Tutor Talk

For as long as I’ve been an elementary teacher, I’ve also been an after-school math tutor. Let’s face it. Some of our young students do not learn best in the 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. window. Others do not learn well with 30 other bodies crammed inside the classroom. What is a teacher to do?

I guess the answer to that is offer drop-in math tutoring.

The first year that I offered free drop-in tutoring, I started right after our holiday break. I knew that the kids would need some additional time to get refreshed on topics taught during the 2-month-long national observance of high-fructose corn syrup. (This is the time between Halloween and Christmas.) Anyways, I originally planned for once-a-week drop-in tutoring for approximately a month. I didn’t know how many students would show up, if any, but I figured it would be a manageable sized crowd where I could work with each student independently on the concepts they were worried about.

Well, that system didn’t work out quite as I imagined it. It was nearly four months later, and I walk into a room where a dozen students are waiting for me to teach them. I had given up the 1:1 strategy weeks before that because students were only getting 5-10 minutes of my time. So, as much as it pained me, I reverted to whole-group lessons. I would spend the first few minutes asking which topics they needed help on; and the rest of the time going over those concepts and example problems on the board, while they worked them out on individual white boards.

Well, that sounds boring and it just makes for an elongated school day; why would any fourth grader want to go to my tutoring?

Students feel more free to ask and answer questions in small-group settings!

Because they were learning. Because there were no strict rules (eh, there were a few rules, but not the same ones employed when there are 30 students in the room). Because it was a chance for them to ask questions and not be judged by the “smart kids.” Because they really wanted to know how to add fractions with unlike denominators. Because they’d get their teacher’s leftover Halloween candy at the end if they stayed focused for an hour. Most importantly, because they finally felt supported in learning math.

Please contact me at thatmathlady@gmail.com if you have any questions about setting up drop-in tutoring in your school!


My First Math Foldable

My first day back on the job (I had taken some time away from That Math Lady to long-term sub at my old school) and what am I doing at 7 am? Creating math foldables (and missing my students, of course).

Math foldables are used to organize math ideas and concepts. Actually, they can be used for a multitude of things, but they are a great hands-on tool to teach a math lesson or introduce a concept.

The first math foldable I made is to demonstrate number properties. Here’s a view of the front:

I used a combination of MS Excel, Paint, and PowerPoint to create this gem.
You can paste a foldable inside a notebook!

One thing I wish I had done differently: used dotted lines to show where to actually fold the sides. I’ll have to adjust that on my future foldables…

Visit this TpT site to download the file (http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Number-Properties-Math-Foldable) or click on this link to download the full pdf:  number properties math foldable

Feel the Burn!

Fitness experts say that any good physical workout should start with a warm-up and end with a cool-down. My question is should a mental workout be any different?

Warming up can lead to a good workout; a math warm up can lead to a great math lesson!

When a student walks into a math class, chances are their brains are not primed for an enduring mental challenge. They are thinking about the Language Arts project that was just assigned to them or the fight they had with their best friend during lunch. If you don’t have their whole focus, that math workout may have very little impact – or no impact – on them at all. Therefore, a math warm-up is as crucial as the lesson itself to prime the students’ brains and get them ready to go!

Think of the warm-up like a nice stretch – it shouldn’t be difficult and not too long. The warm-up can be a spiral review of a concept taught earlier in the school year or based off a lesson from earlier in the week. The point of a warm-up isn’t to over-extend the use of the brain; rather, its purpose is to make the brain in-tune with the learning environment. At the end of the five-minute exercise, the student’s focus is on the upcoming lesson.

A cool-down at the end of class is treated in a similar way. The purpose of a cool-down is to review the lesson. To do this, give students approximately five minutes to recap the lesson in their own words, list one or two things they learned during class, or to write down questions they still have about the concept. This requires students to self-reflect and check for their own understanding. Then, if time allows, the class can share their cool-downs (I urge you to make time in your class to do this at least a couple times a week…you may be surprised what students share!).

I suggest that your students keep a Warm Up/Cool Down notebook with them in addition to any other math notebooks you require for your class. One day’s notes should easily fit on one page (or half page). If a student completes their warm-up quickly, he/she can look back to the previous day’s cool-down to recall the information they learned, or to go over any questions they had.

In the beginning of the school year, you may choose to model the warm-up/cool-down so students are aware of your expectations. Remember, the warm-up/cool-down should not be grueling or tiring. The sole purpose is to prime your students for the real workout: learning!

What is a Meme?

OK, I will admit it: I can be quite oblivious sometimes. The reason I say this is because I was just recently (very recently) introduced to the definition of an Internet meme. (I know, I know. Where have I been, right?)

