Test Prep: Is it really necessary?

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

Mantra for 2017: Make math make sense!

The return from winter break brings with it a refreshed outlook on teaching.  Teachers return with an eagerness and enthusiasm for the profession and students return seeming just a little more mature.

Return from winter break also brings with it a sense of urgency.  Maybe you’re not as far along in the curriculum as you had hoped. You realize that the frantic push to cover material before break has left students unable to recall content taught.  You are feeling the pressure of standardized tests looming.

The 2015 TIMSS results were recently published and once again, Eastern Asian countries top the charts.  In fact, the gap between the top 5 scoring countries and the United States was 54 points.  What sets them apart is their commitment to teaching mathematics at a deep conceptual level with a focus on thinking and problem-solving.

All of that can be very sobering.  Take a deep breath and set some goals.

Ask more, tell less

  • How do you know that’s correct?
  • Are you sure?
  • Why does it make sense?
  • I wonder why that works.
  • Can you solve it in another way?
  • Can you build or draw a representation?
  • What do you see in your head?
  • Can you prove your answer is correct?
  • You and your neighbor have different answers, who is correct?

Allow time for understanding

It’s easy this time of year to get caught up in the pressure to cover content, but remind yourself that memorization is not the end goal, understanding is.  Taking the time to focus on the concrete-representation-abstract approach will ultimately lead to deep conceptual understanding.  Your students (and their test scores) will reap the benefits.

Help students make connections

  • How is this like what we just learned?
  • Does this remind you of anything?
  • Can you make a connection between this and what we have already learned?

By setting a few simple goals, you will set yourself and students up for a successful remainder of the year!

Scridb filter

Mental Math Breaks

rock paper scissorsTo make the most of the upcoming weeks, try taking some mental math breaks.

These few weeks between Thanksgiving and winter break can arguably be the most challenging weeks to keep on pace with curriculum and keep students engaged.  With the anticipation of the holidays and a much-needed winter break on students’ minds, they can quickly lose focus.  Now more than ever, you will find the need to give your students mental breaks in the day.  So, why not practice a little math?

The following games can be practiced just about any time and anywhere if you have a few simple materials on hand.

Make Ten

Skills Practiced: Sums to 10, 20 or 100

Materials: Number cards 0-10, 2 of each or enough for as many pairs as you will need for your class

Pass out 1 number card to each student face down.  When you give the signal to go, students cycle around the room to find another student with a card whose number when added to their own makes ten.  Once they have found their partner, both students sit down.  You can reshuffle the cards and play multiple rounds.  Set a timer for each round and challenge your students to beat the fastest time recorded.

Variations:  Program the cards to make 20 or 100

Rock-Paper-Scissors-MATH!

Skills Practiced: Addition and Multiplication facts

Materials: none

The game is played like Rock-Paper-Scissors except when students say, “MATH!” each student shows 0-5 fingers on one hand.  The first student to say the sum of their fingers and their partners fingers combined wins the round. Students can play best 2 out of 3 with one partner and then rotate around the room to find a new partner and continue to play until time is up.

Variations: Find the product of the two sets of fingers or use both hands to find the sum or product.

Ping! Beep! Ping-Beep!

Skills Practiced: skip counting, multiples and common multiples

Have the class stand.  Choose a target number. Let’s use 4 for our example.  Begin by having students count off, starting with one.  Instead of saying the number, the student that would say 4 says “Ping”.  As the count continues, for every multiple of 4, students say, “Ping”.  Every time a mistake is made, the count starts over.

For more of a challenge, choose 2 target numbers.  Let’s use 4 and 5 for our example.  Begin at one.  For every multiple of 4 or 5, students say “Ping” and for every common multiple of 4 and 5, like 20 students say “Ping-Beep”.  The count starts over with every mistake made.

Challenge your students to beat the count from previous rounds.

Keep your students focused with these movement games and practice some mental math at the same time!

Scridb filter

Number Talks in the Classroom (Part 2)

elevateFrom our previous post on Number Talks, we explained how to establish a safe and respectful classroom environment and shared examples of appropriate topics of Number Talks in Kindergarten through 5th grade. Read Part 1.

Number Talks in Action

Environment plays a key role. Students should gather at a designated meeting area in the classroom away from writing materials or have writing materials tucked away if working at desks.  I’ve allowed students to sit on top of desks just for this purpose.

The following outlines the flow of a Number Talk.

