July 2016 - The Teacher Studio: Learning, Thinking, Creating
fish in a tree

As we move into the start of a new school year, of of my FAVORITE things to think about is what books I will be sharing as read alouds with my students.  Although I have a few "must reads" that I do every year, I am always on the hunt for new ones as well.

When thinking about what makes a really outstanding read aloud, I asked people on my Facebook page to chime in their THEIR ideas about what makes a really good one.  Let's see if you agree!
fourth grade novel

An amazing read aloud, hooks them in the beginning and keeps them hooked by relating to their lives and giving them great imagery! (Jenn, 4th grade, from CA)

I love a read aloud that involves adventure and excitement. Two of my favorites are Sign of the Beaver and The Indian in the Cupboard. Both of these books also help facilitate discussions with our Native students. (Amber, 4th grade, New Mexico)

Cassie (@casdahl) writes, "A good read aloud requires three things.  1.  A relatable storyline/characters.  Students need to be able to make a connection with the book.  2.  Time.  A good read aloud takes time.  It is not something that can be rushed or squeezzed in.  Discussions need to be had, feelings need to be shared, and predictions have to be made.  3.  Purpose.  You (and your students) need to know WHY you are reading the book.  Having a purpose can set your brain up to be more aware during reading and you can take so much more away from a book!

When it's a beautiful read!  I tell my students that books are like music, and different for everyone, and som books just feel good to yoru brain like some music speaks to some of us.  So I love to read them books that I really love to hear read.  On of my favorites is "Savvy" by Ingrid Law.  (@kategraym on IG)

On IG, @adventurasinamath says, "I love read alouds that have strong main characters that show them life through another person's point of view.  I like a variety of characters such as: strong girls/femails (Esperanza Rising, True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle), boys dealing with emotions (Wonder, Stone Fox, There's a Boy in the Girls Bathroom), and characters in tough situations (again Stone Fox, again True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Numer the Stars).  

I think when the kids can relate to the storey and really embrace and feel the emotion that goes with it, then it's awesome.  With this comes character development and change over time and solid talking points.  It does what books should do, take you to another place.  (@marielogue15)


I certainly can't argue with any of those!

For me, I have different "types" of read alouds.  I often use pictures books for "teachable moments" and mentor texts.  I may even read these books more than one time...once for the story, and then again to "study".  Often I will read them the FIRST time without showing my students the illustrations so they can practice "seeing" the story...then they confirm their ideas in a second read.

"Just in time" read alouds are fun too...might be an article or a cartoon or any other text I find that applies to what we are doing or studying...this is a great way to model "tuning in" to texts.  I love it when students take ownership of this idea and bring in their own texts to share!
fourth grade novel
Probably most PERSONAL, for me, is the selection of read aloud novels that I use as the foundation of my literacy instruction for the year.  Because I do SO much referring to these books with my reading and writing work--and because I can't read aloud for 2 hours a day--I need to choose these carefully.
Although we do have one text in our grade that we ALL read (The Tiger Rising), we have the latitude to choose whatever texts we want that support our curriculum.  I have a few questions I ask when considering a text:

1.  Is it LIKELY to be a new book for most of the students?  Not that we can't reread texts (I always ask students if they have ever watched an episode of a favorite TV show more than once!), but with SO many amazing books to share, I like to find things that I know they didn't hear in third grade.  

2.  Does it read aloud well?  This is a tricky one--and one that you can only figure out by reading aloud! A few years ago, I had read the book "The 100 Cupboards" over Christmas break and LOVED it...I thought all my students who were so into Harry Potter would love it--but the book was SO descriptive and the "action" was more emotional than physical...my students had a very hard time staying with it.  We powered through--but I knew that it was a MUCH better "read to self" book--and all students I have referred to it since then have loved it.  It just didn't work well as a read aloud, at least for me. 

