How to Spark Joy & Individualize Students’ Needs with Guided Math

After boring both my students and myself with largely direct instruction math for a couple of years, I decided to try guided math. The results?  Increases in interest, one-on-one time, student initiative, and just plain joy in math learning.


Why Guided Math?

Most math programs are still set up in very traditional, teacher-centered constructs.  In the name of “offering support,” some even provide scripts!  This is typically followed by a barrage of worksheets. Then quiz tomorrow. Spiral review. Repeat.

Perhaps the monotony would be worthwhile if we all become mathematically literate adults, but this does not seem to be the case. As the National Center for Education Statistics keeps confirming in surveys conducted since the 1980’s, most Americans’ math skills remain lacking:

It’s time to look outside the box of traditional math education in order to foster life-long mathematical illiteracy!

Overview

_Untitled-1 via Flickr
_Untitled-1 via Flickr

One day, while complaining to another teacher about how I’d started hating the sound of my own voice, she introduced me to guided math.  What I found most intriguing:

  • The use of math “stations,” even for older students
  • The possibility of teaching lessons to small groups (4-8 students at a time)
  • Easier access to limited math manipulatives
  • More time for individual students to receive what they need most, whether it’s practice, instruction, or extension projects.

I started literally the next day.

And while it took longer than that to refine my approach, the beauty of guided math is you can easily adapt your school’s math program to its structure.

Set-Up

  • Time Needed: 1 to 1 ½ hours block
  • Breakdown:
    • Warm Up (first 5-15 minutes): Number Talks were one of my favorite ways to warm up (see this 3-page pdf for more details). At the end of warm-up time, write or project on the board any materials students may need to bring to each station.
    • Stations time (45-60 minutes): Students either rotate among or choose stations.
    • Wrap Up (last 5-15 minutes): Allow students to share any mathematical discoveries they noticed.
  • Stations Ideas:
    • Mini-lesson: This becomes a much more flexible idea than simply delivering lessons to the whole class. Some options:
      • The teacher works with small groups with math manipulatives, individual whiteboards, or other resources that are difficult to share/manage in larger groups.
      • Set up a computer with a video on the concept of the day from free video databases like LearnZillion or Khan Academy.  See a fantastic example of how a 4th grade colleague of mine uses her classroom blog to direct students to the video she selects (they have the additional convenience of checking out a mobile lab for the entire class during math).  The video option can be especially helpful on days that you need to have one-on-one math conferences with students.
    • Practice: Students try out concepts learned within the unit or the lesson of the day.
    • Fluency: Students work on math facts with flash cards, games, and/or websites like this one. I would sometimes have them record their progress on spreadsheets like this one.
    • Activity: Math board games, challenge projects, digital games from your class blog, or even blogging their math understanding using Educreations! Especially effective if you have parent volunteers available to help support!
    • Reflection: Students record their math thinking and processes in journals.
  • Choose a Structure: Rotations vs. Choice
    • Rotations: Divide your students into 3-5 groups (mixed or leveled based on benchmarks, quizzes, or daily formative assessments). Take the length of math block time, subtract 10 minutes for whole-class time at the beginning and end.
    • Choice: Right after Warm-Up, take a status of the class, asking your students which 1-2 stations they will be working on that day and why. You may choose to require all students to select the mini-lesson and/or practice stations each day before choice time, but that depends on your students’ needs!
    • Don’t be afraid to try out both options a couple of times! Ask students to notice successes and issues, and to be ready to report back during the wrap up or weekly class meeting.  Give them the opportunity to solve problems, and they will surprise you!
  • Model, Model, Model!

