Why Your Students Need Xtramath Now

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My husband posted a blog a month or so ago on xtramath. For those of you who haven’t used it before, it’s a free online program that helps kids memorize their math facts for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Zach explained how much easier it is to use than other paper-based programs like Rocket Math, which are great, but take lots of photocopying and correcting. Additionally, xtramath gives kids 3 seconds to answer each question, so it is easily able to pinpoint which math facts kids need more work on – and consequently give them practice on them.

Today I’d like to outline why I think every elementary school student needs to be on xtramath (or a program like it), and memorize their math facts.

Avoid Frustration of the “Silly Mistake”

The students in my class are working on 3-digit addition and subtraction with regrouping. They are doing a fantastic job of carefully adding the ones place first, then the tens and hundreds places, and putting their new ten or hundred that they made exactly where it needs to be. But for me, nothing is more frustrating than watching them work slowly and carefully, thinking about each and every step and then getting the entire problem wrong because they thought 8 + 3 was 12. That mistake is avoidable and will be avoided once they learn their facts.

It Holds Kids Accountable for Their Learning

Every few days, I share with my students their percentage completed (out of 100 math facts). They remember their old scores and work as hard as they can to beat them. Xtramath tests kids on facts they have already mastered and will bump them up if they master more or down if they forget them. This teaches kids to focus and that their effort has a direct relationship with how well they do. By doing this, kids can articulate to me “Oh no! I went down. I need to concentrate next time.”

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Learn Multiplication, Division, and to Manipulate Fractions with Ease

From my experience, the students who struggle to learn how to multiply and divide also don’t know how to add and subtract. How can you expect a student to know that 3 x 4 = 12 if they don’t know that 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 = 12 and can’t count by 3s or 4s?

On a similar level, manipulating fractions is either incredibly fun for students who have learned their multiplication and division facts or a nightmare for those who haven’t. Fact proficient students asked to simplify 8/12 can immediately tell that both 8 and 12 are multiples of 4, divide, and get 2/3 as their answer. Often students who don’t know their facts will frustratingly have to result to trial and error.

Life in General is Easier

Although it is true that almost all of us carry calculators in our phones wherever we go, knowing one’s basic math facts still makes life easier. For everything from figuring out how much food to by for X number of people, to how many cars are needed to take us all home, to how long do I have before I need to refill my prescription – we solve math problems (whether correctly or not) every day.

Sign your kids up, have them practice every day, and watch as they become more confident and successful!

@SGroshell

5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Seesaw

A lot of teachers use Seesaw as an online journal, an e-portfolio, or a combination of both. This post should help those that want some tips on maximizing this excellent edtech tool.

#1: Seesaw Blog

This was already featured in a post we shared earlier, but it is one of my favorite ways to share Seesaw with parents.

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The cool thing about the Seesaw “Blog” is that it doesn’t require any blogging. The amount of time I am putting into this very post is much more time than I have spent all year “blogging” on Seesaw. The Seesaw blog is more of a feed of the filtered things that you want to showcase to your parents. And you filter it with literally the push of a button. With one click, things that are on your regular class feed (that is consequently very busy and overwhelming to some parents) can be shared to parents on the class blog. Teachers with a separate e-learning platform can usually embed this feed to connect the two in an easy and attractive way.

#2: Portfolio “Folder”

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Last year, our school piloted Seesaw as a replacement for our paper/pencil portfolio. It was much better, but one complaint that we had was that teachers actually wanted to use Seesaw for more than just a portfolio. That’s when we came up with the portfolio folder, which allows students to select the work that they want to be included in their portfolio, and also to filter other work out during student-led conferences. The photo above shows how one piece of work can be tagged as math and portfolio, and Seesaw allows students to filter their feed by either of these categories so that you can see just the portfolio selections whenever necessary.

#3: Flip Your Classroom

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-8-05-44-pmI can’t think of a tool that allows easier upload of videos than Seesaw, but few teachers take advantage of a “hidden” feature that allows you to flip your classroom with instructional videos.

All you have to do is:

  1. Set up a new student, named after you.
  2. Upload your instructional videos to this teacher student.
  3. Make sure that you turn on the setting that allows students to see other students.
  4. BAM! You have a place for students to watch instructional videos at home or in class. Pair this with a document camera, a marker, and a piece of paper and there may not be an easier way to flip your classroom.

#4: Tweet From Seesaw

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Many teachers have got Twitter going, either with a teacher professional account or with a class account. With Seesaw you can easily share student work on Twitter and other social media. While students are working on uploading items to their Seesaw, you can tweet pieces of work to one of your school’s hashtags using your class Twitter account to share student learning and to build engagement from your community. Students need to be learning about how to use social media safely, and Seesaw is a great tool to do this.

