November 8, 2016

Math Mindsets Matter: How Can Teachers Foster a Growth Mindset in Math?

Oh no! I've tumbled down into the rabbit hole of growth mindset research, never to be seen again! All kidding aside, the more I learn about growth mindset, the more fascinated I am with this topic, and the more I realize I have yet to learn.

But as fascinated as I am with growth mindset, I'm even more intrigued by the challenge of putting these research findings into practice. In other words...

How can we use the most current brain research to foster a growth mindset in our students... and in ourselves?

Mathematics is arguably the subject where mindset matters the most, especially when you consider how many adults have experienced math anxiety in the past. Take me, for instance. I always excelled in math, but I'll never forget the horrible experience I had with college calculus. I'll save that story for another time, but let me just say that it totally shredded my confidence about my ability to learn math!

Despite that experience (or maybe because of it), when I started teaching, I discovered that I have an aptitude for teaching math. I love breaking down complex math skills to make them easier for kids to understand, and I love using creative teaching methods to help all students succeed in math. Now that I'm no longer in the classroom, I enjoy presenting webinars where I can share these strategies with other educators.

Mind-blowing Brain Research About Mistakes and Mindsets 
During one of my recent math webinars, a teacher suggested that I read Jo Boaler's book, Mathematical Mindsets. I had already been planning to develop a webinar about how to foster a growth mindset in math, so I ordered a copy right away. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to read it when it arrived so the book ended up buried on my desk until I noticed it yesterday.

Oh my goodness! Have you ever read a professional development book that was so compelling you wanted to talk about it with anyone who would listen? That's how I felt when I started reading Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students' Potential Through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages, and Innovative Teaching. I was hooked from the first page!

All I can say is the book is definitely living up to the premise of that very long title. I thought I had a good grasp on growth mindset research, but after reading just a few pages, I realized that I've barely scratched the surface of this topic.

For example, I knew that mistakes should be considered to be a sign of learning rather than as a sign of failure.

But I didn't know that when we make a mistake, our brain responds physically with increased electrical activity and actually grows a synapse! Neuroscientists discovered this by measuring this electrical brain activity in test subjects they observed while working. This brain response happens even when the person making the mistake doesn't consciously realize a mistake was made!

November 1, 2016

Investigating Condensation and the Water Cycle

Step-by-step Lesson and Free Printables 

Most kids are familiar with the terms precipitation, condensation, and evaporation, but very few of them really understand what those words mean. Just ask your students to name three examples of condensation in everyday life and watch their eyes glaze over. Huh??

Most kids understand that precipitation is a fancy word for different forms of water falling from the sky, like rain, snow, and sleet. Most kids also understand that evaporation is what happens when water "disappears" on a warm day, such as a puddle drying up. They know that evaporation means liquid water has become water vapor.

Condensation is a little harder to grasp. If you've taught your students that clouds form as a result of condensation, they may think that condensation only happens in the sky. Do they know that condensation happens all around us, every day? If they understand that water droplets on a cold glass are the result of condensation, where do they think the water comes from? Inside the glass?

Condensation Investigation

Here's a simple investigation that will help your students understand what condensation is, where it comes from, and where it happens in everyday life. The activity works well as an introduction to the water cycle or as a part of a lesson on states of matter. Because this is an exploratory activity, it's best not to provide too much background information before you begin.

October 29, 2016

5 Engaging Ways to Introduce New Content

Guest Blog Post by Rachael Parlett

Imagine that you are sitting in the movie theater waiting for the latest popular movie to begin. With the popcorn bucket on your lap and drink in hand, you are ready.

The lights dim, and the movie commences.  You begin to watch the opening scene and here’s what you hear: “Welcome to this movie. In this movie, you’ll meet a boy and girl. They are going to fall in love and live happily ever after.”

Um…what?  Talk about boring (not to mention a spoiler-alert)! Your interest as the viewer has flown right out the window and you’re beginning to wonder if it’s worth staying till the end. Chances are, it’s not.

Luckily, movies DON’T start that way. In fact, there’s usually a pretty epic scene to start out the movie in order to grab the viewer’s attention. Movie makers know that the first few minutes can make or break the movie. If they fail to peak the viewer’s interest in their opener, the viewer checks out.

