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Posts Tagged ‘Numeracy’

Teach Math Like Its Never Been Taught Before

March 15, 2018

math-problem

When you begin teaching your 5th or 6th Grade Math class, you often start with a high dose of ego.

You tell yourself that you can easily set any struggling student right by carefully and clearly explaining the skills and processes involved.

And then reality sinks in. It’s clearly not as easy as that.

There is a reason why your struggling students have continued to struggle throughout their first 5 or so years of schooling. It’s not the strength of the teachers they’ve encountered, because chances are, there have been some extremely adept teachers who have used tried and true methods for helping those student bridge the ever widening gaps.

Many teachers have expressed a reluctance of teaching 5th sand 6th Grade Math due to the introduction of concepts and skills which many Primary teachers find difficult. In truth, the major test of a 5th or 6th Grade teacher is not the skills itself, but rather the challenge of helping students learn skills they haven’t been able to grasp from their talented and competent previous teachers.

In order to cut through, teachers are therefore required to change things up. To employ slightly different ways of teaching the same skill. The following are some adjustments that work for me.

  1. Integrate the Skill in a Game – Kids love winning and try to avoid losing at all cost. Game play provides an incentive for children to learn skills that they may have ordinarily have claimed was too difficult. Dice games are the best because it provides a randomness that allows weaker students to often prevail over stronger students. I am constantly blown away by how effective game play is to break through to kids who usually struggle with Math.
  2. Change the wording – The wording of Math is so scientific and technical. Does it have to be? Absolutely not. So change it up. Instead of numerator and denominator, I use top bunk and bottom bunk. It helps. It doesn’t mean I will never teach them the right terminology, it just means I am more focused on the skill that the wording which can often intimidate.
  3. Reinforce the Objectives of Math – There is a reason why Math was invented and kids need to know that to be able to relate to it. I tell my students Math was invented for 2 main purposes. Firstly, to save us time. So instead of having to add 7 +7 a total of 8 times, I can just apply the sum 7×8, which is much quicker and easier. And secondly, for fairness. When I am dividing a birthday cake, everyone wants an equal sized piece. It turns out that children deeply value fairness and relate to the idea of resorting to shortcuts. Why not then explain how the skill of the day fits into one or both of the above categories?
  4. Bite Sized Pieces – I can’t tell you how many students I have confronted in the upper years who weren’t able to read time from an analogue clock. The big mistake, as I eluded to earlier, is to think that a careful and patient demonstration of what the big and little hands tell us will work. Again, you can bet that plenty of highly competent teachers have tried without success. My strategy is to break up the skill into small, bite-sized pieces. I tell them to ignore the hour hand. Pretend it doesn’t exist. Just focus on the minute hand. The next step is to show them the function of the minute hand and not move on until they get it. Only then do I introduce the hour hand. The problem that I have found is that reading an analogue clock involves a level of multitasking which kids (boys especially) find very intimidating. Take it slowly. One skill at a time. They respond better to that.
  5. Use What They Know – Students tend to do much better with currency than decimals. This is quite ironic, as decimals and currency are essentially the same thing. I tell all my students who struggle with decimals to pretend that 0.75 for example, is 75 cents. It helps! Math professors would be irate if they found out I was doing this. They would remind me that students will become unstuck when they encounter a decimal like 0.751, which doesn’t work with the currency technique. So what! Once I have taught them through currency their confidence levels are so high, I have found they are quite receptive to learning the differences that exist between decimals and money.

By the time your students have reached 5th Grade, they already have a sense for whether they like a subject and whether they are proficient at it. It’s so hard to turn the unconfident and unenthusiastic learners around.

But don’t give up. Just do it differently.

 

Click on the link to read A Maths Quiz That Manages to be Racist and Sexist

Click on the link to read Introducing the 5-Year-Old Math Genius (Video)

Click on the link to read Parents Struggle with Modern Day Math Questions

Click on the link to read Teachers Deserve Blame for Maths Disaster

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Teaching Young Children the 3Rs Could be Damaging: Psychologist

April 24, 2014

 

reading

Teaching young children the 3Rs may not be the only skills a teacher or parent should be imparting to their young students, but it is hardly damaging. A considerate, patient and skilled person can teach all kind of skills without causing the distress alarmist psychologists make us believe occurs:

 

Cambridge University lecturer David Whitebread said it was important for parents to play with their children, as these youngsters were more likely to enjoy solving problems, and better equipped to cope with failure.