#5: Print QR Codes of student work

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Another great feature that is available to Seesaw users are printable item QR codes. These can easily be printed so that your students’ work is displayed around your school. Just print out a few of these (which all come with a visually appealing picture of the item in the center of the QR code), put them up on a bulletin board, and you’ve got a multimedia display that can be accessed with a device and a QR reader. Much more powerful and interactive than just printing pictures of student work.

I hope that these can help the new and seasoned Seesaw user to get the most out of the tool. If you haven’t already, follow me @MrZachG on Twitter:

And be sure to check out @SGroshell’s TPT.

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How to teach the principal’s son and survive.

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In your typical public school in the U.S, it is rare to find yourself teaching a colleague’s child, and even more uncommon to be teaching the child of your boss. But anyone that has taught in the international school world knows that you’re unlikely to go a year without having several students of teachers in your building. After all, one of the standard and most essential benefits in every international teacher’s contract is tuition exemption for 2 or more children.

Where do the principal’s children go? To a teacher stateside, it might seem like a conflict of interest to have the person in charge of observation and evaluation of teachers also be a parent of a student. Imagine that the same person that is in charge of rating your flipped classroom on a scale of 1-5 is also the mother or father of a child that has to wrestle with it for 180 evenings of homework. In the international world, however, the principal’s children go to the principal’s school, just like teachers’ children go to teachers’ schools.

In elementary, one teacher must take on the oft-feared responsibility of being the principal’s child’s homeroom teacher every year. This responsibility fell on my shoulders for the first time last year. Thank goodness the kid was a freaking saint (once I get the typical principal’s son, I’ll write that article), and my principal and his wife were by far some of the most supportive parents I’ve ever had the pleasure of serving.

Let me share some tips on how to “survive” this unique experience, with the word “survive” meant to be tongue-in-cheek. In all actuality, it might be just as frightening for a principal to be exposed as a bad parent as it is for a teacher to be exposed as a bad teacher.

Survival Tips:

  1. Be yourself. Don’t take on a separate persona as your principal’s teacher as you do at faculty meetings or as you do at staff parties. Be genuine, be honest, and keep your integrity. No principal trusts a double agent.
  2. Stick with the program. Just because your principal likes certain things in teaching doesn’t mean you have to scrap everything that has worked for you in the past and start anew. My principal was very much into classic literature (former high school English teacher), but I didn’t go shoving Shakespeare down students’ throats to try to win his approval.
  3. Follow School Policies. While the former two tips fall under the category of being an authentic person, it isn’t a good idea to ignore the very policies that your principal likely had a hand in creating for the sake of authenticity. Last year our school’s SLT decided on reducing e-mails for teacher-parent communication, so I reduced my e-mail output for all parents, including to my principal. It wasn’t because I feared getting in trouble under his scrutiny as much as that I try to respect school policies.
  4. Realize that People are People. You are likely to hear a personal or even embarrassing story about your principal straight out of the mouth of his or her child. Just realize that even your boss is human and that it is almost certain that your principal’s little child spy has told him stories about you that are just as unflattering. Keep things confidential that are said in trust between you and your principal’s child.
  5. Never Slam on Your School. This should be obvious, but I’m including it anyway. Your principal has likely invested a lot of time and personal capital into the creation of what your school is today. My principal was actually the founding principal of my school, which makes my school much like another child in his family. Whenever you feel stressed or disappointed with how your school is operating, don’t share it with your kids. It just isn’t the right venue, principal’s child spy present or not.
  6. Seize the Moment. Rather than worrying about the extra attention that you might get from your principal because of his or her role as a parent in your classroom, think of it as an opportunity. The first thing I said to my principal when I found out that his son was in my class was that I would always be on his side, because no matter what I would also always be on his son’s side. Use your opportunity to learn about the school’s history and ups and downs straight from the mouth and perspective of your principal’s child. And, ultimately, understand that doing a good job means doing a favor for a person that is really in a position to make a difference as you move forward in your teaching career.
  7. Don’t Write a Blog Post About it. If you’re smart, you’ll avoid writing any blog posts about teaching your principal’s son until after you have completed your contract with your school. Thank goodness nobody ever reads these things.

If you haven’t already, please follow me on Twitter @MrZachG and check out @SGroshell’s TPT.

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BLE Feeling Stale? 3 Kid Friendly Tools to Spice up Your E-learning Platform.

Check out these three tools I have been using to add visual appeal and increased functionality to my blended learning course. -@MrZachG

1. Embed an ELink

Instead of posting link after link in a boring list, or spending hours uploading hyperlinked photos and then adding captions to them, use Elink!

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What is it?

