Why You Can't Ignore the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practices

Kacie Travis is a high school math teacher, blogger, and teacher-author from Fayetteville, AR. She is here today to talk about some valuable elements of the Common Core Standards of Mathematical Practices. 
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have become a controversial and highly debated movement in education. The standards have been praised, bashed, banned, and everything in between. Regardless of your feelings about the standards, their implementation, or the testing that accompanies them, the creators got one thing right: The eight Standards of Mathematical Practices.
The Standards (SMPs) are not grade specific and are not a list of skills, but rather are how students should approach the learning of mathematics as they become proficient with the skills. They are desired habits of mind. They are also not new. These practices about how to learn mathematics have been around and researched for many years before the concept of common state standards. They’ve just been renamed and made popular by the adoption of the CCSS.
Why should these standards be exempt from the wrath of the Common Core (CC) protesters? Here are a few reasons to give them a serious chance.
CC Math is often critiqued for too much conceptual understanding and a lack of practice and procedural fluency. (A different debate.) The SMPs demand the balance between the two sides, where deeper conceptual understanding and fluency harmonize.  Note the wording of the subject of each sentence in the SMP descriptions. It refers to “mathematically proficient students.” These are the goals for what we desire students to be able to do. They cannot get there without fluency and that requires practice. 
While each one requires some knowledge of algorithms and procedures, I think #7 and #8 particularly draw attention to the acknowledgement and practice of the patterns that lead to algorithms.
Teaching students to think about their learning and their thinking process is crucial to a deeper understanding of what they are learning. Across all subjects. But, in math, there seems to be a hole in the learning process that can only be filled by students understanding their learning process. 
Explicitly teaching students the SMPs and referring to them throughout your lessons is what it takes to get them to fully understand. Spend time the standards. Demonstrate the connectedness of the SMPs to how they are learning in class. Post them. Point to them. Talk about them. The SMPs that need the most explicit teaching are #1 and #3.
Make sense and persevere.  Students don’t naturally want to persevere. It is uncomfortable to struggle, but the productive struggle is the where the most efficient learning takes place. It takes lots of modeling, lots of practice, and lots of positive encouragement. Students need to feel safe even when they get an answer wrong and they need to feel secure in knowing the most learning will take place in the struggle, not in getting the correct answer every time.
Construct and critique.  Students also need to learn effective ways to communicate mathematically. They need to be able to precisely (#6) explain what they are thinking and discern whether or not their thinking aligns with other students’. This also requires modeling and practice. Students at any level should be able to have a developmentally appropriate conversation in which they are critiquing the reasoning of others.
Once you can get students immersed in the SMPs and they understand not just what they are learning, and not just why they are learning, but how they are learning, they begin to take ownership. It takes a lot of work for students to arrive at proficiency with the SMPs, but with year after year, with the students being held to the same eight standards of practice, the math will come more naturally. 
Please don’t mistake me. I am not saying it will become easier. (That may happen for some students, but this is not what we should be striving for, because that’s hard to control.) But they will become more fluent with every facet of the language that is Mathematics. And just like a Rube Goldberg machine, confidence will fall into place, setting off a chain reaction that leads to sincere engagement. 
The learning will be more relevant to students, which makes them interested in learning. Wow. Students interested in learning math all from eight simple practices? Yeah, I believe in them. You should too.

Kacie Travis is a high school math teacher, blogger, and teacher-author from Fayetteville, AR. She is married and has 4-year-old twin boys, Ben and Jack. You can get to know her more at her blog, Managing and Motivating Math Minds or check out her resources at her store, Kacie Travis

Classroom Management Tips from a Tiger Teacher

Hi! My name is Cindy Lee of Ainslee Labs, and, like the Tiger Mom, I come from an Asian family and find myself influenced by the more disciplined culture of Korea even though I grew up in the United States. A co-worker recently commented, “Mrs. Lee is old school, but it works.”
A bit about my background: I’m currently on my 9th year of teaching special education in an urban school district. I’ve taught kindergarten to 8th grade, mostly learning disabilities and emotional/behavior disorders.  I’d like to share tips for anyone struggling with behavior and classroom management. While my style might not be for everyone, I have found success with it at all grade levels.
Tip #1: Be the most stubborn person in the room.
Consistency is of utmost importance when managing behavior. You can spend time and money making posters for routines and buying rewards, but if you aren’t consistent, your plans will likely fail. Students pick up on your lack of commitment to a behavior plan, and they don’t commit to it in turn.
I am always repeating my expectations so that they are drilled into my students’ heads. By the end of September, my students would actually parrot my sayings.
Here are some things I’ve heard them repeat:
  • “You only get rewards if you work hard.”
  • “You’d better get your work done. If you don’t, Mrs. Lee will make you stay here. She doesn’t have anywhere to be!” (This little guy repeated my words to his peer verbatim.)
  • “Mrs. Lee doesn’t like messy work.”
  • “I have to keep trying. Practice makes me smarter. I can do it.”
  • “You have to work hard to earn your banana.” (Bananas are part of my reward system.)

While you have to be stubborn to remain consistent, keep in mind that you must be reasonable and allow for flexibility during certain circumstances. Use your good judgment. Don’t be the “nice” teacher or the “mean” teacher. Be the reasonable teacher.

Tip #2: Do not give rewards unless they are actually earned.
Look for opportunities to work on behavior or other skills. I made these zombie reading pointers for my kids and someone asked for another one. I reminded him that I don’t just give things away, he must earn it. Since this particular child had a very difficult time saying anything positive, I told him that once he says 5 positive things, he could have another zombie pointer. It took him a week, but he did it.
Any time a student asks for something, they have to do something in return. This might be an academic or behavior task, depending on what needs improvement. This might seem a bit harsh, but think about the world we live in. Kids can feel entitled because they assume everything will be provided. Once they are adults, no one just hands over what you want, when you want it. 
By making them earn rewards, they are developing an important life skill. Sometimes a kid will say, “But I WAS being good!” I’ll respond with, “That might be good by your standards, but not mine. Since I am the one giving the reward, you have to think about what would make me happy.”

Tip #3: Hold your students to high (and realistic) expectations.
I feel that sometimes, adults let things slide for kids who are in special education. Maybe they do it to be nice or because they feel pity. Struggling kids already feel bad, so why add on to it? This mentality, while well meaning, does the children a huge disservice. The children start believing they can’t do things because the adults around them don’t expect them to.
I have a 3rd grader who was reading at kindergarten level. He couldn’t decode CVC words and he knew 2 sight words. When faced with a difficult task, he cried to escape. You could see him putting in effort to squeeze those tears out! It worked for him quite well over the years. Whenever he forced out tears, people let him have whatever he wanted. When he started working with me back in September, he started up the water works and kept saying, “I can’t read.” I told him that he wasn’t allowed to say that. Instead, he can say, “I’m learning to read better.” Then I made him continue, tears and all. He started crying less frequently once he saw that it wasn’t getting him anywhere. By the end October, the crying stopped completely. 
In three months time, he learned how to decode CVC words and increased sight words to 18. Now he takes pride in his reading. People who worked with him last year are shocked at how much he’s progressed in a short time. I think he always had it in him, but no one ever pushed him enough to bring it out. I pushed, and I pushed HARD.
The boy who wanted an extra zombie pointer recently told his aide, “I like going to Mrs. Lee’s class because she gives me hard work and she makes me do it.” Holding them to high standards and correcting them when they don’t meet those standards can actually boost their self-esteem if you do it right.