3.  Is there something about the book that will connect students to our curriculum?  Now don't get me wrong...there are books to read just for fun.  "The Willoughby's" by Lois Lowry is a great example.  I COULD find some literary merit in it (and we do talk about the AMAZING vocabulary in it)...but mostly we just enjoy it.  That being said, I like to find books that I can connect to our literary units (when we write historical fiction, I want to immerse them in historical fiction), when we build classroom culture I want books with characters that we can talk about about learn from...and I also love to find books that help make connections between topics we study.  We do a huge immigration unit--so  I love to find texts to help paint a clear picture of that era for students.

4. Is it a text that will "stretch" the class--both in terms of the literary elements AND the themes involved?  I spend so much time working with students on "just right" books for their independent reading--but read alouds are a time to stretch students.  Finding books with symbolism, rich language, complicated plots, and interesting character development can be modeled and discussed with ALL students--even struggling readers.  This gives them practice thinking deeply about texts when they may not be able to access texts that are as rich when reading independently.  A few years ago I had a student whose independent reading level was "Henry and Mudge".  Now don't get me wrong--Henry and Mudge are great--but there certainly is very little deep thinking or interpretation to be made.  Watching this student  SHINE--and I mean like ROCK STAR SHINE--in our read aloud discussions helped me to see the depth of this thinking, built his confidence, and helped his classmates see him as a reader...something that he desperately needed.

There are a few read alouds I use almost every year--and as new amazing books get written, my list evolves a little bit.  I will always read "Wonder" at the end of the year.  Always.  I time it so I finish it on the last day of school--so we finish our school year with Auggie.  I absolutely love the books "Flutter" and "The Eight Keys"--for totally different reasons.  "Flutter" is a story of family...of growing up...of adventure...and is AMAZING for teaching symbolism.  "The Eight Keys" is a bullying story--but also speaks to growing up and discovering who you are--and how you treat people when you are figuring it out.  It is a GREAT book to compare to "Fish in a Tree", and students very naturally see the connections in many of the characters.

There are a few other books that make appearances...I ALWAYS read at least two historical fiction books--I always introduce the genre with Sarah, Plain and Tall (a perfect tie to our curriculum AND it's a quick read) and then choose from a number of different other texts depending on my group.  I always read aloud at least a few "first books" in a series or books by prolific authors...I've read from the Shredderman series many times...Andrew Clements books many times (Last year's group got "No Talking" for good reason!), and I've read books like "Among the Hidden" and the first Hank Zipzer book as well. I've read classics like "Bridge to Terabithia" and "Tuck Everlasting" and books that many people haven't heard of--it's fun to "try on" new books with groups!

For the last two years, I have started the year off with "Fish in a Tree".  I love this book for SO many of the reasons mentioned above by teachers around the world.  It hits home with so many students...and later when we read "The Eight Keys", my students make SO many connections between the characters and events in these two texts. I've put all my thoughts together in a resource that has helped a ton of teachers really "dig deep" into this book.  Check it out if you are interested.   If you HAVEN'T read "Fish in a Tree", I cannot stress enough what a powerful text it is, especially for grades 4 and 5.
novel study

Thanks to everyone for chiming in with their ideas--I'm sorry I couldn't publish them all--but I had dozens of ideas shared!  Hope you are all staying cool...  
problem solving
I know I talk about problem solving and word problems a TON, but I wanted to share briefly today about possibly "rethinking" the term problem solving a little bit.  If we are wanting students to be able to make sense of the mathematical world around them, word problems can certainly help provide "real world" contexts for applying math.  My students solve word problems DAILY, and I am a huge believer in giving students a variety of rigorous problems to work on independently and collaboratively.  If you are short of word problems, check out the zillions I have in my store by clicking on the "word problem" custom category on the left side of my store!

Instead today I want to take a peek at a few phrases lifted directly from the Standards for Mathematical Practice--and even if you do not teach in a Common Core state, I am hopeful that you will embrace these 8 essential "best practices" for math instruction.  Take a peek at these two phrases for just a minute.

"Mathematically proficient students start by explaining to themselves the meaning of a problem and looking for entry points to its solution. They analyze givens, constraints, relationships, and goals. They make conjectures about the form and meaning of the solution and plan a solution pathway rather than simply jumping into a solution attempt."

and

"Mathematically proficient students check their answers to problems using a different method, and they continually ask themselves, 'Does this make sense?'"