Elink is an easy to use tool that allows you to embed a smooth looking interface of links, organized as tiles with captions. The tool automatically detects a cover photo for each of your web links, and adds a caption.

The above Elink is a screen shot example of what the tool provides, and it took me about ten minutes to create. The students just scroll down the list and choose the tool that they want to use to conduct their research on a topic. Say goodbye to a list of links, and use the embed code they provide to embed it to your e-learning platform.

2. Embed Seesaw Blog

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What is it?

Seesaw is one of the most widely used tools for e-portfolio and learning, and the relatively new blog feature makes it even more accessible for parents to see their child’s work.

Many e-learning platforms will allow you to embed full websites, and many have full functionality. Above is an example of my class Seesaw Blog being embedded onto our class Moodle page. You can scroll, comment and do everything you could do with the Seesaw Blog were you given the link, but this way parents and students can use just go to our class Moodle site for all of their needs.

3. Embed a Padlet

What is it?

I am a big fan of Padlet for many reasons. In addition to making your e-learning site pretty, it makes it so that students can easily post video, audio and photos onto a sticky note type interface that is great for brainstorming, planning and communication between students.

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What do you use to customize your e-learning platform? Make sure to follow me on Twitter @MrZachG and check out @SGroshell’s Teachers Pay Teachers products.

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Education Rickshaw: Teachers Pay Teachers

Stephanie has been working tirelessly to get her products on Teachers Pay Teachers to be attractive and, more importantly, easy to use for teachers and students.

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– @MrZachG

Teachers: Put your plans in the cloud!

By @MrZachG

Until recently, I was a teacher that preferred writing out plans by hand. This may have come as a shock to some that knew me and considered me to be “tech savvy”, but I didn’t care. The idea of constantly pulling up a new Word Document to awkwardly type in bullets for my lessons, which change times according to the day, and then saving them all onto my computer’s hard drive felt like a waste of time compared to my handwritten (and sometimes, drawn) visual lesson plans.

But then the Edtech improved. In the following post, I am going to be outlining 3 benefits I see to using cloud-based lesson planning over handwritten lesson plans. I am going to be specifically focusing on Planboard, but I am sure that other similar websites work in similar ways.

3 Benis to Cloud-Based Lesson Planning

Beni #1: Planboard makes it easy to save lesson plans to the cloud.

When you save plans on Planboard, it automatically saves your work as you type it, much like Google Docs does. This makes it so that your quick notes are never lost as you frantically type them during a lesson (or faculty meeting. . )

It also makes it very easy (one click) to save your work to Google Drive.

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Who uses external hard drives anymore? Put it in the cloud, for free.

Most all teachers I know use Google products for education to some extent, and nearly all use Google Drive to save their docs to the cloud. Planboard links quickly to your google account, allows for easy, one touch click saving to Google Drive, and then you have your lessons for next year!

Beni #2: Templates, Templates

Most of my lessons tend to have about the same structure, especially the stand alone teaching for Language and Math. My favorite feature of Planboard is that it lets teachers create templates for their lessons. Here’s an example I made for my math block:

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My math block template.

Instead of writing these things out, just use Planboard to create a template and you can use it everyday during this time. What you see in the picture above I only had to write once, and then I just fill in the parts in between with what my lesson is going to be. It saves me a lot of time compared to pointlessly writing it out by hand everyday.

Another template-like tool is the class scheduling feature. I don’t know about you, but my schedule changes everyday depending on what specialist classes my students are taking. Spend about 20 minutes plugging in these times in Planboard and you’ll never have to consult your timetable to plan again.

Beni #3: They’re always with you.

Because I am not the most organized person on earth with my belongings, I tended to leave my paper/pencil plan book at school. I would stick post-it notes to my computer, and they would inevitably fall off on the way to work. Lessons that I didn’t write anything down for would disappear into time, as well as those lessons that I wrote on separate paper from my plan book. With Planboard, I never have this issue.

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Week-at-a-Glance

Most teachers I know take their laptops everywhere, but not their plan books. Why not just use your laptop? And in this edtech-awesome world of ours, how can you possibly save all of your links that you are going to use during your lessons onto pen and pencil lesson plans? Needing to send your lesson plans to a sub? Just share the link to your Planboard.

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An easy stick note feature right above the calendar helps keep me organized. This is the only sticky note that I know of that doesn’t fly away.

Now, the big question: Where did my sticky notes go?  Now they’re always with me, saved into the cloud!

If you haven’t already, please follow me on Twitter @MrZachG, and follow Education Rickshaw here on WordPress.

