Category Archives: Differentiated instruction

Using Sumdog to Improve Math Skills and Student Motivation

One of the sites that I used in my Teacher Inquiry project over the summer was one I have mentioned before: Sumdog. I happen to love the site and have been using it again this year with my current students. My results from my teacher inquiry indicate that using Math sites such as Sumdog have a positive effect on students’ attitudes toward Math and motivation to do Math. The results also indicated that regularly using a site like Sumdog can result in improvement in accuracy and speed in the skills that they practice.

I have been using Sumdog for the last four or five years and the site underwent some major changes over the summer to streamline it, making it even more user-friendly. I use the site to assign weekly homework and an assessment to my students. I am able to customize skills for students easily and get real-time results of my students’ progress. I sent out a mass email at the beginning of the year to ensure that all parents were aware of the homework I was assigning (since you need technology to complete the tasks). Students also have the option of completing their work at lunch or after school in the computer lab. So far, I have had a mostly positive response from parents and students on this homework. As a teacher, I really like that it is so easy to assign tasks, but also that the site gives me so much data on student performance. I can even see problems that students get incorrect when I give an assessment, in addition to their final score.

 

Improving Math Skills with Sumdog

If you haven’t used Sumdog with your students – check it out! I have used lots of different Math sites, but this is the one I go back to year after year. The kids enjoy it – which is the most important thing to me. Kids can play against the computer, the world or even against kids in their own class. They can earn little rewards – pets, for example – as they get more and more points. This is new this school year, but even my grade eight and nines are getting a kick out of their new pets and the tricks that they can do. As the teacher, I can assign competitions, assessments, and challenges easily and track data from each. The site is appropriate for grades 1-9, with a wide selection of skills from which to choose. Differentiation is super simple and a huge benefit of the site, as I want different students to work on different skills. Anyhow, I like to share this site each school year because it is one of my favorites! 

What are your favorite Math sites? 

Elora of Stone

Getting Started with Teacher Inquiry

I am proud to say that I have officially finished 9 of my 10 Masters courses (insert applause here). It has been a busy 12 months! My program really has changed me as a teacher – my planning, instruction, and how I regard assessment.

One course that I took a couple of months ago was “Action Research”. Before beginning the course, I was shaking in my boots. I envisioned research methods from my undergrad degree – reliability and validity, controlling variables and looking for statistically significant results…Shudder… I remember thinking, “It’s almost the end of the school year. I DO NOT have time to conduct RESEARCH!” As it turns out, I learned in the first week that action research has many other names, including “teacher inquiry”, and it was nothing like what I had pictured. I have come to prefer the term “teacher inquiry” to “action research”. I find it less intimidating – if that makes any sense! But, they do refer to the same process.

So, why have I chosen to share with you, my first venture into teacher inquiry? Well, as a requirement of my program, I had to conduct a teacher inquiry of my own. One of the major elements upon the completion of a teacher inquiry is to share what happened – the results, what I learned, and what it all means. So, as part of the “sharing” component I decided to share here on my blog with all of you. It’s too much to share in one post, so you can expect a few upcoming posts highlighting the whole process.

teacher inquiryWhat you need to understand, if you are new to teacher inquiry, is that it is a simple, yet complex process. Time-consuming, yet rich in professional development opportunities. The entire process begins with what is called a “wondering”. This is a question that you wish you had the answer to. It may be something that you think about on the drive home, or discuss with your spouse or colleagues, or something that rolls around in your mind as you try to sleep. As educators, we all have wonderings, of sorts….How can I help So-and-So be more organized? What can I do to increase student engagement? What can I do to improve achievement with this unit? How can I incorporate more technology into my course? What can I do to make So-And-So stop blurting out in class? How can I get all of my students to actually LEARN their times tables this year? These were all potential wonderings for me as I started the process of teacher inquiry. I encourage you to think about a question, a wondering, that you would like help with. It should be something that would improve life in your classroom and in return, increase student achievement – which is what it’s all about – helping kids learn and have success. 

 

I’m including a link to our course text, in case teacher inquiry sounds like something that you would like to explore this school year. In my opinion, the book was extremely helpful and user-friendly:

The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research: Learning to Teach and Teaching to Learn Through Practitioner Inquiry

 

So, as I leave you to reflect on your own personal wondering, know that teacher inquiry is simply a structured method to help you find the answer(s) to that question. It is empowering, and helps teachers to find the answers to their own questions. So, what’s your wondering?

