3 Truths All Math Teachers Need to Hear Today

3 Truths All Math Teachers Need to Hear Today


 

3 truths all math teachers need to hear today cover photo

We literally cannot do it all. There I said it.

I can't scroll through Facebook or Instagram without being inundated with all the tips and tricks and strategies that we must do in order to meet the needs of all learners.

I love new ideas. I love research and learning. But gosh, it's a lot right now!

Feeling the same way?

Read on as I share the 3 truths that you really need to hear today.

Try one new strategy at a time. 

You do not need to have a Pinterest-perfect classroom or Instagram-worthy lesson in order to be an incredible math teacher. Sure, there are lots of great strategies out there: flipped classroom, one-to-one technology, math centers, interactive notebooks, games. But the truth is, you cannot do it all. The last thing we want is for teachers to become overwhelmed and burned out. If you're feeling refreshed and inspired and ready to try something new, choose one strategy or activity to implement. Get really good at that one thing by trying it again and again with different topics. Train your students how to successfully participate in this one thing. Then, and only then, should you consider adding something else to your teacher toolbox. And if you're not feeling like you can add one more thing to your plate right now, then don't. I am giving you permission today to not change a darn thing. You are enough. The fact that you show up for your students every day and do the best you can is enough. That leads me to truth number two.

the last thing we want is for teachers to become overwhelmed and burned out

Positive classroom climate makes the greatest impact.

You can try every strategy under the sun, and if there isn't consistent two-way respect in your classroom, nothing will have the impact you're hoping for. Relationships between students and teachers are boss. Your students need to know that you care, they are loved, and they are safe. Ask your students about their interests and hobbies. Use growth-mindset language to convey that you believe in them. Create an atmosphere where students are comfortably able to take risks without the fear of judgement or ridicule. Positive classroom climate has the greatest impact on student success. There will be plenty of pressure to improve test scores and use more technology and try this latest, greatest, flashy teaching tool. But I am urging you to build a positive learning environment first. Take time to talk to your students about things other than math. Get to know their strengths and challenges. Reach out to families about successes, as well as challenges. Once this foundation is set, then everything else will fall into place.

students are loved image

Meet students where they are.

Math confidence is key to student motivation and engagement. Students who struggle, and are not given the proper scaffolding, are going to give up. Don't let this happen. Don't let a stringent curriculum and textbook shape the learning experience for your students. Determine the skills that your students are entering with and start there. This could be accomplished via a brief pre-assessment or teacher observations. Build student confidence by starting with what they know and building on that prior knowledge - even if they are not up to grade level yet. Start with the basics and climb from there. Make clear connections between concepts to help students make the leap. Maybe you feel like there's not enough time to teach skills that should have been mastered in previous school years. I am encouraging you to do just that. Teach what your students need. Once their foundation is strong and confidence is high, the rest of the year will flow much more easily. Build a math class that is equal parts accessible and rigorous. Show students that they can do it.

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So, math educator, will you let go of some of the pressure you're feeling please? Commit now to trying no more than one new strategy at a time, building a positive classroom climate first, and meeting students where they are starting. Do all of these things within your own comfort zone or just beyond it (scaffolding!). You've got this.

Comment below with other advice for teachers heading back to school this fall. What is a truth you want all math teachers to know?

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How to Differentiate Instruction in Math without the Stress of Creating New Resources

How to Differentiate Instruction in Math without the Stress of Creating New Resources


 

Differentiate instruction in math without stress

Differentiating math instruction can often feel like just another thing to do. You may believe that you don't have time to differentiate or perhaps you think you can't make it work with the resources you have been given. I will debunk those misconceptions in this post. You do have time, and I would even argue, that you are probably already differentiating instruction more than you think. You can differentiate without the stress of creating new resources. According to Westman (2020), "[Differentiating instruction] may be the single most important instructional move right now." In today's environment, especially, we must explore and reflect on our students' needs, and differentiate instruction in order to engage students in a productive and positive learning environment that will lead to greater math confidence and higher achievement. Are you ready? Let's dive in!

Case made for differentiated math instruction


PROVIDE OPEN-ENDED ACTIVITIES

Consider Bloom's Taxonomy when planning open-ended math activities. When students engage in higher order thinking, they are better able to self-regulate and self-adjust their learning based on difficulty level or personal interest. 

