Sunday, May 8, 2016

Hidden Gems: A Fair Bear Share

I found this month's hidden gem in a little book called "A Fair Bear Share" by Stuart Murphy. Murphy weaves counting beyond ten, adding groups of ten, adding 2-digit numbers using place value, and making new groups of ten, all while telling a cute story that also teaches the value of working hard.

Mama Bear is known for her Blue Ribbon Blueberry pie, and her four cubs LOVE it! Mama promises to make the bears her famous pie if they work together to gather the needed ingredients. If they can get enough nuts, berries, and seeds, each will get their fair bear share! To teach a lesson to young readers, Murphy tells of a slacking off little bear not doing her share, which of course results in Mama not having enough ingredients to make the pie.

After a day of gathering ingredients, the cubs must count them up. They quickly find that pilling their hoards together and counting groups of ten is the fastest and simplest way to find the totals. They add up their groups and count by tens, then add up the remaining piles, to come to totals such as 37 and 28.

When the youngest cub realizes she must do her part for all to enjoy Mama's famous Blue Ribbon Blueberry Pie, she gets to work, and collects enough of each ingredient. BUT, the cubs must add her collection to theirs, and thus we find a new strategy of adding, making new tens!

Since I have several first and second graders who are working on these skills right now, it was a fantastic find to come across this little gem of a math mentor text! It even inspired me to create a follow up activity for my students. I decided I'd share a sample of it with you for free, the complete set is in my store now (and 50% off for the first 10 buyers)!

Click HERE to grab: A Fair Bear Share Math Center Free Sample

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Heart of a Tutor

If you are a tutor, you can most definitely agree with the statement, "Not much can compare to the heart of a tutor." Yes, it is true that to be an educator you have to have a heart for your students. But the more I connect with various educators around the world, the more I realize that there is something truly unique about the relationships tutors develop with their students, and that cannot go unrecognized any longer.
I've recently had an amazing discussion with a fellow tutor in the UK. It started out as a call for help amongst an educator's group we are both part of. She was at a crossroads with a student and unsure of which way to go. Without explicitly stating her desire, she explained the situation. (It was a real doozie for sure, and one only the strongest, bravest, and patient person could endure). The immediate reaction from our trusted colleagues was to run, throw in the towel, give up on the student.

I have to be honest for a moment, and say my initial response was similar. But I shared an experience I've had with a similar student, and the struggle I had in deciding to let the student go. It was painful, and I felt remorse and like a failure. But, in retrospect, the student/tutor partnership had long dissolved and the time, energy, and money were not being well spent. It is, unfortunately, a decision all tutors face at one point in their career.

I could tell, however, that this tutor wasn't at that point. The way she was defending her student, and giving us more of the story, told me there was more to be said. I invited her to a private conversation about the situation, and it came out that she really wasn't ready to let this student go. Yes there was a problem, and yes she needed to find a solution. But it was not time to let the student go. So we talked about ways she could motivated the student, reward her positive behavior, and work toward a goal.

We spent a good amount of time talking about a reward program I use, that many other tutors I've talked with use as well. It's not a behavior chart like you'd see in a classroom, and it's not a system of pluses and minuses you'd see on a progress report. It's just a simple way to to help our students focus on their positive behavior choices, define a goal and work toward it, and then get a little reward for achieving the goal. I wrote about it a while back, here.

We then talked about what counts as a reward, because let's face it, tutors are not at the top of the earnings chart of the education world. If classroom teachers are poor, tutors are dirt poor! We want to buy little trinkets and toys for our students to motivate their progress, but we simply can't eat away at all of our profits, someone has to pay the bills. We came up with several activities that could count as a reward: playing a game on the iPad, drawing, having a lesson outside, or a "fun" lesson of the student's choice.
The one take away from that discussion is this: it doesn't matter if you're a teacher, a counselor, a parent, or a student yourself, no one can really understand the heart of a tutor. As tutors, we live/work in isolation, it's nice to be able to talk with someone who shares our world. That conversation with a tutor halfway around the world made me feel like there was someone out there who shares the heart I have for my students.
grin emoticon

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The honeymoon is over!

