Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Peek into Brain Shows How Kids Learn Math



Peek into Brain Shows How Kids Learn Math


I came across this article last week that I found very interesting. It discusses how children's brains go through different transitions as they age in the ways that they interpret and figure out math. Some excerpts that I found interesting from the article are below:

Students start off at the foundation of counting fingers or objects to figure early problems. "Healthy children start making that switch between counting to what's called fact retrieval when they're 8 years old to 9 years old, when they're still working on fundamental addition and subtraction. How well kids make that shift to memory-based problem-solving is known to predict their ultimate math achievement."

"Stanford University researchers first peeked into the brains of 28 children as they solved a series of simple addition problems inside a brain-scanning MRI machine. The children were tested twice, roughly a year apart. As the kids got older, their answers relied more on memory and became faster and more accurate, and it showed in the brain. There was less activity in the prefrontal and parietal regions associated with counting and more in the brain's memory center, the hippocampus. The stronger the connections, the greater each individual's ability to retrieve facts from memory," said Dr. Vinod Menon, a psychiatry professor at Stanford and the study's senior author."


"Next, Menon's team put 20 adolescents and 20 adults into the MRI machines and gave them the same simple addition problems. It turns out that adults don't use their memory-crunching hippocampus in the same way. Instead of using a lot of effort, retrieving six plus four equals 10 from long-term storage was almost automatic, Menon said."


"If your brain doesn't have to work as hard on simple math, it has more working memory free to process the teacher's brand-new lesson on more complex math. " The study provides new evidence that this experience with math actually changes the hippocampal patterns, or the connections. They become more stable with skill development," she said. "So learning your addition and multiplication tables and having them in rote memory helps."


"Stanford's Menon said the next step is to study what goes wrong with this system in children with math learning disabilities, so that scientists might try new strategies to help them learn."


The quote: "If your brain doesn't have to work as hard on simple math, it has more working memory free to process the teacher's brand-new lesson on more complex math. " really stuck out to me. I have always felt that math instruction needed to combine both the rote memory of basic facts and give students a good foundation in number sense and higher order math skills. Unfortunately many of the different math curriculums out there today don't emphasize both. It always seems like it is basic facts vs. high order thinking. Problem is good math students have BOTH of these skills in their repertoire and good math curriculum should contain both as well! I have blogged about the frustrations I have held with the math curriculum being taught in my children's school in the past (Basic Math Facts Made Easy!)

What are your thoughts regarding helping students become fluent in the basic facts? What are your tricks and tips?









Wednesday, August 20, 2014

First Year Flashback

Laurah Jurca, over at the ESOL Odyssey Blog, has invited teachers to share in their first year teaching memories through a fun linky party. I did have to dig deep in my memory to flashback to my first year of teaching during the 1995-96 school year. It was nice to revisit those times though, and I appreciate the opportunity from Laurah!

What age group and subject were you teaching?
I was accepted into a graduate program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha called the CADRE Project. In this program you are placed in a classroom as a full-time teacher at one of the surrounding public school districts while simultaneously completing a Master's Degree program. Part of the program included a "Master Teacher Mentor" that would check in on my classroom periodically to give pointers and advice to make the first year go smoother. I was placed in the Omaha Public Schools as a 4th grade teacher.


What was your first classroom like?
My classroom was in a building that was built in 1912, and hadn't had many renovations so it was very "antique". Wood floors, high ceiling, tall windows, old radiator for heat, and no air conditioning! The school itself, a K-4 building, actually had more classrooms outside in portables than we had in the actual building. I was lucky to be in the main building. Outside my classroom door was the "office" which consisted of a large counter in the hallway for the secretary to work from with a small office to the back for the principal. The security guard sat right outside my classroom as well at a small little table.

Were you given supplies or materials?
I was given very minimal supplies to start off since my class was added on. I had a set of math and reading textbooks, and a set of old metal desks in the room. I had access to large rolls of colored paper, writing paper, and pencils in a school-wide storage room. If I needed anything else I had to put in a supply order, but this was only for the basic office supplies like pens, staples, etc. It took several months just to get a working pencil sharpener in that room that first year!


These conditions are where I started creating my own materials since I had no other choice! Ended up well for me though as it led to a love of curriculum development and gave me skills to use for my post-teaching career!

