Getting UN-STUCK: A Test Prep Strategy

Testing season is upon us. Yuck.  We all have experience with standardized tests, for some of us starting all the way back in elementary school.  I will admit it…at times when I was tired of taking the test, knew it wasn’t for a grade, or was simply stuck, I just filled in the bubbles. Haven’t we all done that? I heard stories of classmates filling in bubbles in the shape of a fish, or a smiley face, or…

Here’s the thing. There’s no escaping measurement. We are measured in our adult lives at our physician’s office, at our dentist, and by our creditors when we want a loan (just to name a few). In many ways we face measurement, allowing others to see our choices and skills in number form. Surely there are pros and cons to this, but it’s a reality for all of us starting at a young age in our schools.

So what do we do about standardized testing? Well, it’s not about TEST PREP only.  It’s about laying a solid foundation of learning for your students, year after year.  It’s about providing them with rich tasks, and most importantly teaching them how to change their inner thoughts when encountering difficulty.  (See Carol Dweck and Growth Mindset if you’ve somehow missed it.)

I’ve put together this thinking map to show what happens in my brain when I am stuck.  It’s the actions I take to get myself out of those initial negative thoughts when something doesn’t make sense. Your personal thinking map may be totally different.  I want students to know that perseverance is in actions. So I tried it out in a few 4th grade classrooms last week to see if students might be interested in seeing my thought patterns when I’m stuck. I had the teacher give me a “tough” problem and I modeled how I’d work through it, even though I had those negative thoughts.

test-prep-sample-questions-elementary-standardized-tests2

 

Then they tried it with a Fraction Reasoning Puzzle.  At first, the initial reaction when I gave out the puzzle was kind of like a stunned silence. It was so many words to read, with a strange diagram at the top to figure out…kids were STUCK. Then they started to read it, and read it again, and maybe even once more.

test-prep-sample-questions-elementary-standardized-tests

Murmurs of “Oh! I get it!” started to ripple through the room. One student even wrote down her justifications for her thinking.

test-prep-sample-questions-elementary-standardized-tests1

When students got closer to being done, I asked them to walk around and look at others.  The room buzzed with them thinking it through and talking out loud. There were some pretty heated discussions. Some students thought that many of the statements were false because there was no point 0 or point 1 labeled on the line.  At one point one student was SO certain that one of his statements was false (when others thought true), he asked to defend his thinking to the entire class.  He stood up in front of everyone and said, “It’s completely false because there is no such thing as the end of a line, a line goes on FOREVER.”

It was so powerful to see them work through difficulty on their own!  You can find free Reasoning Puzzles by clicking on the image below if you’d like to give it a try in your own classroom:

math-test-prep-standardized-testing

 

Advertisements

2 Winners!

For the sake of privacy, I’ll announce both the Amazon gift card winner and TpT gift card winner by their first name only. If your first name is Andrea, check your email! You won the $25 Amazon gift card. If your name is Faith, check yours! You won the $10 TpT gift card.

OK, whew! Gimmicks over.

Gimmicks Are NOT My Thing…

I made a promise to myself when I started, to always blog about teaching tips, and things that would help the greater good of the teaching profession.

I’m not into gimmicks and buy one get one sales or anything of that sort. But when I got an email that Teachers Pay Teachers was giving away one thousand $10 gift cards, only for the purpose of giving away to a follower, I decided to enter my name to see if I could win one for you. Why wouldn’t I pass along the love?

Now would you believe it…I ACTUALLY snagged one of those little gift cards to give to you. So I’ll make it easy for you to try to win. Fill out this form:

Click me! Click me! Click me!

I’ll put your name into a random generator and choose a winner. The thing is, their sitewide sale begins tomorrow, Feb.7th – 11:59pm Feb. 8th, 2017…so I need to unload this thing fast.  I’ll leave it open for 24 hours! You don’t have to do anything except type in your name, email and why you love me.  Just kidding! Just your name and email will do.

If you haven’t seen this ridiculous random generator called fruit picker, check it out by clicking below. It’s really strange…but kids love it.

fruit-picker-random-name-generator-classroom-tools

There, a teaching tip for you after all!

 

3 Ways to Make Meaning of Number Sentences

I told her I had a problem and asked her to solve it. (This intervention student shall remain nameless due to the fact that the internet is an infinite digital footprint, and I believe some day she will be a famous scientist and doesn’t need to read this story about herself online.) My problem?  I have 45 books that I want on three shelves, equally please.  I like when books are evenly spaced out. It’s my math brain I guess.