 

Canadian teacher middle school blog, lessons from the middle, teacher author krystal mills photo

Engaging Middle School Writers with Picaboo – Trust Me!

It can be difficult to engage kids in writing – that’s just a fact. Therefore, I am excited to share a site that I found called, “Picaboo Yearbooks” to publish a class book containing my students’ writing. My students have bought in and so I’m stoked! You can actually create lots of different things on the website, but I am using it to create a class book of writing to engage my kids, and so far, so good!

I had been searching for a “self-publishing” type of site and couldn’t seem to find just what I wanted, in terms of style, practicality or price. Picaboo’s books are affordable (less than $10 for a 20 page book – full color, softcover and less than $20 for a hardcover) so I’ll be able to purchase one to have in my class library – this way everyone will be a published writer this year. There are no minimums needed to buy a book, either. If I just want one book – I’m free to order just one! Also, the way that I am choosing to set things up, each student has their own page to create. All I had to do was make ONE login and they can all access our class book. They know to work on their own page and not to mess with anyone else’s page. They can also easily read and give feedback to classmates, as we create this one collaborative collection of their writing. Finally, they love that they can change the layout, and add fun pictures and backgrounds to their pages to make them even more polished. They are enjoying the fact that this book will be published and so have been putting forth commendable efforts, so far.

In terms of particulars, I was going to have students write directly into the template, and some are. For others, they rather use Word to create their draft and then they are pasting the draft into the website to get feedback from peers. There was a little bit of a learning curve, however, the site is very user friendly and the kids are having no issues with the technology side! They’re grade 7 – technology is their forte!

Oh, and I did contact Picaboo before I decided to do this project to get a sample of their books. They actually sent me a beautiful sample and I was sold on the quality! If you are thinking about doing a class yearbook or wanting to engage your kiddos by setting up your class with Picaboo so that they can all get published – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. They also have tons of helpful videos, and Live Chat to help out as well, if you use the yearbooks as yearbooks, since they are more involved than what I am using the site for.

I only wish I had incorporated Picaboo earlier in the year with my kiddos – we could have made a larger collection of their work. Oh well, there’s always next year!

Picaboo Yearbooks

This is a first draft that one of my students is working on in the Picaboo Yearbooks template…

 

Elora of Stone

Do You Teach Your Students About Having a Fixed Vs Growth Mindset?

In one of the courses that I am taking for my Master’s of Education, I came across a topic that really struck a chord with me. I am taking two courses at the moment ( my March “Break” has been pivotal in maintaining my sanity with this 2 courses at once, business). In my Differentiated Instruction course, the idea of a “Fixed Mindset” versus a “Growth Mindset” came up. To put it simply, some people (kids included) believe that we are born with a certain amount of intelligence – it’s “fixed”. In comparison, hose with a “Growth Mindset” understand that putting in effort to learn new things expands our minds, and that effort is what makes us successful and “smarter”.

I don’t know about you, but I have certain students, who constantly question themselves and do not give their full effort! Like, ever! Oh wait, unless it’s a really simple task. It is extremely frustrating, as the teacher, to sit back and see that if s/he just TRIED they would achieve the success that they wish for. What I have learned is that people with a “fixed mindset” see effort and “having to try” as threatening to their intelligence. This exertion of effort actually makes them feel stupid because they feel like they should already know the material. They think that others just “get it” while they do not. Kids with a “fixed mindset” don’t realize that other students are actually working harder than they are (exerting effort to do well) and it is the effort of these other students that causes them to gain more academic success, not intelligence that they were born with.

I teach grade 7 and I think that junior high students could really benefit from being informed about “fixed” and “growth” mindsets. Recognizing the type of mindset that they have and looking at how they can make simple changes to actually “grow their brains” and make themselves smarter? I would have to think that idea would be appealing to kids!

I found an interactive quiz to share with your kiddos if this is something that you’re interested in. Below the quiz are two videos – a Ted Talk by Carol Dweck who has researched this phenomenon, and a second video about how the brain works that would be suitable for middle school and up. I also found another quick video comparing “fixed” and “growth” mindset.