I just noticed an interesting thing today. My new students just about always have the same time table. Apparently it's about 3-5 sessions, usually smack on 4 sessions. The time table usually looks something like this:

Session 1: Parents explain all of the negative things about their child, they give me an impression of the child that is often exact opposite of the student that sits in front of me. The student sitting across from me is typically excited to get to know me and show off all the things they can do.
Session 2: Parents ask how the trouble child is doing, to which I emphatically reply, "Excellent! He's ready to learn. She's cooperative."
Session 3: Parents bring homework to show how badly the student is doing, and express their concern over some sort of issue. The student I work with that day could be one of 2. 1)She's eager to learn, or show off what she's learned, showing me what they are working on in class, or expressing some problem she's overcome. . . 2) She is downright moody, complains of being bored, not wanting to tutor anymore, and/or expresses her concern over the "easy" work we're doing.
Session 4: This one's a doozy, typically, it's either #2 from session 3, or even worse. I've had students completely shut down, put their heads on the table and check out of our session. I've had the other extreme where it seemed the child would literally bounce off the wall. And then I've had those, these are really rare, who actually get nasty, just plain and simple, bad attitude.

When the honeymoon ends, I have mixed feelings. Even though I know it's coming, I'm never prepared. These kids are so good at fooling me for those first few beautiful sessions. I'm caught off guard. Then I start to wonder, is it me? Did I change something? Did I get to comfortable? What did I miss? With older students, sometimes I have to fight back a little resentment. I think, How dare he! I thought this kid really wanted to learn. I wonder if he's pulling these same tricks with his teachers at school, or with his basketball coach.

The good news in all of this, by session 6 or 7, we've found a middle ground. I'm not sure what keeps me going back to these kids, but something does. And I'm always happy I did. The end of the honeymoon almost always causes me to grow, as a human with patience for other humans, as an educator working with troubled students, and as a parent as I reflect on my own children. So, even though the end of the honeymoon is troubling and stressful, it still serves a purpose.

I'm really sorry if you came here looking for ways to avoid this conundrum. I truly don't believe they exist. But at least you know you are not alone! I'd really like to know if classroom teacher experience a similar thing. If you're a classroom teacher and notice a honeymoon period with your students, would you share about it in the comments section below?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Hidden Gems: Fractions=Trouble!

This week's Hidden Gem is a math mentor text that is really so much more. "Fractions=Trouble!" is a gem in my book because it confronts the issue of learning a difficult topic, social adjustments to accepting help when you need it, and exploding pickles!

First, any text about fractions is a benefit to most of my students in grades 3 through 10. No matter how well these kids have done in math, it seems fractions give them a hard time. Wilson is a great kid, who just doesn't seem to get it, no matter how hard he tries. I love it though, that as things start to make sense, he starts to fractions in just about every part of his everyday life.

Second, the main character, Wilson, is getting a math tutor for the first time and he emotionally expresses his concerns. We get to walk alongside this young man as he comes to terms with accepting help and not being ashamed of his own weaknesses. I also love the strategy the tutor uses, very much like my own.

Finally, Wilson also explains in a realistic tone his frustration with trying to focus on a subject he's not good at and is not at all interested in. He tries so hard to pay attention in class so he can pass the test and not need the tutor after all. But we all know how well that works out, doodles and staring off into space tell him it's not so easy to focus on something that doesn't make sense to you.

What a fine text for most of the students I work with (especially those who are both math and reading students!). If after reading this with your students, you think they could use a little more help understanding fractions you can check out this resource, and here's a free game that will help them build their fraction number sense.

Amy, over at Teaching Ideas 4 You has written about a few Hidden Gems she uses with her class, And Caitlin at The Room Mom has as well, check them out, you might find a new gem you never knew you couldn't live without!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Creating a Learning Tribe

I recently guest blogged over on Education to the Core about creating Learning Tribes for our students. If you've read that article and are looking for more information, you've found the right place. If you haven't, you might like to go check it out. 

