleep. That's a serious word problem. (Ugh!)

Stay tuned. I will keep you posted.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Percents, Ken Ken's, and Graphing Away: Math Potpourri!

Another week down.  The theme of this week was powering through.  There is never enough time so we just did the full court press.

Problem Solving.  Check
Graphing.  Check
Ten Percent of any number.  Check.
Customary units of measure in ounces and gallons.  Check.
Couple of quizzes.  Check.
Metric linear measurement. Check

Looking back on it we did a whole bunch of stuff.   The most fascinating thing this week though was watching the students during independent working times.  They are talking about math.  They are asking for math.  They want problems to solve.  Some students are teaching algebra.  Some are very high level math students.  To watch them teach basic algebra to other students is amazing.  They want to learn!

One crew is on a quest to complete every Ken Ken puzzle around.  They started quite simple, but now they are doing the longer, much more difficult puzzles.  One character is even trying to make his own.  If you don't know, Ken Ken's are number puzzles in the form of Sudoku where you need to find the numbers in the boxes but by doing an algorithm such as adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing.  Click the links for more information.

Today's morning message problem came from my ride to work.  We were out of orange juice at our house.  I bought a 12 ounce container at Dunkin Donuts.  This container cost $1.70.  My regular half gallon orange juice container from Trader Joe's was empty.  The Trader Joe's juice costs $2.99.

How many Dunkin Donuts 12 ounce containers would I need to buy to equal one half gallon?
How much would that much orange juice cost?
How much less does it cost to buy a half gallon at Trader Joe's?
What is the price per ounce?

They started to work on the problem before our quiz today.  We are going to finish on Monday. I showed them both containers and one commented how math is part of every day. One said "How cool!" I told them that this is the stuff you can be thinking about while reading the cereal box at breakfast.  Each tiny piece of knowledge you gain will connect to another piece of information.

The thing I am most proud of this week was that every student can tell you how to find ten percent of any number.  Than to find twenty percent you just double the ten percent.  To find five percent you cut the ten percent in half.  To find fifteen percent, you add the ten and five together.  To find one percent you just move the decimal twice to the left.  A pattern will form.  It will always be a pattern. They will get to the point where they can find any percent of any number mentally.

No need for a tip calculator for these kids.

Next Week:  Unit test, Quick and easy decimal strategies, The facts reprised!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Just The Facts!

The students must know the facts.  Yes.
The students must have addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division mastered.  Yes.
The students must be held accountable for the facts every year or they will not retain them.  Yes.

The great facts debate was on this week.  The beginning of the year fact assessment revealed that students in general need to practice their facts.  Some teachers felt that they should already know them and basic facts are something we should not be teaching. Some thought they should just know them because they learned them in second and third grade.

We all know the purpose and the need for students to master their basic arithmetic facts.  We all know why they need to have computational fluency.  This is the foundation for being quick and accurate when calculating math problems.  Just as readers need to be fluent in their reading so they are able to comprehend the text, math students need to fluent to solve the higher order problems they encounter.

I posed this question to the class: "When was the last time you practiced addition and subtraction facts?"
The answers were overwhelmingly second and third grade.  As they were completing their facts tests I heard students mumbling, "I need to practice these."

I was glad to hear that.

I told the students that it is okay to not have the speed and accuracy yet.  I told them it is not their fault. I told them that they will master these facts.  I told them that they will be held accountable for these facts all year long. They will need to be quick.  They will need to practice.  They will be fine.

We can't expect students to know and retain information if we don't continually hold them accountable.  We need to have high expectations, but fair high expectations.  We need to bridge the gap from grade to grade and expect the facts to be a part of the curriculum every year.

There is a wonderful article from Scholastic on math fluency.  This article details why memorizing the facts is so important for higher-order math skills.  Here is an excerpt from the article detailing brain activity during math:

"Recent research in cognitive science, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), has revealed the actual shift in brain activation patterns as untrained math facts are learned (Delazer et al., 2003). As predicted by Dehaene (1997, 1999, 2003), instruction and practice cause math fact processing to move from a quantitative area of the brain to one related to automatic retrieval. Delazer and her colleagues suggest that this shift aids the solving of complex computations that require “the selection of an appropriate resolution algorithm, retrieval of intermediate results, storage and updating in working memory” by substituting some of the intermediate steps with automatic retrieval (Delazer et al., 2004)."

I am looking forward to seeing their progress.  Let's get the brain shift moving. I can't wait for the students to feel the pride of being quick and accurate based on independently practicing the facts and being held accountable.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Math, The Way It Could Be?

Finally I have read an article with data (proof)  that there is a need to have math teachers just teach math in elementary school starting in fourth grade at the latest.  This month's "American Educator" magazine has the article titled  "What's Sophisticated about Elementary Mathematics?