Carol Dweck’s book is titled, “Mindset” if this is a topic that interests you.

I also dug around and found “Mindsets in the Classroom” which I am adding to my Amazon wishlist. It looks fantastic and very user-friendly!

          

I think that the main thing that I got from the articles that I have read for my MSED on mindset, is that kids need to know that they have the power to “make themselves smarter”. Their effort is what matters – they haven’t been born with a certain amount of intelligence. Exerting effort to learn something new makes the neurons in their brain fire and can actually cause their brain to grow (whereby making them smarter than if they hadn’t exerted effort). Even sharing or reminding kids of that fact, and pulling the topic in when kids with “fixed mindsets” balk at challenges would be helpful with motivating and inspiring all kids to achieve.

I am excited to get back to class and share some of the things I have learned about mindset with my kiddos (the ones with clearly “fixed mindsets” especially). I would love to hear your opinions on this topic! Are you familiar with Dweck’s work? I have spoken to my kids on the topic of effort, but never in the terms of mindset and intelligence and I can’t wait to hear what they think!

Virtual Field Trip to Africa

Have Yourself a Moby Little Christmas

Updated: Congratulations to Meghan L., the winner of the MobyMax tablet!

I know that everyone likes a good giveaway, and this is a pretty sweet one! Have you heard of MobyMax?  MobyMax tablets offer teachers and parents an amazing option to help their kids gain skills in Language Arts and Math. Students can work to close gaps in their learning by working through lessons on the Moby tablet, and continue to challenge themselves to move ahead. Teachers and parents can monitor their child’s results through reports that Moby offers. There are games and other “fun stuff” to motivate kids as well! 

 

MobyMax curriculum is based on the research of professor John Hattie, and it is a great way to differentiate in your classroom.

 

Although these tablets are specifically loaded with MobyMax curriculum so that you can individualize your instruction, they are still tablets and so you can load them with your favorite apps, as well. Want your own Moby? Entering is easy, and one lucky follower is going to a have a “Moby little Christmas”! 

 

Check out these specs!

moby specs

MobyMax Curriculum includes all of this? Wow!

moby 2

Contest ends December 21st, 2014! Be sure to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Master’s Update and Math Apps!

I have been working really hard this year to try to differentiate a bit more effectively for my students. Last year I looked into Guided Math, and although I loved the way it sounded, I know that I fell short of actually following through with my well-intended plan. As part of a Master’s assignment this year, I actively started incorporating more small group time for guided practice into my classroom. Honestly, I can already feel the shift. The things that I thought would happen (a bunch of hands up in the air as I try to help those in the group) haven’t really been an issue, yet. Those who need help are with me and those who do not are able to move along and complete their work. It’s actually kind of simple. I also established some anchor activities for students to choose from when they do complete their work. I haven’t worked out all of the kinks, but knowing that I’m going to get to more students more quickly makes me feel as though I am teaching more authentically! If you don’t do much “guided practice” after your initial lesson, try it! For a week or two, try to build in more time to work with students in a small group. And keep it simple! Right now, I have it established that after my mini-lesson anyone who feels that they would like to work through a few more examples can join me at the back table. The students CHOOSE to come. What I love MOST is when the students who choose to join are the ones whom I was worried would be acting up and making it difficult for me to teach. They are CHOOSING to come back and work through examples with me. I still have a few students that I’d like to see join me at the back, however, I will give them time to decide if they need my help or not. If they should be going through more examples with me, I will ask them to join the group as well. I’m playing this part by ear, so far. What I’m also really happy about, is that my small group time has been with many different students. Initially I was scared that there may be a negative stigma attached to coming to the small group for more guided practice. However, this has not been the case. This small change to my teaching practice this year has been amazing and I’m looking forward to really harnessing the power of small group instruction.

As a part of this week’s assignment for my course I found a great blog post on Math Puzzle Apps and another on Incorporating Games into the Classroom . Math games and puzzles are simple options to use as anchor activities for students when they have finished the assigned work for the day. They keep the kids engaged while you can continue to work with those students who need your help.

I haven’t checked out all of the Math Apps in the article yet, but it’s on my to-do list for later this week!

Do you have any great Math Apps for middle school that don’t require internet? Please share if you do! I’m always on the lookout!