Troubleshooting Guide

  • Issue: Students become off-task at the game and/or fluency station
    • Possible Solution: Ask for parents to volunteer during guided math, either to help check off, help students with their practice, or even to bring a math game to share with groups!  You can also simply consider the location of your stations.
  • Issue: Students don’t get to every station every day
    • Possible Solution: That’s ok! If you’re doing rotations, just cut out one or two of the stations you’re using.  If you’re doing choice time, just have them choose 1 station a day beyond the mini-lesson and practice.
  • Issue: Instruction time not long enough
    • Possible Solution:  If you don’t find a LearnZillion or Khan Academy video you like, make a video of yourself teaching the concept!  Not only can it help you say things more succinctly and briefly, but your students can individually pause, rewind, and rewatch as many times as they need to.
  • Issue: Students don’t have enough time to finish worksheets in the practice portion.
    • Possible Solution: Become a more careful curator of your resources–sure, your manual assigns 38 problems to practice adding fractions, but is that really what your students need most today? Or do they really just need to practice the 4 problems that involve mixed numbers? Or maybe, they need you to design a challenge activity that gets them thinking more about the concepts behind fractions.  Never assume that the math textbook knows more about your students’ daily needs than you do!

Any other questions, tips, or experiences? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

 Photo Credit:

Why You Should Endorse “Now Learning” in the Classroom

“You’ll use this all the time when you grow up.”  “You’re developing skills you’ll need all the way through college.”  “Someday, you’ll be so glad you learned another language.”

[insert eye-rolling here].


Even if true, relying primarily on these kinds of future-tense phrases to justify learning may have harmful effects.  Nothing is worth draining our children’s inborn sense of discovery and enthusiasm.

The counterintuitive reality: instilling learning passion for the future only happens when we show students how to love learning today!

recite-1s4b4x3

Requirements for Now Learning

Think back to your classes that most sparked your passion.  Chances are, those instructors made relevance a daily priority–a skill that takes purpose and deliberate planning.  In our experience, that purpose and planning must consist of the following:

  • Student Choice:

Students must be enabled to tailor their learning in order to find relevance. Technological options for making this happen are almost endless–but possibilities outside the high-tech box abound, too, including project based learning, genius hour, and other innovative new strategies.

  • Student Creativity:

Start the video below at 16 minutes for a wonderful anecdote by Sir Ken Robinson:

  • Teacher Passion 

Applying Now Learning in a Real Schedule

My first year teaching overflowed with the kinds of typical pursuits designed to prepare students for the future demands:  book reports, math homework worksheets, and daily “independent study,” during which students would work for an hour on grammar, comprehension, vocabulary, and spelling.  And guess where the most frequent strain on behavior occurred?

Over the years, we gradually replaced such activities with approaches that foster now learning–and I witnessed transformations in my students’ motivation, vibrance, and willingness to take risks. 

How much of your student’s day involves learning for the present?  Look below at tips for each part of my fifth grader’s schedule:

  • Word Study
    • Student choice: Is it really so earth-shattering to allow students to choose whether they read a book or study their spelling? When our school introduced Daily 5, that’s exactly what we did–and news flash: once they understood all the choices and their purposes, my students did in fact regularly choose from all the options. Status of the class also helped them develop purposeful decision-making skills (read more about that here!).
    • Student creativity: Post a list of book report alternatives for students to take their reading and writing to a creative level.
    • Teacher passion: Tell them about that cliff-hanger in your book, share your latest blog post, exclaim about your favorite authors, joke about common grammar errors. There is simply no underestimating the power of modeling your own literary pursuits!
  • Reading Workshop
    • Student choice: Help students discover their own interests and expand their reading horizons by giving them an interest inventory.
    • Student creativity: Students’ literary creativity will take flight once they discover that book or series that helps them fall in love with reading. Make curating a classroom library of rich and varied texts one of your main priorities.
    • Teacher passion: Throughout each reading unit and/or book group, read along with your students so you can more authentically engage in book discussions with them.
  • Spanish
    • Student choice: Individualize and gamify language learning with the Duolingo app!
    • Student creativity: Download the Google Translate app on your classroom devices and encourage them to discover its possibilities.
    • Teacher passion: At our school, another instructor would come in during this time.  However, I would try to follow up with my own appreciation and understanding in my personal language learning (ie, discussing how I connect “mesa” in landforms and the translation for table, or my interest in Dia de los Muertos).
  • Math
    • Student choice: Ditch homework worksheets in favor for homework projects with real-world applications.
    • Student creativity: Try flipped learning to give students more time in class for exploration, self-directed projects, or arts integration.
    • Teacher passion: No matter what subject(s) you teach, if you’ve ever expressed self-deprecating remarks about math, STOP today, and never do it again!
  • Snack/Lunch/Recess
    • It’s laughable to believe these growing, active beings can be expected to sit still and focus if their bodies aren’t fully nourished.  Make time.  If your school has scheduled a too-small chunk of time for lunch, allow students to finish eating in class.
  • Writing Workshop
    • Student choice: Make writing choices more about which animal to write the essay on.  Storybird, comic strip makers, Prezi, word clouds–the platforms and mediums for sharing ideas stretch for miles.
    • Student creativity: see above.
    • Teacher passion: Teaching a poetry unit? Write your own poems throughout, using the same techniques and skills as your students.Use your own daily struggles and triumphs as a writer as authentic teaching opportunities.
  • Social Studies or Science
  • Blogging
    • Student choice & creativity: Student blogs are a fantastic way for students to learn to curate their own work.  They give students a real voice in the global learning community, and encourage dynamic discussion and debate in comment threads.  To get started, check out our post on practical student blogging here!
    • Teacher passion: Make sure you keep your own blog alongside your students’!