The point of the article is that elementary schools need math teachers.  They need teachers who focus specifically on one subject to be able to get to the heart of the matter.  Students need to know the basics.  They need to know how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide.  They also need to know why and how everything works.  They need to be able to apply the math to their own life.  They need to understand algebraically at a young age how numbers and place value work.  They need all of this continually repeated.

When I taught in the lower elementary grades I always felt that math got less attention.  I taught it in the afternoon when the little ones were exhausted and sometimes falling asleep on the carpet.

Now there is a push in some places to have math specific teachers.  The teachers can focus on one discipline and dig real deep to build those crucial understandings and connections.  Lets get that push moving!  The students and the country depend on it!

Can we have a little bit of science too?

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Blitz!

This past weekend the New York Jets did not let up on Mr. Wonderful, Tom Brady!  The kept up the blitz. They kept coming with the pressure all the way until the clock hit zero. Mr. Brady was rattled, bruised, and bewildered.  He was shaking his head.  His coach Mr. Bill Belichick couldn't bare to watch.
They were once so confident.  Now they looked so confused!

Chances are they will look at the game film, figure out the problems, and come back stronger and more knowledgeable for the next contest.  They will work it out on the practice field in their New England facility.  They will not make the same mistakes. They will double check each formation.  They will adapt their blocking schemes to protect their prince.  Success will follow. That is certain.

The new Jet philosophy brought by Rex Ryan got me thinking.

I needed to borrow his approach and apply it to Math!  I needed to put the blitz on these students.  I needed to not let up until each and every one had analyzed the problems they were having with standard multi-digit multiplication and long division.  I needed to keep the pressure on until they changed their thinking and let go of past math issues.  I needed to force them to practice, practice, practice.  This is the only way we can move on and have a successful year.

These kids had the same confused look of Brady and Belichick.

It worked!  They did the work.  They practiced.  They changed their mindsets.  They became confident.

Thank you Mr. Ryan.

Multiplication and Division Quiz:  Class Average 94!

Maybe this week Brady and Belichick can learn from the sixth graders.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Key to Unlocking Math Confusion...All of Those Words

After teaching for 13 years I think I have finally found one of the main confusing culprits for students in mathematics...all of that vocabulary.  Factors, products, addends, sums, minuends, subtrahends, quotient, dividend, divisor, greater than, less than, greatest common factor, least common multiple, acute, obtuse, supplementary, etc etc etc...

Teaching sixth grade it has finally hit me.  They need to know these words . They need to hear them, use them, become comfortable with them.  They need to be part of every lesson.  Every day they need to hear the old ones, the new ones, and even some crazy ones.  They need to be challenged to find out what perfect, deficient, and abundant numbers are.  Prime numbers, composite, even and odd need to be ingrained in their brains.

The thing is, I needed to learn all of these terms.  The school of education didn't cover them.  New teacher training skipped this section. Even if I was told, I'm sure there were more pressing matters. It took some independent reading and classroom discovery to realize this fact.   I didn't know.  In reading we have learned to front load vocabulary.  Teaching math I always felt I needed to jump in and teach. Vocabulary was an afterthought.  I knew students were getting confused with Least Common Multiples and Greatest Common Factors,  but I needed to push on!

Now we stop and take the time.  We stop and study these words.  They are part of our daily routine.

I need to go study now.  Tomorrow: Factors in multiplication and how they are visually represented along with composing and decomposing higher value units.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

BIG NUMBERS small numbers: A trip to Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History

Today I went to the Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven with my family.  What an impressive place to visit.  They have a giant apatosaurs, good old T-Rex, a large assortment of mammals, and a new collection of rocks and minerals.  The children's discovery room was fun for the kids...and me too!

A man in the elevator said that he had not been there in fifty years (1959).  My wife said she had not been there in 30 years (1979).  My kids hadn't been there in one year (2008).  I had never been there before today.

That man who visited 50 years earlier said that not much had changed there in 50 years.  Some exhibits still had handwritten explanations in pen.  The expeditions headed by O.C. Marsh in the 1870's were still the main focus of the entire museum.   The building itself almost takes you back in time.  The old glass doors, brick facade, and dark entry way bring you back to a time before blogs, the internet, and television for that matter.

One thing I was struck by were the numbers throughout the museum.  Numbers that told how long ago these animals lived.  Numbers that stated the years in which they were found, the weights in tons of the massive mastodons, and the ounces that tiny birds and mammals measured.  There were lengths, speeds at which they moved, years spent tediously uncovering their remains.  I can't accurately remember any of them. ( We left 5 hours ago.)

