* Improving student conversations

The January 2019 issue of Mathematics Teacher has a fascinating article on the use of action research in a middle school math class, with applications to all levels of math instruction. A brave teacher/researcher collaboration analyzed student interactions and explored ways to improve engagement.

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What do I love about this article? It illustrates some important principles for all teachers, but especially special educators:

  • Teacher and researcher collaboration. If you don’t have an available researcher, do it yourself! Videotape yourself! Work with a colleague.
  • Use a seating chart to quickly visualize and compare student interactions.
  • Prepare higher level questions ahead of time and place them in your lesson plans. Without your “cheat sheet,” you’ll likely default to more rote level questioning once the lesson starts rolling.
  • Allow time after student responses to encourage student follow-up instead of teacher-student-teacher-student patterns.
  • Select authentic and meaningful tasks when possible.
  • Provide access to technology.

A subscription to Mathematics Teacher is a great investment!


FLIPPED Learning is the topic of a well-written article in the May, 2018, issue of Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School.   The authors, Lim and Wilson, share their experience and expertise in embedding questions in videos as a part of the flipped classroom.  I have blogged before about the flipped classroom, a model in which students acquire knowledge outside of the classroom, usually through videos.  This knowledge is then applied in class through discussions or projects.  Research supports the benefits of hands-on activities for learning math, but does a flipped classroom automatically include such active learning?  Not necessarily.

My biggest concern is that homework is especially fatiguing for students who struggle at school, extending the hours they must concentrate and process information.  There is no shortcut for learning new material, although Lim and Wilson share terrific examples of how to maximize the use of those videos.  Still, videos or not, kids must focus on new content, practice math skills, and then apply that information the next day.  All after a long day of effort.  Ouch!

Many special needs students are simply too worn out for homework.  They need the opportunity to recharge their batteries, engage in physical activity, and focus on their strengths (which may not be tapped at school).  And what about all those kids with social weaknesses for whom group discussions are a blur of white noise?  What about students who have no access to computers?  Videos are also changing; it’s become popular to speed up the presentation, add visual clutter, and increase noise levels to make videos “cool” or catchy (although not as often with math content).  These features actually decrease some students’ ability to focus and make sense of concepts.

If you are looking for good strategies to improve math videos for students, this Flipped Learning article is for you.  But please consider using videos during the school day,  Special needs kids may require a different or second explanation of a concept taught in class.  The pause and replay features are quite useful, as are headphones to eliminate background noise.  The embedded questions can provide opportunities for teachers to determine how much students are learning without the distractions of a group setting.  Use them to provide feedback for your students, too.

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Videos are potentially powerful tools in a classroom.  Let’s not make them a burden.

* Using literature to teach statistics

In the December issue of Teaching Children Mathematics (NCTM), two innovative kindergarten teachers from Ireland showcase a delightful approach to teaching statistics through literature.  Mairéad Hourigan and Aisling Leavy create an engaging and authentic problem for their students to solve: Which puppet should a (real) preschool teacher buy?  The preschool teacher wants to purchase a puppet for the character who appears most frequently in her story.  Hourigan and Leavy’s students were guided through a statistical framework called PPDAC (problem, plan, data, analysis, conclusion, cycle).  Those students were highly engaged in meaningful math work, which is awesome!statistics

This article has inspired me to go back to my work with Sharon Creech’s “Love That Dog,” a terrific book on poetry (and much more) for students about 9 or 10 years old.  My student and I have already analysed the changes in Jack’s writing over the course of the fictional school year using qualitative measures.  Jack wrote more and more poetry as his confidence improved, with increasingly complex lines, more interaction with his teacher and classmates, and greater revelation of his personal loss.  Using Hourigan and Leavy’s model, I will ask my student to substitute a quantitative study for  one of those qualitative measures.  I think he’ll be intrigued by the process and I look forward to seeing what he chooses for his statistical analysis.  I’ll let you know how it goes!