Sunday, February 23, 2014

Gross Motor Activities

Those of us who work in multisensory education know the importance of using large motor muscles as part of daily instruction.  Using large movement helps to reinforce directionality and sequence.  It provides a direct path to the brain in a way that fine motor movements do not.  Think of the muscle memory involved in navigating a dark bedroom at night.  You know where everything is without the aid of eyesight.  You have tactile memory and spatial awareness. 

Now consider mimicking the direction and sequence of multi-digit multiplication operations, or numeral formation.  These activities allow students the opportunity to get up, flood the brain with oxygen and move.  Consider Geometry Simon Says, or even the direction and spatial movements associated with transformations of function.

Dr. Joyce Steeves believed that students needed the opportunity to get up during a lesson each day.  It might mean tossing a weighted object during skip counting or forming numerals in the air, but they do need to get up and not just to offer samples of homework worked the night before.

I observed a wonderful lesson in North Carolina in which the 4th grade teacher in an independent school, used dry erase pens to write problems for the students to solve on various desk surfaces around the room.   They were given a single sheet of paper quartered for completion.  They could move to the various desks to copy and solve, work collaboratively etc.  They were given a fixed amount of time and had to pass the papers in before exiting for the next class.  There was a seat time discussion of the problems before dismissal so there was an orderly transition to the next class, but the students were well regulated and engaged...up and actively involved in the math lesson. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

It's the Language

As I return from my latest two day workshop, I am continually impressed with the need to address instructional language.  When I completed my teaching degrees, I received no instruction in identifying and dealing with learning differences.  It was assumed that if a child were not in special education he or she would be able to learn in my class.  That was many years ago.  Within the first three years of my teaching, all teachers were required to take a special education class or some in house training in special needs.  That is when I first received training in multisensory methods as part of a public school O-G based program. 

Now teachers are expected to teach inclusion classes and sometimes work with another teacher to support special needs students in blended classrooms.  There is lots of talk about differentiation.  What I find in the field is that teachers are not always given sufficient professional development to feel confident in addressing the myriad learning differences that can occur in the same class. 

One of the simplest vehicles for addressing the needs of all students is clear, precise, concept oriented language with a rate of speech that does not race of some student's heads.  A well articulated lesson delivered at a moderate rate of speech is more apt to reach a greater number of students. 

Yes, there are times when a faster rate of speech, emotion and excitement should infuse the classroom with urgency.  These are moment which inspire students and engage them in questioning and analysis.  However, when a new concept is being introduced or sequential directions are given, the rate of speech should allow for processing speed deficits and be delivered in such a way to meet the needs of all students. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Additional Resources and Intern Comments

I receive many questions from educators about the use of manipulatives in the classroom.  This is one reason that a sample professional development contract involving me often includes demonstration lessons.  In these sessions, I teach the students in front of their teachers to show how manipulatives will be received by the students and how best to use them.   I have taught in both public and private schools, large classes and small.  In very large classes, I limit the time spent and the number of activities with manipulatives to make sure that students use them efficiently.  I also know that the more you use manipulatvies, the more students get used to them and learn the behavior rules associated with them.  They get acclimated so to speak.

I would like to relate a discussion I had with an intern after the Skype session yesterday.  This particular intern is at the end of her practicum.  She has been using multisensory math methods in her classroom for two years.  Basically her reaction includes the following observations:
  1. The use of manipulatives is time consuming and can be messy, BUT after using them she feels that she has done much less reteaching.  In other words, the concepts are retained more thoroughly. 
  2. She has already seen growth in her assessment scores.  She uses both the CMAT and the Woodcock Johnson because many of her students are funded. She teaches in a school for students with learning differences and must answer to local schools as she assures them that IEP goals are being met.  Her administration is thrilled with student progress and growth in skills as well as comments.
  3. She also believes that it is important to go back in the CRA instructional sequence and link the abstract to the concrete.  This is one thing we recommend in the class when students with variable memory seem to have lost what they had previously mastered.  A return to the concrete can be a good way to review and cement gains.  
  4. Difficulties she has encounter are in using the complete lesson plan.  It takes practice.  However, she does like thinking through Joyce Steeves' lesson plan because it reminds her to get all the strands of math in over time.  
She will get to practice much more this summer when she works in the ASDEC summer program.  We will be working together.

Additional resources mentioned in a Skype session with my MSM II class yesterday include:
Elementary and Middle School Mathematics:  Teaching Developmentally, by John A Van de Walle, Karen Karp and Jennifer Bay-Williams.   It is a little pricey but can be rented or purchased for Kindle.   I have the eighth edition which runs $149 new but closer to $100 used.  It rents for as little as $46.  The earlier editions range from $2 to $32 used in paperback.

Number Talks:  Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies Grades K-5 by Sherry Parrish - This is available for rent and purchase, paper back (used and new around $40-50) New, it comes with a DVD

The Math Dictionary for Kids, by Theresa R. Fitzgerald, Billed as the #1 homework helper, it runs anywhere from $5 -$8, new and used. 

Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics Developmentally Appropriate Instruction for Grades Pre-K-2,  again by John A Van de Walle et al.  It is from Pearson Publishing.  Various editions run $15-$50 on Amazon.  It is a series and includes various levels so teachers could purchase the one which is appropriate for the level they teach. 

Don't forget LearnZillion for video ideas regarding the Common Core State Standards and for a free, open source algebra course with videos acceptable for student use at home.  Hippocampus has other resources available as well and it is well worth a look. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Fractions- Look at the work of the Rational Number Project.  You can find a compilation of the work from the University of Minnesota, find lesson plans, download fraction manipulatives and read of the success the project has had in public schools. 

In the Multisensory Math Program at ASDEC we use a similar concept based approach.  Students create fraction concept cards for the student notebook.  They choose their manipulatives and assemble card stock graphic organizers which they keep for reference.  The illustrate key vocabulary and concepts and all operations.  Reaction from teachers using them has been extremely enthusiastic.  "The children love them." 

There is evidence to support using circular models first and then transitioning to other models.  Teachers need to solidify concepts before teaching children to simply "push numbers around."  So many teachers tell me that they wish they had been taught this way.  You do not need commercial manipulatives to teach fractions either.  You can print fraction circles on cardstock.  You can use simple construction paper squares.  Folded paper can come later after students fully comprehend the concepts and remember:  fract- is a Latin root that means to break into parts.  I suggest that students need to cut or break something to really understand the linkage. 

In addition, students need to comprehend that the "fractions of one" is a place value concept.  This should be fully understood before decimals are taught.  Students will benefit from using manipulatives to add, subtract and simply fractions and mixed numbers.  Then, students can move on to the abstract level of experience using only numbers. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

I Hate Fractions!

I think I have never met a student who claims to be proficient in fraction concepts and operations.  More often than not, I am met with the title of this post.  Why do you think that so many students feel inadequate when it comes to fractions. 

I met with a student today who loved long division but would not even talk about fractions.  "Could I use a calculator?" she asked.  My students do not generally use calculators in sessions.  I assure success by using student friendly numbers to teach concepts. We use calculators to check answers, to teach concepts such as transformations of functions or in cases where it simply makes sense not to struggle with complex solutions to function applications. We need a more exact answer. 

So why is it that so many students do not feel confident with fractions?  We all need to ask ourselves this question. What is it that we are doing right and what is it that we are not quite conveying?  So much of higher math depends on an understanding of fractions. We need to consider what the research is telling us (circular models are better introduction) and there is a need to move from the concrete to the abstract for many students.  They need to understand the concepts before they begin to push numbers around in operations they do not understand.  In my workshops and courses, I keep hearing the following statement, "I wish I had been taught this way."  Or, "I know how to tell them to get an answer.  I just can't tell them why it works." 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Foundation Concepts

We all look at modern curricula, textbooks, scope and sequence documents etc. and feel a bit overwhelmed.  The Common Core State Standards initiative is one solution.  It doesn't  tell anyone how to teach or insist on specific content.  It merely gives us a common set of skills with which students should be proficient at developmentally appropriate levels, or grades. 

Even the Common Core can seem daunting if you dig too deeply at first.  I would advise checking out the summary document on the website itself.  You will find that the essential skills for each grade level are listed in focus documents that are incredibly simple to comprehend. 

The Common Core Standards for math evolved from the NCTM Focal Points.  For years these focal points formed a terrific guide for what needed to be mastered.  They are based on recent research in how the mind processes math.  This research has, I believe, fundamentally changed the way we teach mathematics. 

We no longer believe that simply having procedural fluency is enough.  Students today must understand what they are doing.  I see this almost everyday in working with students at in algebra.  some of my private clients attend schools which use ancient textbooks, heavy in language and complicated drills but little focus in the underlying concepts.

When we look at the evidence and milestones that students must achieve, consider investing additional time in teaching numeracy, construction and deconstruction of quantity for quantities up to and including ten, and of course, place value.  Place value and the concepts underlying multiplication, division and fractions are essential.  They simply must be done thoroughly.  As important though is the way these concepts are introduced and developed.   They cannot be rushed or taught procedurally for some test.  They must be firmly placed and soundly developed to a level beyond familiarity.