Former primary school teacher Mr Whitebread also claimed the government was overly concerned with getting children to learn the 3Rs at an ever decreasing age, and said younger children were better off learning to cook alongside their parents.

Mr Whitebread, a developmental cognitive psychologist, said that although learning to read was an important skill, teaching reading, writing and arithmatic to toddlers was a waste of government money and the child’s time.

Mr Whitebread said that learning to read at to young an age could even be damaging for a child.

‘Instead the parent can share something they love, such as making cakes, or tinkering with engines, the key is partly sharing the enthusiasm but mainly the conversations you have with the child while doing it.’

 

Click on the link to read 7 Ways To Teach Kids Self-Awareness

Click on the link to read Kids Explain the Meaning of Happiness

Click on the link to read 5 Reasons Why It’s Healthy to Encourage Children to Play

Click on the link to read Allowing Children to Stand Out From the Pack

Click on the link to read Hilarious Examples of Kids Telling It As It Is

Should We Stop Teaching Algebra?

July 30, 2012

If teaching the skill of algebra is seen as unimportant, I have no problem with a proposal to remove it from the curriculum. But I don’t believe in scrapping a skill just because students are finding it difficult. What message does that send?

This week’s feature story in the NY Times Week In Review is one from Andrew Hacker, emeritus professor of political science at Queens College, who throws down the gauntlet that America should stop teaching kids algebra, “A typical American school day finds some six million high school students and two million college freshmen struggling with algebra. In both high school and college, all too many students are expected to fail. Why do we subject American students to this ordeal? I’ve found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldn’t.”

Now, Hacker explains, “I’m not talking about quantitative skills, critical for informed citizenship and personal finance, but a very different ballgame,” and lists extremely depressing statistics: “To our nation’s shame, one in four ninth graders fail to finish high school. In South Carolina, 34 percent fell away in 2008-9, according to national data released last year; for Nevada, it was 45 percent. Most of the educators I’ve talked with cite algebra as the major academic reason… The City University of New York, where I have taught since 1971, found that 57 percent of its students didn’t pass its mandated algebra course. The depressing conclusion of a faculty report: ‘failing math at all levels affects retention more than any other academic factor.’

Click on the link to read Maths Teachers Who Can’t Pass Maths

Click on the link to read Children Exposed to Poor Maths Teachers

Click on the link to read Maths is Taught So Poorly

Standardised Testing Meets Spin City

May 15, 2012

A few weeks ago I sought to have an interview with Australia’s Education Minister regarding the upcoming NAPLAN standardised tests. I am still waiting for a reply.

Luckily, I came across his op/ed piece over the weekend, where he tries to allay the fears of the parenting community and make a case for these highly pressured, incredibly unpopular series of tests.

In his piece, he claims that:

Parents and the community should rest assured that the NAPLAN tests are simply a way of measuring how our students and our schools are performing in the three key areas of reading, writing and numeracy. Nothing more, and nothing less.

I assure you Mr. Garrett that parents of 8-years olds subjected to 4 rigorous exams in 3 days understand that these tests represent much more than just a simple way of measuring child progress.

There is nothing in any of the tests that students need to learn above and beyond what is already being taught in the classroom, namely the curriculum.

I am not sure that is true. Whilst my students are expected to write persuasive essays, there is no mention of persuasive writing in the Grade 3 curriculum.

By measuring how our students are performing as they progress through school, we can get a clear national picture, for the first time, of where we need to be directing extra attention and resources.

This is just spin. This implies that these tests exist to help direct the Government in regards to spending and programs. There is no evidence of any Governmental response whether it be financial or a simple change of priorities based on the yearly NAPLAN results. Instead, the outcome of the NAPLAN is designed to expose failing schools, inept teachers and anything and everything that can divert attention from a Government good at measuring performance but poor at performing themselves.

It needs to be made clear to schools and teachers that excessive test practising ahead of NAPLAN is unnecessary. While it helps to be familiar with the structure of the tests, carrying out endless practices should not be encouraged. NAPLAN matters, but it is not the be all and end all.