A Little More Background on Learning Tribes:

Let’s not get this tribe confused with the official movement of Tribes Learning Communities pioneered by Jeanne Gibbs. However, I’d like to quote from a TLC trainer because the fundamentals are the same.  Indigenous people consider the word “tribe” a formal word with special relational meaning often defining similarities and uniqueness. …the word came into use as the name for the developmental learning process developed by Jeanne Gibbs. This process is a way of being together helping each other teach our children to live a life based on time honored values in caring, safe and supportive environments. … The informal definition (also from the Cambridge Dictionary) defines the meaning as “a large family or other group that someone belongs to.” The process known as “Tribes” helps us to create “belonging” for children in schools and other organizations.” (Ron Patrick,

Taking the points from that explanation, a learning tribe is a collaborative community surrounding the student. Teachers, parents, tutors, coaches, and even therapists, all united in an effort to teach the child, and create safe environments for learning. I love the Cambridge definition, and it fits well with the purpose of this effort. Imagine students who once struggled with the very basic concepts, belonging to a large family of trusted adults who want the best for them and who work together to provide the needed supports and encouragement. 

What does an effective learning tribe look like?

A learning tribe requires all members of the child’s tribe to be on the same page, to know what is needed to bring him to the next level, to understand why she is struggling the way she does.

If a student has a tutor, it’s helpful to know what skills are being worked on in the class, where the student struggles the most, and what is coming up next. Many tutors are capable and willing to front load difficult vocabulary and concepts, thus creating background experiences for the classroom teacher to draw on during content lessons. It’s also helpful for the tutor know about behavioral incentive programs and how they work, we can encourage our student to reach his goals, and help her discover areas of the day where she could apply her focusing strategies.

Likewise, counselors and therapists can use some information from the classroom during their sessions. Again, the behavioral programs and issues. They also benefit from hearing the positives from the day/week/month. If they have some positive feedback to work with, the counselors and therapists can help struggling students focus on what they are doing right and set goals to keep it up, or even apply that to other areas of their life.

I’m always struggling to find the answer to what benefits the classroom teacher. I’ve had teachers ask me if our student is capable of doing certain things on their own, what scaffolding I’ve been using, and what coping strategies we’ve developed (mostly for my special needs kiddos). Since it’s usually difficult for me to open this line of communication, I thought it’d be fun to write a little parody. I'm still working on it, the lyrics are done, and most of the recording complete. We are just waiting for a little warmer weather (it was 17 degrees this morning) to shoot the video. I will post it as soon as it's complete!

In the meantime, if you have a minute, pop over to fill out a super quick survey that will help me, and other tutors, know exactly what information to communicate to our students’ classroom teachers. I will compile the responses and post them as soon as there are enough to make a post.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Guided Notes versus Interactive Notebooks

I absolutely LOVE using interactive notebooks in various capacities with just about every subject/content area I've tried. But there's always that one student who just can't keep up. Is there some written code that says all students' notebooks have to look the same? I thought so, but I had to figure something else out to benefit these lower functioning students.
interactive notebooks don't work for everyone

This past few weeks I've been experimenting with guided notes, rather than flippable notes. The idea is still the same, get the students interacting with their lessons. However, there's a lot less to keep track of, and my precious students aren't getting lost in the assembly process.

Take a look at a couple of examples from this recent fraction lesson. We are developing number sense with fractions, learning the different parts of and types of fractions and how they work together.

The key for me is the notebook itself. These guided notes require a three-ringed binder rather than a typical spiral notebook. I'm sure I could adjust the size of printing to reduce the pages to a size that could be glued to a spiral notebook page. I'm just not fond of the way that looks, and it reduces the amount of blank space the student has for writing his notes.

fractions guided notes

Another thing that I learned (the hard way) is that this method works best if the guided notes are punched to lay on the left side of the notebook, so practice pages can be inserted to lay on the right side. This way, the student has his notes right there and ready, and he doesn't have to struggle to write around the binder rings.

Since this has worked out so well with my current students, I'm going to be revising my previous interactive notebooks to offer a guided notebook version. If you think you'd like to use these with your students, I currently have the fractions packet above in my store. I'll be adding Skip counting and division soon. If you leave a comment with the content areas you'd love to have, when I make it, I'll send you a complimentary copy!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Multiplication Strategies Part 2

I decided to continue the multiplication strategies post in separate posts so I can make each one it's own thought. I'll compile a master a list. If you haven't already read Part 1 on using the distributive property, you can read it here.

A quick reminder: I do NOT advocate rote memorization, what you will find here is not "tricks" to memorize facts. Rather, I believe in helping make learning abstract concepts relate to real world experiences. You will find here, tips and ideas that will help make learning come alive and retrievable.

2. Make Something. 

You read that right, make something, anything. This is a great tip if your student is a natural kinesthetic learner, if he is a creative type, and/or if she has body and spatial smarts. No matter which theory you use, making something will grab hold of more than one area of the students mind. He will be using his logic capacities as he solves problems, creativity as he designs his masterpiece, and if you set the environment up for it, he will also engage his emotional mind as he feels good about his work. Activating all of these neurologic centers immediately creates more mental connections from the abstract to the concrete.

But Miss Stefany, I'm not a creator, what can we make to help learn our math facts? Math is not art class!

I hear you, but I'm going to ignore that comment about math and art, they are very much related! ;)

Here are a couple of ideas to get you started creating with your math students.

Arrays are one of the first models students learn to connect with multiplication. So these first couple activities focus on the array model.

  • Punch holes in scrap paper with a hole punch. I cannot take credit for this idea, I recently found it on Pinterest, posted by The Primary Theme Park. I took this idea and ran with it with one of my autistic students this week. I have to say, this little guy does not have the fine motor skills to make his rows and columns look all neat and pretty, BUT, it made sense to him, it was easy for him to count and see the relation betweeen 8 x 3 and 3 x 8, and he laughed and had fun while he worked away.

  • Make Playdough models. I've done this for years, and a few years ago I had a little boy who wanted to take pictures of everything. He said pictures stay in his mind longer (he didn't have a real camera). I made this little paper cutout of a camera, and he held it up to his face and "snapped" a picture of the arrays or other figures we created. It was very important that he said "Click" when he snapped his mental picture. I'm still not sure if this was scientifically necessary, so you might want to encourage your students to follow through all the way as well ;) 
After either of these activities, I like to have students write out the facts they are working on onto a take home card. This is a large index card that goes home with them each week with their facts at the top and the arrays under them. The cards never come back to class, and I can only hope that my students share these cards with their family and continue to think about them throughout the week.
Another familiar multiplication model is equal groups. Students have been learning the basic of skip counting since first grade. These next few activities use the skip counting equal groups model.
  • Make a mini-book of facts. You might be familiar with lapbooks or interactive notebooks, homeschoolers and teachers love these because they work! My first use of these mini-books for math was a free resource available on Homeschoolshare. It's simple, easy to assemble, and versatile for many different learners. Being the creative type that I am, I eventually had to make a themed one for myself uh-hem, for my students ;). It's got a race car theme and was super fun for my second and third grade boys. The mini-books are great because kids actually want to revisit them, they'll play with them, and show them off to parents and siblings. When they are that excited about something, the energy has to be transferred to the skill they are developing, in this case, multiplication facts!
  • Make your own flashcards. They don't have to be fancy, or printed out using flashy graphics. Just write a fact at the top of an index card, have your student draw a picture of equal groups to show the skip counting, then write the answer on the back of the card. Yes, using flashcards to learn the facts is a form of rote memorization, however, the act of drawing out the picture provides a visual cue to a memory of the fact already stored, thus focusing on retrieval rather than repeated filing. 
This last set of activities has to do with bringing multiplication into the real world. Sometimes, all students need is a good reason to learn the facts. 
  • Build a model of dream house. Start with drawing out the plans on grid or graph paper.  This can lead to discussions about painting the walls (you'll need to figure out area for that!) and laying carpet (More area), and perhaps building a posch (Yup, you guessed it, more area). Then if your student is up for it, you can move into purchasing supplies and building the scale model, they will feel accomplished and have something to show for all of that hard work!

  • Feed an army. Not literally of course, unless you have one to feed. Take a trip to the grocery store, either in real life or through the pages of the weekly advertisements or online options. Shop for x number of guests, buy supplies to make x servings of each dish. While you're at, make it even more real life and calculate the cost of this meal! Maybe your little mathematician will get a philanthropic bone and be moved to give of his time at a local soup kitchen!

