Throwback Thursday Extra-Test Prep

As the standardized testing season approaches, we present readers a special edition of Throwback Thursday featuring one of our more popular posts. Here, Beth Curran addresses common questions and misconceptions on the topic of Test Preparation. As a teacher, I encouraged my students to welcome their annual opportunity to “show what they know.”

 


Test Prep: Is it really necessary?

Originally published February 16, 2017

For many, Spring brings with it those two dreaded words: standardized tests.

Whether your school is required to take PARCC, Smarter Balanced, state mandated standards-based tests or ERBs, you inevitably will want to make sure your students are prepared.  Many teachers will plan to block out two to three weeks prior to the testing dates to review and teach content that may not have been covered, but is this interruption to instruction necessary?

It’s estimated that students and teachers lose an average of 24 hours of instructional time each year administering and taking standardized tests.  This doesn’t include time taken out of the instructional day for test prep so that number may even be quite higher.

Q: But, I need to review to make sure my students remember concepts taught at the beginning of the year.

 A: Not if you have been teaching to mastery.

Teaching math with a mastery-based program that is rich in problem-solving may all but eliminate the need for any test prep or review.  If your students have a solid foundation in the basics and have practiced applying that knowledge to solving problems throughout the school year, then nothing a standardized test can throw at them should be unachievable. With a cohesive curriculum, where concepts build on each other, your students have essentially been revisiting concepts throughout the year. So, trust in what your students have learned and skip the review.

Q: What about going over topics that I haven’t covered yet?

A: How much success have you had cramming for an exam?

If material is thrown at students for the sake of a test a few things can happen.

  • Students won’t retain information. If students have not been given enough time to progress through the concrete-representational-abstract phases of learning, they will likely not be able to recall concepts or apply those concepts to the unfamiliar situations they might encounter on the standardized test.
  • Students will be stressed out. They will feel the pressure (that unfortunately, you are likely feeling as well) to get a good score on the test. Learning becomes just something to do for a test.
  • You will get false positive results. Have you ever had the teacher in the next grade up comment that students couldn’t remember a concept that you know you taught? Or, better yet, had test scores reflect learning, but students couldn’t perform at the next grade level? That can be a result of concepts being taught too quickly.

So, rather than block out a few weeks to cram in topics that you haven’t covered, try integrating them into other areas of your day. Do some data analysis in morning meeting. Add some questions about telling time to your calendar activities. Play with measurement and geometry during recess (The weather is getting nice, right?).

If you follow the sequence in your well-thought-out curriculum and teach some of those missing concepts after testing, it’s ok. Your students will experience those concepts in an order that makes sense and will be able to make connections, apply their thinking and master those concepts. That mastery will stay with them into the next year and will be reflected on upcoming standardized tests.

After all, we don’t stop teaching after standardized tests.  Well… that’s probably a topic for another post.

photo courtesy of Alberto G.

Scridb filter

Throwback Thursday – Direct from the classroom: Challenges & Successes with Singapore Math implementations

For our final post this summer, we thought it would be interesting to look at other challenges schools face in their adoptions. When I re-read a post from the past I always take away something different because I am in a different place with my own experience. Perhaps you are as well!


Direct from the classroom: Challenges & Successes with Singapore Math implementations

Originally published 12/1/2012

Some teacher challenges & successes with Singapore math one year or three months after adopting the program are below. Click to see larger images.

During follow-up in-services, I like to have teachers meet in grade level groups and spend time discussing the challenges and successes they have had thus far with their teaching of Singapore Math. Each grade level is then asked to list these challenges and successes on a poster and share with the group as a whole. This allows us time to compare and share lessons from the content fresh on their minds.

There is so much challenge the first year when implementing a new curriculum, it’s helpful to take a few moments to reflect on how many successes the teachers and students have had. These posters then guide subsequent teacher learning as we focus on the concepts that they are finding challenging.

 

 

 

 

Scridb filter

Throwback Thursday – Bar Model Solutions – by Students

Over the summer, we thought it would be fun to run some of the most popular posts from the past. It’s always interesting to see how students’ minds work. When I re-read a post from the past I always take away something different because I am in a different place with my own experience. Perhaps you are as well!


Bar Model Solutions – by Students!

Originally published 4/12/2016

After the post on Assessing Bar Model Solutions went up, Beth Curran sent a message: “We just did that problem!” She agreed to share some student work:


boys and girls 2

boys and girls 3

boys and girls 5

And when the students didn’t draw a model:

boys and girls 4

I see this as a comparison problem:

thinking blocks

5 units -> 125 students
1 unit -> 125 ÷ 5 = 25
7 units for boys -> 7 x 25 = 175 boys in all

(That’s the Thinking Blocks Model Drawing tool that allows you to insert your own word problems and solve – or you can use the pre-made questions!)

 

Scridb filter

Throwback Thursday – Journaling in the Singapore Math Classroom

Over the summer, we thought it would be fun to run some of the most popular posts from the past. Journaling in math class has become quite popular. We’d love to hear your successes or challenges with math journals!


Journaling in the Singapore Math Classroom

Originally published 10/13/2016

Communicating mathematically is a critical skill and goal for all of our students to reach by the end of middle school. In fact, Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practices, MP3, states that students will, “Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of other.”

Singapore’s Ministry of Education would tell you that there’s nothing Singaporean about Singapore math.  When developing their highly successful math curriculum, they took theory and ideas from mathematicians and educational theorists around the world and put them into action.

What should a math journal look like?

