Posts Tagged ‘Teaching Methods’

Teach Math Like Its Never Been Taught Before

March 15, 2018


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.

Michael Grossman is the author of the hilarious new children’s book, My Favourite Comedian. You can download a free ebook copy by clicking here or buy a copy by clicking on this link.

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

5 Ways to Change the Face of Education

November 26, 2014

game changer

Courtesy of the brilliant Mark Barnes:


1-Stop worrying about losing your job

For tenured teachers, this isn’t much of a problem, although there is a growing movement against tenure. Whether you have tenure or not, if you want to be a game changer, you must stop thinking about losing your job. I’ve never heard of a teacher being fired for doing what’s best for kids. Susan B. Anthony risked her life to vote. The least teachers can do is risk temporary unemployment to change children’s lives.

2-Break free from the norm

When the world hears you saying over and over again that you are going to do what is best for children, your voice becomes remarkably powerful.

Steve Jobs never said, “We have to do what everyone else is doing.” Jobs believed in being first, in creating what others couldn’t see. When people said something couldn’t be done, it was usually because no one else was doing it. Jobs saw what established techies didn’t see, and he created it. When people say, “We can’t do that,” jump to a new fishbowl. Those who aspire to greatness will follow.

3-Start all thoughts with “What if. . .”

Hundreds of years ago when teachers were writing directions and examples on individual student slates, James Pillans wondered, What if we built one large slate board, big enough for all students in the room to see? The blackboard was born and classroom instruction worldwide changed. What if you stopped assigning traditional homework? What if you used mobile devices in class? What if you never grade another activity, project or test? Would you be a game changer? Would your students change?

4-Say “No!”

Teachers constantly tell me that their principal says they have to give weekly tests or they have to assign nightly homework or they have to log a grade into an online grade book. How should this be handled, they ask. Simple. Say No! Tell education stakeholders that you intend to do what is in the best interest of every student in your classroom. If they push back, stand your ground. Be persistent and be loud. When the world hears you saying over and over again that you are going to do what is best for children, your voice becomes remarkably powerful. You become a game changer.

5-Never stop fighting

It’s possible that you won’t live to see victory. Susan B. Anthony died decades before women won the right to vote. Without her, though, woman might still be relegated to ankle-length dresses and a life in the kitchen. Someone recently said that a no grades classroom is unrealistic; when I brought up the suffragettes, he said, “look how long that took.” Game changers never think about winning the battle; they fight until it’s won or until they die, knowing someone else will carry the torch when they’re gone.


Click on the link to read Some Teachers Never Change … Literally!

Click on the link to read The Ultimate Bad Teaching Checklist

Click here to read my opinion of ‘child centered learning’ vs ‘teacher centered learning’.

Click here to read my opinion on the problem with IT in the classroom.

Click here to read my opinion on the standard of teacher training.

Students Encouraged to Question … sometimes

May 21, 2012

I am a big advocate for encouraging children to think for themselves. I have no desire to brainwash my students or have them align their thinking to my own worldview. On the contrary, little gives me more pleasure than watching my students reach their own conclusions and engage in a robust exchange of ideas. On the flip side, it can be a bit disappointing that many children are so used to being spoonfed and mollycoddled , that it is becoming quite rare for a young child to form their own ideas.

That’s why I was deeply disturbed to read about the teacher who publicly chastised her student for daring to criticise President Obama:

A North Carolina high school teacher was captured on video shouting at a student who questioned President Obama and suggesting he could be arrested for criticizing a sitting president. 

The Salisbury Post, which first reported on the YouTube video, did not identify the teacher in question, who is reportedly on staff at North Rowan High School. The video does not show faces, but the heated argument in the classroom can clearly be heard. 

“Do you realize that people were arrested for saying things bad about Bush?” the teacher said toward the end of the argument, telling the student, “you are not supposed to slander the president.” 

The student told the teacher that one can’t be arrested “unless you threaten the president.” 

The argument started when the classroom began discussing news reports that Mitt Romney bullied a fellow student when he was in high school. 

“Didn’t Obama bully somebody though?” a student in the classroom asked, referring to an incident Obama described in his memoir “Dreams From My Father.” 

The teacher said she didn’t know — and the argument quickly escalated, as the teacher yelled at the student, telling him “there is no comparison.” 

“He’s running for president,” she said of Romney. “Obama is the president.”

 The student argued that both candidates are “just men,” but the teacher said: “Let me tell you something … you will not disrespect the president of the United States in this classroom.” 

According to the Salisbury Post, the teacher is still employed and has not been suspended. 

“The Rowan-Salisbury School System expects all students and employees to be respectful in the school environment and for all teachers to maintain their professionalism in the classroom. This incident should serve as an education for all teachers to stop and reflect on their interaction with students,” the school said in a statement, published by the Post. “Due to personnel and student confidentiality, we cannot discuss the matter publicly.”

Kids Don’t Need Gold Stars

May 11, 2012

In my opinion, the look that children give when they receive a gold star is misleading. Sure, they look excited, but that excitement is sometimes relative. In truth, kids don’t need gold stars and essentially, that is not what they are after when they produce good work.

What they really want is something – anything. They want a compliment, a smile, a gesture that will make them feel better about themselves. School can be such an overwhelming place. Teachers are so good at being critical. Critical of the way students dress, sit, answer back, talk, the speed in which they work, the neatness of their handwriting etc. The gold star doesn’t just signify an achievement of sorts, it breaks the cycle of criticism and balances the ledger somewhat.