Unnecessary to whom? If you and your staff were to be tested on the performance of your portfolio wouldn’t you take the time to prepare? When a class gets appraised, so does the teacher. Are we meant to sit back and watch 8-years old kids sit for their first formal exams without preparing them for the kinds of questions and scenarios they are likely to encounter?

Mr. Garett, your opinion piece tries to win over parents, yet it completely deviates from the very issue that parents are most concerned about. Parents do not like seeing their young children exposed to so much pressure. They don’t like to see their children who may currently enjoy learning, subjected to such a negative learning experience.

Today, one of my students was so frightened by the prospect of these exams that he was reluctant to get in the car. We are talking about a child that loves learning.

I have no problem with High School children being tested. But 3rd Graders? Is it really worth it?

 

Pushy Parents and those Awful Standardised Tests!

May 13, 2012

So it turns out that some parents are so keen to have their children perform at the NAPLAN tests (Australia’s standardised tests) that they have started preparing them as early as kindergarten age. I couldn’t think of anything more dispiriting for a child. It’s bad enough I have to teach my Grade 3’s based on the questions they are bound to encounter during the tests, what could be worse than being subjected to it, up to 5 years in advance?

PUSHY parents are training kindergarten kids for Naplan – four years before they have to sit the controversial literacy and numeracy tests.

About a million students – in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 – will sit this year’s tests over three days next week.

But the pressure to perform is beginning years early, with some parents forcing their four-year-olds to take grade 3-level tests at home.

Dr Les Michel, from the Senior Students Resource Centre, said pre-school parents had joined the soaring demand for practice Naplan tests.

“This year we’ve even been getting kinder parents,” Dr Michel said.

“We would have had dozens, I’d say.”

Dr Michel said kindergarten parents bought the grade 3-level booklets, costing up to $24.95 each.

“They are really pushing their kids,” he said.

School Education Minister Peter Garrett said Naplan practice for pre-schoolers was “highly alarming”.

“It’s putting more pressure on kids at such a young age that they really don’t need, and it’s usurping the role that teachers in the classroom play, which is completely unnecessary,” he said.

However schools are also increasing the pressure, with “teaching for the test” now beginning as early as grade 1.

“We’re aware of it happening, even though people won’t admit it on the record, and why would they?” Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said.

“It demonstrates the desperation of some schools – their reputation hangs on it.”

Victorian Independent Education Union secretary Deb James said there was an “increased and unwelcome” focus on the tests in schools.

Australian Education Union state president Mary Bluett said: “Kids sitting down and practising tests is not the way to learn.”

Lucky for these pushy parents, I have some suggested exercises for them to set for their children.

 

To prepare them for the persuasive writing exam, you could set your child some of the following topics:

1. What is more fun, studying language conventions or playing outside with friends?

2. Is doing practice tests with mum and dad considered quality time?

3. Is learning for fun overrated?

 

To prepare them for the maths paper, I have the following suggested activities:

1. Count up the blisters that you have accrued from all the writing you’ve done and round the number to the nearest ten.

2. If Johnny went to school from 8:00 a.m until 4:00 p.m. and then spent the next 2 hours completing timed reading comprehension exams, how much time does he have to relax?

3. What percentage of pushy parents ends up rearing appreciative kids?

Good luck parents!

Too Many Tests, Not Enough Teaching

March 30, 2012

The rise of standardised testing has replaced authentic teaching and learning with a saturation of practise and formal testing:

SATURATION testing is seriously undermining the quality of primary school education and should be stopped immediately, parents and educators claimed yesterday.

Thousands of kids are subjected to trial exams every week in the lead up to the compulsory Naplan tests, as well as exams for opportunity classes or selective high schools, and coaching by private tutors.

But while Naplan, which forms the basis of performance ratings on the My School website, focuses on literacy and numeracy, experts claim they are being “taught to the test” at the expense of other areas such as arts, physical education and music.

With the barrage of testing beginning in kindergarten, education consultant and public schools principals’ forum official Brian Chudleigh said the system was “out of control” and skewing education in the wrong direction. A former senior principal who is the education expert for The Daily Telegraph’s People’s Plan, Mr Chudleigh said the testing regime was contributing to a “massive dysfunction” in the state’s education system.