Bloom's Taxonomy

Assigning tasks that involve remembering and understanding are an important foundation, but we mustn't stop there. Ask students to create an expression with set parameters, select an equation that does not belong with the others and justify their answer, or develop and test a conjecture about patterns they see within a discovery lesson. 

create an expression example

Students will be able to self-differentiate because of the wiggle room within the assignment. Some students may create a basic expression while others will challenge themselves with more. When identifying an equation that does not belong, I accept any choice as long as there is a logical and reasonable explanation for why that choice was made. The flexibility in problems like these allows students to think freely and engage in the process without worrying as much about the final answer. When discovering concepts in math, some students will stick with concrete thinking and write down observations, while others may be able to extend their thinking to formulas or connections between concepts. Students should be encouraged to work to the best of their ability. With practice and encouragement, students can work to climb Bloom's Taxonomy throughout the year.


GIVE STUDENTS CHOICES

Copy two different worksheets and allow students to choose. This can 100% be done with existing resources. For example, after a couple of days of simplifying algebraic expressions, offer two versions of in-class practice. The first may have multiple steps, but positive numbers only in order to remove the integer barrier for students who struggle with that sub-concept. This will allow them to instead focus on the new concepts of distributing then combining like terms. There will be other opportunities for them to incorporate integers, but for the sake of mastery the new concept it is helpful to remove that barrier. The second option may include negatives for those students who feel ready. They can take on the added challenge of simplifying algebraic expressions with negatives, especially if they have already mastered the sub-topic, integers.

Differentiation Pin


UTILIZE TOOLS LIKE KUTA SOFTWARE

Kuta software takes the stress out of differentiation by quickly creating the worksheets you need with just a few clicks. The free version has a library of hundreds of ready-made math worksheets with answer keys included. Differentiate by choosing two very similar lessons. For example, print copies of the Two-step equations worksheet and the Multi-step equations worksheet. You can allow students to choose or monitor more closely using another strategy, Level Up. In the Level Up strategy, all students start with the simpler worksheet. Some students will continue to work only through this practice throughout the remainder of the time. Other students may choose to level up. If they get 5 problems correct in a row, they may choose to level up and move on to the more challenging problems. They first demonstrate mastery, and you can have them check in with you if you prefer, then they take on the next set of problems. Bonus: have multiple levels available so students can continue to level up more than once.

kuta software image

There is also a paid version that allows you to customize the worksheets more extensively with just a few clicks (see the above image). If your district has allotted funds for math technology, this may be something to consider investing in.


VARY LEVELS OF SUPPORT

You introduce a new math concept at the front board using a couple of models. That's enough information for most of the students to be able to jump right into a practice activity with little support. Scaffold the new material for a pre-identified subset of students by working with them in a small group. In the small group, continue the instruction and have students demonstrate "try" problems in front of you. This is an opportunity for you to use different models and explanations. Make the concept more concrete, use manipulatives, draw pictures, or whatever makes sense for the particular math topic in order to make it more accessible to students who may have skill gaps or general difficulties within the unit. Once they have had their aha moment, send them back to their seat to proceed with the rest of the class. This is a great way to differentiate for students with different learning styles or who need a somewhat slower pace to get acquainted with the math concept.


Now you know that you can differentiate instruction in math without the stress of creating new resources! 

  1. BE STRATEGIC in the types of questions you ask. Higher order thinking questions naturally allow students to self-differentiate.
  2. GIVE STUDENTS CHOICES. With some coaching and discussion, you can train your students to correctly identify which version of the practice they should choose.
  3. UTILIZE SOFTWARE that auto-populates math practice worksheets for you. Choose your topics and print.
  4. SCAFFOLD MATH for your students by providing additional support with whom it's most needed.


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The 3 Best Zero-Overwhelm Strategies for Differentiating Math Instruction

The 3 Best Zero-Overwhelm Strategies for Differentiating Math Instruction


 

Zero-Overwhelm Math Differentiation

The research has long showed that teachers must differentiate instruction in order to meet the needs of all learners. Even when we understand that this just means making small adjustments to accommodate various needs within our classroom, getting started can be the most difficult part. This post will provide you with the three best zero-overwhelm strategies for differentiating math instruction in the secondary classroom. Within these broad categories, you'll read three different approaches for differentiation: interest, readiness and learning profile. It is important to note that when we are discussing readiness, or leveled learning, that this is not fixed. Often from unit to unit, or even within a unit, students' comfort level with the math concepts will vary, and therefore, different accommodations may be warranted.

Offer Two Choices

Hands down, offering students choices is the best place to start. This zero-overwhelm strategy could be used to pique student interest or accommodate different academic levels.

First, choose the topic or skill students will be practicing.

