Sunday, August 28, 2016

10 Simply Amazing Math Websites

There are times when only a great math website will do! They teach, review and reinforce math concepts in a fun and entertaining way that keeps kids engaged! Here are ten of my favorites! There's even one for any virtual math manipulative you need! By the way, all are free!


This site, called "Maths Fun" is perfect for k-8th grade! If you have parent volunteers who want to come into your room, but you don't know what to do with them, this is the perfect site to ask them to use with students. It is perfect to extend learning for the more gifted math students, or remediate those who are behind. Some lessons go through step-by-step, others are review. Every strand of math is represented. This is truly math made easy!


If you need an engaging game or activity for centers or extra practice, you can't miss with this website called "Interactive Sites for Education".  The games are beautiful and very engaging, plus they cover a variety of ability levels.


If you just want great games for math fact reinforcement (by grade level) don't miss "Hooda Math". The games are fun, and keep the kids' attention.


To really make math make sense, kids need to use lots of manipulatives. However, we don't often have all of the manipulatives we need for a particular concept.....PROBLEM SOLVED! Be sure to visit the "National Library of Virtual Manipulatives" for ANYTHING you need!


Research tells us that students who do best at higher level math are students who don't do math just to get the right answer, but to solve a problem! With that in mind, this TedEd site has a number of riddle videos to show students. They will need to really struggle to figure out an answer....but that is what math is all about...the struggle and joy of discovery! This will elevate math class to a whole new leve. Best for 4th and up. 


You can't miss with PBS! This site has videos and interactive resources available by grade level. I love it because it allows kids to look at math in real life situations too! You need to create an account, but it's free. Look on the left hand site and choose your grade level.


"Johnnie's Math Page" is full of games by grade level, plus teacher resources. There's LOTS here so you are bound to find just what you want for centers, or for reinforcement.


"ZooWhhiz" may actually be the prize of all the ten listed here! Not only does it cover math AND language arts, but it automatically adjusts to the child's level and takes them from there. PLUS you can monitor their progress. It's perfect to send home for parents who want a great program that kids will love....and is perfect not only to reinforce students who are having difficulty, but also for elevating students who are ready to move on. It is from Australia, and since they have one of the highest literacy rates in the world (16th highest, the United States is 99th) , well...enough said! It is free, but you need to sign up. Seriously, this one is amazing. 


If you aren't familiar with "Coolmath4kids" don't miss checking it out now! If you need a game (cute and easy to play) that really zeros in on math concepts, this is the site for you! Covers addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and fractions for all elementary levels.


Games, Games, and more Games! That's what you'll find (by grade level) on Math Playground! You're welcome!

If you have a favorite math site you use in your classroom, please add it below! We all love to share!!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Using Math Fails for Critical Thinking

What's the Problem?

Here is a scary statistic, up to 60% of our STEM (science, technology engineering, math) majors in college end up dropping out...because of math. There are lots of theries on why this is happening. They go from  grade inflation, to students not receiving a good foundation. However, there is another theory that seems much more likely to me! That theory says that math is taught in the United States as a series of problems that have a specific method to reach the right answer. The goal is a perfect grade. That's not how life works! It's not how science works, and it certainly isn't how engeneering or technology work! Math is actually problem solving. A 100% on a test doesn't mean a student can figure out a real life problem that involves math.

Who's Succeeding?

Kids who take part in math clubs and competitions learn how to solve peroblems they have never seen before. Instead of looking at math as something to do to get a perfect score, it's solving problems for the pure joy of finding the solution. That gives kids real pleasure, and a feeling of accomplishment. That's especially true when it takes a few days (weeks) to puzzle over a problem and finally find the solution. Back to the kids who were in math clubs and competitions, they seem to survive the change from high school to college math much better than kids who were at the top of their math class, but never took part in the clubs or competitions. It seems the "tyranny of 100%" caused these new freshmen to give up too easily when they didn't do well. The truth is, if a kid is getting 98% or 100% in math all of the time, it's too easy.

What Can Elementary Teachers Do?

Math thinking takes time. The skills students need to solve complex problems, break them down into small parts and approach from many angles without getting frustrated takes time and practice to build. That has to start in the elementary grades.

There are tons of ways to give problems to kids that are real puzzlers, but a great way to start in second through fourth grade is with pictures. A fun way all kids love, is finding mistakes adults make. Sometimes it takes a lot of thinking to even realize there is a problem! Give your students one of these pictures before math class begins, and allow students to struggle with it. Some will get it right away, others will have to think.  That's good! Ask students to write down their answers and keep them to themselves. Print out the picture, so you can keep it up all day. Some students will puzzle over it. That's good too. The next day, discuss the answer and how students came to solve the problem.  That discussion helps students who struggle to learn stategies.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

6 Easy STeps to Release the Hidden Writer in Your Students!

Have you ever given a writing topic and looked at your students, only to see a herd of deer in headlights?  I know I have! I worked for years, and did a lot of research to figure out how to get rid of those "headlights" for good.  The trick is getting kids started...that pencil to paper moment.  Once they get going, things usually flow.  Before starting your next writing assignment, think about the ideas below. They sure helped me, and it wasn't long before those "deer in headlights" turned into giggly writers who could hardly wait to share their creative stories and research! They may just be the "magic" trick to nudge those reluctant writers in your classroom into putting pen to paper too!