Consider this: Your introduction to new content is like the start of an epic movie. And how you choose to introduce that new information can make it or break it.

Our students can be some of the toughest viewers and critics. If we present new information to our students like the above scenario, stating “today we are going to learn about…”, their attention vanishes and their minds begin to wonder if we are worth listening to.

While teachers aren’t trained movie producers, we can still use some tricks and strategies to grab our students’ attention and get them excited about the new information they are about to learn. Here are just a few of the ways that you can hook your learners right from the start.

October 19, 2016

Halloween Word Play - Seek & Spell Fun!

How much time do you spend each week on spelling instruction? If you’re an upper elementary teacher, the answer is probably “not enough.” While you might recognize the importance of phonemic awareness and phonics lessons, there’s just not enough time for true spelling instruction in the upper grades. This is unfortunate because upper elementary students still need lots of practice with spelling word patterns and the basic building blocks of large words, like roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

Fortunately, there’s a fun activity for building spelling skills that your kids will love so much they won’t even realize it's a spelling assignment! In fact, they will BEG to play it!

Remember the word game where players try to make small words from the letters of a long word? It’s really simple, and most people can easily find a handful of words with very little effort. But in order to find a lot of words, you have to dig deeper and look for word patterns, word families, root words, verb forms, prefixes, suffixes, and so on. The more you play the game, the better you become at identifying these basic building blocks of language.

A few years ago I introduced this word game to my class as a fun holiday-themed activity. I created seasonal printables similar to the Halloween Seek & Spell freebie shown above, and each printable had the letters of a seasonal word or phrase printed in block letters along the bottom edge of the page. The directions required the students to cut out the letters and physically move them around to try to form new words. Students worked for about 10 minutes on their own, and then I asked them to pair up with a partner to check each other’s spelling and look for more words. Just for fun, I added a scoring system where students could earn points for correctly-spelled words. To prevent guessing, I also deducted points for words that were misspelled. Because I knew they would be able to find far more words than they could spell correctly, I encouraged them to use a spell-checker or dictionary look up any word they weren’t sure how to spell.



October 13, 2016

Making Connections with Pumpkin Seed Multiplication

When kids first learn about multiplication, it's an alien concept. The best way to help them understand what multiplication means is to use manipulatives, and to introduce multiplication as a shortcut for repeated addition.

Pumpkin Seed Multiplication is a fun, seasonal partner activity that uses unshelled pumpkin seeds to help kids make the connection between addition and multiplication. There are no Halloween images, so it's appropriate any time of the year, and especially during the fall.

You don't have to use actual pumpkin seeds for the activity; any small manipulatives will work, like dried beans, bingo chips, paper clips or base ten units. If you decide to use pumpkin seeds, you can purchase unshelled seeds at the grocery store or save the seeds from the pumpkin you carve for your Halloween jack-o-lantern. Wash them gently to remove the gooey strings and then dry them for a few days before using them in the activity.

Pumpkin Seed Multiplication includes directions for the teacher as well as student directions, the game board, and the number sentence cards. To introduce the game, pair each student with a partner and demonstrate how the activity works. Be sure to point out the connections between addition and multiplication as you demonstrate that the addition number sentences and the multiplication facts are two ways of representing the number of seeds on the pumpkins. After you model the activity with the whole class, you can use it in small groups or math centers.

You can download this Pumpkin Seed Multiplication freebie from my TpT store or from Seasonal page on Teaching Resources during October. For more free multiplication activities and resources, visit the Multiplication page in my math online file cabinet.


By the way, Pumpkin Seed Multiplication is a variation of the Fishbowl Multiplication lesson in my book Mastering Math Facts: Multiplication and Division. That activity is similar to this one, but it doesn't have a seasonal theme. Fishbowl Multiplication is just one of the many multiplication games and lessons in the book that will help your students develop a conceptual understanding of multiplication while also building speed and fluency with math facts. Fishbowl Multiplication is included in the free 43-page printable sampler of that book; visit the Mastering Math Facts page on Teaching Resources to download the entire packet!