Photo Credit:

  • Featured image: Frankieleon
  • Quote image created with Recitethis.com

4 2014 Favorites, plus 2015 Ventures

Welcome back to HGU for a fresh year!  We hope you enjoyed a restful and relaxing holiday break, and that you are feeling rejuvenated for school.  Here to offer some inspiration for your classroom New Year’s resolution-making are a few of our readers’ favorite posts in 2014, along with some suggestions for low-stress, high-impact goals.


Best of 2014

#4: Review: Pam Allyn’s Core Ready Lesson Sets for Grades 3-5

If you are currently researching language arts programs, you won’t want to miss this teacher-tested review!

A long way from Chicago (1)#3: 10 Read Alouds for Upper Elementary Grades

Research continues to back up the fact that reading to your children–even older children–provides literacy benefits. So don’t skimp on read-aloud time just because you teach preteens!

#2: Foreign Language Programs: A Basic Review

Several members of our HGU team tried out and reviewed Fluenz, Pimsleur, and Rosetta Stone to help give some guidance in choosing a foreign language program.

#1: Top Online Games for Elementary

30 different math, science, and art games–all free, student-tested, and teacher-screened!

Possible Goals for 2015

*Become a Google Educator:

With the abundance of free professional development opportunities online, there’s no reason not to start taking your PD into your own hands in 2015!  What we especially like about Google Courses for Educators is that they help teachers fully harness Google resources in the classroom, broken down into bite-sized 5-30 minute lessons.


DonorsChoose*Create a Donors Choose project:

Math board games, a document camera, 2 iPad Mini’s–these are just a few items I received through the generous donors on Donors Choose over the past few years.  Be sure to watch for match offers or Chevron’s Fuel Your School to increase your chances of funding!

*Write personal notes to every student:

Cut up card stock and reserve just a couple minutes of your prep time each day to write a couple of meaningful letters to students each day. Express your admiration for their perseverance, confidence in their potential, and enthusiasm for their progress.  Not only will you foster a positive class atmosphere, but you’ll help beat out the gray midwinter blues to which so many of us are susceptible.

*Pick just 1 new edtech to integrate:

Instead of getting overwhelmed by the many choices for technology integration in the classroom, choose just one this year.  Student blogging, Twitter, flipped classrooms, and virtual field trips are a few of our favorites.

Photo Credit: 

Featured Image (visible on mobile layout only this version): BazaarBizarreSF vis Flickr

Assessments: How to Increase Accuracy, Efficiency, & Transparency

B+, 4, O, 73%–these marks and the like are terrible storytellers.  After all, how can one impassive mark describe a student’s chronicle of small triumphs, daily perseverance, and long-term growth? On the other hand, is it even possible to record and convey complex learning journeys in a way that isn’t cumbersome?


If any of this sounds familiar, explore Google Drive as a possible solution to strike the balance!  Increase your accuracy, efficiency, and transparency by checking out some examples and tips below.

Increasing ACCURACY

Your clipboard and pen still have a place in certain formative assessment note-taking. But for more in-depth situations, a Google Form with prefilled lists to choose from can help you generate much more comprehensive–and accessible–notes.  In a recent #5thchat, @Mr_Ullman shared his forms for writing and reading conferences.  We especially love his use of drop-down menus to easily select student names, writing cycle stages, and comprehension strategies, and more.

Other Accuracy Possibilities:
  • Use the Scale feature (ie 1 to 5) to record students’ confidence in their book selections.
  • Use the Checkboxes feature on which outcome(s) students are currently working toward.
  • Use the Grid feature for assessing progress in a class-generated science rubric.

Increasing EFFICIENCY

benchmark data sheetMost schools require benchmarks assessments, typically at the beginning, middle, and end of the year.  Ready-made benchmark programs often come with assessment sheets, but why not create your own multifunctional and tailored document?  For example, I decided to consolidate reading, writing, math, and behavior benchmarks all into one Google Document.  I also made student-friendly alterations so we could use the same sheets during our student-led parent teacher conferences (see extra resources & how-to here); I also added grade-level-specific rubrics, tables, and data.

Other Efficiency Possibilities:
  • Take items directly from your school’s report card (such as behavior descriptors), and turn them into a Google Form. Then, convert your quarter-long formative notes into summatives as you observe patterns and/or calculate averages in the responses spreadsheet.
  • Using tables to record data across the year saves you more than just time and paper–it also allows students and parents to better track and discuss growth themselves.
  • Share a form with students as a quick exit ticket after a lesson or unit.

Increasing TRANSPARENCY

Sharing assessment data with students can be accompanied with uncertainty–how much should we share? How do we keep them from becoming preoccupied with numbers? Will they feel defined by scores?  However, I’ve come to realize that as long as we discuss data in the context of process over product, it can become yet another way to empower students with ownership over their learning. In addition, the share features in Google Drive are ideal for fostering communication among students, parents, and teachers.  We are advocates for harnessing technology for more in-depth and authentic collaboration among all involved in student learning!

Other Transparency Possibilities:
  • Duplicate Google Documents like the benchmark data sheet so each student (and their parents) can access their own online version.
  • Share forms you use for formative assessments with parents to give them a clear picture of what’s happening in class.
  • Invite parents to leave comments for you or for their student!

How else have you used Google Documents and Forms for more accurate, efficient, and transparent assessments? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Photo Credits

Get a free 11-page Google Earth Starter Kit for Teachers

Google Earth Starter Kit for Teachers is our new 11-page guide to take you and your class on virtual field trips, starting today! We designed this guide for teachers wanting to find some quality examples of Google Earth trips, to create their own, or to give students new and engaging ways to share learning. If this sounds like you, sign up on the left-hand side of our page (we promise to never ever spam or share your info–you’ll just receive occasional email updates from us)! We also list the best of HGU printables and how-to’s on the confirmation page as an extra thank-you for joining our learning community!

Contents

Our new kit is packed with practical how-to tips, links to rich virtual field trips, and ways for students to harness Google Earth’s potential for discovery and sharing.

Google Earth Starter Kit Cover picLeave the Classroom Behind with Google Earth
  • Landforms Virtual Field Trip (using subfolders of placemarks)
  • Amazon Rainforest Virtual Field Trip (using the tour-guided feature)
  • Ancient Civilizations (using outlines)
Make Your Virtual Field Trip Today
  • 9 tips for making your own trip
  • Descriptions of the different tools to try in Google Earth
  • How to use simple codes for clean, neat description boxes
  • How to save & share your trip
Suggestions for Student Creations
  • 10 fun ideas for student creations in Google Earth
  • Links to additional resources

Featured Image Credit: PhotoExplorer via Flickr

3 Practical Formative Assessments

When you barely have time to suck down occasional gulps of air amid swells of paperwork, it’s understandable to lose some perspective.  Unfortunately, this is a condition many teachers face when it comes to approaching formative versus summative assessments.


 

Opportunity for impact?

But how important is it, really, to keep track of such minute details on student progress?  Well, Google defines formative as, “serving to form something, especially having a profound and lasting influence on a person’s development.”  Black and Wiliam found “that innovations which include strengthening the practice of formative assessment produce significant, and often substantial, learning gains.”  And we have discovered teacher-student relationships become elevated as students recognize just how invested teachers are in their daily progress–not just in what they produce at the end of units.

The nature of the beast

Formative assessments do not cast the intimidating shadow of their summative counterparts.  They are so authentically woven into the day, it can feel almost spontaneous as you uncover quiet learning moments, pinpointing students’ true understanding. Meanwhile, summatives are not only highly concrete and measurable, but they’re also accompanied by pressure for results–pressure that may come from administrators, parents, politicians, and even sometimes teachers themselves.

Educator’s catch 22

And so, we run into the classic teacher dilemma: on the one hand, we know part of the value of formative assessments lies their authentic, unassuming quality; on the other, it is precisely that quality that makes it easy for them to slip under the radar.   The key is to make a plan for a record-keeping strategy that works for you.  This sounds easy enough, but it does take a little trial and error as you find one or more methods that feel comfortable and easily accessible in the flow of your classroom.  Below are a few personal favorites, all of which have functioned well in various contexts.

3 Strategies

1. Confer App
Image retrieved from Conferapp.com
Image retrieved from Conferapp.com

This is the Mary Poppins carpet bag of education apps.  No matter how full I’d pack in anecdotal notes for each student, it stayed organized and easy to navigate.  It was also easy to share with parents during parent-teacher conferences.  Some details I appreciated include:

  • The option to sort notes in practical ways, including by student names, groups, and feedback.
  • A design in that’s conducive to appropriate feedback with fields like “strength,” “teaching point,” and “next step”–great to remind teachers to look for what’s going well along with what needs work.
  • The ability to apply one note to multiple students simultaneously–and the fact that it saves a previously-used note so you don’t have to type out the same phrase again.
  • The color coded flags to remind you who currently needs some extra support.

Note: At first, some students were unsure about my typing on my phone during our discussions–they worried I was texting, or otherwise distracted.  Be sure to introduce this method of note-taking to your whole class, telling them exactly how you are using your phone during your conferences.

2. Notecard Waterfalls

This one is a bit old-school, but I found it especially handy for reading groups.  I would write each student’s name on one notecard, sort them into their groups, and then tape them into a waterfall on half a piece of laminated cardstock per group.  (see photos below) I found this to be the perfect place to keep tallies for simplified running records and reading notes.  After a student would read aloud, I would say something like this:

“Ok, I’m writing that you are rocking your punctuation expression.  You paused appropriately at every comma and period!  I’m also writing that we’re working on paying attention to the endings of words, since you left off -ing and -s a couple times as you read.  Do you want me to add anything else for us to remember next time we work on reading together?”

This kind of feedback was quick and simple, but extremely effective as it kept us both on the same page.  Another bonus: when a card would fill up, I could easily throw it in the student’s file and pop in another one.

Waterfall booklet

3. Status of the Class
Image retrieved from Teacher Supply Store
Image retrieved from Teacher Supply Store

Status of the Class is the perfect tool to keep track of student-driven projects or independent work time.  Simply call out each student’s name, and then jot down their selected task on a class list.  This works well for long-term processes involving steps, stages, or centers with which the students are already familiar, such as the Writer’s Workshop, the scientific method, or math or literacy stations.  Some advantages include:

  • Stay informed of where you can coach students in their individual processes.
  • Teach students metacognition as you require them to give a brief statement explaining both the what and the why of their choice. (I would periodically model how that would sound right before taking Status of the Class to remind them how to explain their choice.  For example:  “I’m working on illustrating because I want to better visualize how to describe my characters,” or “I’m going to read to myself because I just got to a cliff-hanger in my book.”
  • Keep track of students who seem to be stuck in one place.
  • Maintain accountability for students who may get off-task during independent learning time.
  • If appropriate, give on-the-spot feedback as you help students learn to spend independent time wisely (ie, “I see you’ve chosen that 3 times in a row here.  How else could you spend your time to help you grow?”)

Tips: Use wet-erase marker to write on a laminated class list chart, such as the one pictured, and keep it posted in the room so students can also keep track of how they’ve been spending their time.  Make a key for your abbreviations on the bottom.

What are some of your favorite methods for practical formative assessments?

Featured Image: Elli Pálma via Flickr Creative Commons