 

 

Life-Saving Labour Day Blog Hop

So happy to be a part of this “life-saving” Labour Day link-up! This link-up is filled with no prep and low prep ideas for you to grab at the last moment before the busy school year begins! You’re welcome!

The item that I am highlighting for this “life-saving link-up” is my This is Who I Am collage project for grades 7-9. It can be used any time, but it’s great for Back-to-School time! It contains 50+ pages, including everything you need to get high quality collages from your students, by clearly communicating the expectations for them. It’s low prep and basically ready to go! Through this engaging project, you’ll get to know your students better and they’ll get to know themselves better, as well! The completed collages also make an awesome display!

 

this is who i am


Basically, students are required to use photos, drawings and text to create a visually appealing collage, representing who they are.

I’ve included:
-Assignment sheet for students
-A checklist for students to make sure that they include everything
-3 choices of graphic organizer to plan the collage
-A rubric (in case you decide to formally assess their work)
-A PowerPoint with 3 activities to walk students through how to use symbols on their collages to raise the level of their work (printables included for these as well)
-A PowerPoint to help students come up with their personality characteristics
-A printable list of characteristics as reference (by no means a complete list of every personality trait – but it’s a start)
-A printable to help students find an appropriate quote, poem or song lyrics to add to their collage (again – raises the level of their work)
-Step by step instructions for the teacher for how they may want to conduct the project 

 

You can choose to do parts of this project, or the whole thing. There are lots of options for you and since I have included the PowerPoints and any printables required – you should be good to go!

 

If you want a great project that will engage students right off the bat, encourage creativity and enable you to get to know them better – check out my “This Is Who I Am” resource in my TPT Store

 photo SecondaryTopTeachersBTSpromo-CAN.png

 

And thanks to Tammy Aiello at Teaching FSL for organizing this awesome blog hop and link-up!

jamberry nails giveaway

 

 

Students Take Responsibility For Their Learning By Reflecting on Their Tests

We had a PD day last week and I got to meet with my collaborative learning team. We’ve been looking at how to use Guided Math in our classrooms. It’s been a struggle, but I have made some gains in that area this year and I’m going to continue to work on it as a professional goal.

Something that one of the grade 6 teachers shared was really simple and useful and so I thought I’d share it here.

The basic idea is to have students reflect on their tests, quizzes, or reviews and to put the responsibility on to them as to what they still need to work on. It works wonderfully for math, but can easily be used in other subjects as well.

I created my own version and posted it in my TPT Store as a freebie. Click on the picture below for your own copy!

 

Krystal Mills, Lessons From The Mille, Teacher BlogTest Reflection TPT Test Reflection SHeet

Holy Mackerel! Embrace Opportunities…in Life and in Math

Have you ever had one of those moments when you’ve just savored the simplicity of what was going on around you? I had one of those moments just the other day…

Acessible Mathematics; Shift #6

Mackerel fish zooming past my toes!

I have lived on this Island my whole life and my mother has lived on the same lot of land her whole life, which is where I grew up. My husband, the boys and I popped in to visit my mom and dad just the other day and they told us that we had to come down to the shore to see something. Mother Nature had quite a little surprise – something none of us had ever seen before. There were thousands and thousands – maybe even millions of silver-sides which are little fish – like minnows. It was almost biblical, if that makes sense! What was cooler though, were the thousands of mackerel fish who were following and feeding on the silver-sides. These fish were schooled in the water where I grew up swimming and still do swim sometimes. The water was absolutely black with them – it was amazing! And you know the saying, “When life gives you mackerel, get the fishing pole!” Well, at least I think that’s the saying Tongue Out Regardless, we grabbed the fishing poles and my boys (Hubby most of all, I think) had a fantastic time reeling those fish in one after another, releasing and catching again within seconds.

Acessible Mathematics; Shift #6

My younger brother with a live one on the line.

