Homework not effective? What about distance learning?

Homework is one of those contentious things that divides teachers as well as parents. John Hattie’s research leads to the conclusion that homework in primary school has an effect of nearly zero.  But the reality is that many schools have policies that require homework to be assigned to students on a daily or weekly basis.

This year, I am experimenting with a theory that primary student achievement can be improved with homework if there is a distance learning tutor available for coaching for every assignment.

What I’m trialing this year:

This year I’ve told all of my students that whenever they need help with their homework, they should shoot me an email. I know, it sounds like a crazy responsibility for me to take on, and I’ll see if I have the stamina to keep up with it throughout the year, but so far it has gone really well!

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“I don’t get this”

Much like my in-class helpdesk, I want my 9-10 year olds to get professional help in a timely and effective manner. I don’t want some parents to help their kids while other kids are left alone to stress about math during their valuable home time. This year, my students were instructed that if they have a problem they should screenshot their math or take a video of the strategies they’ve tried and to send it to me by e-mail. I then respond by either giving them some written or video hints, or by directing them to an available resource such as a Youtube or Khan Academy video.

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“Is this correct?”


How’s it going so far?

It has been a very positive experience to start the year off with this model for homework. One thing I have noticed, though, is that the students tend to ask very simple questions without really showing their work or the strategies they tried. I am going to work with students on how to ask for help, and how to get the students helping each other much more often. I am also learning how to give just enough help so as to get the students to figure out the rest of the problems on their own.

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Student created instructional YouTube video on our class channel

I am also incorporating a YouTube channel with student-created instructional videos so that students can refer to a growing library of flipped lessons from their peers. This is in the process of getting put together (so far, we only have three videos) but the students seem very excited about the prospect of sharing their knowledge with each other and the world.

It’s not that much extra work… so far

I am a fan of living a balanced life as a teacher, so taking on a “distance tutoring model” by having kids e-mail me all night long (their limit is 8:00 PM) might sound like a recipe for disaster. But the truth is that I only get a couple of emails per night, and it usually only takes me a few seconds to send back a response with Mark-Up or my laptop’s webcam. Usually just copying and pasting the link to a YouTube video can help them solve their problems. As students become more familiar with this system, and increasingly independent, I hope to teach them to search for their own answers online and to take it upon themselves to offer peer tutoring during the homework hours.

What do you think? Will this strategy help improve achievement, or is it simply homework in sheep’s clothing? Is this plan sustainable, or do you bet I’ll let some student requests fall through the cracks? Comment below! We at educationrickshaw.com would love to hear your thoughts.



The Power of Digital Manipulatives

I wanted to share this Infographic by MIND Research Institute today, as it confirms some of my experiences with digital manipulatives in my classroom. My biggest takeaway from the infographic is the idea that you can scaffold the concepts by first starting with physical manipulatives (we do learn with our bodies!), and then transitioning to digital manipulatives to “improve transferability of math concepts”, and then finally representing the concepts with numbers and symbols.

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This webapp allows students to see money with the number blocks of their amounts – from mathlearningcenter.org

In my class, I created an elink of digital manipulatives so that students can have most of the digital manipulatives from mathlearningcenter.org at their disposal. You can download all of these tools as apps, but I found that the webapps were almost just as functional (downloading takes up precious storage on student iPads!). I very much followed a scaffolding strategy similar to what the infographic describes.

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I created an e-link on my Moodle course with links to all of the webapps. For more on elink, see Easy-Peasy Way to Give Great Links to Students)

Good teachers use everything that they have at their disposal, and don’t get caught up in searching for silver bullets. There is a place for physical manipulatives in the 21C classroom, as well as a place for digital ones.

Thank you for visiting educationrickshaw.com! Enjoy!

Digital Manipulatives Infographic

Courtesy of MIND Research Institute. 

What do you think about the role of digital manipulatives? Comment below!

3 Fun Inquiry Math Activities for the Last Week of School


Picture from Classroom 2.0.

One of the most endearing that my students are is when they are helping younger children. Preparing the classroom at the end of the year for the next group of students is considered a critical job for them, whether they are sharpening pencils or throwing out markers that no longer work. This year I decided to maximize this learning experience by having my students figure out how to prepare for the new class with some guided inquiry math.

1. Where will the new table groups go?

When I first posed this question, my students looked back at me with confusion before one of them replied, “wait, will you still have the same number of students?” The fun part of inquiry is that you don’t start out with all of the information that you need. Instead, you use your critical thinking skills to figure out what questions you have to ask to find that information before you can even begin to solve the problem.