As teachers, we need to be aware that our students crave our acceptance and approval. They may superficially be doing this by trying to earn a gold star, but essentially, all they really want is a confidence boost.

I enjoyed the tips for showing recognition to students by bestselling author and confessed ‘gold star junkie’, Gretchen Rubin:

1. Be specific. Vague praise doesn’t make much of an impression.

2. Find a way to praise sincerely. It’s a rare situation where you can’t identify something that you honestly find praiseworthy. “Striking” is one of my favorite fudge adjectives.

3. Never offer praise and ask for a favor in the same conversation. It makes the praise seem like a set-up.

4. Praise process, not outcome.This particularly relevant with children. It’s more helpful to praise effort, diligence, persistence, and imagination than a grade or milestone.

5. Look for something less obvious to praise – a more obscure accomplishment or quality that a person hasn’t heard praised many times before; help people identify strengths they didn’t realize they had. Or praise a person for something that he or she does day after day, without recognition. Show that you appreciate the fact that the coffee’s always made, that the report is never late. It’s a sad fact of human nature: those who are the most reliable are the most easily taken for granted.

6. Don’t hesitate to praise people who get a lot of praise already. Perhaps counter-intuitively, even people who get constant praise – or perhaps especially people who get constant praise – crave praise. Is this because praiseworthy people are often insecure? Does getting praise lead to an addiction to more praise? Or – and this is my current hypothesis – does constant praise indicate constant evaluation, and constant evaluation leads to a craving for praise?

7. Praise people behind their backs. The praised person usually hears about the praise, and behind-the-back praise seems more sincere than face-to-face praise. Also, always pass along the behind-the-back praise that you hear. This is one of my favorite things to do!

5 Tips to Better Connect with Students

February 16, 2012

I stumbled upon an extremely useful guide for improving the teacher/student relationship. The following are 5 tips for assisting teachers in reaching out to their students more effectively:

1- Pay attention to your students’ interests
Now that I’ve been teaching 10 years and I’ve mastered my subject area and the pedagogy of how to teach and reach every child’s learning style, I’m able to focus on the interpersonal things that make a big difference.

Administrators, school boards, and districts may see numbers, but numbers are not children. No child is a number. Children have names and hobbies and interests and family lives. Children are individuals and it is my job as a teacher to help them find their unique talents. I want to be the one that helped them on their journey of self-discovery.

2- Tell your students what they need to hear not what they want to hear.
I’m not here to be popular, I am here to teach. I am here to love these kids and to do what is right by their future selves. I believe I have succeeded when my students come back in 10 years and thank me. Sometimes they think I’m tough now and they groan, but I know that I’m doing right by them.

3- Take time to think about individual students
One of my heroes is the director of our learning lab here at Westwood, Grace Adkins. Every weekend she carries home a folder with the learning profiles, test results, and current work of 3 children who she works with in the lab, and she has been doing this for 60 years. She studies her students like a college student studies a textbook. She has doctors, lawyers, and bankers who credit her with helping them learn how to learn.

4- Learn to teach using many modalities.
Lecture may be ok some of the time, but it is never ok to do this all the time. Good teachers learn about pedagogy, the methods used to teach. Yesterday, I had a student dress up in a chef’s outfit with a mixing bowl and a recipe book with labels on everything to teach how microprocessors work. When I finished, my students said, “that is easy to understand.” A good teacher can demystify a complex topic and make it simple to understand.

5 – Let your passion come through.
If you love your topic, it will come through in your voice, your body language, and everything you do. There are times I’ve loved one subject more than another, but I can always get excited about teaching a child something for the first time that I know is valuable. I think it is important to let your own personality come through in your teaching.

The greatest challenge of teaching is reaching as many children as possible. Touching every student is an impossible task — but every moment in our lives as educators brings new opportunities.

I absolutely love this list. I think they have nailed some of the most essential methods for maintaining a strong connection between teacher and student.


The Importance of a Healthy Parent-Teacher Relationship

January 22, 2012

One of the most important skills of a successful teacher is the ability to harness positive interactions with parents. I believe that a teacher must consider themselves part of a team. After all, the parents and teacher form the three major stakeholders in a child’s education.

Such a notion is supported by expert Karen Campbell.

A GOOD parent-teacher relationship is important to every child’s learning journey and helps develop a memorable school experience.

That’s the opinion of Sunshine Coast education expert Karen Campbell.

And like any relationship, she says these need nurturing and constant attention to be of benefit to the child.

With the new school year only a week away, many parents may be meeting their child’s teacher for the first time.

“Parents have to realise that a teacher is such an important part of their child’s life,” Mrs Campbell, a tuition facilitator and former teacher, said.

“They need to introduce themselves to the teacher, and tell the teacher any special things about their child.

“Open communication is essential, so it’s important for parents to inform the teacher if there’s a problem at home such as a death, break-up or business failure.

“This allows teachers to develop an understanding and appreciate why a child may be behaving a certain way.”

Not all parents are easy to get along with and some employ methods that are not exactly to my liking, but I realise that a disconnect between myself and the childs’ parents is potentially destructive to the academic progress of the child.

It is important to work past any differences one may have and find common ground in the best interests of the child.

Tips for healthy parent-teacher relationships:

  • Re-introduce yourself to your child’s teacher by appointment
  • Inform your child’s teacher of any home-related problems
  • Volunteer to help with school activities
  • Make sure you adopt the same learning style at home as at school
  • Notify the teacher of any special talents or gifts your child may have
  • Open the lines of communication through casual conversations outside the classroom, for example, when dropping off your child or picking them up

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