New Book – Learning to Love Math

Author Judy Willis is a middle and elementary school teacher and a former neurologist who has written a number of books on the brain and learning.  Her latest book, Learning to Love Math, examines strategies for building math “positivity” in students (published by ASCD, http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/108073.aspx).  She states, “Before children can become interested in math, they have to be comfortable with it.  Students build resilience and coping strategies when they learn how to use their academic strengths to build math skills and strategies. Your intervention helps them strengthen the networks that carry information through their brains’ emotional filters to the area where higher-order thinking skills are concentrated, the prefrontal cortex (PFC). With practice, they will be able to use the highest-level analytical networks in the PFC to evaluate incoming information and discover creative solutions to math problems (in addition to problems in all subject areas). ”

Willis examines three primary strategies – family conferences, re-testing students, and demonstrating the value of math.

Family conferences can help parents learn some of the scientific evidence linking the effects of stress, that they may inadvertently place on their children with high expectations, to their children’s academic success. Conferences allow educators to help families understand that “the first step to math success is a positive attitude toward the subject matter, not just to the grades associated with it.”

Willis urges educators to reassure all students that they will have opportunities to achieve highe grades through re-testing. She allows all students who score less than 85 to re-test.  Her reasoning is that “because progress in math is so strongly based on foundational knowledge, students need to achieve mastery in each topic—which forms the basis from which students can extend their neural networks of patterns and concepts—before they move to the next level. Retests provide opportunities to reevaluate answers and make corrections, as necessary.”

Finally, according to Willis, “key to developing students’ interest in math is to capture their imaginations. Instead of allowing them to think of math as an isolated subject, show the extended values of math in ways they find inspiring.”

What are your strategies for build “positivity” in students in math or science?


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 4/18/2012.

Reading Math

You may have heard this complaint or even made it yourself: “These tests are more about reading than they are about math!”  Students are increasingly asked to understand and apply math to situations, rather than just perform an operation on numbers. This involves reading the math text that sets out the problem scenario.

Add to that the inherent difficulty of math vocabulary, where a word can mean one thing in a mathematical context and another in everyday settings.  Symbols, another part of vocabulary, can look alike but have different meanings, or different symbols can represent the same operation (for example, *, x, and · for multiplication).

And there’s the textbook, usually opened only for the problem sets, since most students are alienated by its language and its very format.

How can we help middle school students learn to read the math they need for today’s tests and high school courses?  Far from expecting teachers to stretch their class time to include yet more content, I’d like to offer online resources that can enrich math instruction as teachers help their students better understand the content they are already tackling.

Reading in the Mathematics Classroom
Written by Diana Metsisto, a middle school mathematics coach, this online chapter involves both the “why” and the “how” of integrating reading in the teaching of mathematics. She offers a number of concrete classroom strategies.

Unlocking the Mystery of Mathematics: Give Vocabulary Instruction a Chance
Math teacher Bizzie Cors realized that her students needed to “construct meaning for all vocabulary terms and connect to prior knowledge as well as to new concepts and algorithms.”  This led her to create a new process to teach vocabulary development.  Described here is what she calls the “sticky-note chain” process; its final product is a graphic organizer complete with sticky notes, connections, and problems created by the students themselves.

A Maths Dictionary for Kids
This animated, interactive mathematics dictionary for kids explains over 500 common mathematical terms in simple language. Each term is illustrated and, often, accompanied by an interactive applet that makes visual and immediate the definition of the term.

Getting to Know Your Middle Grades Mathematics Textbook
This article by Diane Kahle, an experienced teacher of middle school mathematics, shares general tips, small group and whole class ideas for textbook reading, and a ten-question scavenger hunt to help students learn how to find information in their mathematics textbook.

Books can be used to teach actual math concepts. For ideas, spend a few minutes at the Mathematics Bookshelf.

Please comment on these resources and offer your own ideas on teaching students to read math.


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 10/10/2011.

Teacher Tools that Integrate Technology: Wikis

This article was written by middle school science teacher Todd Williamson for the Integrating Technology column of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears, an online magazine for elementary teachers. All versions of this article are licensed under a Creative Commons License.
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If you’ve used a search engine like Google or Yahoo anytime in the past two years or more, you have undoubtedly run across results from Wikipedia. If you haven’t been exposed to Wikipedia, the idea may surprise you. Wikipedia is a user-created, -edited, -maintained, and -patrolled encyclopedia. Anyone can sign up for an account and add information about the topics covered in the encyclopedia. That information is then reviewed by other users, verified when possible, or marked as unverified if necessary. Wikipedia is a shining example of the collaborative power of the Internet. It is also possible to have that collaborative power in your own classroom, usually for free!

What Is A Wiki?
Wikipedia is just a large example of this month’s teacher tool: the wiki. The name comes from the Hawaiian word for “quick.” In its most simple form, a wiki is a web site that can be edited by multiple users. Wikis in Plain English, a video from Common Craft, gives a quick overview of a simple form of the wiki.

The wiki web page starts in a very simple, very blank form. It resembles a blank word processing document. Anyone with basic word processing skills can get started working on a wiki. Learning to use the “Link” button is what makes the wiki come to life. In Wikipedia, terms in each entry are linked to their corresponding Wikipedia entry. In your classroom wiki, you could have one main page that contains an outline of an intended course of study for the year, with hyperlinks to pages with information about each topic. What makes a wiki different from a static web page is the fact that you, as the teacher, will not be the only person entering information.

Wikis in the Classroom
Let’s take the course of study mentioned above as the example: Start with a single wiki page that outlines the concepts that will be covered throughout the year. Focusing a little more specifically on science, let’s say you intend to cover: weather, systems of the body, and electricity. Obviously there is a tremendous range of information that can fall under each of those categories.

As with any teaching strategy, wikis can exist as teacher-directed or student-directed exercises. On the teacher-directed end, some teachers choose to use their classroom wiki to seed their students’ learning. An example of this would be finding several web sites or videos online and linking or embedding them into the page for weather. This page can be used to give students an overview before they start the unit. The teacher controls the layout of the wiki, perhaps even locking the page for editing by others.

On the student-directed end, other teachers use the same idea, but allow their students to scour the Internet for the information. This allows students to choose what information is important to their learning.

Another idea involves using the wiki to summarize class information. For example:

After completing a section on the water cycle, Jeffery goes in the wiki and posts information about each of the stages. Jeffery happens to not be your most studious child, and he mixes up the concepts of evaporation and condensation. Allison logs on and reads the water cycle page, catches the error, and is immediately able to go in and fix the mishap. Allison also notes that there is more than one type of collection, giving details of surface runoff and percolation. Brittany, who hates to read, logs in and embeds a video from YouTube showing the stages of the water cycle.

But What If
The exchange between Jeffery, Allison and Brittany above probably sounds like the ideal. The reality is, at some point, Angel is going to log in and post some colorful explanation of a system of the human body, or delete someone’s hard work…or any number of other scary possibilities. The great thing about a wiki is that all changes are archived. As the teacher, you are capable of seeing just who made each and every change, when they worked on it, and go back to a previous version of the wiki before Angel’s little stunt.

Wikis in the K-2 Classroom
The revision and editing ideas above are perfect for students who are familiar with the computer and word processing. For the younger student, a wiki is a wonderful tool for introducing word processing. The K-2 classroom wiki will likely be more about adding information than editing. For example, in a class unit on community helpers, students could be grouped together to come up with sentences about firefighters, police officers, doctors, and other community helpers. Once all students had a sentence about a community helper, they could add that information to the wiki.

Another possibility would be to use the wiki to keep track of weekly spelling lists. The teacher could post the list and link each word to a page where students could add the definition and sentences using the word. This would be a wonderful tool to use when new students move in during the school year. Parents could review the words that the class had studied previously. This, of course, would not be limited to new students; any parents could help their child review previous learning. Though the younger students might not get to use all the aspects of the wiki, there are still plenty of possibilities for this tool.

Setting Some Ground Rules
The ground rules you set from the beginning will determine the success or failure of a wiki. They must be put in place early and adopted by all users to ensure the greatest value from the wiki. These rules can include everything from how often changes should be made, to what types of content can be uploaded, and down to the nitty-gritty aspects, like what font sizes and colors to use.

One major issue in this new digital world is copyright. Wikis provide an excellent opportunity to focus on the topic of documentation. Here the issue is not so much plagiarism as it is verification of information. Students often think citation of sources is a way for teachers to “get them” when they don’t do it correctly. With a wiki, the focus shifts to documentation as a way for users to get more information about a topic.

Another slippery slope with technology tools like a wiki is equitable access and grading. There are ways of grading a wiki that involve students making “significant contributions” to the wiki during a certain time period. The key is to make sure there is a clear definition of “significant contribution.”

Ideally, the grade for the wiki is only a small portion of the student’s overall grade. It is difficult to know for certain when Allison and Brittany come to you and say they were working together over the weekend but only Allison logged in. Your relationship with your students is important in these situations.

Yet another major point is picking a wiki service that allows you to create the usernames and passwords for your students. Some services require that students have email addresses, others do not. Wikispaces, one of the more popular wiki providers, inputs the teacher’s list of usernames and passwords so the teacher can know who logs on and when.

Getting Started
Starting a wiki is a simple process. One big decision to make at the start is who will have access to your wiki. Some wikis are public, which means they are open for all users to read and edit, like Wikipedia. Others are protected, available for everyone to read but only registered users to edit. Some wikis are kept entirely private and only registered users are able to read or edit the pages. You can start your wiki as a private wiki until “things are rolling” and then open it up for outsiders to view.

One wiki service provider, Wikispaces, offers free/inexpensive ways for educators to start their own wikis (http://www.wikispaces.com/content/wiki).

The site walks you through the basic process. First you must create a username and password. This username allows you to access your wiki, as well as any others to which you may decide to subscribe.

Next, you will be asked some questions about your wiki. Create a space name which will become the URL for your wiki. Decide about the visibility of your wiki – public, protected, or private. Certify that you will use the Wiki for educational purposes and you’re on your way. Wikispaces provides a tutorial to get you started once you’ve registered.

The last thing you need to get your wiki rolling is usernames and passwords for your students. Wikispaces makes this easy. Rather than having the students sign up for Wikispaces accounts, you are able to control their usernames and passwords. All you have to do is create a comma separated document with your students’ names, usernames, and passwords. For example: Allison Smartypants, asmartypants, wiki*01

Students may figure out that they can later change their usernames, but remind them that as you track changes to the wiki, you only know the usernames you set up. This can be played up as necessary to prevent changes, since you can’t give BabyGurl1229 a grade because you don’t know which student she is!

A Powerful Tool
Wikis really are one of the most powerful tools of Web 2.0. The implications for education are immense. We are teaching students who have grown up in a digital world and need to see the relevance of the topics we are covering. Wikis provide a way to make classroom content relevant as well as technology content. Students will be allowed to take part in a collaborative experience that will be useful in their later job experiences. Remember, however, since creating the wiki is a collaborative process, the ideal is that no one person has too much control over the finished product. Not even you as the teacher!

Useful Links

Two wiki service providers:

PBWiki
http://www.pbwiki.com/

Wikispaces
http://www.wikispaces.com/

For more information about wikis and wiki service providers:

WikiMatrix
http://www.wikimatrix.org/
A website that compares different wiki providers. You input features you are interested in, and it lists available sites.

WikisAcrossTheCurriculum
http://wikisacrossthecurriculum.wikispaces.com/
A wiki about wikis created for the North Carolina Middle School Association Conference in March 2008. Includes links to examples of classroom wikis and other resources.

Teachers First Wiki-Walkthrough
http://www.teachersfirst.com/content/wiki/
An overview of the use of wikis in all content areas.


 


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 1/3/2012.

Designing WebQuests

A well-designed WebQuest allows students to increase their computer technology skills, do research, discover what they didn’t know, and construct new understandings of mathematics and science concepts. WebQuests can be done solo, with a partner, or in small groups. Small groups can jigsaw and gather an even wider breadth and depth of information for teaching and sharing with others. Here are several sites to introduce you to the WebQuest concept and get you started. Adding another teaching strategy to one’s repertoire is a win-win for teachers and learners.

WebQuest.org
This site from San Diego State University claims origination of the technique. The left navigation bar includes links to finding WebQuests and creating WebQuests. The pedagogy in the latter link should not be overlooked.

A WebQuest about WebQuests
This exercise has proven useful for introducing the concept to educators. Working in teams, the participants examine five WebQuests from four different points of view.

Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators
This page echoes elements from the site above but includes links to tutorials and rubrics for assessing WebQuests.

Dr. Alice Christie’s What Is a WebQuest?
Here one finds detailed pedagogical and technical information on creating and using WebQuests.


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 4/19/2012.

Brushing Up on Your Middle School Algebra and Geometry

We know that days, weeks, or months without using a skill takes a toll on our proficiency. So it can be with teaching topics in the middle school math curriculum. If it’s been a while since you taught algebra or geometry topics, which are now recommended in “significant amounts” by the NCTM Standards, here are some resources to bring yourself back up to speed.

Insights into Algebra 1: Teaching for Learning
This online professional development workshop for middle and high school teachers explores strategies for teaching 16 topics found in most Algebra 1 programs. In each session, teachers view two half-hour videos that feature effective strategies for teaching specific topics. Then, using a workshop guide, teachers participate in activities designed to help them incorporate these strategies in their own practice.

Learning Math: Patterns, Functions, and Algebra
In this online course designed for K-8 teachers, each of 10 sessions centers on a topic, such as understanding linearity and proportional reasoning or exploring algebraic structure. The teacher-friendly design includes video, problem-solving activities, and case studies that show you how to apply what you have learned in your own classroom.

Learning Math: Geometry
This online course introduces geometric reasoning as problem solving. Intended for K-8 teachers, the sessions explore the properties of geometric figures, the use of mathematical language to express ideas and justify your reasoning, and the basis of proofs and solid geometry.

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 4/07/2012.