The lesson went something like this:

  • There will be 20 students next year (I know, working at a school with a 20 student limit is awesome!), meaning we don’t have enough tables.
  • Where do we get tables? Exploration team to the school storage room
  • Division to make equal groups puts the new class into 4 groups of 5…. But when we moved the tables – which sit 2 students at each – we found we need two extra tables to accommodate odd numbered groups.
  • 5 groups of 4 means that students can’t push out their chairs without hitting each other
  • 2 groups of 4 and 2 groups of 6 works perfectly


2. How should we organize our supplies? 

We have tables, so students in my class store their books in these handy trays that pull all the way out. Most other supplies are also kept in the trays, including each table groups’ tray for colored pencils, crayons and markers that they can pull out and bring to their table to share.

Consortium Trays

Trays to organize school supplies found at Consortium

My students were already warmed up to inquiry by the time I began this next challenge, so I was able to start it off with a simple question. Do we need to change the trays for next year?

  • Do we have 20 trays for them to keep their books in? They can just share! Placement of two students books into one tray shows that won’t work.
  • We don’t have enough colored pencil trays for four groups either! What can we get rid of?
  • Placement of 20 trays to one side to reserve for student book trays.
  • Prioritization of trays for colored pencils first, then markers.
  • Consolidation of math resources and extra paper/colored paper/graph paper into other storage areas.
  • New labels made.


3. Do we have enough supplies?

One of the best teacher hacks for the last week of school is having your kids check the colored pencil/crayon/marker/highlighter conditions, sharpen what needs sharpening and throw away what needs throwing away. I started this off by asking the question: Do we have enough supplies for the kids next year? We had already set aside the correct number of trayss, so we were in good shape to begin the conversation.coloredpencil

  • How many colored pencils/markers does each group need? Consensus that each student needs one pencil/marker of each color plus two extras per group.
  • Well, how many good ones do we have now? Lots of pencil sharpening. Old markers/highlighters thrown out.
  • Colored pencils and markers divided out among the groups.
  • Shopping list made for me!


Have you used inquiry lessons to complete practical tasks? How have they worked?

Please comment below and enjoy your summer vacations, teachers!

By @SGroshell

Why Students Need HelpDesk Too.

Most schools have a HelpDesk system for faculty to get help in a number of ways. My school has one such system, and I am constantly using when I need assistance with maintenance or our school’s IT systems. The reasons for using these HelpDesk systems are obvious: They are a way to organize and timestamp requests based on urgency, location, and other factors that are not possible with a direct e-mail. HelpDesk makes it so that complicated tasks aren’t forgotten, and that nobody can cut in line.


It recently dawned on me that students and teachers need a similar system for their classrooms. My students are constantly asking for help, but that help is usually poorly recorded and responded to. Requests for help get forgotten, and the loudest, pushiest students are able to cut in line. Using the Moodle Reservations Activity (Also check out: How can Moodle be used in Elementary?), I put together a HelpDesk system for math that has really worked for my students.

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Check out this video for more info:  https://youtu.be/PhsIvwTPFl4

How does it work?

At different times during math, I have students enter into the Math HelpDesk to indicate their needs in a simple note. They are effectively “reserving” a spot on the carpet with me. I take a look at all of their requests and group them according to what they need help in. As a result, my ability to group students by need has been streamlined, and students that are not being helped are always busy working instead of waiting.

HelpDesks for Everything!

I love that these HelpDesks give students agency and voice in their classroom. I am always trying to give my classroom “back to my students”, and this puts the onus to learn and problem-solve their gaps in understanding on the students. So far I have made HelpDesks for math, writing conferences, and for checking in with me about goal-setting after student-led conferences.

Can you think of any more uses for HelpDesk in your classroom? How might you put one together using your school’s LMS and available tools? Comment below, follow me on Twitter, and keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com!

5 Quick Projects That Make Use of Green Screen

It might come as a surprise to some teachers that all it takes to replicate the green screen effects that we all see in the movies and on the news is a free green screen app and some green butcher paper.


Green Screen and filming station with tripod in the back corner, next to my DIY idea wall (also white butcher paper)

Once I put up my own DIY green screen in my classroom, my students didn’t have much trouble thinking of fun ways to incorporate it into their lessons and projects. Here are five fun ways to get your students learning and creating with green screen.

#1 Make your own pokemon cards

For the unit Who We Are students began by taking a personality quiz and identifying the traits and “color” that corresponded with their personality type. They then created a pokemon card on mypokecard.com and chose the two traits that best represented them as their attacks. They also identified which color they would have most trouble working with, which led to great conversations about personality clashes at school and in the workplace.