What was the hardest part of your first year of teaching?
The biggest challenge I had that first year was learning how to work with such a diverse population, both racial and socio-economical. There was nothing taught in teacher training to prepare me for that. I originally came from Sioux Falls, SD, where my graduating class of over 500 had less than 1% non-white students and all basically came from a middle class economic status.


My students were about 50% black coming from a very low income neighborhood directly around the school. The other 50% were mainly white students that were bussed in from an even lower income area that included a homeless shelter. Due to the homeless shelter we had a lot of movement in and out of the school. In a given year I would have on average 18 students in my room, but at the end of the year I would have a list of 40-50 kids that had actually been in my class at some point during the year.

About the same time that school started my first year there was a police officer, Jimmy Wilson Jr shot and killed by gang members while still sitting seat belted in his patrol car.  This caused quite a bit of unrest and tension in the city, especially the area where my school was located. One of the first Friday afternoons after starting school it was too hot to be sitting in the classroom (no air conditioning) so I took the class out to the front yard under a big tree to do our read aloud time there. Instead of reading, a discussion about the shooting started amongst them. My eyes were really opened during the discussion to just how different the families in the area viewed the shooting than I had as a white woman from the middle class area of town. I was also really tuned in to just how much innocence was lost in these young 9-10 year olds, on the mature nature of the things they'd seen and experienced at such a young age. I had student taught 4th grade in Ames, IA, those kids were so much less mature and innocent than the students I had sitting with me under that tree. It was a very eye opening and educational experience for me. I think that discussion really helped me see into the lives of these children and gave me a better empathetic attitude towards what I had ahead of me in being their teacher.

What was the best part of your first year of teaching?
The biggest challenge was also the best part. I learned to be so much more open minded and learned to work with a diverse population. I also felt that I really made a difference for those children. I was a person they could depend on every day to be there for them to provide structure, empathy, and kindness. 


There was one student in particular who I feel I touched more than any other student I've ever had. I was, and still am, very proud of how I helped him build his confidence that year and helped others in the district, who had dismissed him and written him off as a goof-off who didn't have much potential, see that he was very worthy of another look. I proved them wrong and opened their eyes to the incredible potential he did hold.

What do you know now that you wish you knew that first year?

Every year you add a little more to your knowledge base. You learn the importance of organization, the importance of seeing each child through a clear set of eyes (don't read past files before meeting them), and realize that your classroom doesn't have to look "perfect" and that money can be better spent on instructional materials rather than cutesy bulletin boards!

I have also learned that you can't solve every problem, you can only do your best to try. Make sure to protect yourself as well, don't let all the problems of your students and classroom dominate your life. Take some time out for your personal mental health so you don't get burned out too fast!

I wish good luck and happy days ahead for all teachers reading this, but especially all of you first year teachers! Take a deep breath, it will work out in the end and you will do fantastic! There is nothing more exciting than a first year teacher's enthusiasm!

Please head over to Laurah's ESOL Odyssey Blog to read other first year teaching memories!




Friday, August 15, 2014

What Makes a Great Teacher?

The July 31, 2014, edition of Parade had an article that I found very interesting: How to Build a Better Teacher, by Elizabeth Green.


The article talks about the myths and perceptions of what makes a great teacher. Are they natural born? Can it be learned?

The article gives five examples, taken from educational research that shows what sets apart a great teacher from a mediocre or bad one. 

1.  They can right a wrong: "The best teachers put themselves in their students’ shoes—and grapple  with how they arrived at the wrong answer in order to set them right."

2.  They never say Shhh!": "The best teachers eradicate ambiguity and respond to misbehavior with specificity, describing the desired behavior rather than the problem. “We’re following along in our books,” the teacher might say, gently reminding the distracted students to get back to work."

3.  They encourage deeper thinking: You will hear a lot of "why" or "explain how" type questions in these classrooms.

4.  They "cold call" - with purpose: "The goal is to ­extract the maximum possible mileage from each question. By ­introducing the possibility that anyone can be asked to speak at any time, teacher ­decrease the chances their students will tune out."

5.  They show more than they tell: "The teacher needs to be specific, showing students what detailed thinking looks like by illuminating the invisible mental steps that go into it."