There is no magic fix for learning multiplication facts, but if you apply a few of these strategies your students will surely be on the road to mastery!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Adding and Subtracting Integers

My seventh graders ALWAYS struggle with the concept of adding and subtracting integers. There are only so many "real life" ways to express positive and negative numbers, and I know I've tried them all. Sometimes they help, other times the don't, and worst of all, sometimes they seem to help when they really don't at all.

This year, I have one student that was simply not getting it, no matter what. And she was stressed out about it (typically a math minded little girl). We spent several days, drawing pictures of thermometers and talking about the temperature (helps we live in Michigan, so she was very used to temperatures dropping below zero). We drew pictures of mountains next to the sea (I even have a card game that uses this image, it's helped so many, but not her!).

I was at my wit's end when I decided to spend some alone time with my white-board and poster paper. I drew number line after number line, labeling and relabeling, organizing and reorganizing sets of facts. Until it appeared. Please tell me this is new to you, because in all of my years of teaching math and learning it through school, this pattern was NEVER pointed out to me, and I NEVER recognized it before.
In Kindergarten through third grade, we teach fact families, er, number bonds. Why don't we use that concept in seventh grade with integer equations? When my little student saw this connection, she immediately understood what going on, and flew through homework, took her test and rocked it, and is now ready to deal with positive and negative decimals. (Let's hope that goes a little more smoothly!)

The numbers in this fact family, er, number bond, are 2, 3, and 5, we must remember we are working with integers, so we also will be using the opposites of 2, 3, and 5 (-2, -3, and -5). We start with the number bond we are familiar with, 2+3=5, this is easy, we know how it works, we can apply the commutative property of addition to this equation, and just switch the place of the addends: thus 3+2=5. I wrote the out in different colors and marked them on the numberline in coordinating colors.

Now, we think about the rules we know about adding and subtracting integers. If we start with the 3, what can we add or subtract from 3 and end up at 5? My little smarty pants said, "subtracting a negative is the same as adding!" Fantastic! So 3-(-2) is virtually the same as 3+2, both result in 5 and both move on the numberline exactly the same. So we wrote that in another color and marked it on the numberline. You can see the blue and red following the same movement.

The next step was to apply the commutative property (in a sense) to this expression and see if it resulted in the same movements as out other number. That would be 2 -(-3), and sure enough, it does, It followed the same exact pattern as 2-3! ALL of these expressions are equal 5, AND work like addition on the numberline (moving spaces to the right of the starting number).

Next we moved on to adding negatives. My little student understood the concept of adding negatives and gaining negative distance from 0. She knew that to find the sum you add the absolute value and take its opposite. Easy as cake! Now what if you apply the commutative property of addition? YES! She found that -3+-2=-5 and -2+-3=-5.

Just like we did before, we stopped and asked ourselves, Is there any other way to start at -3 and end up at -5? YES! She immediately said, if you KCC! Gah! I can take a moment to express my loathing of this term? So she meant to keep the state of the first term, change the operation and the state of the second term. So, -3+-2 becomes -3-2. And yes, unfortunately, it works! I explained that is because adding a negative works the same as subtracting a positive, looks at our matching movements on the numberline ;)

Finally, we apply the commutative property (sort of) to -3-2 and we see that -2-3 ends at -5! My smarty pants students says, "Bah, BAM!"

Let me just take a moment and clarify that "sort of" application of the commutative property. We are really just expressing the same concept with different operations. We know that 3+2=5 and 2+3=5, that IS the result of applying the commutative property. However, when we are dealing with negative numbers, it doesn't always look so pretty. -2-3 is subtraction, and the property is only applicable to addition (and multiplication). However, when subtracting on the left side of zero, the numbers work together during subtraction as they normally do during addition on the right side.

We are to the related fact family, er, number bond, are 2, 3, and 1, we must remember we are working with integers, so we also will be using the opposites of 2, 3, and 1 (-2, -3, and -1). This time we'll be focusing on subtraction. We started with the more difficult to visualize bond, so let's just pretend we started with the bond we are more familiar with, 3-2=1. We remember from our last exercise that subtraction is the same as adding a negative, so 3+(-2) should work the same as 3-2. Notice our color-coded movements on the numberline (green & blue on the top). Sure enough, it works!

