* youcubed.org

fractal-659135__180This month’s Teaching Children Mathematics (a publication of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) reviews youcubed.org,  a website designed to promote the current changes in math instruction (aka Common Core) while providing support for teachers and parents in that process.  Youcubed and a free online course are offered through Stanford University under the leadership of math professor Jo Boaler.  This site has multiple resources, including videos and lesson ideas which can be downloaded. Four headers run across the home page of youcubed with messages like “Mistakes Grow Your Brain” and “Depth not Speed.”

Categories on the home page include Teaching Ideas, Tasks, Online Courses, Knowledge Center, and Community.  Here’s a sample of what’s available under Teaching Ideas:

  • “Mindset,” which focuses on research suggesting that all kids can learn math at high levels,
  • “Depth Not Speed,” with a single article on math anxiety created by timed math tests (I had hoped this section would include a discussion of the current pace of math instruction on many topics which leaves kids adrift, but that issue is addressed across the site)
  • “Math Apps and Games,” including board games like Mancala
  • “Number Sense” and “Multidimensional Math,” with strategies for broadening student success by allowing exploration and reflection
  • “Making Group Work Equal,” which promotes a form of teaching math using the Complex Instruction teaching model (mixed ability groups, assigned roles for groups, focus on multiple ways of learning and explaining math, and direct instruction on student responsibility for one another).  More on that method later.

I am going to make my way through youcubed’s free online course (if I ever finish the other two on literacy which have kept me from blogging!).  Youcubed is worth checking out since we are certainly not doing a terrific job teaching math as a nation.  On the other hand, the site strongly advocates the use of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, which has its own “issues” for special needs kids.  Although I agree with the value of authentic math problem solving, student reflection, and team work, I question how effectively this translates into actual math instruction in our public school bureaucracy.  What do you think?

* Update on 2e student with adjective difficulties

Super Teacher WorksheetsWith thanks to Super Teacher Worksheets, my student who struggled to generate adjectives has made phenomenal progress!  He can now generate up to 25+ adjectives in about 2 minutes on people and animals, his two toughest topics.  The matching worksheets I generated were extremely effective, along with verbal timed practice.

We are moving on to the next goal: improving his ability to generate character traits, which is a significant weakness for him.  Like many twice exceptional students, he has unique strengths and weaknesses which often cause him to feel invalidated, anxious, and stupid at school.  Despite his strong reasoning skills, he simply can’t think of words that describe characters.  These traits are in his receptive vocabulary, but he struggles to “find” them when he is writing or even talking about characters.  Since he has a terrific memory, I am using the Super Teacher Worksheets flashcard generator to improve his fluency in using these words in sentences.  Here’s a sample page of flashcards; I could have chosen one of many colors as a border but this color matches the game board I created.character traits

I created a simple game board illustrated with one of his favorite interests.  Using a die which has only the numbers 1 and 2 (so that we’ll get LOTS of turns!), he and I will draw a flashcard and use one of the following models with the selected character trait:  “He was so ____ that he ____”   OR “He was always ___ so he ____.”  (I would use “she” with a girl.)

I am confident that he will start to recall character traits more easily with this type of interesting (and competitive) practice.  I’ll keep you posted!

* Learner.org

world-549425_640Want to improve your teaching skills on more topics than you can imagine?  Visit Annenberg Learner (at Learner.org), the home of an amazing collection of videos, online courses, interactives, lesson plans, and more.  This site is free (check out their user policy for details), with the goal of improving American education through videos and related web content and printables.  Exploring Learner.org is a bit overwhelming, but in a good way.  It’s comparable to opening a catalog of almost any educational topic I want to study and finding page after page after page of FREE resources!  Here are two examples:

What goes on in your “private universe?”  Check out this teacher lab to expose common science misconceptions about our world.  Start with a 5 question survey and learn why students and teachers have persistent misunderstandings- and why.

Want to teach your students how to create and use line plots within an authentic context?  The site has a cool set of interactives in a workshop on teaching math (elementary).  Using boxes of virtual raisins, count the number of raisins in 17 boxes (or get the program to do it for you!).  Then create a cool line plot (or again, the interactive will do your work).

Blog hopping? Check out the Learner Log.  Each posting has links to even more resources.

Please let me know what you explored!

* “Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics”

student centered mathStudent-centered math instruction.  That’s what we all want, right?  If only we didn’t have this hectic race to “cover” so many topics, now exacerbated by snow days (at least in our neck of the woods).  ice-crystal-64157_640Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics: Developmentally Appropriate Instruction for Grades 3-5 by de Walle et al. is a terrific guide for teachers who want to get it right.  It’s not light reading, but I would highly recommend it and its partner volume for Pre-K -2.

Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics focuses on teaching math through problem-solving.  The authors recommend using authentic contexts for instruction instead of what they refer to as “naked” numbers.  They address the intricacies of teaching content from number sense through fractions, decimals, measurement, geometry, and data.  They also describe common misconceptions as students learn math and strategies for addressing those problems.

