Friday, December 23, 2016

Leap Froggin'

I am always looking for new and engaging ways to inspire (okay, trick) my students into practicing the mathematics content we are learning. Every day is essentially a new quest for discovering how to get kids to "do" the math with out just giving them another worksheet. 

I am known for throwing out cheesy sports analogies frequently during the year and this particular lesson started with one. I asked kids the following question...

Usually they all start laughing at the thought of their cardigan wearing, logic puzzle dominating, nerdy math teacher trying to play in the NBA. But then we have a discussion about how YOU have to physically get out there and practice the skills in order to be able to do them. Watching someone else do it is not enough. BOOM... Now how will we all practice today students? By playing LEAP FROG! 

I got the idea for this game from one of my favorite blogs Math=Love. Check her original post out here!

Come up with about 10-20 problems you want students to solve. Then, create decks of cards for each student with the answer to each problem on each card. 

Students move their desks into a giant circle and lay out all their cards on their desk. 

Post a question on the board. For our lesson, students were practicing how to write repeating decimals as fractions. 

Students solve the problem on a worksheet (heaven forbid) or on whiteboards (much better for my students). Once they have their answer, they sneakily grab the card with the answer they think it is and hide it behind their whiteboard. 

After a certain amount of time, have students with an answer reveal their card. If they got it correct, they put their card back on the desk, stand up, and move to the next available desk. They might just move one desk, or they might "leap frog" over other students who didn't get the correct answer. 

Continue playing until the first student makes it all the way back to their original desk. 

The students LOVED this game. They asked to play it again the next day. Here are my recommendations for anyone looking to play it this game:

1. Make sure you have created a classroom culture where it is okay to be wrong. This game could be a real confidence killer if your classroom isn't a safe place for errors.

2. Make sure you have a mix of difficulty levels in the problem set so that even struggling students can get some of the problems correct.

3. I think this game is better at the end of a unit as review, not at the beginning of a unit when students are still learning how to do something.

Overall, loved the game and will definitely be playing it again! Just one more way to get students DOING the mathematics instead of just watching me do it! 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Your Brain on Poverty

I am not a brain scientist. So if you want a lengthy discussion about brain based education, you won't find it here. But I am an advocate for students and when I hear about something that might help my students learn better, I try it. If I see success, I share it. 

This past July I attended the Teaching and Engaging With Poverty in Mind conference with Eric Jensen in San Diego. Before the conference I read his book "Teaching With Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kid's Brains and What Schools Can Do About It". Intriguing title right? I was wildly curious what he had to say, since I teach at a Title 1 school here in Idaho. Loved the book. Didn't love the conference, but there were some really great moments here and there. It was basically a 3 day lecture straight from the book. Read the book! It's very eyeopening. 

One HUGE take away from the book (and parts of the conference) was the effect that poverty has on a student's working memory. What's working memory you ask? Check out his article here:

And read this one too:

I was determined to try this. So starting the first Monday of the year, my math support class started "Memory Monday". Every Monday we play memory games and talk about growing our brains. We discuss the need for working memory and also go over how working memory connects to learning in the classroom. The students LOVE it. They beg for every day to be Memory Monday. Their excitement is great, but is it actually helping?

I am seeing HUGE benefits. Just not any that I can really measure. Students are thinking faster, processing new information quicker, and I am slowly starting to notice a change in their overall attitude toward "the struggle" that happens when students learn new information and their brain starts to hurt. I don't know if it's just from talking about memory and the brain as a muscle that can grow (think growth mind set) or actually working the brain, but I LOVE the results I am seeing. 

So what does "Memory Monday" look like? Here are a few activities I am loving! (Thanks to Eric Jensen and lots of googling the phrase "working memory in the classroom")

The Alphabet Game
You probably played this in the car when you were on a road trip. The class picks a category. The first student says a word that starts with "A" in that category. The next student repeats the "A" word and adds on with a "B" word. Sounds easy right? I was dumbfounded. We struggled when we got to "E" the first time my class did this. Now, they whiz through them. Crazy! 

Can I Get Yo Digits?
Okay, the kids named this one. Put 4 digits up on the board (more once your students get good). One student can see, their partner can't. The student who can see them, reads them in order. The student who can't see them has to do a few things:
1. Repeat the numbers back
2. Say the numbers backwards
3. Say the numbers least to greatest
This is the ability to "visualize" things in your brain. To see the numbers, rearrange them in your brain, and then say them differently. This is where a LOT of mental math ability comes from

Hear Run Say
I say 5-10 words to the students. Can be related or not. Students listen, run down the hallway, run back, and then try to say them back to me. Hysterical. Most of the time students can remember the first few and the last few. The ones in the middle stand no chance. 

Online Computer Games
There are lots of cool websites on the internet with memory games, especially those focused on visual memory. These are my favorites!

General Memory Games:

Audio Word Match:

Concentration Games:

Picture Memory
Put up a slide with lots of pictures of different items on it. You can do as many as your students need to be challenged. I stick to around 10. Show them the slide for 30 seconds, but make sure they don't write anything down. Then, take the picture away and see how many items they can recall and write down. I like to do a theme, like farms and farm animals. Put lots of items you find on a farm, but not a cow. Almost EVERY TIME, students will put a cow as one of the items they thought they saw. So funny. 

If you aren't sure what this card game is, see the rules here. There are lots of pre-made Concentration Card Game sets you can buy. I have a few with random pictures on them that I use sometimes, but mostly I try to incorporate mathematics into them. So for example, if you flip over a card that says 1/2 and a card that says 0.5, that's a match. This way we are reviewing topics AND working on our memory. Win Win! 

Are there any other ways you incorporate working memory development into the classroom? I would love to hear!