Tip #4: Don’t just give praise for the purpose of giving praise.
This tip might be a bit controversial for some people. It’s generally considered good practice to give a ratio of 5:1 for positive vs. critical feedback. This can be tricky because you might find yourself giving generic praise rather than something genuine and specific. 
Now I just call it as I see it, without giving too much thought to the ratio. While this might not work for everyone, I have found that the students try harder to get praise from me because it’s more meaningful. They are aware that I don’t give praise lightly. Verbal praise becomes something valuable because you don’t get it 20 times during the hour.
At the same time, be specific when you give feedback. Verbally praise any small thing that is a step in the right direction. What seems like a small step to you might be a huge step for them!
Here are some examples:
  • For the 3rd grader mentioned above: As soon as I saw him try, I said, “I see your mouth sounding out the beginning sound. I love how you’re trying, even when it’s hard and you don’t know right away.”
  • For a frustrated student: “I can see from your face that you’re frustrated because it’s difficult. I like how you told me that it doesn’t make sense so I can try to help you. Next time, tell me quietly instead of yelling, and we’ll work on it together.”
  • When other students are modeling good behavior: “I think Alyssa deserves a sticker. I love how she started on math quietly, and when she wasn’t sure what to do, she asked for help.”
Tip #5: Create an organized, clear behavior management system that rewards students who follow your rules and routines.
I use this freebie from Creative Clips: Banana Behavior System. At the end of reading and math period, students can earn a banana. At the end of the week, we have Fun Fridays when I use the last 15 minutes to give them their bananas reward. They talk about it all week. I posted a list of rewards with various costs for redemption, and students redeem the rewards with their bananas. 
By varying the cost of the rewards, you ensure that every student gets something while also giving the high value rewards to students who are consistently good. This is very important! If those students who have bigger behavior problems don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, they might act up even more because the week is lost. Giving high value rewards a higher cost also gives students a goal to strive for. Once they finally get the reward they’ve been gunning for, they get extra excited. The reward is even sweeter because they worked so hard to get it.
The photo below shows the set up. My students love earning their bananas! Just keep in mind that you should be specific when giving a student feedback about their behavior.

For students with behavior plans in their IEPs, you will require more intensive behavior supports that give frequent feedback. I created this behavior dial for my students. While more work is involved, if you are able to give the attention it needs, this is very effective.

I hope you found these tips helpful! While I am a strict teacher, I think the kids recognize that my discipline comes from caring. My students frequently tell me they love coming to my classes. They get a sense of security and safety because they know exactly what to expect from me.

Keep in touch! Email me ainsleelabs@gmail.com or find me on Facebook, Pinterest, Ainslee Labs Blog, or my TpT store.

Parent Communication: Easy and Convenient Tools that Keep Parents Informed

Lets face it, with all the responsibilities of being an educator, communicating with parents usually falls to the bottom of the bottomless list of things a teacher has to do. I've found that with the use of social networks, Class Dojo, and weekly newsletters, it easy for me to not only communicate with parents but maintain that communication regularly. That's right, my parents are informed and updated regularly on what we are learning, projects done in class, and what's happening in school and in our classroom! Here's how: 

Create a Class Social Network Page
Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. They're here to stay. Even if they do fizzle out, I'm sure it will be because they were replaced with a cooler, faster and more advanced social networking experience. More and more districts are unblocking these sites. Everyone is connected to a social networking site and if you are reading this and you're not on one, join immediately. LOL! Facebook, Twitter or Instagram is the one thing that most, if not ALL of your parents will have access to. Why not use it as a tool for education? 
Did you know you can create a class page on any of these sites and regularly post information for your parents to see? Twitter limits you to 140 characters and Instagram requires you to use a photo, but the options are endless with social media. You can post videos, reminders, photos of student work, etc. All at the hands of your cell phone or tablet.
I created classroom page on Facebook a year ago and I get nothing but positive responses from parents and students about the ease of being able to contact me. Check out my class page here. Most teachers are worried about the legalities of posting student photos or anything in school. I created a Facebook Photo Release Form and have parents sign it at the beginning of the year. Just remember to try not to post anything with personal info displayed. All of these sights can be used to can keep families informed about your day to day activities and provide a interactive forum for communicating. 
I'm an advocate for using social media as a classroom tool. It serves as a window to your classroom for the world to view. Embrace it and make it work for you; your parents will love it! Still not convinced? Read this article that gives you 100 Ways to Use Facebook in Your Classroom.