Next, find two different activities or worksheets that practice that topic or skill. 

To increase student engagement, you could look for two different themes or styles for students to choose from. Perhaps one worksheet has science applications of linear equation word problems, for instance, while another has social media examples.

To accommodate variation in where individual students are in the learning process, offer two levels of the same topic. For example, some students can continue to work on solving two-step equations, while others move on to examples involving the Distributive Property and combining like terms.

To make adjustments for learning preferences, allow students to either select a worksheet for practice or a set of task cards. Students who benefit from working through one problem at a time will experience greater success when offered a task card set. Other students may prefer to see all the problems in one place to facilitate pattern recognition.

To ensure this remains a zero-overwhelm experience for you, the educator, do not try to recreate the wheel. Your curriculum may offer some of these options in textbook or worksheet form, there are tons of free resources online with a quick Google Search, or head to Teachers Pay Teachers for some quick, inexpensive downloads.

Individual Level Leads to Confidence


Assign an Open-Ended, Flexible Project

By assigning a project with flexible processes and outcomes, students can self-differentiate or you can push students towards a particular direction.

To promote interest and excitement, allow students to choose a data set when constructing and analyzing a scatter plot and its trend line.

To adjust for varying levels, steer students toward three-dimensional figures with less complex formulas when designing packaging - like the Play Dough Project.

To accommodate differing personalities and learning styles, simply allow students to decide if they want to work individually or with a partner; at a desk or in the hallway; on paper or with manipulatives.

Do not try to introduce more choices than you are comfortable with. The key is to start small. Choose one way to differentiate at a time. Over time, these strategies will become innate and you'll be able to practice more and more individualized instruction and choices.


Strategically Call on Students

One of my favorite ways to informally assess student understanding, engage students, and differentiate by ability is to have students come up to the front whiteboard in groups to solve problems. This works especially well when practicing a specific math skill that can be demonstrated in a short period of time in a couple of steps.

Here's how it works:

1)  Ask all students to take out paper and pencil (or mini-whiteboards).

2)  Call 4-5 students up to the front whiteboard, each with their own section of the board and an Expo marker.

3)  Read a math problem aloud. All students - regardless of whether they are at their seat or at the front board - copy down the original equation, inequality or expression.

4)  All students work through the same problem, showing all steps. As they do so, I offer help as needed first to the students at the front board, then to those students working independently at their desks.

Here is the key to making this successful. When calling students up to the front board, do two things. First, tell students that the problems will become more challenging each round (and do this). This will, first, get students to volunteer quickly and, second, allow students to self-differentiate by deciding when they want to volunteer. Second, be strategic in calling students to the front board. Use this as a confidence building opportunity for students who are struggling throughout the topic. You might also consider mixing ability a little bit so that students who struggle have a model at the front board with them, and this also helps to avoid inappropriate labeling among students.

Zero-Overwhelm Math Differentiation

Which strategy is your favorite? Which will you try? Be sure to report back in the comments section!

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Diagnose and Remediate: Linear Equations Word Problems

Diagnose and Remediate: Linear Equations Word Problems


 

Diagnose and Remediate

We've all been there. We introduce word problem examples and, in response, we hear all the moans and groans from our students. Word problems are notoriously difficult for students and often require additional practice and intervention.

In the Discover Math Intervention Program, we strive to diagnose misconceptions and skill gaps and remediate through instructional videos and practice problems.

First, assign the Diagnostic Assessment to your students. The assessment is housed in Google Forms. Students answer between 5 and 10 questions in order to assess their understanding of the topic.

Then, if at any point students get two questions in a row incorrect, they are sent to a ten-minute YouTube video to provide remedial instruction and facilitate additional practice.

Linear Equations Word Problems

This particular diagnostic assessment and remediation video covers topics including translating one- and two-step equations from sentences and word problems.

The diagnostic assessment focuses on writing the actual equation. It assesses whether students can correctly translate the sentence or scenario into a linear equation. The remediation video lesson goes into more depth by addressing key words, steps for writing and solving linear equations in one variable, and detailed processes.

Once students watch the brief video lesson, they can go back through the diagnostic assessment to adjust their answers until they are correct and submit.

Try this lesson for free here.

Are you following this amazing news?

In the Discover Math Intervention Program, we identify and address math skill gaps for you!

The best part is that it can all be done via technology, so this program is perfect for remote or hybrid learning.

Are you interested in learning more about the Discover Math Intervention Program? 
Membership is opening again soon. Join the waitlist here.

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