As I read I couldn't help but compare myself and see my successes and shortcomings. This is a great article to think about as you start off a new school year. How do you measure up? What are you doing right? What can you improve to make this your most successful year yet?



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Going Back to School? Check Out this Goldmine of Resources!

It's back to school time and there has been a great deal of collaborating going on over at Teachers Pay Teachers. The generous and gracious teacher stores, Deanna Jump (K-2), Elementary Solutions (3-5), Wise Guys (3-5),  Tracee Orman (6-12), All Things Algebra (6-12), Michele Luck's Social Studies (6-12), and Science Stuff (6-12), have spent a huge amount of time organizing gigantic Back to School eBooks for their respective grade levels that include hundreds of tips, freebies, and products from many wonderful and talented TpT sellers.

Their hard work is your goldmine! Check out the links below to download the book/books that are best for your grade. Make sure you have set aside some time because you will be busy taking notes, printing off resources, and creating a myriad of lesson plans!




























I hope you enjoy all these Back to School resources! 


Thank you so much to Deanna Jump, Elementary Solutions, Wise Guys, Tracee Orman, All Things Algebra, Michele Luck's Social Studies, and Science Stuff for donating their time and talent so that these books/resources could be made available to deserving teachers and students worldwide!

 Best Wishes on a wonderful school year!


Friday, August 8, 2014

How Much Does it Cost You to Go Back to School?

The Omaha World Herald had an interesting story in the paper today regarding how much teachers spend out of their own pocket on their classroom.


Teachers pay up — some spend hundreds of dollars — to stock up on school supplies for their classrooms - Omaha.com: OMAHA METRO

The story focuses on the Omaha Public Schools and the local teachers' union, the Omaha Education Association. Obviously this story is of interest to me since I am involved in the education industry, but it also has meaning for me because I taught in the Omaha Public Schools for several years. My first reaction to the story was why is it just now coming to light as an issue? This was a major concern when I started with OPS in 1995 and I am guessing that wasn't the first year teachers bought their own supplies! I guess better late than never though, so I do commend the Omaha Education Association for taking a role in looking at the issue now.


The 1995-96 school year was my first year teaching fourth grade. I remember being so overwhelmed with so many things. I was not prepared for the culture shock of teaching in the low income school where I was assigned, but I had a lot of foreshadowing so it wasn't a total surprise. What I was really shocked about was the complete lack of supplies and condition of the building/classroom that I was to teach in. They do not warn you or prepare you at all in college for the complete lack of support you may receive for supplies!


My building was opened in 1912 with the current building aged from 1928. The school did undergo a major renovation in 2002, but for the years I was there 1995-1999, it was very aged and deep need of repair. The day I entered my classroom for the first time I was welcomed with 20 older metal desks, an old teacher's desk with broken locks on the drawers, a single (empty) bookshelf, 2 smaller tables, and a very dated overhead projector on a cart all covered in dust! After thoroughly cleaning I took stock of what I had to work with. The storeroom was supplied with some colored paper on giant rolls we could use for projects or bulletin board backgrounds, some pencils, student paper (that old very thin, brownish tinted kind). To get other supplies like scissors, pens, and other basic office supplies for my desk I was able to put in an order. Our school did not have any kind of a Parent/Teacher organization in place so there was nowhere to go for extra funding for anything else. Even with my sparse inventory I was so excited to decorate and get my classroom ready to be a place to come together as a community and learn!


For the reading area I bought a carpet remnant and scrounged garage sales and found an old chair and as many chapter books as I could find. The room had hard wood floors with big high ceilings so it wasn't comfy and cozy and the acoustics were terrible! 


Due to the income level of the area we did not ask students to provide any school supplies so I went to Target's back to school sales and bought up folders and other supplies the students would need. Of course I emptied my checking account at the teacher resource stores on bulletin board supplies and other classroom decor. This was before you could create and print any of this yourself on a computer with a colored printer so it was all that pre-made stuff that was not cheap! A computer was not added to my classroom for a year or so. I was able to go to the Teachers Administration Building in another area of town and use a laminator that the district provided so that was helpful!


I was really proud of how nice my room looked, but my bank account was pretty empty those first days of school!