As you can see, at no point does this say "word problem"...consider the following problem.  This is certainly not a "word problem" as we typically think about them...it's more a mathematical "situation" where students are asked to find a way to use what they know about numbers, addition, subtraction, and estimation to find a solution (or more than than one!).  Let's cross check it with those two phrases from the standards.


Do you see what I mean?  This problem is a perfect example of a problem that provides students with a ton of opportunity to apply what they know about math--without a word problem!  (By the way...this is a part of my perseverance freebie in my store.  Just CLICK HERE to grab it and try it with YOUR students!)

I want to show you another way I try to help my students understand that problem solving is far more than simply solving word problems.  Because I start the year reviewing the addition algorithm, finding a way to kick that skill up a notch--in a way that will challenge even my "gifted-est" students was a goal of mine a few years back...I wanted something that would give TONS of math practice, have multiple solutions, be perfect to work on alone or collaboratively, have multiple levels, and need NO teacher assistance.  Sounds easy, right?

It wasn't--but once I got going, I found something that I thought would work--and it was MAGIC!  Not only did it accomplish all of the above, but it gave me a perfect opportunity to work with my students on having a growth mindset  (need to know more?  CLICK HERE!).  Many of my top students come in not super used to struggling...and it really and truly is an essential skill to learn how to manage.  Let me show you what this involves.  First of all...the thought of writing this blog post made me realize that I hadn't changed this bulletin board in 3 years.  So that had to happen first.  From this...(wish you could see how faded it all is!)
addition and subtraction
 To these fantastic plates (by they way, I've never seen a Star Wars movie.  Ever.  Any of them.)..
bulletin board
 To a new color palette...
addition and subtraction
To THIS!  I am SO much happier now...and feel I can continue with the blog post now!  
problem solving enrichment

OK.  So what IS this, anyway?  This is my "Mind Boggling Math" board...a perfect activity for the start of the year (and then for students to work on all year at their own pace).  The only "skill" they need is addition with regrouping--and perseverance!

Students use this board--which can be displayed in your room or just handed out as a printable--and the numbers on the board are used for a variety of different problem solving tasks, each of which is differentiated.  The five main activities have a part 1 which is more computation based--and that's all some students try.  It takes a fair amount of work to solve them...and I love having students use each other (and calculators at times) to check their work.  The second part of each activity is far more open ended and asks students to create their OWN solution,based on what they did on the first part.  It asks students to think about addition in a far more sophisticated way!  They need to estimate...and guess and check..."trade" numbers to make things work ("Hmmm...436 was too high, so let me try the 367.") and  really develop their number sense AND computation skills.
addition and subtraction enrichment
For students who manage to solve all of THESE challenges, there are more...all giving students a chance to refine their addition skills WHILE PROBLEM SOLVING...and continually thinking about their approaches to the problems.  Trust me--there can be some pretty substantial frustration with some students!  I love how we work as a class to talk about having grit and perseverance--and also how to support each other as we work through tricky learning situations.
math enrichment
 I do have a few students for whom these are still a little too much--so made a 2 digit version too and can make calculators available as a scaffold--that way they still get the problem solving experiences without the computation issues--I can work on the computation separately.  This is a GREAT way to build that culture for math learning in your classroom...and because it can be done so independently (once you have talked through it), it can be a great way to find time in those first weeks of school to pull some some groups, pull students one at a time to assess, or just walk around and coach and observe.  See what you think!  I already have mine printed and ready to put into my students' challenge folders.  While my students work on this, I plan to pull them one at a time to do their fact interviews to help me get a handle on what they might need in terms of intervention in that area.

If you want to try that freebie above, just click the image below.
 Here are the three Mind Boggling Math resources I have in my store...the "original", a money (addition with decimals) version, and a grades 2/3 (two digit) version.  See what you think--and if you try it, I'd love to hear your thoughts!  What can YOUR students learn about persevering and problem solving?!