“We have become a system that is manic about measurement – the main problem is that it is so convenient for the politicians,” he said. “They want to reduce things to the value of a percentile or a number, and that has an impact on education.

“If a kid can’t be measured they don’t want to know about it.

“It reduces the value of anything that you can’t measure and the curriculum becomes focused on the measurable stuff,” Mr Chudleigh said.

“So the development of the whole child – including socialisation, emotional welfare, physical fitness and cultural factors – are relegated in importance.

“Many schools are having two or three lessons every week practising Naplan-style tests and that takes valuable teaching time away from other subjects. A lot of the best stuff we do with kids, particularly in primary school, is not measurable.

“It’s out of control. But our universities are littered with these kids who don’t do as well there as the generally all-round educated students.”

Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Associations spokeswoman Rachael Sowden said being taught to the test was “not what parents want”.

“They do not want to know that their child scored three marks more than the kid down the street,” she said. “Parents are as concerned about the whole child and how they are going in creative arts, physical education and music as much as in literacy and numeracy.

“Parents do want to know where their child is up to at school and they do that best by having a conversation with the teacher.”

I hate having to prepare 8 year-olds who have never sat for a formal test before for the rigours of the 3 day marathon that is NAPLAN. It’s just not fair! They are too young!

I’m Just Gonna Say It: Standardised Tests Suck!

March 4, 2012

I completely and utterly detest standardised testing. My Grade 3 students are just 8 years old. How unbelievable insensitive of our Federal Government to subject these kids to a week-long torturous array of formal testing!  These kids have had little to no experience with test papers and exam conditions, and no matter how calm and stress free I am trying to make my classroom, my students know that it’s coming and they don’t like it one bit!

HIGH STAKE standardised tests, such as NAPLAN, are having a negative impact on children with experts saying such examinations reduce the ability to learn.

Nationwide testing of students in years 3, 5, 7, and 9 was introduced by the federal government four years ago to allow parents and teachers to benchmark the numeracy and literacy levels of individual children and specific schools.

But a review of academic literature on the issue released by the University of Western Sydney’s Whitlam Institute revealed national testing programs such as NAPLAN were a source of significant stress for young people and their families.

Institute director Eric Sidotti said schools can become ”emotional cauldrons”.”It should come as no surprise that the introduction of a national regime of standardised external testing would become a lightning rod of claim and counter-claim and a battleground for competing educational philosophies,” he said.

The review found ”a range of concerns” about the reliability of standardised testing, quality of learning experiences, structure of the curriculum and health and well-being of children.

There is also evidence of negative effects on service delivery; professional-parent relationships; and stress, anxiety, pressure and fear experienced by students.

Research also found a negative impact on teaching, with standardised tests putting pressure on teachers to emphasise results over holistic learning.

”Teachers will focus on the areas in which students will be tested, while reducing the proportion of class time devoted to curriculum areas not included in state tests,” the review notes.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said tests measuring the progress of more than a million Australian students over the past four years allowed parents to identify schools where students achieve comparative improvement over peers of a similar background.

Ms Gillard said NAPLAN lifted the academic performance of students, giving teachers feedback on education strategies and providing disadvantaged schools with access to extra funding.

”We want every child in Australia to have access to a world class education,” she said.

”My School is pivotal to this. It helps us see what works and which schools need support to improve.”

There is nothing positive to come out of these tests. It negatively affects the way my students view learning, it affects the way I teach and it prevents what should be a fun year from eventuating. If you want to test high school kids, go ahead. But leave my Grade 3’s out of your mean experiment!

Maths Teachers Who Can’t Pass Maths

February 19, 2012

Sometimes I wonder how well Primary school maths teachers would go if they were forced to sit a basic skills maths examination. I fear many of them would stumble, especially in skills such as fractions.

How much worse it would be to have specialist maths teachers in the high school system with gaps in their maths knowledge. This may or may not be a reason for the inability for some teachers in getting the desired results from their students:

New Westminster parents are pressing their school district to investigate what they say is an exception-ally high failure rate over many years for high-school students enrolled in math classes taught by a particular teacher.