1. Write the way you talk.  Some kids get hung-up with some mysterious "voice" in their writing. In truth, the best writing is written in the voice of the writer. It's the way they talk that makes the writing engaging. If they use the same words they use all the time, their writing will ring true.

2. Don't worry about "The rules" of spelling and grammar. Just write! A lot of kids try to edit as they go. One fun way to stop kids from doing this, is to give one minute quick-writes. For these writings push them to "Hurry, you only have a minute!" The idea isn't to get a literary masterpiece, but to free-up kids to just write, and not worry about anything else. Make it fun, this shouldn't be stressful. You might ask, "Who has a sentence they really like on their paper?" or "who wrote more than five lines?" The idea is to celebrate that words went on the many as possible.  Do this a couple of times a week, and kids will start to really enjoy it, as long as the topics are fun.  Yes, editing is important, but not at the beginning of the process! A few quick-write ideas are:

a. Describe a dog
b. Tell, in detail, what you ate for lunch today.
c. On the other side of the door was....
d.  I heard a scream!
e. The lights went out in the cafeteria!
f.  I will never do that again!
g.  Outside the window I saw...
h. I found a dragon egg in my dresser drawer.
i. I opened my door and saw a box of 50 donuts!
j. My pencil started to dance!
k. I heard the ant say, ......
l.  My favorite pizza is....
m. My mom bought a cactus....
n. Describe what your teacher does after school
o. A skunk walks into the classroom....
p.  A spaceship lands on the playground and...

and so on!

3.   Limit the topic!  Before any pencil hits paper make sure the topic is small enough. That's right! Limit writing to something that can be covered in a short amount of time. I have had students tell me they were going to write about Egypt. Well, that's nice, but to write about Egypt would take a lot of time, lots of paper (think books full) and more research than the student can do all year. I then asked them what one thing about Egypt they thought was interesting, then we went from there. The smaller the topic, the easier it is to write about. Instead of writing about "My vacation", write about riding on the roller coaster. What did you feel, smell, think as you plunged down? Small topics give themselves to more descriptive writing, and that makes more interesting writing.

4. Don't skip that prewriting stage! Many times my students would just jump into a topic and start writing without thinking. Prewriting helps them think through what they want to say, and gives them confidence that he or she knows where the writing is going. That makes writing less intimidating.  Once a topic has been decided upon, brainstorm with a friend, draw a picture, make a visual map of what you want to cover. Basically, make a writing plan.

5. Play restful music (instrumental) at a low volume. Music truly does have the power to calm the savage writing beast. Music goes right to the brain. Calm music calms students. Calm students are less stressed. Writing can happen. I always play music, and often turn the lights a little lower in the room. Yes, I know they are writing, but between the music and the lower lights a calming atmosphere sets into the room and not only do kids write like crazy, they are really quiet (gratefully).

6. If handwriting is a struggle, allow the student to write at the computer. Just being at the computer is often enough to get the creative juices flowing.

Need a couple of writing pages to nudge your students into writing? Enjoy the two below. I hope your students enjoy using them!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Helping Students Understand the 2016 Election

This year looks to be a real doozy of an election. Our kids are going to be talking about it, and even arguing about it, particularly in the upper grades. Our job is to give our students information about what an election is all about, why it is so important, and to help them use critical thinking as they watch what is going on not only on TV, but in their own neighborhoods. I hope the suggestions, links and the freeebie  below will help you enrich your students' understanding of our American voting process. Helping our students understand the importance of one vote, is always my goal! 

Critical Thinking

Election season is the perfect time to help students use critical thinking skills. Many students believe anything they hear on TV, so now is the perfect time to show them how to delve deeper and look for the truth. This skill can easily be carried over to commericials for food, or commericals for anything. Refusing to believe blindly is a critical skill for young citizens. There are a number of sites whose only mission is to debunk things that are untrue, and often tell when something is partially true and why. They are non-partician (and cover other things besides politics) so you get the real low down. Students can type in their question at the top of most of these sites. Check out  snopes , truthorfiction , and politifact

Respecting other's opinions

Discussions about presidential candidates can get out of hand pretty fast. Students bring strong opinions from home. This is the perfect time to discuss how to talk with others when you don't agree with what they are saying. Discussions done in a respectful way can give all concerned new things to think about. Think about giving the following tools to use in classroom discussions, (they will help with a LOT more than just presidential elections).

Discuss with students:

Respect is an attitude. Without respect, it's almost impossible to succeed in life. To get respect, give respect to others.

Being rude or dismissive of other people's opinion will only cause an argument. As Taylor Swift has said, "We don't need to share the same opinions as others, but we need to be respetful."

Respect other people's right to have a different opinion as you do. It would be pretty boring if we all shared the same opinions.

Once someone raises their voice or touches someone else, the discussion is over.

Take turns speaking, and really listen when the other person is talking.

Agree to disagree.

Great Websites

There are SO many terrific sites out there to help teach about this election! Be sure to check out some of the following:

Time for kids has a great online (free) issue about the candidates, the conventions and more. At the bottom is a great video about branches of government. Don't miss Time For Kids: Election 2016

Elections For Kids is an amazing site about the race, the candidates, the White House and even a teacher resources section filled with reproduceables, lessons plans with activities and much more!
Check out: Elections for Kids


Below are a couple of freebies that you might want to use with students. Discussion afterwards is always a great way to bring a lesson to a close. Click on the link below the pictures to pick them up in Google Drive.

Be sure to Follow Me on Pinterest for more freebies, ideas and more! Follow Me on Pinterest