I am super excited to start this school year off with a bang in the technology department!  Now that we are 1:1 in fourth grade (Chromebooks), I have a lot of thinking about how to start doing things differently!
1:1 Chromebooks

Logistics

Chromebook Storage

I use crates with "pot lids holders" to keep my "Chromies" safe.  I keep 6 in each crate, and have my crates in four zones in my classroom.  This is SUPER helpful when all students need to grab their Chromebook at the same time because there is no pushing or shoving or waiting!

Our district labels each device with our classroom name and then a device number...for example "Smith 14".  This makes it easy when we have problems to communicate with the tech people because they know which machine is which (each is barcoded as well).

As I mentioned earlier, I hang a tag off each crate that identifies the students assigned to that crate with their name and device numbers.  If a computer isn't being used carefully or isn't being charged, I can easily see who I need to talk with! printed on a tag with their Chromebook number listed so we can easily keep track of things.
technology storage
Each crate group is responsible daily for keeping their devices charged and their cords organized and so on.  I started the year last year with all of the Chromebooks in one area, but I really loved spreading them out for congestion purposes.  I do have a centralized area where I keep mice (I have 5 for students to use as desired) and headphones (I have 12).  Expectations for each are listed by the storage as a reminder.
organizationchromebook organization

chromebookscomputer organization

technology storage

Care


I require them to be on a surface, not the floor.  I know that not all teachers do this--but our Chromebooks are almost the color of our carpet and...well...I know how HORRIBLE a student would feel if they were responsible for an accident so I make them keep them on a surface.  I have a lot of "places" to work in my room...their desks, extra tables, lots of low "side tables"...so they still have a ton of flexibility of where they work.

I also train my students from the very beginning of the year to use two hands to carry their Chromebooks--and to not carry by the screen.  I also talk to them about having clean hands and not using the machines by food or liquids.

The first day I also show my students how to charge their Chromebooks carefully without jamming the cord in and by pulling the charging cord out gently.  We also talk about "crate management" and the crate group works together to arrange their crate and cords.  It saves ME a bunch of times and makes them much more accountable for it!  If they create a system that doesn't work, they have to revisit it and improve it.

We were pretty lucky last year--only one Chromie needed to go to the hospital and it was an easy fix.  I love the ownership my students had--way different than the year before when they shared.  Love it!

Expectations

Even though students are usually amazing with the privilege of having 1:1 devices, the more comfortable they get, the more they "forget" or get a little too relaxed with the way they manage their technology.  It's important to be crystal clear with what expectations are--and I even have the students and parents sign an agreement showing that they understand them.  I post the expectations as well right on the side of the crate so there is no doubt about them!  I also send a copy home to be signed by students and parents so that we are all on the same page.
technology

Technology in Action

For me, one of the most important things to consider when moving to a 1:1 or 1:2 classroom environment is really starting to think differently about what you do academically.  I have a long way to go in this area, but I have found a few things that might help get you going!

First of all, using Google Forms is AMAZING!  I have a few other posts sharing some ideas if you are interested in learning more.  Forms take literally MINUTES to create and by sharing them in Google Classroom, you can instantly have students give you information...whether it be a survey, an assessment, or to make a choice.  Click HERE and HERE for a few posts!

To celebrate this exciting "future" in education, I am celebrating by showing some of my Google resources!  Here are a few of them...or you can go to my STORE and click the sidebar on the left in the custom category for Google resources.  See what you think!
problem solving

reader's notebook

teaching dialogue

math task cards

Want a copy of an outline of lesson ideas and a student technology agreement?  Grab this freebie and see if it helps you out!

Thanks for stopping by!  I'd love to hear any of your success stories as well--let's all learn together how to better use these amazing tools!

Want to see MORE great posts about technology?  Check out this great linky! So much great stuff!



Fact fluency and strategies
OK...it is no secret that I am a HUGE Jo Boaler  fan.  Huge.  Her work with mathematical mindsets and brain research should e required reading for anyone who works with children.