I had a very difficult time comprehending the numbers that I was exposed to.  The large numbers were almost incomprehensible.  One dinosaur was from 66 million years ago.  Another mammal was from 11,000 years ago. Another was from a period I couldn't pronounce 12 million years ago.  The leaf cutter ants were from today, found in a place around the world I can't remember.

What is my point?  As a teacher of math, my job is to help students understand these vast and miniscule numbers they will come across in the world. They need to be able to compare them to help gain a perspective of the past and the world today.  This is quite difficult.  I left perplexed trying to put these things into perspective.  I have serious work cut out for me.  Serious reading to do. I need help from other teachers of mathematics as well.

I will accept any ideas! Please help me!

If you haven't been to The Peabody Museum of Natural History, go.  It is a wonderful day in New Haven.  A walk to Archie Moore's for lunch tops it off too!

Next time I go back I am bringing a timeline, ruler, and maybe an old school abacus to help figure all this out.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What's in a Name?

I was pleasantly surprised in today's lesson when we were doing a little number discovery.  The students needed to count the letters in their last name.  They then needed to write all of the things they knew about that number.  So for example if your name is Jones, your last name has 5 letters.  What do you know about 5?  Well I got the usual "It's odd." "It's the number on a five dollar bill." "It's double is 10."    But then something unusual happened, I continued to call on students and they said things like: "It is a prime number."  "Its factors are 1 and 5 only."  "The multiples of 5 all end in 0 or 5"  With even number last names students were telling me about composite numbers.  The were discussing squares and square roots.  What a handle they seem to have on basic number concepts.  This will make for a great start to the year.  I can't wait to delve into place value, big and very small numbers.  This should be fun!

The one thing missing from this discussion...Baseball.  I always relate the numbers to baseball player numbers.  Five is David Wright!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Summer Rust!

I heard it today. The first sign that the kids are back in the swing of school and starting to think about the year ahead of them.

I gave them a test. No, not one for the grade book. Just a test to see what they know and remember. This was your basic multi-digit multiplication and long division, a bit of decimals, fractions, and percents. Then some basic word problems.

As I was picking up the papers I heard those words..."I'm a bit rusty on this stuff."
The boy in the back was clearly serious and the nervous chuckles resonated throughout the room. I then posed this question to the class: "Who else felt a bit rusty on this stuff?" Three-fourths (seventy-five percent or .75) of the students raised their hand.

Of course I told them this was okay. It is the beginning of the year. This undoubtedly reassured those with the nervous chuckles.

Why is it alright to be rusty? Shouldn't the students come in as strong as they left. Their Connecticut Mastery Test scores show they are bright, able, and they showed mastery in March.

Those students who did do some work over the summer clearly stand out. They are the ones who felt quite confident and competent this week. A little bit each week for eight weeks seems to be all it takes.

The students I tutored over the summer felt this confidence and were able to master this task. They had one hour per week of instruction with maybe one extra hour of homework.

My thinking is we should make a little bit of math work mandatory over the summer. Students are expected to come into school having read from a summer reading list. How about a summer math packet. Not one just geared for the CMT's filled with multiple choice questions, but one that builds on skills that they use in the real world such as estimation strategies, tricks to multiply and divide large numbers mentally, and adding large groups of numbers quickly and efficiently.

This is an area in education we probably need to look closely at for the benefit of our students. We need to turn that rust into shine.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

President Obama's Speech to Children...What's All the Fuss?

A quick stroll around the web will get you angry and angrier. President Obama is planning on giving a speech on Tuesday, September 8, 2009 at 1:00 pm to the students of America.

What a wonderful idea.

His goal is to: "challenge students to work hard, set educational goals and take responsibility for their learning", and calls for a "shared responsibility" among students, parents and educators to maximize learning potential.

So why will a quick stroll around the web make you angry and angrier. Well, there are legions of people calling their local superintendents throughout the country to not have their children see this; not have their child hear a motivational speech about the wonderful opportunities that a good education can bring you.

This New York Times article from September 3, 2009 summarizes some of the thinking that I am referring to.

It wouldn't matter to me who the President of the United States was. If the President makes a speech to the country about the virtues of a good education, hard work, and setting goals, the students must listen. What better person to hear this from, the one who holds the highest office in the land. The one who himself, and hopefully one day herself holds degrees and advanced degrees. One who has spent a good portion of their lives trying to help others in some way.

If this was George W. Bush...we would listen.
If this was FDR...we would listen by the fire.
Since this is Barack Obama...we must listen and watch live...streaming on the internet and televisions of our classrooms.

Our students best interests will only be served if they hear this message of being the best they can be. Maybe we all can take a little something from this. Sometimes a new voice is all it takes.