Acessible Mathematics; Shift #6

Dad and Hubby, bonding…

Now my brother and I, we like a challenge. He had already caught quite a few mackerel with the pole, and so we decided that there were so many fish we could catch them bare handed. Now, I’ll spare you from the long and drawn out hour that followed, in which many different strategies were tried, re-vamped and tried again. The story ends, though, with each of us catching two mackerel – without using a fishing pole. I could totally survive in the wild…ya probably not. Nowhere to plug in my hair straightener!  But it sure was fun. The reason I’m sharing this, is because at one point I just looked around and observed the fun that my family was having. It was a perfect Island evening; a small, yet memorable moment. If we had decided it wasn’t worth the effort to head down to the shore when my parents suggested, none of it would have happened. It would have been a completely missed opportunity. Fish, literally jumping out of the water and no one there to catch them.  Make sure to grab some of those moments for yourself this summer (and of course in the classroom next fall)!

Acessible Mathematics; Shift #6

Me with my catch!

Acessible Mathematics; Shift #6

Holy Mackerel…now I get it;)

Acessible Mathematics; Shift #6

My boys trying their hand at catching a big one.

 

 

So, while we’re on the topic of seizing opportunities, it’s crucial to grab those teachable moments in the classroom, as well. In Accessible Mathematics: Ten Instructional Shifts That Raise Student Achievement, Shift #6 is to build from graphs, charts and tables. It may seem like a small thing, a simple thing. I know it does to me. However, I also know that I’ve missed tons of “moments” by not really delving into all of the data in a table, only using the information that was most pertinent to the problem and essentially ignoring the rest. I’m embarrassed to even type that, but in a 38 minute block there isn’t always time to answer questions that haven’t even been asked.

Leinwand’s suggestion for building from given data, is to ask the question, “So?” and see what happens. Rather than just answering one or two straightforward questions, ask your students “So?” Of course it depends on your data, but the example that is given has to do with ticket sales for a concert. A typical question in a text book could be, “Which musician sold the most tickets?” At this point, I would let my students independently answer this simple question and they’d move on to the next problem. Well, now I’m beginning to see that would be like looking at all of those mackerel swimming around and saying, “Cool!” without actually trying to catch one – missed opportunity! A simpler experience, for sure, and MUCH less satisfying.

In this author’s opinion, when teachers begin to ask, “So?” and their students get used to that questioning, crazy things happen! Crazy-good things. Thinking, questioning, and deeper understanding and appreciation of mathematics. So, with a problem about ticket sales, questions that they could come up with could be:

-How many tickets were sold altogether?

-Why is So-and-So the most popular?

-Which concert would be the least popular?

-How many more tickets did Concert 3 sell than Concert 6?

-Which concert sold the closest to 300 000 tickets?

-What percent more tickets did the most popular concert sell, than the least?

I could go on. The point is, if you’re going to require students to refer to a table, chart or graph for answers, that should be only the beginning of a line of questions (that should come from them, ultimately) about the data so that they care more, engage more and so that you can build in every opportunity to extend number sense (which is Shift #5).

I teach grade 7 and there’s always at least one student who wants to know why they should care about what we’re doing. Why does is matter? So what? These students will be the strongest, I believe, in answering the, “So?” question. I know that I’ve often chosen to have students answer more problems rather than really extend a problem in the way Leinwand suggests. I have my reasons  and I don’t think that it’s a bad thing at all. What I can clearly see now, though, is missed opportunities. I have been guilty of getting wrapped up in the three IEPs, two behavior issues and other multiple needs within my typical classroom, trying to meet a vast range of needs, at both ends of the spectrum. Honestly, extending data rich problems has not been at the top of my priority list for teaching math. That’s exactly why I read professionally in the summer. I don’t have students in front of me. It’s NOT overwhelming to think about, “How could I do this?” At the moment, I can think clearly and objectively and see the value in what Leinwand is arguing.

This shift (and a few others, actually) have catapulted me into deciding to make a much more significant change in my math classroom for next year. I have started reading Minds on Mathematics: Using Math Workshop to Develop Deep Understanding in Grades 4-8 and the content supports the shifts in Leinwand’s book, but it actually offers a workshop format for teaching math. I’m loving what I’m reading so far and I know what better problem solvers my students will become if I can make this shift. Anyway, I don’t want to put the fish before the pole…so more to come on this later…

Are there any teachers out there who routinely ask their students, “So?” Please let us know how that works and what it looks like?

 

bullying video

Relaxing Into Some Professional Summer Reading: Accessible Mathematics

I hope that my Canadian friends had a lovely Canada Day and I hope that my American friends have some fun plans for their upcoming holiday as well.