Now let's apply the commutative property of addition to the last expression, 3+(-2) should equal (-2)+3, and it does! And our related expression, using our knowledge that subtracting a negative is the same as adding a positive (KCC, or Chum Chum). -2-(-3) is in fact 1!

But, what about that expression my dear student and I started with? 2-3. For those of us who have been working with these numbers for years, it's easy to see the result is -1, but what about our students who have been told for years you can't subtract a number from a value that is smaller? The number line really helps in this situation, As the student hops back 3 spaces from 2, they can clearly see the difference is -1. We also know that subtraction is the same as adding a negative, so we can re-write that equation to 2+(-3).

Applying the commutative property to that expression results in -3+2. We can reason without the number line that if I lost 3 pencils, and then found 2, I'm still missing 1, so yes, this expression equals -1. And then to find it's related expression, we must think, how else can get back to -1 when starting at -3? This is our KCC or chum chum "trick" (gah, I hate tricks!). -3+2 is the same as -3-(-2).

The actually math logic behind this trick is really much simpler than the trick itself. It's all about following the road signs. On our chart we wrote the negative (subtraction) sign with the arrow pointing left and the positive (addition) sign with the arrow pointing right. That is essentially the way the operation force numbers to move on the number line, regardless of the numbers value or sign. When the number that follows the operation is negative, it tells you to turn around (do a U-turn) and move the opposite direction. My son calls this illegal U-turns ;)

I hope some of these math meanderings will help you to help your students make sense of adding and subtracting integers. A while back I created a fun packet to help my 7th graders rewrite expressions into something easier to work with. In the end they create a colored page of a character most of them love.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Pre-Pre-Algebra...Is there such a thing?

No, that is not a typo, I meant to say pre-pre-algebra. They don't call it that, but what else do you call whatever is going on in 6th grades across America these days? My two youngest were in 6th grade last year, and their text book was called "Algebra and Geometry Fundamentals." Most of their "Core Focus" questions came straight from a high school Algebra textbook, yet they were told to solve using picture models, guess-and-test method, and things called number tiles. They haven't been properly educated on the Algebra rules and algorithms, so my hands were tied in using them.

Here is an example that was recently brought to my attention by another tutor. Her 6th grade student was given this question:

How do you go about teaching this young student to solve this problem without using a system of equations? 

First, we have to figure out what the information is telling us. I like to use tables, it leads nicely into functions later on, and organizes all of the information so nicely!

I can see right away that I could use comparison bars to represent two different subtraction equations. I see the amount of apples I started with, minus the amount I sold, equals the amount I have now; or x-82=a And I see the amount of pears I started with, minus the amount I sold, equals the amount I have now; or x-34=p. 

But these equations are missing too much information to solve. So I need to try to figure out some of the other missing details. I used "x" for the start of both equations because the story told me that there were the same number of apples and pears to begin with. I can use that to look at the comparison given. The story said that I now have 4 times as many pears as apples. That means, for every 1 apple, I have 4 pears. 

If I were doing a legit algebra problem I could use that information and replace the "p" in my second equation with 4x. BUT, we are only 6th graders and don't understand how to use a system of equations. So we have to think like scientists for a minute. 

There are 3 facts about this problem that will help us solve it. 
  1. BOTH fruits started with an equal quantity. 
  2. Different amounts have been sold.
  3. The ratio of the remaining fruits is 1:4
For my low students, I would suggest the guess-and-test method to solve this. I despise that term and if there is ANYway possible you can avoid using and burning it into your young students minds, I really think that would be great. But it is a method that is taught. I'll just simply ask my students, "what numbers do you think will make this work?" It's kind of like looking at a broken bicycle and asking a child what will make that bike go again? Most students will likely pull a random number from thin air, with no rhyme or reason. Take it and work with it. I find that if you focus in on how to hypothesize at this point, you lose the math point.