That being said, I know that one thing that ALL teachers (and parents) think--especially as we head back to school--is "but they DON'T KNOW THEIR FACTS!"

Right?

And, of course, I am a teacher too--and I know that by the end of this year I am supposed to have all my students successfully adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, and more--and if they don't know their facts...it sure is more challenging, right?  I get students in my class every year who not only didn't master their multiplication facts--but don't  know their addition and subtraction facts either!  That's a different post--because that becomes a HUGE intervention issue...something students should have mastered years earlier.  But with multiplication?  We know this is a HUGE part of fourth and fifth grade, so we need to make sure students understand the concept.

So I dug back into Boaler's book to really study what she had to say.  Here are some of her key points that I really think are worth some deep reflection.

What does Jo Boaler say?

Mathematical Mindsets
1.  Drawing attention to math fact "speed" is not only counterproductive to learning math facts but also tends to be the trigger for some children--the beginning of the "I hate math." and "I'm not good at math." epidemic.  It draws their attention away from what math really IS...and math fact recall is really and truly just a small part of the world of math.

2.  Boaler stresses a more conceptual approach to teaching facts.  Students need to understand patterns in numbers and understand number relationships that build true understanding of these facts.  She explains that research supports a conceptual, strategy based approach to fact instruction.  Want to read more?  CLICK HERE for a brief article on Youcubed that explains more.

3.  Boaler DOES recommend practice, of course.  What she highlights is the importance of building brain connections by practicing math concepts in different ways--not repeated practice in the same format repeatedly.  Page after page of practice problems or flipping flashcard after flashcard does not build strong brain connections the same way as providing a variety of learning experiences.

4. Providing students with deeper activities to build fact fluency not only is more effective--but also builds more excitement about math instruction.  Teaching strategies gives students power--they don't have to try to recall every fact--they understand how to derive facts based on different strategies that they are taught--and strategies can be used in novel situations.

Here is a perfect example...a few years ago a student and I were working on a problem (I don't remember what it was anymore...), but the problem was relatively simple--it just required the student to be able to split 30 in half.  I will never forget the look on his face when I prompted him a little bit...and he said, "That number doesn't split in half."  I dug around a little more and realized that he--as a fourth grader--did not understand the concepts of doubling and halving.  He "knew" his two facts--but he could not generalize to this essential math concept.  Think about how many areas of math this impacts...the ability to understand that a 45 degree angle is half of a right angle.  The understanding that 1/8 is half of 1/4.  To be able to quickly "get" that 500,000 is half of a million.

He KNEW his "2" facts--but didn't understand the concept of doubling.  #eyesopened

Now don't get me wrong.  I NEED my students to learn their facts.  It's just a matter of HOW they learn them.  I am a huge believer in teaching these strategies--and if they don't know them, this is a huge part of the intervention work I do at the beginning of the year.  I have struggled to find good resources for this, so I worked all last year to try to get some things together so I could "low prep"


Here are a few "hints" of some ways to give students some strategy based fact instruction. 

1.  Teach a strategy at a time--don't simply go "in order" from 0-10.  Once students understand that 2 facts, 4 facts, and 8 facts are related (by "doubling"), it makes sense to work on these facts together.  Similarly, students can learn 5 facts by understanding 10 facts that are split in half.  When we teach students that 9 facts are "one less group" than the 10 fact, that builds understanding.  Using tricks like the "9's trick" on fingers might be fun--but doesn't help build math understanding.  Don't get me wrong--they can be fun!  And once students understand the math, it makes the tricks even more fun to study.

2. Make sure students understand simple multiplication properties...when students just learn that "0 facts are always 0" without understanding WHY (What happens with you have no groups?  What happens if you have a lot of groups--with nothing in them?), we are teaching in a way that doesn't support an "algebra thinking" mindset that they will need in the upper grades.

3.  USE ARRAYS!  A visual display of "groups" is one of the most powerful ways to help students start to notice patterns.  Use grid paper.  Use square tiles.  Use ANYTHING to start to build this understanding of "groups" and for students to be able to interact with something.

Fact fluency
 Check out how these strips of dots can be used to build the concept of doubling...these "9 strips" can be doubled (2 facts) and "double doubled" (4 facts).
multiplication strategies
 Even having a larger array where you can slide a piece of paper (hard to see on bottom right corner) to show growing arrays.  Here is a picture of  6 x 5 array...but the paper can be slid to show "one more 5" or "one less 5" to build conceptual understanding.
multiplication arrays

4.  Working with different representations of numbers is great to deepen understanding as well...25 is the same as

*  half of 50
*  5 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5
*  5 x 5
*  25

You get the drift.  This is really asking students to see numbers in different ways rather than simply memorizing facts in isolation.  This idea of "number sense" is directly related to fact fluency so try to find ways for students to "play" with numbers in different ways!
multiplication intervention

5.  Games and practice!

Once students understand the different strategies, playing games and doing other "practice" activities can build speed and fluency--without stress!  It's important to remember that fluency comes AFTER understanding, so don't rush it!  I will often provide students with games like this AFTER they have worked with me in intervention groups.  It's a great way for them to continue their learning.
multiplication facts


fact fluency

math intervention


I hope I've given you some food for thought.  We all want our students to learn their math facts--it's just a matter of making sure we use "best practice" methods to accomplish it!  To help me, I've put a bunch of activities together so I have a great intervention toolkit to use when working with small groups.  I have it all organized by strategy--and I can choose whether to introduce activities to the entire class (great at the beginning of the year when the wheels aren't quite turnin' yet) or to use in small intervention groups and math workshop.  I keep each activity in zip top bags and each strategy in a plastic tub so it's easy to grab and go.
math game storage
 If you want to save time and have everything all put together for you, just click the image below!

Want to see more great math posts?  Click HERE to learn about incorporating "algebra thinking" into your math class or click HERE to read about how important it is to create a great "culture" in your math workshop--with tons of tips to use right away!
Open ended work problem task
One thing that I think is super important for students to understand is that math is REAL.  Math isn't "fill in the blanks" in your workbook...or a practice sheet...or even a math game.  Math is everywhere--and in everything.  Getting students to recognize this is key--and helping them see that math can help them make sense of their world and solve REAL problems should be a key part of what we do.

Jo Boaler states that creating mathematical "excitement" should look the same for all students--no matter what their experience level.  Math class should combine the following:
Jo Boaler

Pretty daunting, right?  

When we try to find problem solving situations that make students curious, we need to think about their world...that's why I try to write problems about sports...and amusement parks...and animals.  We need students to make connections between the math concepts and the real world situations they find them in--and to make connections between different math concepts.

I LOVE the point Boaler makes about challenge.  We know that our brains learn more when they have to practice information in more than one way--and we build our brains by making mistakes.  Isn't that AMAZING?  We need to teach our students this...that we actually LEARN by making mistakes.  If this is true, Boaler stresses that we HAVE to put students in situations where they grow their brains--and they must face challenging tasks to do that!  (Insert shameless product plug here:  That is TOTALLY what my perseverance problems, Thinker Tasks, and Open Ended Challenges are all about--putting students in a position where they need to struggle a little bit!)

I love the creativity part of this equation.  We want students to approach problems in new and unique ways--this helps them build their own connections and number sense.  We certainly need to do our part to model our thinking, but I believe we need to be cautious about sending the message that there is a "right" way or a "best" way.  

Finally...collaboration.  If you tuned in to my FB live last night, I shared the statistic that researchers say that as much as 60% of our classroom math time should be spent having students engaged in meaningful math talk.  60%!  That leaves 40% of the time for EVERYTHING else...grading, minilessons, practice pages.  If this is true, we truly must be seeking out meaningful, engaging tasks that get students talking about math.

So...I've left you with enough to think about.  And I've left the link to a freebie for you to try with your students.  See if you think it helps you with all of Jo Boaler's recommendations!  I've also left a lnk to a great article about math discourse and an affiliate link to Jo's book on Amazon if you want a copy for yourself.  It's a pretty powerful $10.57. 