For those of you as oblivious as I, the word “meme” means “a virally-transmitted cultural symbol or social idea” (thanks, Paul Gil at about.com).  Add the word “Internet” in front of it, and you have a new social media phenomenon!

As I’m sure you are aware, memes have been around for awhile. I’ve seen a growing abundance of them on Pinterest, Cheezburger, etc….Ryan Gosling, Willy Wonka, the Awkward Penguin, and all those clever cats and dogs. But it never occurred to me that the captioned photos – or so-called memes – were being created by the millions of people everyday!

So, I decided to join the realm of meme creators and generate my own. In a matter of minutes, I came up with a meme that I felt would reach most math educators on a personal level:

I created this Meme at http://memegenerator.net

Have you created any educational memes – specifically math or just in general? I’d love to see them, so please share!

Teachers Are Like Crayons

Have you ever looked at a box of crayons

and wondered what they’d be,

if they morphed into teachers

just like you and me?


They would start off new and sharp

right out of Crayon College,

with very little experience

but packed with potential and knowledge.


Open the box and examine their colors

because some are common and similar,

while others are brand new and eccentric

and definitely not all too familiar.


Some crayons are boring and dark

and others are bright and fun;

but no matter what their hue,

they all get the coloring job done.


That is until others push down too hard

until you hear a disheartening crack,

‘cause just like crayons teachers can break

if not given the appropriate respect.


Crayons are made from wax

and we are different in that way,

but light a fire under each of us and watch,

we can be molded just the same.


Teachers are like crayons,

it is funny because it is true;

we simply give our lives for kids each day

in hopes of teaching them something new.

Can you see any other similarities?

Math Misconceptions Malady

Warning! This blog may not be suitable for students who don’t believe in themselves, teachers who lack vision, or anyone who views the cookie jar as half-empty.

Across the nation, math teachers and their students have been suffering from a highly contagious condition called m3, also known as Math Misconceptions Malady. This condition, which commonly impacts a student’s ability to successfully solve math problems and – gulp – like math, stems from years of misconceptions being formed by parents, students and even – bigger gulp – teachers.

While we have identified dozens of possible symptoms in teachers and students, scientists have identified the four most serious indications of m3 in the classroom. If they are caught early and are treated, however, we can easily eradicate this problem.

Symptom #(100-99):  “My students should already know how to…”

This first symptom is commonly seen in novice teachers, but has been observed in teachers of 10, 20, and 30 years! Teachers should never construct the preconceived notion that their students already know something. Math is a foundational subject; students must understand the basics and the vocabulary before you build upon it.

Treatment: Frequent and formative assessment. Make sure your students understand the language of math before using it explicitly to teach a new lesson.

Symptom #(1+1):  “I just need to put down an answer…I don’t need to show my work.”

Shame on the student who doesn’t show his work. Double shame on the teacher who doesn’t hold his students accountable to show their work.

Yes, students, don’t believe the misconception that the destination is more important than the journey. Teachers want to see the right answer, but we also want to see how you got there!

Imagine if a student writes down the incorrect answer (yes, this does happen from time to time). Without any work written down, you can’t tell if (a) the student made a mental error during practice or (b) the teacher made a mistake during instruction. Believe it or not, some mental errors are even caught and corrected when written down. Just saying.

Treatment: Teachers must require students to show their work. Students must stop being lazy.

Symptom #(27÷9):  “I don’t believe in timed math tests.”

For some school districts, timed tests have become taboo. They are viewed as a way to torture students historically ridden with anxiety and fear of failure. The misconception is that students shouldn’t feel pressured to produce; whereas, in the professional world we are encouraged to take our time and skip count on our fingers.

This symptom derives from another common ailment in education: ignorance. Timed tests don’t exist to torture students; rather, they simply train students to think quickly and commit basic math facts to memory.

Treatment: Think time. Are we expected to master spelling and reading before we know the letters of the alphabet? Of course not. Therefore, should we expect our students to master simplifying algebraic expressions or finding the circumference of a circle if they can’t fluently multiply two digits together?

Symptom #(22):  “I’m bad at math.”

This is the worst one and the most personal for me, for I was once afflicted with this symptom. In fact, I dealt with it for most of my educational life. This symptom has an incubation period of months – even years – and then one day, it erupts within you and becomes the only truth you know. Unless someone catches this silent killer, it can murder your self-esteem, motivation to do well, and all sense of accomplishment.

Treatment: First, do not allow the following words in the classroom: bad and stink (or any variation of the two), or can’t and unable (or their synonyms). Encourage questions to be asked. Take your time while teaching. And most importantly, take advantage of every opportunity to tell the students how great they are!