Use a Text Messaging App
Now you can easily send out a quick message in the form of a text message to one or all of your students or parents without worrying about your personal phone number getting out. I use Class Dojo in my classroom along with their messenger app. This is ideal because Class Dojo allows parents to see their students behavior data earned throughout the day but it also allows them to contact you via text. The app is available for download on any network or FREE. You can also try Remind. It is another messenger tool for teachers to use to connect with parents easily via text messaging. 
I prefer the Class Dojo combo because parents are getting access to more information in one place. Think about how easy it will be to send out a good news text to all parents about something great your students are doing. Did I mention you can even attach photos to your messages? Parents love to hear good news, and teachers can be so busy that it seems like we only have time to contact them for bad news. These text messaging tools are great and there are even more out there for you to try! 

Regular Newsletter
A simple newsletter or teacher written note is personal and can still be the most practical way of maintaing parent communication. I also practice this in my classroom. I find that homework packets work easier for me so I started attaching a weekly newsletter with each packet. My newsletter includes a short message about what's going on in our class, reminders, spelling list and my contact info that includes the link to our class Facebook page. I use a newsletter template, and it takes me no more than 15 minutes to do each week. You can create your templates or find them on Teachers Pay Teachers
It's important to develop a schedule for how often you will send out your newsletter so that it becomes something parents will expect. Once a month, quarterly, weekly - whatever works best for you. If you teach in a high ESL area, you may want to collaborate with someone so that your newsletter can be translated in other languages.

Thank you so much for reading and your "teach away" is to remember that regular communication is key when establishing and maintaining a partnership with parents while bridging the gap between home and school! Please make sure you are following all my social media pages for updates and more valuable information for educators.
Tasia Fields is an educator and new blogger that resides and teaches outside of Chicago IL. She is single mother and a passionate teacher. She is the founder of Great Minds TEACH Alike. She has been teaching for 5 years and holds a Masters Degree in Education. Education is her passion, and she truly enjoys collaborating and sharing her ideas and knowledge with teachers from across the world.

5 Principles for Using Manipulatives Effectively in the Classroom

An essential step in learning is making connections. Cards, dice, and money provide connections to real life. Sometimes struggling learners wonder why they need to learn something because they can’t see the connection to their life outside of school. Cards, dice, and money are all things which they might see in the real world - on TV, in a computer game, or in a book, for example. Whether I am teaching Kindergarten, Grade One, or Grade Two, I often use all three of these materials while teaching Math. Sometimes I also add a recording activity using pencil and paper, marker and small whiteboard, or chalk and small chalkboard. 
Over the years, I have developed some underlying principles which I feel are essential to using these items smoothly and effectively in the classroom. Things can be very unstructured when kids are working individually, so prepping them clearly maximizes learning through play without creating chaos.
Connect the lesson to a child’s life at home: I believe strongly in using hands-on activities when teaching math. But something that I find equally valuable is to use manipulatives that children might experience outside of school. There’s no denying that fancy math blocks, cute little bear counters, and brightly coloured linking cubes definitely have a place in the classroom, but not only are they expensive, they rarely provide a connection to a child’s life outside of school. I believe that making this connection is extremely important. I have written extensively about this on my blog here
Children need to “get the play out of their system”.  Children innately want to play. It’s the best tool to help them learn. I strongly believe that much like an adult’s “job” is where they work, a child’s “job” is to play and learn. In order to maximize the learning with any manipulative, children need time to play freely with it. Once they are used to playing with a manipulative, you can provide more structured lessons with clear expectations on how the children can play with them, but first they need time to explore. Otherwise you may find a lot of your children are off-task and playing freely with the materials anyway.
Mix it up and use a variety of manipulatives to teach the same concept over and over again. Children usually need a lot of practice with a new concept. In order to maximize learning, if you switch up the manipulatives they use each day, their chance of making those important connections to the concept you are teaching increases. I start out teaching two digit addition with chalkboards, chalk, and money (dimes and pennies). We draw a place value frame of tens and ones and put the appropriate amount of money over the numbers we are adding. I have a more detailed description of that lesson here. 
My point is, after a few days of teaching with this, I introduce the use of cards, and, a few days later, introduce dice to the mix. Once the children become competent with the concept of addition and don’t need to write it down, we remove the chalkboard from the lesson. Eventually they can play a game with only cards involving 2 digit addition.
Don’t spend a lot of money.  You don’t need to spend a lot to get manipulatives. Ask your local casino for their used decks of cards. I got 25 decks of cards from our local casino 10 years ago, and I’m still going strong with them. If this doesn’t work for you, you can get decks of cards relatively cheap at the dollar store. You can also buy dice at the dollar store. 
The only thing that might cost you a bit is the money. I use real money in my classroom, and I teach in a poor part of town. The kids are highly motivated and make solid connections with real money. You get 2 rolls of dimes and 5 rolls of pennies and you are good for the year. In 10 years, I’ve added another roll of dimes and 2 rolls of pennies to my collection. I got the idea from my Mom who started teaching in 1958 when a penny was actually worth something, and she felt that although some of it would “disappear” into children’s pockets, most of it did not. If you lose a few dollars of money each year, that is an acceptable loss.  
These days I tell the kids that you can’t buy anything with a penny or a dime, and it’s really not a lot of money. I find that they rarely steal it. Though I teach in Canada, where pennies have been discontinued, kids still make connections to them so I still use them.
Prepare the children on how you want the classroom managed. I find that if I use the same management techniques with every lesson, my expectations are clear and the kids’ behaviour is better, thus I can teach more in a short amount of time. Whenever I am introducing a new manipulative, I demonstrate how to distribute the manipulative, and from then on I always distribute the manipulative in the same manner. 
In my classroom, my cards are all mixed together in a big bin. The kids know how to “grab a stack” and make sure that it is no fatter than their finger. This eliminates kids with huge thick stacks of cards and ensures that there are enough cards for everyone. 
I also always teach some sort of “ready position” for each manipulative. Ready position with dice and cards means the kids put everything down on the table and their hands in their lap. With chalk and chalkboards, ready position means the board is wiped clean, the brush and chalk are beside the board on the table, and their hands are in their lap. This prevents kids from playing with things while I am talking.