5 Reasons to Do Number Corner Every Day

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By @SGroshell

Number Corner is a 15 minute student-led way to start your math lesson every day. You can have students practice anything, depending on their needs at that particular time of the year. Right now, for my beginning of the year 2nd graders here’s what we do:

  • Calendar
    • Putting dates on the calendar, yesterday was, today is, tomorrow will be labels
  • Days We’ve been in school Counting Chart
    • Practice Count by 2s, 3s, 5s, 10s,
  • Number of the day
    • Is it odd/even?
    • Draw it
    • How many hundreds? Tens? Units?
    • It is greater than? Less than?
    • Tallies
  • Number Bond with corresponding Fact Families

My husband, who teaches 4th grade, also does math corner but practices different skills. We have both found that Number Corner has greatly improved our students’ math ability and math confidence. Here are the reasons why you should do it every day.

 

1. It fosters student independence and confidence

Math corner leaders are some of the favorite student jobs in my class. Every day, 4 math leaders each act as the teacher for one of the skills we are practicing. Math leaders are rotated regularly, so all students get a turn.

 

What’s great about it is that because students are put in the position of being the teacher, they call on other kids for the answers. This makes it so there’s no nervousness to be the math leader. Although they are physically writing out the math strategies and the answers, they don’t need to worry about being put on the spot.

 

Additionally, because Math Corner is the same every day (but with different numbers), even students who normally wouldn’t raise their hands feel confident that they know what is coming and that they can do it.

 

 

2. It strengthens students’ number sense

Students need time to explore numbers. Every day in my Number Corner, students have a number of the day to play with. They find different ways to describe it, break it apart, and use it in equations.

Manipulating and playing with a different number each day helps to demystify them. Numbers aren’t a part of scary math, but a fun part of school and life!

 

 

3. It makes everything else you teach more easily understood

Number sense, patterns and any other goodies you put into your Number Corner will strengthen students’ ability to understand the math in your core lessons.

 

One big challenge for many early elementary students is how to add and subtract 2 and 3-digit numbers with ‘regrouping’ or ‘borrowing’.

 

An example of the traditional way to solve an addition problem with regrouping:

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When students go through the motions of this by rote memorization, they tend to make silly mistakes and may come up with answers that are way off base (a common answer to 53 + 28 is 711, when students forget to regroup the new ten they made). Playing with the place value of numbers every day by pulling them apart to find the hundreds, tens and units, drawing them and putting them into number bonds has really helped my students understand what they are actually doing when they make a new ten and why.

 

4. It is a fantastic Opportunity to Throw in Extra Practice on Unclear Concepts

Some concepts take a little practice; others take lots of practice. And at times, you need to move on even though some students still need more practice on a certain skill. That is where your Number Corner can save the day.

Number Corners should be flexible. When you feel like you need to add to something in, add it in! If you feel like a skill is solid and you can take it out, take it out.

One example of how I used my Number Corner to continue practice on something I’d taught was with fact families. The basic concept of fact families is easy to understand, but a lot of practice is needed to be able to fluidly apply them to real life problems.

For every given number bond, there are 4 number sentences which make up the fact family.

 

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Corresponding Fact Family

12 + 9 = 21

9 + 12 = 21

21 – 9 = 12

21 – 12 = 9

 

 

When a student knows their fact families, figuring out whether they need to add or subtract with a story problem like this will become simple:

Sarah had 12 pencils. Her mom gave her some more. Now she has 21. How many pencils did her mom give her?

“Well, I know that 12 + __ = 21 is the same as 21 – 12 = ____ and so I know I need to subtract to find the answer.”

This will be especially important when the numbers get even bigger and counting up on fingers is no longer practical. By continuing to practice fact families every day, my students will get to the point where they can this automatically.

 

 

5. Some Things Can’t be Taught in Just One Unit

 

Some concepts are complicated and need lots of practice and application to understand. My example here for my 2nd graders is the calendar. Calendars are an extremely useful tool that adults use constantly, but they are not very straightforward for 7 year olds.

Our first day of school this year was on August 14th. We started with a blank calendar on the board and the date 14. After asking the class, my student leader decided to put it at the top of the calendar in the first space. When I handed out the date 13 and there was no space to put it before 14, the critical thinking began (it ended up being a fantastic 15-minute inquiry lesson).

Although my students did get to the conclusion that the 14th is near the middle of the month and that not all months start on a Sunday, we still have a long way to go. We still need to look at the number of days in each month, the order of the months, how to count forwards and backwards by days or weeks, etc. To get students to the point where they can actually use calendars to help solve problems, we will need to work with them every day.

 

 

For anyone new to Number Corner, please check out my Beginning of the Year Number Corner on TpT. It is free and can hopefully give you some ideas of what may work for your class!

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How do you use your Number Corner to help student learning? Please share your thoughts with a comment below.