Throughout the year I tried to continue to stock the class library with $1 books from the Scholastic orders. I had a desperate need for chapter books. Our school only went up to grade 4 and sadly the school library was pretty small and very, very light on chapter books. My students did not have a high rate of public library use so school was the place for them to get their hands on books. I wanted them to be reading age appropriate books. I felt very strongly that you could not expect students to be reading at a 4th grade level when all they were exposed to was 2nd grade and below books!


I also replaced folders and other supplies throughout the year and kept the class stocked in Kleenexes. The district did not provide tissues at all, we were expected to use the coarse paper towels. This was not comfortable or very hygienic!


Over the course of that first year I spent an $1400, more than a month's pay, on supplies to make my classroom a place that was conducive to learning. I didn't go fancy, I added the bare bones to make the shell of a room into a learning environment. I still look back on that room with great pride. I do feel the school should  have provided much more and there is still a little bitterness there, but I don't regret spending the money I did on those kids. They deserved a warm classroom where they could learn. It just shouldn't have been funded by someone being paid a mere $10,000 per year! 

*My first year contract consisted of a stipend of $10,000 and my tuition for my Master's Degree paid at UNO. I was also not provided any medical or other benefits.

For the years after that I didn't contribute quite as much to my classroom since some things like carpet, the chair, bean bags, etc could be used again year after year. I continued to contribute for all that other stuff and it added up!


I see so often in the news about the cushy job of teachers and other disrespectful comments and it really burns me because I really don't think the general public understands that this goes on in classrooms all across the country every year. How many other jobs are workers expected to contribute one month's pay a year back to their employer or clientele?


The article states that, "In an Education Market Association survey last year found that teachers spent an average of $485 out of pocket on school supplies and instructional materials." I was spending way more than that back in the 90's here in OPS so maybe things are getting better? The article did state that teachers can turn in their receipts for possible reimbursement. There was no such policy in place when I was teaching, at least that was ever communicated with me or any other teacher at my building.


I am glad to see the OEA take a serious look at this subject and I hope to see more progress in them advocating to get the district to prioritize their budgeting and help teachers give students the education and environment they deserve! 


How do you compare to the national average of $485 out of pocket spending for your classroom? Do you receive much support for the basics? For extras? 


Where do you find the best deals for the things that you buy for your class? Please share in the comments below your feelings about this subject and share any great deals you come across!




Click on the link below to download a Back to School Freebie. Hopefully this will help lighten the load on your Back to School budgeting! ;)



Sunday, August 3, 2014

From May to September in the Life of a Teacher!



May


End of May/Early June





June/July
First, teachers hear this...

Come July 1st, the comments are more like this:


August










  Reality starts to hit...
Reality starts to sink in and teachers begin thinking like this...

But then they realize...


Panic sets in...




Days end like this...


And worries of...


Finally a shining light! The HUGE Back to School Sale at Teachers Pay Teachers!!
Everything in The Teaching Bank's store is 20% off! Add code BTS14 at checkout and receive and additional 10% off everything in your cart!

Monday, August 4 - Tuesday, August 5, 2014!












Now teachers can go back to all the warm and fuzzy feelings...



Of course once administration gets involved...


The First Day of School:
All the parents of the world are loving you...



September:
When it all starts over again...









But don't fret, you have the TpT Back to School Sale ready to help! Not only that but TpT and The Teaching Bank will be "Lending Ideas and Saving you Time", providing quality teacher tested resources that will benefit your students and help save your sanity all year long !





My Son is Famous! ;)

My 9 year old son was on the news this morning with his 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Stutzman, from Whitetail Elementary School. Mrs. Stutzman went above and beyond in creating the Wednesday Walkers Club this summer. Through the months of June and July every Wednesday morning we could drop our child off at her house at 8 AM. The group would take a walk around the neighborhood, share their summer adventures, and get some quality fun time with her toddler son. We'd pick them up at 9:30 or she's even drive them home! She went so far above and beyond the classroom and I am so grateful and in awe of her!

Click the link for the video:

Sam is the blond boy in the neon yellow shirt with gray shorts. He was so excited to participate, not just in the news feature, but in the Wednesday Walkers Club all summer. He adores Mrs. Stutzman and she is deserving of every accolade given! She is a fantastic teacher and I am grateful that Sam has her in his life! :)