I have attended many workshops and make-and-take sessions on planning and preparing for student math journals.  Many have focused on setting up the student journal with a contents page and tabs to divide the journal into “notes,” “vocabulary” and “practice problem” sections.  While this will create a journal that looks really nice, what I have found to be most effective (and one that I actually use in the classroom) is taking a simple composition or spiral bound notebook and beginning on the first page.  Students make their first journal entry of the school year on page one and continue with entries on subsequent pages. Less is more!

Here’s what a journal entry page might look like:

journal-photo

The journal entry number just grows as the year progresses.  We might come up with the title as a class, or students can create their own.  The problem in the problem box can be copied by students or printed out for students to paste in their journals.

What should students put into journals?

There are four basic types of journal entries; investigative, descriptive, evaluative and creative.

Investigative: Students explore a new concept, solve a problem and make connections to prior learning.

  • Example: Three friends share a sleeve of cookies.  Each sleeve holds 32 cookies.  If each friend eats ¼ of the sleeve, how many cookies do they eat altogether?

Descriptive: Students describe or explain a concept or mathematical vocabulary.

  • Example: Use pictures, numbers and/or words to explain a polygon.

Evaluative: Students argue for or against a strategy or solution to explain why they think an answer is right or wrong, explain their choice of strategies or justify the most efficient strategy.

  • Example: Which of the strategies discussed in class today would you use to solve 245 – 97?  Why?

Creative: Students write their own word problem or create their own number puzzle.

  • Example:  The answer is 465 lbs.  What’s the question?

Here’s a sample student  journal page (click on image to enlarge):

scan0018

When should I ask students to make journal entries?

Journaling can be a very effective tool to develop communication skills in your students.  Depending on the type of entry, you could incorporate journaling into many parts of your math day.  Open a class with an investigative entry to engage students.  Consolidate learning and reflect on thinking with a mid-lesson descriptive or evaluative entry.  Enrich students with a creative entry for early finishers of independent practice.

The benefit of journaling for the teacher is it provides a concrete formative assessment.  By evaluating student responses, you can determine their readiness to handle a new task and check for understanding of concepts.  Student journals also provide a great launching point for discussion at parent-teacher conferences.

_____________

Check out a resource from a previous post: Singapore Math and Math Journal Writing

Scridb filter

Throwback Thursday – Learning from the East: The benefits of persistence

Over the summer, we thought it would be fun to run some of the most popular posts from the past. When I re-read a post from the past I always take away something different because I am in a different place with my own experience. Perhaps you are as well!


Learning from the East: The benefits of persistence

Originally published 1/13/13

Elementary Math class in Singapore by Cassandra Turner, Singapore Math Teacher, Trainer, CoachWorking with schools, teachers, and parents over the last five years, I’m often asked whether cultural differences can explain why Singapore’s students have led the world in international math standings for 15 years while US students rank no better than mid-pack.

When I visited Singapore in 2007, I learned how the country decided to focus on building strong Singaporean citizens beginning with their earliest education.  The country’s mathematics curriculum (Primary Mathematics) was developed in the early 1980s with this goal in mind. At that time, Singapore’s students were mediocre at math. Within a few years after the launch of the second edition of Primary Mathematics, Singapore’s students topped the international TIMSS study.

To me, it’s quite easy to attribute much of Singapore’s Math success to changes in how it approached education, including, most importantly, the new curriculum. Could Singapore’s culture have changed dramatically between 1984 (when Singapore’s students were ranked 16th of 26 in the Second International Science Study) and 1995 (when they ranked first in the TIMSS study)?

Today, much attention is paid to “Tiger Mothers,” who, in the words of the Economist,

“load their cubs down with extra homework and tuition to make them excel at school.”

This trend seems more recent; it’s also one which, remarkably, Singapore’s current Prime Minister wants to curtail (http://www.economist.com/node/21563354).

A more subtle consideration concerns expectations; how do parents and teachers ask students to engage in schoolwork?

I had a driveway moment this fall when NPR ran a story (http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/11/12/164793058/struggle-for-smarts-how-eastern-and-western-cultures-tackle-learning) titled, “Struggle For Smarts? How Eastern And Western Cultures Tackle Learning.” The piece focuses on the importance of persistence to a student’s learning. Reporter Alix Spiegel cites several examples, then gets to the heart of the issue:

“For the most part in American culture, intellectual struggle in schoolchildren is seen as an indicator of weakness, while in Eastern cultures it is not only tolerated but is often used to measure emotional strength.”

Reporter Spiegel then chooses to NOT to choose between East and West. In this silence, though, I believe there is a teachable moment for those of us in the West.

In training sessions with teachers, it is not uncommon to encounter resistance when I advise (insist) that teachers give students the opportunity to really work on math problems. This can be a difficult skill for teachers to learn.

And if teachers are inclined to want to move their class along before giving students a chance to truly work the math, parents can worse. They are unaccustomed to and uncomfortable at seeing their children struggle, unable to finish their home enjoyment (aka homework). Parents sometimes can be too quick to either give their kids a pass (well, you have tried, haven’t you?) or demand an explanation of the teacher (why can’t my child do the homework?).

Here’s where I find that it’s critical to have laid the groundwork and properly set expectations. Teachers need patience (whew, do teachers ever need patience!). They must let their students work through problems, even if they end up struggling and having to start over. And parents need to appreciate that homework (honestly completed or struggled with) can be the best feedback loop for teachers.

Pointing at cultural differences to rationalize a lack of math proficiency in many of our students serves no one. Instead, I think there’s a lot to be gained by asking that western students work a bit more to earn some of the praise they frequently receive.

Scridb filter
%d bloggers like this: