I’m asked time and time again about why you should use interactive notebooks in the classroom. I have compiled my 7 top reasons and am sharing them in a guest post over at Lisa McCleod’s blog TODAY!
I’m asked time and time again about why you should use interactive notebooks in the classroom. I have compiled my 7 top reasons and am sharing them in a guest post over at Lisa McCleod’s blog TODAY!
In the past few weeks I have been asked no less than ten times by random teachers about when and why I left the classroom and how I knew that going full time with curriculum writing and posting my materials on Teachers Pay Teachers was right for me. I realized I never really blogged about my decision to do so and figured that since I am being asked it might be something that others might want to read about it as well. So here goes!
In the Fall of 2012 I began my fourth year of teaching middle school math. I had just transitioned from eighth grade to seventh and added in teaching Special Education Math for both seventh and eighth grades. Needless to say, my plate was overflowing for sure. At this time I was also the Student Council Sponsor, working my Teachers Pay Teachers store full time to build up products (that is when my INBs began) and also had a daily commute of about 40 minutes each way.
I’m not one to tell people no when they ask for something and so I was constantly working myself into 16-20 hour days and also working on Saturday and Sunday to just keep up the momentum. In late September I started having some severe abdominal pain and went to the emergency room. They did test after test and found nothing wrong and diagnosed me with low potassium levels. Two weeks later I was back in the emergency room, another diagnosis and on my way. Another three weeks go by and the pain is still there. Go into the Emergency Room once again (yea, I know a lot of trips but when you work long hours at school and your doctor is about an hour away it is hard to get in to see them), and I was immediately told without any tests that I had kidney stones. Okay, what does that entail? Sure enough after some investigative work they found multiple stones hidden behind my bladder. NO WONDER they couldn’t find them in prior testing but the doctor was determined this time.
From this I went in and had to have surgery to remove the stones as they were too big to pass on their own. I was out of school for about six weeks to recover fully (short-term medical leave) and it was extremely hard to be away from my students. I missed them terribly and I knew that they were getting random teachers each day since my district had a hard time getting anyone to substitute. Needless to say the anxiety and stress from feeling like I was disservicing them by taking care of my health didn’t go away.
I came back to work the week after Thanksgiving break and I knew things were just different. Knowing that I FULLY believe in doing whatever it takes for my students no matter what and that they are the number one reason I do what I do and nothing else. As of that day I resigned as I just couldn’t stay in a position that was causing me medical issues, my health was more important. It was the scariest decision I ever made because I was the sole provider at the time and had no back-up besides what I was doing on Teachers Pay Teachers.
Needless to say that through December I was looking for another job. Teaching jobs are HARD to find in the middle of the year and at that point I didn’t know if I wanted to get back in the classroom and start mid-year. I began working for a Virtual School as an online Special Education Teacher in January and was excited about the promises of what it entailed. I missed the ability to see the changes in students and because I was working 8 am- 5 pm Monday through Friday I never had the time to work on my curriculum writing because I was worn out when the day was over. In July I was in a training and one of our teachers spoke on doing what is in our hearts. I seriously felt like I was being taken to church at that moment. I was being spoken to and it was poured on my heart that this wasn’t the place for me. I needed to be elsewhere. It was at that moment I knew that I was going to give my notice to continue to work on my passion of curriculum writing.
From then on I was working for myself in my corporation and I was my own boss. I was the one that was working on curriculum that I knew that students craved and needed. I was listening to teachers all over the nation and taking their concerns to create new interactive learning opportunities. I was presenting at conferences, providing professional development online and in person and LOVING it. This is what I was born to do! I want to help teachers who then are able to take the things I work with them on back to their classrooms and benefit their students. Over the last three years I have heard countless stories from teachers around the nation, and even some other countries, about how the curriculum that I have created has not only impacted their teaching but also has impacted the learning of their students. And hearing from parents on how students have been affected by the style of learning they have embraced through my curriculum warms my heart. This is truly my calling in life and what I plant to continue doing.
Do I miss the classroom? Sometimes. Do I miss the crazy insane paperwork, changes, discipline, classroom management, grading, meetings, etc.? NOPE! Do I plan to ever go back to the classroom? I honestly don’t know at this point. After having to step back in my business for the past nine months I am energized to have been given the go ahead to start creating and training again.
I already have a training scheduled for June in Mansfield, TX and can’t wait to start traveling and training again. I won’t be at CAMT this summer to present or exhibit for various reasons but I can’t wait to start back going to conferences once again. If you are one of the schools or districts that has been trying to have me come out this is the time to book because my calendar is clear and ready to start booking! 🙂
So what’s next? New curriculum creations, full re-branding of former products and updates to some older products that necessarily need them. I love and miss you all and look forward to many more years together!
As many of you know I have been going through a not so nice divorce since last summer which has caused changes along the road with my company. As of now I can tell you that I will be back to working FULL TIME and FULL FORCE!
Changes that you might already see are that I will be fully changing the business name once things are final but am starting it ahead of time on social media and what not so that I can get a groove on.
What does this mean for you? Well, you will start getting quality products from Smith Curriculum and Consulting as well as regular blog posts (I am hoping for once a week right now). You will also see me at conferences and trainings will start once again.
In the newly adopted Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standard 1c for each grade level states, “The student is expected to select tools, including real objects, manipulatives, paper and pencil, and technology as appropriate, and techniques, including mental math, estimation, and number sense as appropriate, to solve problems.” And this standard is stated in the Common Core State Standards under MP5 saying, “Use appropriate tools strategically.”
The term “tools” is used loosely here and doesn’t necessarily mean just those tools that you can manipulate with your hands but also encompasses the tools that are in your mind and built from strategies for problem solving.
In my classroom I always started by teaching my students the problem solving strategies that I wanted them to use. These strategies of course changed over time but in the end they were pretty much the same overall with a different focus on things that I wanted to see out of them in their work. Was I helping them by doing this? Was I hindering their thinking by doing this? The point could be made both ways but I also was open to letting students solve their problems in a different manner as long as they explained their thinking behind it. Communication was KEY!
Many of the abstract tools that we need to teach our students are DANG HARD! While it may take time to teach perseverance through a problem situation it is possible. Exploration through mathematical thinking and building conjectures- again totally possible although they take time. Now how about teaching students to develop strategies based on prior learning to help them solve current problem situations. WHOA, back up the truck there! You want me to teach my students to bring something out of the depths of their brains and use that to build on what we are currently learning? Yep, I sure do! Example time…
Around fourth grade students begin to learn how to add fractions with the same denominator. During this process they are introduced to fractions strips, part/whole relationships, composing and decomposing fractions, unit fractions and more. This is all part of building a solid fraction foundation. Now, look back at what they have been introduced to… fractions strips are a manipulative that allows them to “connect” their fractional pieces. We have been teaching students to build groups using manipulatives since Kindergarten. Part and Whole Relationships start when are working with Composing and Decomposing numbers back in Kindgergarten as well. Students learn the number bonds that create a larger number. Unit fractions… now this stuff is newer… students are to learn that anytime you have ONE PART of a fraction, it is a unit fraction and therefore teaches you what the smallest form of that fraction can be.
Now how can we build upon that? Well the next thing that students need to be able to do is add fractions with unlike denominators. To get to this step they must have an understanding of what we have already taught them as well as common mulitples of numbers. You can see in the examples provided that because the student was understanding of how to use bar models to represent fractions they were able to easily connect what the equivalent fractions were.
Not only has the student built on prior knowledge (a tool), they have also made conjectures (a tool), used bar models (a tool), and communicated their thinking (a tool). All of these TOOLS were used to solve one problem. Teaching your students different ways to fill their toolbox with strategies that will help them break down a problem is more than just a standard, it is a critical attribute to fulfill their understanding.
I can’t wait until next time
where I will be talking about choosing the right strategies to solve problems. I will discuss the different methods that I have used and taught with over the years and pros and cons of each so that you can decide what is best for your classroom.
Within the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) new standards have arisen to promote the communication of math skills. Common Core Math Practice Standard 3 states, “Students should construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others,” and Standard 8 states, “Students should look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning,” while the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills Math Practice Standard 1f states, “The student is expected to analyze mathematical relationships to connect and communicate mathematical ideas.”
Last week I talked about the importance of building communication in mathematics while focusing on problem solving and gave some ideas on how to incorporate those in your classroom. If you haven’t had a chance to read that post, make sure to check it out! Communication is the FOUNDATION for building proficient problem solvers and we must make sure that we aren’t the only ones that are communicating but our students are doing their fair share as well!
So what does it mean to analyze relationships in math? “When a student analyzes a mathematical relationship between two or more quantities, he or she looks for a pattern or a structure and uses it to solve a problem. He or she can see how two quantities are alike or different mathematically based on their attributes or properties.” (Strategies for Mathematics Instruction and Intervention, Weber/Crane-2015). Analyzing relationships is one of the highest levels on Bloom’s Taxonomy and therefore a very difficult area of understanding for students due to the complexity of situations and problems at this level.
When we are working with students we need to make sure that we are not only communicating effectively so that they understand what we are wanting from them but we also need to use words that will spark them to think clearly. Analyze may be a difficult word for many as it is so abstract so teach students other words that are similar so that they can think for themselves when working on an assignment. Here are some useful power words that you may want to use in your classroom.
A common way to use analyzing in the classroom is to choose two related concepts (or even numbers) and compare them. As you can see in this activity from an 8th grade classroom students compared the formulas for surface area and volume of a rectangular prism. While most students wouldn’t think twice about how they were related it is definitely something worth making the connection over.
As I just stated, you can do this with numbers at the lower levels. Think of doing your Number of the Day program (or Number Talks) and how you can incorporate comparing numbers like 937 and 97. Students should see that 97 is approximately 10 times less than 937, the 7 is in the same place in both numbers therefore both numbers show the value of having 7 ones, and so on. There are so many connections that students can make with numbers and this allows analyzing in math to start at the early grades as well.
Building the deductive reasoning skills that are needed when analyzing items is important as that is what allows our problem solvers to think further and become that student that continues to ask WHY! What can you do this week to promote the analyzing in your classroom?
Like what you see and want to save it for later? Pin the image above to your favorite board for future reference!
Within the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) new standards have arisen to promote the communication of math skills. Common Core Math Practice Standard 3 states, “Students should construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others,” while the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills Math Practice Standard 1d states, “The student is expected to communicate mathematical ideas, reasoning, and their implications using multiple representations, including symbols, diagrams, graphs, and language as appropriate,” and Standard 1f states, “The student is expected to analyze mathematical relationships to connect and communicate mathematical ideas.”
Why is there so much focus on communicating mathematical ideas when focusin g on problem solving? Communication increases students’ self reliance and belief that they themselves can find answers on their own. We as teachers see it every day where a student will just want you to spoon feed them the information they are supposed to know so they can get to the next step. This is not teaching them to problem solve, this is teaching them to rely on others and not think for themselves. We have to change this mindset in the classroom.
Communciation is more than just talking about individual problems but is also about connecting topics from day to day. In my classroom I did great with allowing my students to talk about what they were currently learning and creating relationships with their peers on what they were learning. What I struggled with is making my students think to what they had already learned and make connections. So when I am teaching about ratios and proportions, have students connect their learning to what they know about percentages and fractions. How do they relate together? How are they similar? How does your knowlege of fractions help you develop your understanding of proportions and being able to solve them correctly? See how easy it is and can spark creative thinking with your students?
Learning to ask questions is a communication habit. Don’t get upset with the kid who CONSTANTLY asks questions, they are learning! I know it is hard when Trevor (totally made up student) is asking questions every 5 minutes and you just want to get through your lesson. Accommodate his need for asking questions by giving him some post it notes and allowing him to write them down when he has a question and stick them on his desk. You may end up sparking some really good conversations in your classroom with these questions. You may want to even create a Parking Lot for questions in your classroom and allow any of your students to do the same with questions they may have about what is being taught. This will limit the interruptions in your lesson especially when the questions may not completely align with the topic at hand. Build in time in your weekly lessons for classroom discussion/debate about some of these questions to help students develop their communication skills with each other.
“I know it but I don’t know how I know it.” How many times have you had this answer given in class? Many students struggle with the notion of being able to talk about their thinking and although they may know an answer but aren’t sure how they got there. This shows an inability to put math ideas into words on their own. Buidling in the time for classroom discussions/debates will allow students to start inputting ideas over time as they are comfortable. Challenge your students to contribue one mathematical idea daily in class whether it be on classroom brain dump done via Post It Note or outloud in class.
Ever student enters our classroom at a different stage on the communication scale (shown above). As teachers we are often overzealous in wanting to hear every student’s ideas that we don’t tend to think about what stage of mathematical communcation each of them may be coming to us at. We can’t expect a beginning problem solver to explain in detail their thinking and what they are doing. We have to allow them to communicate at their ability level and then foster that level to continue and travel down the path to the next level of communication. Our students all come into our classroom with a wide variety of skills, abilities and preferences when it comes to communicating and we must seek out new ideas to recognize that thinking and promote their growth.
Communication should ALWAYS have a purpose. As a learner we always prefer authentic tasks and communcation tasks that are motivated behind the lesson at hand. NO ONE wants to do busy work! Communcation comes in many forms from discussing problems within a group, writing out their solutions, oral explanations, etc. If a student struggles with one area of communication find what they excel in and focus on that! Just like the Post-It Note Parking Lot example earlier being great for written expression, allow students to communicate through technology. Submit questions via email, a Facebook group or Twitter. Heck, what about taking a picture and posting it on Instagram and tagging the classroom Instagram page. Students can them collaborate together and discuss the thinking that comes behind the problem.
In our classrooms we must create a culture of communication. Creating a classroom culture is more than just setting guidelines, it is also building up students to know how to talk about mathematical ides, know what it means to be respectful of others ideas and having tasks that require them to write for real communication. These three steps are easy to facilitate but also very crucial. Setting guidelines as a class not only allows students to take ownership but also helps to develop the family aspect. Once these guidelines are set, don’t just post them and be done but take time to model them regularly.
Later this week I plan to come back and discuss more about communication and give direct ideas on fostering communciation in your math classroom today beyond those given already. If you have any questions or ideas feel free to submit them in the comments so that we can all develop our mathematical communication together!
Don’t forget to check out Week 1’s post on Why Practical Problem Solving is Important. Next week will be all about Analyzing Relationships which you won’t want to miss!