So these are my 5 principles for using Math, cards, and dice effectively in the classroom. There are hundreds of resources out there with math games and ideas. You will find a link to a free resource from me below! I find that my 5 principles allow me to teach with intent because I know why I am teaching this way. They also allow me to teach fun lessons which are engaging, efficient, and effective.
If you are interested in learning more about teaching math with playing cards, dice and money, try out this freebie from my store and have a look around at the other products for Grades K to 3 while you're there.
CLICK HERE to get the Freebie
Sandra Farrell has been teaching for over 20 years in a Canadian urban setting in Canada. She has a Masters’ of Education and a Post Graduate Diploma in ESL (ELL) Instruction. Sandra spent a year teaching Kindergarten in New Zealand many years ago. Sandra lives with her teacher-husband and two school-aged children who are often used as guinea pigs to try out her latest product for sale. Sandra is an award winning papercrafter and avid ice-hockey player. She is the name behind Sandra’s SavvyTeaching Tips and also Papercrafting Teacher.

Save Yourself Some Merry Little Minutes!

Image by Ladybug Teacher Files
Save Time
Here is a fun way to save time on the last day before break. If you receive holiday gifts from your students, rather than writing down who gave what gift, why not use your cell phone to snap a picture of the student holding the (opened) gift? Then when it is time to write thank you notes, all you have to do is scroll through your photos. You could even have a classroom volunteer or aid take the pictures so you can pose with your students. Then, include a printout of the photo in your thank you card.

Save some Dough
Of course you can save tons of time (and money) by stocking up on teaching resources during the site-wide Teachers Pay Teachers Cyber Monday and Tuesday Sale! Everything in my store will be 20% off and you can get another 10% off by using Promo Code TPTCYBER at checkout.

This is an awesome time to stock up on bundles - you can really save a lot since bundles are already discounted. But the time-saver I really hope you will consider is this brand new Close Reading Toolkit for Literature (Fiction)

It is jam-packed with resources - colorful posters, bookmarks, discussion prompt cards, graphic organizers, text-dependent questions for interactive notebooks and more! You can use the toolkit with picture books, chapter books, and short stories. Tons of activities to use all year long!


More Time-Saving Tips
For more awesome time-saving tips, please visit the blogs below. You are sure to come away with a plethora of great ideas!

Teaching Resources

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