What makes this volume so effective?

  • The authors reference the latest neuroscience and math research
  • They focus on the diversity of learners, including those with math disabilities
  • They deal specifically with how to incorporate parents in the learning process
  • Technology is incorporated throughout
  • Specific activities are provided
  • There are ample opportunities/suggestions for reflection
  • Multiple visuals provide explanations of how to present math concepts and the ways students might solve problems
  • The authors clarify common teacher mistakes in math instruction for each topic
  • Purchase of the book provides online access to black line masters for downloading and printing

I do find it ironic that this excellent book is published by Pearson, a giant in the educational publishing world and responsible for enVisionMATH, one of my least favorite math programs!  EnVisionMATH, often introducing new topics every 10 days or less, seems to be the antithesis of what de Walle et al. are recommending.  Perhaps enVision was written for snow days.  ice-crystal-64157_640

* Understood

Do you want to know more about your child’s special needs, review parenting strategies, and partner with your child’s school?  Check out Understood, a website designed to assist parents with those issues and much more.  The site was conceived as an easily accessible resource for parents of kids with learning and attention issues.  Under the auspices of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, Understood is a remarkable site with more resources than I could possibly describe.  All resources and videos are well-organized and easily accessed.  I was very impressed with the breadth and quality of information on managing social and behavioral issues.  This is a quality site!girl-470568_640

My favorite section is called Through Your Child’s Eyes.  Select your child’s grade level to determine the best match of personalized resources. Then select from five learning issues: attention, reading, math, writing, and organization.  You’ll see a child of roughly your child’s age who describes their particular issue and the struggles which accompany it.  A simulation of that issue is next.  For writing difficulties, for example, you are expected to type sentences (and the timer is on!) but the wrong letters pop up or the words are misspelled or incorrectly capitalized. Then an expert in the field shares information about this area, along with strategies and encouragement.  Finally, the child featured in the video will complete their story with a fairly positive outcome.

I’ve already shared Through Your Child’s Eyes with a student and her reaction was extremely positive.  She could identify with the videotaped child, enjoyed the simulation (despite the similarity to her own struggles), and seemed encouraged that she was not alone.  I’m looking forward to sharing this with other students, too.

* Copyright laws

PixabayA wonderful blogger at Chapel Hill Snippets, Ruth Morgan, was kind enough to alert me to copyright laws related to images.  She has already gone through her posts to eliminate images which are not free to use.  I asked Ruth for advice after crying, “HELP!”   First, Ruth recommended Pixabay.com (see above), which provides over 330,000 images in 20 languages.  All these images may be copied, modified, and even used for commercial purposes without permission.  Images are organized by category and provided by photographers (I might try to donate a few).  You will also find images from Shutterstock, which generates funds for Pixabay,  which is completely FREE!   Second, when I asked Ruth how I could determine which images are not free of copyrights, she suggested TinEye Reverse Image Search.  You may drag and drop images, enter URLs, use a browser plug-in, or upload a file for TinEye to examine.   (I hope it’s OK to use the image below!)TinEyeI have only gone through three of my blog categories so far.  Yikes!  Right now, I’m taking two online classes concurrently, as well as teaching a LOT.  I hope my site remains invisible to the copyright police, whoever they might be, until I can finish slogging my way through images!  If you see something that is copyrighted, please let me know!  

* Tar Heel Reader

You don’t have to be a Tar Heel fan to enjoy a site created by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Center for Literacy and Disability Studies (although it couldn’t hurt!).   From their website, you can access a variety of resources for students with significant disabilities.  One of their free resources is the Tar Heel Reader.   This large, open source collection of books ranging from kindergarten through 12th grade has been created by teachers, parents, and students from the US, Canada, and other English-speaking countries.  However, the books are also translated into seven other languages, as well.  Tar Heel Reader addresses a need to find simple books that appeal to a wide audience, especially older students.  These books may be read online or downloaded.  A nice feature of these books is their accessibility through switches and other technology.   Tips for access can be found at this link.  One caution: Some of the books may include content that is not appropriate for all students.  The website organizers suggest that adults select books for students by creating sets of “favorites.”

Tar Heel Reader may be accessed from two directions.  The easiest is the home site, which allows readers to select or write a book.  This page also links readers to tech supports.  Click on Find a Book to select from 17 topics, ranging from math and science to folk tales.  You may also limit your search for books which have been reviewed (there is a three star system which any reader can access).  Under the settings icon, you may select an audio feature, choosing from child, male, or female voices.  Books may also be accessed through the Dynamic Learning Maps Exemplar Texts, which are listed in “bands” of grades through 12th grade (such as 2-3 or 4-5).

Here’s a sample page from a biography on Dr. King in The March on Washington by NahHyung Kim:

Tar Heel Reader 1

Register to add your own stories for beginning readers!  It’s a perfect opportunity for you to showcase your kids’ writing- and your own!