She sat there, solving this division problem right in front of me for a few minutes. She wrote the number sentence and acted it out, even got the correct answer.  Conceptually she was SOLID.  But the second I asked her what the 45 stood for, I got the deer in headlights look. I waited…nothing.  Then, I asked her what the 3 stands for in her number sentence…no idea.

math-practice-standards-number-sentences2

The very next hour I was in a kindergarten room.  This problem was up next.  Students were solving with drawings. They wrote number sentences to match their drawings.  When I asked “What does the 3 mean?” No idea.  Their understanding of what the 3 could mean became incredibly fuzzy.

math-practice-standards-number-sentences3

I was not shocked to see this. This is a daily occurrence at every grade level with students working at every level.  This is a fundamental problem with Math Practice Standard #2 (Reason abstractly and quantitatively.).  I’ve realized that once the students pull the numbers OUT of the problem, they aren’t thinking about what they mean as you try to connect that back IN to the problem. Remember all of your teachers saying “Label your answer!”? I believe they were onto something.  It is not enough to say “Label your answer!”. We won’t get over this barrier until we start asking what ALL the numbers in the number sentence that you wrote represent.

3 ways to deepen this understanding, and practice it over and over:

  1. Ask: “What does that number stand for? How do you know?” The simple act of going back INTO the problem after solving it will deepen their understanding.
  2. Write words along with the number sentences for a while, until they begin to see how they can move back and forth between the words in the problem and their number sentences. math-practice-standards-number-sentences
  3. Give a number sentence all alone. Ask them to write a story. It’ll be pretty hilarious at first. Apparently my student had potatoes on the brain. Notice, I’m not asking for a story problem, but a story. That means the story will not have a question or an unknown at the end of it. This helps them make sense of ALL the numbers in the number sentence.math-practice-standards-number-sentences1

This is something that we must all commit to to help students make sense of mathematics, make sense of problems and to make math less abstract. I would love to hear any other suggestions you might have to strengthen our little mathematicians in this area.

Win a $25 Amazon Gift Card…Yes, Really

OK, I believe strongly in feedback and using it for my own personal improvement. I’m really looking for ways to find out more about my audience, and to improve my practice. So along with getting good, honest feedback, I decided to give something away.  I mean, who doesn’t love to win stuff???

Would you please fill out my short survey by clicking HERE? It’ll be open until midnight central time on January 31, 2017. From the responses I’ll randomly choose one awesome winner.

Or you can click on this great photo of my cat to take you to the survey. Cause she’s awesome. She really wants you to win.

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-9-27-58-pm

 

Are They Talking?

I read a statistic somewhere that English Language Learners in the United States talk only 4% of the time during their day.  That shocked me, but when I thought about it I realized that for most students there is not a lot of talk in their day. Classrooms that are looked upon as “in control” or have “good management” tend to be quiet in our own minds as teachers.

But talking can be done with good management and can be powerfully done. I’m hearing over and over that research says that talk is so important for both language development and understanding new concepts.

So I thought I’d try out some mini debates with my intervention groups. I was thinking that these are my students who are talking the least because they are the most unsure in the classroom.  What I did was present them with 4 solutions to a problem.

promote-math-talk-reasoning

At first it was painful trying to get them to see anything, or even say a word. They are so used to waiting out the teacher, or waiting for another student to see what they notice. And then, they began to see things…I started to write what they saw, and it was exactly the things that I’ve been showing them for weeks.  When it was their time to talk about it, the light bulb clicked on.  What an eye opener this was for me!  I’ve been talking about tens and ones and addition strategies…showing them one at a time. I WAS DOING ALL THE TALKING. Ugh. I don’t know how many times I need to learn this hard lesson. Check out what they noticed:

promote-math-talk-reasoning-1

So I whipped up a few this weekend for you to try.  I’d love for you to try it with small groups, with partners or with your whole classroom. Just click on the image below to download and let me know what you think!

promote-math-talk-reasoning

It’s Nothing If It’s Not Concrete

Pro-tip: Give them tools. Give them tools! Really…give them the tools!

I was told this over and over by a math coach when I was a third grade teacher, and for some reason it really did not sink in at all. I made them “available”, which means I had buckets of them in a cabinet and they could go and get them if they needed them.  No one ever got them unless I brought them out. I don’t know what my problem was, were they too messy? Too loud? Too much of a pain to have available? Did I not know how to use them properly?

It wasn’t until I was an interventionist and coach that I have gotten to see why the tools are not only valuable, but essential.

Without tools or imagining what the tools can stand for, students are really not connecting the numbers to anything whatsoever.  We can tell them what to connect it to, but you know they aren’t all with you all the time.  The tools are something they have to manipulate and understand.

Right now I’m using The Cupcake Shop for my intervention group. Just because it’s cupcakes it’s a highly motivating projects, but also the stones we are using make it so REAL.  They are building orders and figuring out that in this case, the multiplication symbol actually stands for the words “boxes of”.

real-world-math-connections1

If I were to tell them that the multiplication symbol stands for “rows of, groups of or boxes of” without concrete materials, what could they possibly connect it to but something in their mind? And with students of all different backgrounds, we really can’t rely on them connecting it to something that we are thinking about.

Let them touch it and try it! In the preview of The Cupcake Shop you can try this project out for free to see if it’s right for you.

cupcake-shop-multilplication-concrete-represent