But they say the district has brushed aside their finding that three out of four students in those New Westminster secondary school math classes failed last semester. And recently, in response to their freedom-of-information request for math marks for all Grade 8-12 students in the school, the district told them they would be charged $1,385 to cover the cost of research and photocopying.

One of the parents, Lisa Chao, said she was shocked by the bill and highly doubts that much work is required to produce the information parents believe would back their contention that the teacher has been unsuccessful in teaching the lessons for many years. “This is information … they should have been gathering at the end of every semester,” she said in an interview. “It shouldn’t take more than three hours to print off.”

Parents deserve the right to information when they suspect that a teacher is letting down their children. Schools shouldn’t shy away from being open and transparent, because when they use tactics like the one referred to above, they look like a party to a major cover-up. I have no problems with schools supporting their teachers, but sometimes even the school needs to take an impartial view.
This teacher should be given every opportunity to defend the allegations. However, the doubts about his/her effectiveness seem valid and require a response.

Maths is Taught So Poorly

February 13, 2012

I realise that what I am writing is a gross generalisation, but I believe that maths is generally taught in a very abstract and monotonous way. No wonder the students are not benefitting from maths instruction at the primary level. Traditional maths teaching involves worksheets, a mindless array of algorithms and plenty of other rote styled goodies.

The tragedy of it all is that maths can be taught in a completely different way. I find the basic skills of maths the most refreshing and creatively exciting subject to teach. The fact that maths is a composite of everyday skills means it translates wonderfully to problem solving activities.

The other day, whilst teaching ordering numbers up to 4 digits, I got my 8-year-old students into groups, each given a particular airline to reasearch. The groups had to find the 3 lowest airfares for a return domestic trip between certain dates and times, These prices were then compared and ordered from least expensive to most expensive. Isn’t that the whole point of ordering and comparing numbers?

Whilst engaging in the exercise, the students enjoyed working in groups, competing for a bargain against other groups, learning how to book airline tickets and simply use their imagination by pretending they were actually intending in going on the flight.

Isn’t that more interesting than a worksheet that has numbers on it to order?

This is why I am not at all surprised that British students leave Primary school ‘with the maths ability of 7-year-old’:

An analysis of last year’s SATs results has shown 27,500 11-year-olds are going on to secondary school with the numeracy skills of children four years their junior.

The figures equate to a staggering one in 20 of the total of those leaving primary school. Boys perform worse than girls, with 15,600 behind in their ability.

Separate statistics published two weeks ago also revealed that one in three GCSE pupils fail to get at least a grade C in maths.

The disclosure follows the launch of a Daily Telegraph campaign – Make Britain Count – to highlight the scale of the nation’s mathematical crisis and provide parents with tools to boost their children’s numeracy skills.

It comes amid concerns that schoolchildren are less likely to study maths to a high standard in England, Wales and Northern Ireland than in most other developed nations.

I appeal to Primary teachers to give the text-book a rest and don’t be afraid to try new and exciting ideas to engage your maths students.

Cramming the Curriculum With Nonsense

August 20, 2011

I’m sick of losing valuable curriculum time for the purposes of teaching yet another program or peddling yet another campaign.  Whilst I believe that women should be able to breastfeed whenever and wherever they choose to, I don’t see why that message has to interfere with a literacy or maths lesson:

TEENAGERS may be taught in school that it is OK to breastfeed in public.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association wants future generations of mums and dads to view public breastfeeding as acceptable as seeing breasts on TV, in movies and in advertising.

Melbourne TV presenter Andi Lew is joining the awareness campaign, addressing a group of female students at Lalor Secondary College during an ABA presentation this week.

The ABA said research had shown exposure to breastfeeding at an early age positively influenced attitudes later in life.

“The evidence is accumulating that breastfeeding needs to be promoted in schools,” ABA spokeswoman Karen Ingram said yesterday.

“Despite every national and international health authority recommending exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life, the latest research suggests that the mums and dads of the future don’t fully grasp the importance of breastfeeding.

Please stop taking the workload of teachers for granted by making them continually stop what they are doing in the name of yet another campaign?  Our primary job is to teach literacy, numeracy and science, please let us leave the breastfeeding advice to parents and doctors?

“They are unlikely to breastfeed in public because they feel it’s embarrassing.


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