Challenging problem solving
Click here to grab the freebie!
Interested in checking out Jo's amazing book?  Here is my affiliate link.

Math workshop tips
If you have been following me, you know that I have been doing some Facebook Live videos about some ways to "dip your toe" in to the idea of starting math workshop in your classroom.  It does NOT need to be a daunting task and there are plenty of ways to start small!

If you haven't seen the first two videos (I'm just figuring out all the lighting and technical details so don't judge!), you can watch them now!  The first one, "What IS Math Workshop" can give you a little background and the second one, "Getting Started with Math Workshop" can give you a few simple ways to start to restructure your math instruction without creating tons of crazy systems!
math workshop video
Click the image to go to the replay if you missed it!
Great news!  Tonight is my third video where I will be focusing on "Creating a Culture for a Successful Math Workshop".  I'd love for you to stop by and check it out if you have time.  I am going to try to focus on the following ideas:

How do we teach students a growth mindset?


If you have followed the work of Carol Dweck and Jo Boaler, you know how important teaching about a growth mindset is.  Having "grit" and being willing to persevere are a key part of a quality math workshop.  Explicitly teaching it is critical.  I seriously keep this bulletin board and some other visual reminders up ALL year and refer to them often!
This is part of the best selling "Growth Mindset" resource in my store.  Just click the image to take you there.

What does brain research tell us about learning math?


Jo Boaler's book "Mathematical Mindsets" is fantastic for so many reasons, but particularly for how she explains in teacher terms how the brain actually learns math.  I can't recommend it highly enough.  I'll give a few examples tonight, but I really recommend buying the book.  I have a link at the bottom of the post if you want to check it out.  I also highly recommend that you visit her website, "Youcubed", and sign up for anything you can!  She has great FREE materials for you to help better teach using what we know about the brain.


What is the "helping curriculum"?

If you are at all familiar with the work of Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, you will know they have done a ton of research and are doing amazing things at their school in California.  One thing they do as a part of their "First 20 Days of School" is to explicitly teach what they call the "helping curriculum".  It's fascinating--and by spending time explicitly teaching it, you can ensure that your math workshop will have a much stronger foundation.  What is it?  In a nutshell, Fisher and Frey believe we need to teach students how to...

Ask for help

Offer help

Accept help

Politely refuse help

When you think about the students you had last year, can you think of some students who might have struggled with any of these?  Each one is fascinating; we have students who ask for help too soon...students who never offer help...students who get "snippy" with their peers when they offer to help, and more.  We can help smooth the edges off this and create a real collaborative math environment.


How do we create an atmosphere that celebrates risk taking, successes, and mistakes?


Growth Mindset bulletin board

Helping students feel safe and comfortable is a critical part of readying your room for math workshop.  We want students to be able to work at their own level, to recognize that mistakes do, indeed, grow your brain (The Youcubed website listed above actually has videos to show your students about this!), and that risk taking should be celebrated.  I love using Number Talks for this as well as modeling my own thinking.  How we respond when students get a wrong answer or have a misconception can really set the tone for the room, so we need to be deliberate about how we handle these situations.

What math tasks really engage students?


This topic is far too big to tackle in one blog post or Facebook Live session, so I'll leave it at this.  Students need to be active.  Students need to be engaged.  Students need "just right" challenges.  Students love to work together if they are taught how to do so, so our job as teachers is to find these challenging, engaging, collaborative tasks to immerse our students in.  Research suggests that our students should be engaged in academic discourse 60% of their day...and filling out workbook pages just isn't going to cut it!  That's why I love writing word problems, creating open ended challenges, and doing concept sorts and other active learning activities because students stay engaged and learn more. I'd love to have you check out my store to see more examples of these if you haven't already--and if you HAVE used any of them, I'd sure love to hear about your experiences, either in the comments or tonight during the live video.

Hope to see you tonight!

Here is a link to Jo Boaler's amazing book.  It's only about $10 and totally worth it.  I do have an affiliate link below if you want to check it out.


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