#2 For Photo Booths and Photo competitions

While student-led conferences are ultimately about learning, that doesn’t mean that they have to be boring. Our students set up a photo booth and showed their parents how it worked before snapping a quick pic in front of their chosen background. They made sure to raid the drama room’s stash of costumes before the event!

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We also had an elementary-wide photo competition during reading week that took advantage of our kids’ savviness with the green screen.


#3 Make Yourself into an Ordered Pair (Graphing)

One thing that new users to green screen might not know is that with most green screen apps you can play with the size of the photos and even add several actors into the mix. For this mini-project, students took a picture of themselves in front of the green screen, added graph paper as the background and then plotted themselves and their friends into ordered pairs during math.


#4 For Music Videos and Rap Battles

For one learning engagement this year, students had to use their research papers on a colonial superpower to create rap lyrics. They then put their rap lyrics to a beat using GarageBand. Finally, they took their recorded audio track and created music videos, which of course got enhanced by the use of green screen. It was a fun way to get kids writing, combining and using technology effectively, and blending the disciplines of music, social studies, and language arts.

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#5 Anytime you need the perfect background

For one of our units, students were inquiring about leadership styles. This led to a three day sequence where students experienced what their classroom would look like when transformed into one of the three main leadership styles: Autocratic, Democratic, and Laissez-Faire. Of course, I loved playing the autocratic leader, and in addition to having students sing songs about me and portray me in the history books in a positive light, students created these propaganda pieces – autocratic rule of law with pleasant backgrounds – to share with their parents on Seesaw, who were eager to hear how the day went.


For any prospective employer, no children were damaged during the staging of these photos, for the record 😅

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I hope these give you some great ideas for how to use green screen to add a fun and engaging element to your classroom. Keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com, and check out Stephanie’s Teachers Pay Teachers.

5 reasons to Drop Math Worksheets and Use “Smart” Online Programs


To learn a new math skill well, we know that students need to get adequate practice with it – successfully answering a number of problems before considering the skill mastered. Traditionally, students have gotten this practice with photocopied worksheets or a textbook. However, with the technology we now have, online “smart” programs like IXL do the job significantly better than a textbook (or worksheet) ever has. Below I will use my experience with IXL to explain how.

1. Immediate feedback

Giving feedback as quickly as possible is something that’s always on teachers’ minds. We know that immediate feedback is extremely helpful for student learning, but it is impossible in a classroom of more than two or three students to give it to each student during independent practice time.

With IXL, as soon as a student clicks in their answer, there is a little sound (a kind of ding, but surprisingly not an annoying one) and a green bar on top either goes up or down. When students correctly answer questions, the bar will move up and up until it gets to 100% and the child passes. If the answer is incorrect, the bar goes down and an explanation of why appears on the bottom.


When students get the answer correct, the bar goes up on the top of the screen.

In addition to students being able to learn from their mistakes, feedback is also motivating. Students are proud when they move up. When they move down, they don’t get too frustrated, because it is clear that moving down just means more practice – they can still work to get the certificate.

2. Extra practice on the types of problems students are missing

When a student gets an answer wrong and the bar goes down, more of the same kinds of questions are asked. These same types of problems will continue until the student shows that they now get it, allowing students to get the right amount of extra practice when they need it. No extra copies of revision worksheets are needed.

Additionally, because students are immediately aware that they are having trouble with a certain question type and they are motivated to pass, I’ve found students who are prone to shyness are much more likely to ask for help when they need it.


Explanation of why answer was wrong

3. Differentiation is seamless

Unlike many online programs, on IXL the teacher doesn’t assign a grade level to the students. Instead, all students have access to all activities. What that means is that if a child is doing extremely well on one topic, they can easily practice one grade level up just for that skill. Likewise, if you notice a student is missing background knowledge for an important subject, you can have them work a grade level down.


Student view, switching between grade levels

4. Easy to use data to inform your teaching

The Analytics tab on IXL compiles data into the following sections: Trouble Spots, Students, Skills, Scores, Questions Log, Progress and Real Time. My favorite of these is Trouble Spots.

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Easy identification of who might need extra help

Trouble Spots does exactly what the name implies, it looks for areas that you should focus on for small/individual intervention groups. It even chunks the data into groups, for example “Ways to help 5 students at once…” and then tells which kids are missing questions on what skill. To help even more, there are additional questions of the same type for you to use in your small groups. This makes it incredibly easy to give extra help to students who need it while the rest of the class practices independently.

5. The kids LOVE it

I honestly believed that the novelty of the green bar going up and the little ding when you get an answer correct would wear off, but we have just finished the third quarter of the year and my students love IXL as much as they did in the beginning.

Compared to a textbook or practice worksheets, IXL is able to offer the same practice problems, but in such a more effective way.