Here is a link to the speech information.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

About Face, About Sleep!

A colleague of mine and I were talking yesterday about the topic of naptime in school. He read an article about the benefits of having students, yes students in sixth grade taking power naps in school.

I thought this was a crazy, wacky, preposterous idea. Even first graders never got naps. If a student fell asleep when I taught first grade it certainly wouldn't last for long. We had curriculum to cover. We had knowledge to gain. You get the point.

My colleague approached one of our bosses on the topic. They said if it can be backed up by data it is fine.



I take back all that I said in the last post. Let's have a designated time to nap. Let's rejuvenate our brains and bodies for the afternoon. Let's try it out! What is the most we can lose?

I am now furiously on the hunt for MORE studies and data so if someone walks in and asks what in the world we are doing, I can wake from my slumber in the comfy computer chair and hand them the study hanging on the wall. If you find any studies please pass them along.

Good Night.

The National Sleep Foundation has this article along with many others.

Here is one study in Connecticut.

Here is another by The Institute of Mental Health.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Where Do We Begin?

I came to may mailbox today and found CMT scores. Lots of scores.
I went to my e-mail and it said the students need to master their facts. Lots of facts.
I attended meetings. Lots of meetings, lots of talking, lots of wishing I was sleeping.

Lunch was good though!

It is a new year though and I am excited to get down to the real business of teaching math, reading, and science.

Stay tuned as we embark on a new journey. These kids are going to feel the wrath of math. I hope they are ready. I hope they have mastered their facts. I hope they get their sleep...

just not in class.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Head Down Generation...or Decade?

You are standing in line somewhere at some store or anywhere for that matter and you notice something. You start thinking about what you observed. What is happening? Then you look around and it is happening everywhere. What are they doing? Where have you been? What have you been missing? Why is everybody doing this?

You go to another place and you see the very same thing.

At first it was from the young...teens, pre-teens, college students. Then the more you look, adults...GenXers, Baby Boomers, 20 somethings whatever they are, even a few octogenarians.

What is this phenomenon?

People walking with their head buried in the cell phone, smart phone, iphone, whatever.
They are text messaging, e-mailing, facebooking, tweeting like maniacs. Some are not looking where they are going. Some are obviously doing this while driving.

Texting has exploded! It is everywhere. The kid at the checkout at Stop and Shop. The Barista at the coffee shop. The parents whose kids are running wild at the store. Do we hear less phones ringing in public?

I am now on the lookout for some funny and outrageous places where you see this texting going on. Ever see two people collide while texting? Share your stories let me know about funny or ridiculous texting situations.

I'm sure the chiropractors and massage therapists are excited about this.

In the meantime...

Keep YOUR head up!

Bye the way if you are interested, follow the link below to the Kansas Sate Fair Text Messaging Contest.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Common Numbers Everyone Must Know!

As I have been teaching and tutoring throughout the school year and summer for students in varying types of school settings, I have been finding out some interesting information.  Many students do not know some of the common numbers from our daily lives that we were drilled with and tested on every year throughout our schooling.  At some point these numbers are missed.  Maybe these common facts are taken for granted. In lieu of learning these numbers maybe the curriculums tell us to push on and do more complicated tasks.  I feel that "pressure"  to get through what we need to get through.  What numbers am I talking about?  Here is a list.  See if you know the answers.  If not,  find out the answers.  How?  If you are not sure how, e-mail me and I will help you.

1.   How any days are in a week,  year?
2.   How many weeks are in a year?
3.   How many hours in a day?  In a week?
4.   How many inches in a foot, yard?
5.   How many feet in a mile?
6.   How many cups in a gallon?
7.   How many ounces in a cup?
8.   How many ounces in a pound?
9.   How many pounds in a ton?
10. How many days are in each month?    

This is all for now. There are plenty more that need to be committed to your memory.  I will be back again in less than 168 hours.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A New Year: A New Mathematical Journey!

Here we go. The start to a new year. I sure hope everyone has been practicing their facts. Not just multiplication, which is the main focus from third to fifth grade, but division, addition and especially subtraction. Each year subtraction is the slowest and least mastered of all the basic facts. It is so important for students to have these mastered before we can do anything else. But how can this be done? The old fashioned way: PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE! Work on these each day. Write them out, memorize them in order, write them out some more. Say them aloud over and over. Ask a friend, relative, parent to read facts to you and answer them. Try the opposite way. Have them give you an answer to a fact and you give all of the possible facts that could go with it. Mastering the facts will help you become successful and will make your math life so much more positive. That's a fact!

The Beginning

Welcome to my math blog.  This blog will consist of short math observations and ideas.  It may also include other miscellaneous topics.

Thank you!