* Extra! Extra! Read all about it- with Newsela!

Do you wish your students could access interesting news but at their reading level?  Are you looking for authentic sources of nonfiction reading material?  Planning an inquiry-based project and need reading materials across a range of ability levels? Do you want to create an authentic and interesting context for math problems?  Check out Newsela!

What is Newsela? In their own words:

Newsela is an education technology startup dedicated to transforming the way learners access the world through words. The founding team members combine powerful technological know-how with real-world experience earned in the classroom, the newsroom, and the boardroom.

Launched in June 2013, Newsela publishes high-interest news articles daily at five levels of complexity for grades 3-12 using Newsela’s proprietary, rapid text-leveling process. Common Core–aligned quizzes attached to articles give educators and parents insight into their students’ reading strengths and weaknesses. Newsela develops nonfiction fluency and critical-thinking skills necessary to master the Common Core standards for informational text.Newsela 2

How can you access Newsela?  Easily and for FREE.  Sign up as a teacher, create your class, and add students.  You can assign specific articles and quizzes, monitor student progress, and print all reading materials.  Writing assignments are paired with articles and will be saved in your students’ online “binders.”  Newsela is an amazing site with news articles in these categories: War and Peace, Science, Kids, Money, Law, Health, Arts, and Sports.  There are FIVE lexile reading levels for each article, which provides access for a wide range of readers.

Want even more?  Sign up for Newsela Pro   I am taking advantage of a 60 day free trial which allows me to assign and track student progress on specific reading skills.  It also allows my students access to annotated texts, which will provide more interactions with text.  I am very excited about the potential to use this site for project-based learning.  Be sure to check it out!

* Raz-Kids

Raz-Kids 5In keeping with my previous posts under the Learning A-Z umbrella, Raz-Kids provides an online library of thousands of books for kids when paired with a subscription to Reading A-Z.  Since I wouldn’t use one without the other, my description assumes you are using both.  Students can access any Reading A-Z book online.  Teachers and parents can access lesson plans, assessments, and all the other supplementary features that accompany the books on Reading A-Z.  Student management is a breeze.  Select a student’s name, assign them a book level (based on the Fountas and Pinnell system), and students have access to a whopping number of books.

What kids get:  If you ask them about Raz-Kids, most kids will want to show you their rocket ship and robot.  The incentive program for this site is well-designed (interesting but “pricey” for kids).  When students log in under their teacher’s name, they land on a space-themed platform.  They may choose their Reading Assignment, which consists of a select number of books from their assigned reading level. With your Reading A-Z subscription, they also have access to the “On Your Own” Book Room, which is packed with a seemingly unlimited number of books.  The Messages icon allows them to read any notes and bonus stars you choose to send them.  Then there’s the Raz-Rocket and Robot Builder (the latter is a more recent addition, which creates a robot avatar for students).  Teachers can decide when to allow access to these incentives. More on that in the section below.  Raz-Kids 2

When a student goes to their assignment, the image on the left (below) is a sample of how the page appears.  Each book has icons underneath it.  Students may listen to and/or read a book, as well as take an online quiz on that book.  The more effort they make (reading independently and taking the quiz), the more stars are earned, which can be used to purchase goodies for their Raz-Rocket (pictured on the right).  For struggling readers, it can be helpful to listen to a book before reading it on their own.  The books also feature vocabulary assistance, with key words pronounced and defined.  At the lower reading levels, online quizzes and answer choices are read aloud.  Students advance in rank based on earned stars, from Ensign to Fleet Admiral.  They complete levels by reading and taking quizzes on all books in their Reading Assignment area.  They earn extra stars by taking “flight checks,” which are teacher-assigned benchmark assessments.

Raz-Kids 3                       Raz-Kids 4

Teachers can allow parents access to their student’s account, so they may also keep track of progress.

What teachers get:  You have a nearly unlimited library of books for students to read, including many in Spanish.  Raz-Kids keeps excellent details of each student’s progress, from time spent on each assignment, quiz scores, and an analysis of any errors, to time spent in the rocket, which can guide your determination about student access.  For some kids, I stipulate that they may only access their rocket once a week.  Other kids are free to go there after reading.  Kids may record their practice reading on any book if you prefer.  The assessment component of Raz-Kids is valuable to me because I am serving kids whose classroom teachers are using a leveled book system.  I may use other methods to assess kids’ reading levels, but I also want to compare my kids’ scores with classroom performance.  I can select from several benchmark passages in fiction/nonfiction categories at all 27 levels. Students are recorded as they read and retell the passages; these recordings are automatically saved but can also be filed on your computer. Teachers create an online running record and use a rubric for scoring retells.

Raz-Kids is a classy product and well worth the reasonable subscription rate.  The iPad app is glitchy; I have not tried the Android and Kindle fire versions.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars