Amazing New Collection of Hands-on, Interactive Resources

The Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley, has launched an online collection of hands-on, interactive resources to help informal educators in nonclassroom settings, such as museums and science centers, engage school-age children in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology learning. The web site is called howtosmile.org.

The web site provides both an enhanced faceted and a visual search capability; list-making features that provide a public or private online space to collect favorite activities and add teaching tips and ideas on how to use an activity; user-contributed videos, and other creative community functions that encourage users to rate and comment on activities. Some activities are available in Spanish. Special activity collections target those with limited mobility and individuals who are vision impaired. Built using open source tools, howtosmile.org also includes an open infrastructure to allow institutions to contribute links to useful activities and a free widget to embed howtosmile.org search results on any web page.

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/12/2012.

Writing Math

As in other subjects, writing forces us to order our thoughts, make them clear to others. In mathematics, writing, as difficult as it is, helps students organize their understandings of concepts and set out for themselves their reasoning about a problem and its solution.  As stated in the Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, “students who have opportunities, encouragement, and support for writing, reading, and listening in mathematics classes reap dual benefits: they communicate to learn mathematics, and they learn to communicate mathematically” (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics 2000).

Writing comes easily to few of us, and that includes our students. These resources offer practical advice learned from the experiences of teachers in the classroom.  If you would, share with your colleagues your ideas on using writing as a teaching/learning tool by commenting on this blog post.

A Case for Using Reading and Writing in a Mathematics Classroom
Speaking from her own experiences as a math teacher, Sarah Kasten tells how — and why — she introduced reading and writing in her classroom. She shares how she directed her classes to do 5-minute, impromptu writing assignments, explain their problem-solving process, or even explain a new concept and create their own example problems. 

 Writing in Mathematics
A brief teacher-to-teacher article on getting started with writing in math class — moving from think-pair-share to a less-known model: think-write-pair-share.  A set of helpful links to other teachers’ experiences is given.

Math and Communication
You’ll find solid tips on encouraging and supporting math talk in this brief piece by well-known math teacher Kay Toliver.

Adapting Literacy Strategies to Improve Student Performance on Constructed-Response Items
This article discusses ways of adapting various reading strategies to help students improve their answers to extended-response questions on the mathematics portion of high-stakes tests. A practical article directed to teachers.  

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/14/2012.

Reading and Writing Mathematics

Reading the math textbook or handouts or extended response problems presents built-in challenges. The vocabulary of mathematics can be confusing, with some words meaning one thing in a mathematical context and another in everyday settings. Symbols can look alike, and different symbols can represent the same operation (for example, *, x, and • for multiplication). Graphs vary in format, even when representing the same data. Writing is valued as a way of communication in most school subjects, yet rarely in math. If students can learn to explain their thinking in solving a math problem (using drawings or tables or graphs as well as words), they acquire a means of setting out their work logically and refining their thinking as they communicate their understandings.

Far from expecting teachers to stretch their class time to include yet more content, a new Explore in Depth publication from the Middle School Portal, Reading and Writing Mathematics, offers resources that can enrich math instruction as teachers help their students better understand the content they are already tackling. Each section of the publication contains articles, many by teachers, who share their experiences, rationale, and classroom methods. Each section also offers lesson plans or activities appropriate for middle school students. Enjoy the challenge of opening your students to mathematical communication!

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/14/2012.

Developing Vocabulary in Middle School Science

Science, like other disciplines, has a specialized vocabulary, encompassing both terms that represent scientific concepts and those that describe process skills. Although science education focuses on inquiry and hands-on experiences, current research shows that teachers must also help students develop vocabulary to be successful in both the content and methods of science.

However, this is often easier said than done. Many textbooks introduce 10-30 words per chapter – more than many introductory foreign language texts! In addition, students may struggle with “academic vocabulary” – words such as compare, distinguish, observe, and conclusion. Without guidance (or even formal training), a middle school science teacher may struggle to determine the best way to help students develop crucial vocabulary skills.

A new Explore in Depth publication from the Middle School Portal, Developing Science Vocabulary, can help teachers improve their vocabulary instruction. In this publication, you’ll find background information, best practices, tips for differentiating instruction and assessment, and resources for further reading. We hope you’ll check out Developing Science Vocabulary today!

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/09/2012.

Solving Equations: Lesson Ideas

Your own textbook has numerous pages on equations and their solutions. What I’ve pulled together here are scenarios that involve students in solving equations in unusual contexts.  A change of pace, a different approach. If you have found lesson ideas on working with equations that you’d like to share with colleagues, please share the wealth!

Algebra—Fun with Calendars
Using any calendar, tell a friend to choose four days that form a square, then tell you only the sum of the four days. You tell her the four numbers! The trick lies in setting up an equation and simplifying it to an algebraic expression.

The Yo-Yo Problem
In these activities, students explore patterns, write a pattern in algebraic language, and solve equations using algebra tiles, symbolic manipulation, and the graphing calculator.

Balance Beam Activity
Students explore the meaning of balance, a key concept in developing mathematical understanding of solving equations. Working with shapes of differing weights, the students must experiment to balance the virtual scale by adding shapes of unknown weights. They use basic equation-solving principles throughout the activity. 

Algebra Balance Scales-Negatives
This applet presents an equation for students to illustrate by balancing the scale, using blue blocks for positive units and variables and red balloons for negative units and variables. Students then work with the arithmetic operations to solve the equation. A record of the steps taken by the student is shown on the screen and on the scale.

Amby’s Math Resources: Order of Operations
This resource is a tutorial and practice on a topic that often frustrates the younger middle school student. Immediate feedback is given when an incorrect answer is chosen, plus a full explanation of the correct solution.

Planet Hop
Here students concentrate on writing an equation. In an interactive online game, they find the coordinates of four planets shown on a grid or locate the planets when given the coordinates. Finally, they must find the slope and y-intercept of the line connecting the planets in order to write its equation. Tips for students are available as well as a full explanation of the key instructional ideas underlying the game.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/10/2011.