Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Math Problem Solving: Knowing Where to Begin

Teaching kids to how to solve math problems is a huge challenge, but often the biggest challenge is knowing where to begin instruction. Learn where to download this free set of problem solving assessments to use in your upper elementary classroom!
Teaching kids to how to solve math problems is a huge challenge, but often the biggest challenge is knowing where to begin instruction. Without administering some type of pretest, you risk boring your students with problems that are too easy or frustrating them with problems that may seem impossible.

Before you begin, you need to have some idea of their current problem solving skills. For example:

  • How do they attack different types of problems? 
  • What strategies do they use? 
  • Are they functioning below grade level, at grade level, or above?
  • If they struggle, is it due to poor computation skills, poor reading skills, or misconceptions about basic math concepts?  

The Problem with Problem Solving Pretests
Unfortunately, most math word problem pretests don't provide enough information to help us answer those questions, let alone know where to begin instruction. Many tests are so challenging that kids who've been out of school all summer are likely to give up after making a token effort to solve the first few problems. Also, most tests use a multiple choice format which makes them easy to grade, but not so easy to interpret. Students don't have a place next to each problem to show their work, so you're left guessing as to the reason they missed each incorrect answer.

Problem Solving Assessment Made Easy
Since I couldn't find a math problem solving pretest I liked, I decided to create my own. After a bit of planning, testing, and tweaking, I developed a set of leveled pretests and posttests. I designed it so that there are just 4 word problems per page leaving room for student work. Each test is 4 pages long, but most students will only need a few of the pages because they don't move to the next level unless they complete 3 of the 4 problems correctly.

The Problem Solving Assessment pack includes a pretest, a posttest, answer keys, a form for recording and analyzing your assessment results, and a scoring guide. The assessment is available in two versions, the American Version which uses customary measurement and the International Version which uses metric measurement. If you'd like to use these assessment with your students, sign up HERE and I'll send them both to you!

Snapshots of Mathematical Thinking
The assessments aren't multiple choice, but they're super easy to score. The best part is the insight you'll gain by observing HOW your students are solving the problems! Sometimes kids will get the right answer, but when you examine their work, you'll see that they overlooked a method that would have been much simpler. Or perhaps they accidentally got the right answer but their work shows a lack of understanding of essential math concepts. As I examined each test, it almost felt as if I was peeking into the student's brain to see his or her thought processes at work!

Ultimately, the pretest data provided me with really useful snapshots of student thinking that helped me decide where to get started with my problem solving instruction. Looking at the test results as a whole also gave me an overall picture of my students' math abilities as a class. An added benefit for me was knowing where to start my students in my Daily Math Puzzlers problem solving program.

If you teach upper elementary students, I think you'll find these assessments to be informative. Give them a try and let me know how it goes! Good luck with math problem solving this year!


Monday, August 1, 2016

Secrets of Launching a Stellar School Year

What if you could walk into the class of your dreams this year? Of course you'd jump at the chance! But what does that mean? What would your "dream class" be like? Would the students be self-motivated and excited about learning? Would they treat each other with kindness and respect? Might you look forward to Monday mornings instead of dreading them????

Believe it or not, this year's class could be your dream class. In fact, the secret to having an amazing class might be directly tied to what you do during the first week of school, and it might not have much to do with who's assigned to your classroom roster!

Consider this: When you know how to unlock the amazing potential in every student, magic happens in the classroom!

I know from personal experience that what teachers say and do during the first week of school sets the tone for the rest of the year. Unfortunately, it took me YEARS to figure out how to launch a great school year, and it wasn't always easy. I knew it was essential to get the school year off to a great start from day one, but I had so many unanswered questions about the right way to accomplish this. How can we find the right balance between being friendly and setting clear expectations? Should we seat our students in rows or in cooperative learning teams on the first day of school? Is it true that we shouldn’t crack a smile until Christmas?

After years of trying different strategies during the first week of school, I finally nailed down a system that really works. In the process, I discovered that it's actually a lot easier than you might imagine to create a caring classroom of students who are motivated and excited about school!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Grab Your Free 2016-2017 School Year Calendar!

When I was teaching, I searched everywhere to find the perfect calendar for my students, but I just couldn't find one that worked. I wanted 8 1/2 x 11 monthly portrait-style pages that would fit in a 3-ring binder, and I also wanted large blocks for writing in the dates and events.

Eventually I gave up the search and decided to make my own. To create more space for writing on the weekdays, I made skinny blocks on the weekends. It turned out to be exactly what I needed! When I started my Teaching Resources website, I decided to share it with other teachers and it was a hit with them, too!

The School Year Calendar starts with July of the current year and ends with June of the following year. Each year I update the calendar with the correct dates as well as new clipart and fonts to give it a fresh look. The calendar pages are in color, but if you prefer black and white copies, just change your printer settings to the B&W mode.

Sign up here to download your free copy of my 2016-2017 School Year Calendar!

Friday, June 24, 2016

How to Get Organized and Keep the Joy in Teaching

Most new teachers begin their careers with passion and enthusiasm, excited to be able to work with children and to make a difference in their lives.

Unfortunately, that passion for teaching is too often buried under a crushing load of paperwork and job responsibilities they could never have imagined!

Enthusiasm is quickly replaced by a feeling of being overwhelmed, with way too much to do and never enough time to do it all. Piles of papers stack up everywhere, with no time to file anything away properly, and the number of messages in your inbox seems to grow exponentially!

What do you do? Spend 60 or 70 hours a week on schoolwork, only to realize you didn't make a dent in your total workload? Or should you do just enough to get by so that you can have a life outside of school?

No matter how much you love teaching, working 70 hours a week is a fast track to teacher burnout. But doing the bare minimum isn't the answer either. While it does give you a little more time at home, you start each school day feeling disorganized and overwhelmed. Over time, you'll start to feel guilty about neglecting your students and you'll feel increasingly ineffective as a teacher.

The Key to Unlocking Work Life Balance
Thankfully, there's a better way. The solution is to implement specific strategies to help you get more done in less time and achieve a healthy work/life balance. Sounds like an impossible dream, but I've discovered that it IS possible to find work/balance, and you won't have to sacrifice your effectiveness as a teacher. The key is knowing where to find these strategies and how to implement them effectively for the best results.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Attend the Teaching Resources Summer Conference for FREE!

Were you planning to attend the Teaching Resources Summer Conference in Virginia Beach this July? Maybe you'd LOVE to attend, but you just don't know how you can swing it since your school won't pay your way.

Don't give up hope, because if you're a public school teacher in the U.S., you might be able to get your registration, food, travel, and lodging covered with a DonorsChoose grant! They've just announced a program to allow teachers to submit requests for professional development funding.

If you're interested, drop everything and write that DonorsChoose proposal now! You need to submit your proposal as soon as possible in order to get it funded before the conference which takes place on July 28th and 29th. The DC guidelines say that you must submit the proposal 2 months in advance.

Get Energized at the Teaching Resources Summer Conference
What??? You didn't know I was presenting a workshop this summer? No worries! Just click over to the Teaching Resources Summer Conference page to read about it. I'm teaming up with Pat Calfee, a former elementary teacher and awesome presenter, to offer an exciting two-day event that's sure to get you pumped up and energized for the 2016-2017 school year.