To help my more advanced students get this process started, I might focus in on the ratio of the remaining parts, and the difference in the amounts sold. These numbers give clues so the "guess" part of the problem solving can have a little more rhythm. It also can save A LOT of time on tests! Looking at the number tiles below, you can see an overlap. The difference in the remaining amounts is 3 parts (not to be confused with 3 pieces of fruit!), The difference between the amounts sold is 82-34=48. If we divide those 48 pieces of fruit into 3 parts, each one will be 16 pieces of fruit. We can use that 16 to solve now, without using that table and 5 or six "guesses" that may or may not end up leading us to the right answer. 

If this has got you all feeling, "why do we even have to teach this way?" Trust me, I understand! Here's what I have been telling myself:
  1. These kids still need practice with their basic facts, none have them memorized, and NONE want to memorize them because they don't see the need. This tricks them into  using those skills for a purpose! They get real life (sort of) practice using the basic facts and rules of math to solve problems.
  2. They are also getting practice working with numbers in a complex situation they might never encounter naturally before Algebra begins for real. This should ease their fears and provide some background knowledge for those teachers to capitalize on later.
  3. Finally, they are problem solving, no matter what method is used, or how complex the steps are to get to the answer. Math is about finding a solution to a problem, based on what can be observed and what can be determined. This is a skill that transfers to every area of life. 
Until next time!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Have you heard of WEO?

I'm always looking for ways to encourage my students to keep working on their skills between our lessons. I don't believe in the old memorization routines, however, I am a firm believer in practice makes improvement! Trying to find a way to keep connected with my students outside of class, and yet accountable was a challenge! A few months ago I stumbled onto a fairly new site (through my Facebook feed) called WEO.

It looks and feels a little bit like Pinterest, in fact the company boasts that it is a Pinterest for teachers. I kind of laughed at that because we already all use Pinterest don't we? After a little digging I figured out what they meant. It isn't an idea/product pinning system, it's a lesson/assessment pinning system. Pretty cool right?

When I create a lesson for my students, the system automatically tracks their progress, tells me when they've worked on it, and even auto grades their responses if I set up the answers for it. It's saving me a ton of paper! Instead of giving worksheets or handouts for my students to practice over breaks and weekends, I now tell them to log onto WEO and see what's new!

It's free and easy to set up an account, I just signed up using my Google id. It's also super easy for students to sign up and join a class. I have 2 running right now, a GED prep and an Algebra basics. As a teacher I am given a code for each class that I can give to my students, and then they enter the code to join the class (a bit like Edmodo works).

I recently had the opportunity to ask Josh, one of the administrators of the site, a few questions I thought other teachers/tutors might have about using the site.

1. Can students access the assignments on any internet device? If not, what are the specific restrictions?
Students can use Weo on any device with an updated browser, although it works best with chrome and we wouldn't recommend using it on a phone
2. Is WEO a viable source for online tutoring partnerships? Meaning, can I assign lessons to an online student I work with in a different country?

Weo is definitely a viable tool for tutoring remotely. In fact, we have companies that use Weo for remote training. As long as your students have an internet connected computer and an updated browser they are good to go.

3. If I find a great assignment from another teacher and want to assign it to my class, will it still auto grade or will I have to edit it? Can I edit it?

All assignments in our system will auto grade regardless of whether it's yours or someone else's. If you want to make changes to someone else's assignment, you can pin it to one of your boards and then edit it. The edit option can be found in the top right corner once you've opened up the pinned activity.

4. Can I use the site as both a teacher and student? I am a math teacher, but might one day take French lessons, can I join a class as a student with my teacher account?
We will definitely be adding the ability to be both a teacher and a student sometime soon. However, right now you'd have to create a separate student account  to join someone's class.
Thank you for that brief interview Josh! 
Here's a link to my profile if you want to check it out. 
Oh, one more thing I want to share with you about this new platform, they are paying teachers for creating lessons right now. I was a bit leary of this at first, since I already have a store on Teachers Pay Teachers. But it's nice to get a little paypal bonus for something that is benefitting my students anyway! Here's the page that describes the curriculum development program. They explain how to get started, how to qualify for payments, and the pay scale for lessons. 
After you check it out, come back here and let me know what you think!

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