Has anyone used IXL or another similar online program before? What experiences have you had? Please comment below!

By @SGroshell

Easiest Elementary School Hack for Increasing Motivation


I love making learning happen through fun, inquiry-based experiences. However, as we all know, there are some things that students just have to memorize (math facts, letter sounds and vocabulary words to name a few). Try as we might to make them fun, they still take some grit.

Introducing the Master’s Charts

When a student of mine did really well on an algebra sheet, I wrote, “You’re an algebra master!” on the top of his paper. It made him so proud that he kept bringing it up for months. Any time anyone said the word algebra, he’d say, “remember when you said…” The word master is powerful to these kids, so why not take advantage of it?

You will need:

  1. a piece of paper
  2. a marker to write: (INSERT SKILL TO BE MEMORIZED HERE) Masters.

Then, when students have memorized whatever skill you are working on, they get to sign the sign! That’s it. You wouldn’t believe the extra motivation it gives kids to push themselves or how proud they are to see their names up on the wall.


The picture at the top of the page is for students who learned how to do all of their count bys (learned with lots of help from these songs). The one just above is from Zach’s class, where they sign the Champion Chart when they are able to do their repeated reading with few/no errors.

It may sound silly, but it works. Enjoy!

By @SGroshell

Count By Songs Are Changing How Students Learn to Multiply

Learning Different Strategies

Every year, I teach my students a number of different strategies for how to solve multiplication problems and they come up with and show me a few more.

These include:

  • Drawing a Picture
  • Repeated Addition
  • Making an Array
  • And Count Bys

By far the favorite strategy for my students year after year is their count bys. This is probably because they are the fastest strategy (other than memorizing the answers) to use and they include singing (who doesn’t love that?).

Here’s a picture of my kids dancing with the crab in one of Have Fun Teaching’s Count by 9s video.


Memorizing Facts

I can still remember being in my elementary school years and sitting at the breakfast table or getting ready for school as my mom quizzed me on my multiplication facts. Some of them, like the 9s and 5s, have great tricks to help you, but most of them were all learned through straight memorization.

Don’t get me wrong – I thought it was really fun. I’ve always enjoyed math and I took pride in challenging myself to do multiplication. However, for those who don’t enjoy memorization or whose parents don’t have time to practice with them every day, multiplication can be a huge challenge.

In singing or rapping their Count Bys, students are memorizing all of the multiples of a number. When they have their songs down, they are able to memorize their facts significantly easier and quicker.

I’ve also put links to the videos on an elink to share them easily with students.

Below are my favorite Count By videos. I’m missing the 2s and 5s because they learn those in 1st grade before they come to me. Enjoy!

By @SEGroshell

Count By 3s


Count By 4s


Count By 6s


Count By 7s


Count By 8s


Count By 9s


Other math posts: Introducing Subtraction with Regrouping Through Inquiry, Happy Mathsgiving!, Why Your Students Need Xtramath Now, 5 Reasons to Do Number Corner Every Day, Keeping Kids Motivated With Dice

5 Reasons to Do Number Corner Every Day


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:


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.


Number Bond slide2

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!



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

Keeping Kids Motivated With Dice


By @SGroshell

Keeping students engaged in what they are learning is central to any successful lesson. When I started my Masters, I remember calculating in my head how many hours I was going to be teaching my students over the course of just one academic year.

180 x 5 hours = 900 hours

That is a lot of time to keep a 7 year old engaged!

Bringing Out My Inner Creativity

What I didn’t realize at the time is how fun it would be to get to think creatively of different ways to keep these young students engaged and still get all of the practice they need on new material.

As a board game lover myself, one of the key ways I like to do this is by adding a little chance (and sometimes luck) into their practice by letting them roll the dice a few times.

The Roll Determines What They Do

One way to do this is by assigning one strategy or activity to each number on the dice.

My favorite chance game to play is with multiplication. Students are given a multiplication question, roll the dice, and find the product using the strategy they roll.

  1. Repeated Addition
  2. Choice: Check with Repeated Subtraction
  3. Draw Groups and Make Tallies Inside
  4. Draw tallies and Circle Groups
  5. Make an Array
  6. Teacher’s Choice

My students did this game for their school assembly last year and did fantastic. Their preparation was even better, because they didn’t know what the dice would land on.

The Roll Determines What Numbers They Manipulate

There are lots of games in this category. I’m lucky enough to have 100s, 10s and 1s dice, so rolling to make numbers is pretty much obligatory.

Here’s a game I just made for my kids this week. Click to download.


Here is another game the kids played last week. Click to download.


Let the dice roll!