Friday was my last day at school and I’ve never left my room so tidy and organized! I guess that’s what comes with more teaching years under my belt! I will have only 18 students next year in my homeroom and the entire group coming in is just a lovely bunch of kids and so I feel completely at peace and ready to relax this summer.

I must say, I am making the most of my time off so far! Last weekend was busy. I went out for drinks and took in some live music with a few teacher friends. I love to just sit and chat! We had a family BBQ at my sister’s on Sunday. Hubby and I went on a “park hop” with the boys on the holiday Monday, driving around letting them play at different parks that we don’t usually get to. A picnic lunch, ice cream and fireworks in the evening made it “the best day ever” in the words of my five-year old. Who needs Disney World? Wink  Like I said, I really feel like I’m making the most of my time off so far.

accessible mathOf course, part of my summer routine (as I’ve mentioned before) is to do some professional summer reading. Some day, I will begin working toward a Master’s in Education, but until then, I’ll further my own learning in this way. I’m just about finished of Accessible Mathematics: Ten Instructional Shifts That Raise Student Achievement and it really is a super little book, recommended by Andrea @ For The Love of Teaching Math. Last summer, I read and posted about a professional math resource as well,   Guided Math: A Framework for Mathematics Instruction and I incorporated some of author Laney Sammon’s ideas into my classroom. I’m actually seeing ways to mesh some of what I did with her book last year, into what I hope to do in my room next year, which is awesome!

Now, I’m not going to give you a play by-play of every single chapter in Accessible Mathematics, but I will pass along some of my take home messages in my next few blog posts (original blog post here). Actually, I’m super excited because I have two more math resources on the way that were recommended by teacher friends (What’s Your Math Problem and Minds on Mathematics should be arriving in the next two weeks) and a few others on my wish list:

 

             
 

 

So, Accessible Mathematics is broken down into ten “instructional shifts”. The first shift is something that I do, but need to do more of and need to do more systematically.  The first “instructional shift” is to build more review into every class. I do review, don’t get me wrong. However, I am guilty of moving on at times, rather than looking back as much as I should, simply because of the amount of material we have to cover. I’m sure that you know where I’m coming from.

The way that Leinwand suggests using review is quick, practical and something that I know I can do. I’m going to try beginning each class with a five problem review. I’ll have students use a half scribbler for these review problems and may collect them periodically. However, I hope to gather the information that I need by circulating around the room, the vast majority of the time. Five problems, five minutes – that’s my plan. If it takes a student five minutes to find their scribbler – they’ll have to catch the review the following day (although that STILL gives me information on their organization and perhaps even signifies an avoidance behavior).

I find that getting classes settled can waste a lot of teaching minutes, especially when I’m teaching in a room other than my own or have a chatty class. Beginning class this way should settle most students more quickly (in theory) and get us focused for the amazing lesson ahead (I’m sure that’s what they’ll be thinking).

As far as material, I’m thinking about using multiplication/division facts, fractions, integers – really hit home with the skills that I need my students to master before they leave my room, or that they were missing when they came in. I also want to make more of an effort to go back to concepts from previously taught chapters as much as possible to try to keep everything that we’re learning at the surface and  let very little settle to the bottom of their easily preoccupied brains!

I have a few resources that I plan to use to address these review problems. I actually found a great (although old) resource when I was tidying up my room at the end of the year. It was a mental math resource from the board, from at least 8 or 9 years ago. Still good stuff, though. I also have a book called Seventh Grade Math Minutes that has some perfect material in it. I may also use the 6th grade version. And then, my actual math text does have some “Getting Started” problems that I could incorporate as well. That’s what  love most about “Accessible Mathematics”. I am motivated to make some small shifts, and have been forced to do a mental inventory of my resources and how I may better use them. I don’t have to buy anything to make the shifts that I plan for September, I just need to use my time and resources in a way that (hopefully) will be even more effective!

Please add the titles of any other middle school math resources that you think my readers and I should look into. I’m hoping to be a part of a Math PLC (Professional Learning Community) in the next school year and so I’m collecting resources/titles. Also, please give me your best ideas/what you do to review in your classrooms. I’m open to ideas and methods that work, from you, the experts!

bullying video