 

Teacher: Students:
Teacher writes 27 + 18 on the board. “When you have found one way to solve it hold up your thumb.  If you can think of a second way to solve it, add a finger.” Holding up their thumbs if they have found a strategy to solve the problem.  Adding in fingers for each additional strategy they come up with.
Teacher: Students:
“Let’s share answers.” Teachers records all answers, right or wrong. “48, 47, 45”
Teacher: Students:
“Would anyone like to argue for or against one of the answers?”

Teacher records strategies on the board as students share, and labels them with numbers and/or student names.

“I agree with 45 because I know I need to add 2 to 18 to make it 20, and I can get the 2 from the 27 which leaves me with 25 to add to 20, which makes 45.”

“I disagree with 48 because you would need to add 30 to 18 to make 48 and you only have 27.”

“I disagree with 47 because you would need to add 20 to 27 to get 47 and we only have 18.”

“I also agree with 45 because I know that 20 and 10 makes 30 and 7 and 8 makes 15 and 30 and 15 is 45.”

“I also agree with 45 because I know I need to add 3 to 27 to make it 30.  I can get 3 from 18 which leaves me with 15 and 30 and 15 is 45.”

Teacher: Students:
“It looks like we have 3 strategies that work to get us the answer of 45 and are able to disprove the other two answers.  Can we all agree that 45 is the answers?”

“If you had a similar problem to solve, show with your fingers, would you choose strategy 1, 2 or 3?”

Teacher could use this time to discuss efficiency of strategies.

Students hold up 1, 2 or 3 fingers to choose their strategy of choice.
Teacher: Students:
Teacher writes 38 + 23 on the board.

“I want everyone to use strategy 3 (or other strategy of teacher’s or student’s choice) to solve this problem.

“When I count down from 3, say the answer.  3-2-1…”

Teacher clarifies any remaining confusion, if necessary.

Students holding up thumbs and fingers when they have solved the problem and say answer when prompted by the teacher.

Looking for a way to deepen number sense, build confidence and celebrate different ways of thinking?  Then, give Number Talks a try!  Please comment and share your experience.

Scridb filter

Number Talks in the Singapore Math Classroom (Part 1)

elevateMental math plays a huge role in the Singapore Math curriculum.  By developing mental math strategies in your students, you are equipping them with strong number sense, a critical skill and goal for our students to reach by the end of middle school.

You can practice mental math in your classrooms with a Number Talk; a term coined by Sherry Parrish in her popular book, Number Talks: Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies.

Establishing Rules and Roles for a Number Talk

For Number Talks to be successful, you have to establish some rules for respectful listening and productive criticism.  All students need to feel safe to participate without feeling ridiculed.

Enlisting student help when generating rules allows students to take ownership of them and creates a classroom where the rules are more likely to be followed.

To generate rules for Number Talks you might ask:

What does it look and sound like when someone is being a good listener?

It’s equally important to teach students how to respond to each other in a respectful manner.  In a recent post on Edutopia, Oracy in the Classroom, types of talk were artfully organized into 6 discussion roles.
stw-school21-typesoftalk

During a Number Talk, students become the Builders, Challengers and Clarifiers, while the teacher plays the roles of the Instigator, Prober, and Summariser as he or she guides the discussion as the facilitator of the Number Talk.

What should we talk about?

In Kindergarten, Number Talks can focus on subitizing and connecting the pictorial to the abstract.

Thoughtful problems are used in grades 1 through 5, designed specifically to practice mental math strategies that have been introduced in class.

In Kindergarten, show an image like this and ask, “How many dots do you see?”

screenshot-61

In first grade, show an image like this.

screenshot-62

Or a problem like this to practice addition strategies.

18 + 5 =

In second grade, start with a problem like this to practice addition strategies.

57 + 14 =

Or this, to practice adding a number close to 100.

97 + 33

Or this, to practice subtraction strategies.

43 – 28 =

In third grade, start with this to practice mental math with multiplication.

14 x 3 =

Or this to practice mental division.

42 ÷ 3 =

In fourth grade, start with problems like these to build on strategies learned in the previous grades.

499 + 137 =

138 – 56 =

In fifth grade, start with problems like these to continue to build on strategies learned in the previous grades.

1388 + 2983 =

29 x 7 =

135 ÷ 5 =

Give some of these a try and check back soon for the next installment of Number Talks in the Singapore Math Classroom.

Look for Part 2 next Monday!
Scridb filter
%d bloggers like this: