A Smorgasbord of Math Thoughts (Thanks to NCCTM)

I had the privilege of attending the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCCTM) Annual Conference last week in Greensboro, North Carolina. I soaked up so much new knowledge during those two days of workshops and sessions. In summary, three main points stood out to me during this conference:

  1. Literacy, literacy, literacy. (Yes, in a math classroom.)
  2. Student-centered learning (and centers) should be the main focus, not teacher-led instruction.
  3. Technology. ‘Nough said.

On Friday, I attended a session presented by Dr. Leah McCoy of Wake Forest University (Go Deacs!) and five of her esteemed math ed students. The session was titled “Mathematical Practice: Procedures and Understandings.” I will be completely honest: I had no idea what that title meant…I was simply going because this presenter was from Wake Forest University (my husband’s Alma Mater). However, I am so glad that I chose that session! Why?

Dr. McCoy and her students stressed the importance of students’ real-world application of math content, beyond basic comprehension. To exhibit some examples of higher-order thinking (HOT) and project-based learning (PBL), each presenter demoed a math WebQuest that they created for their future math students. These WebQuests were GREAT and they started giving me some GREAT ideas!

At the conclusion of their presentation, one of my fellow session attendees thanked them for the time and effort that they put into their WebQuests. (Which, by the way, they made available to all attendees free-of-charge. Yes!) This same attendee made a comment that struck a chord with me: she said something like, “You just don’t have time to make these once you enter the classroom. [Teachers] know we should make time, but it just isn’t there.”  So true…unless you are Superman/Wonder Woman (or a zombie).

When I became That Math Lady – whom I like to think of as a modern-day math superhero – I was given the gift of time. This time has allowed me to recharge my creativity battery that was drained during those years of teaching in the classroom, consequently reestablishing my ability to create activities, games, and (now) WebQuests, like the one below.

Teachers, I know that time is not abundant and creativity is not free-flowing.  Still, do what you can. Utilize your resources, and call on That Math Lady if you ever need any help.


How: The Most Important Question in Math

Questions are an important part of learning. As teachers, we ask our students hundreds of questions each day, possibly thousands each week. We also urge our students to ask questions, too. Which questions are being asked and how do they impact our students’ learning?

Consider This: Do you hear any of the following questions in your math class on a daily basis:

  • What are we learning today?
  • Are we going to be tested on this?
  • When is our next test?
  • Why do I need to know this?
  • Do I have to show my work?

I’m sure you hear at least some of these on a regular basis. Are these good questions? Sure. Are they the best questions you should hear each day? Probably not. Now, think back: do your kiddos ask any of the following questions in that same class:

  • How do I __________? (Fill in the blank with a specific skill or lesson.)
  • How am I going to master this skill?
  • How is this lesson connected to previous lessons?
  • How am I going to use this in the real-world today?
  • How is today’s lesson going to impact my future?

Are these metacognitive questions important? Possibly, yes. Will they generate a response that is more important for the students’ learning? Absolutely.

So, how do we replace a simple question like, “What are we doing in class today?” with a more dynamic question: “How is this lesson going to change my life today?”

Teachers, we need to model this line of thinking by asking our students “how” questions. If we display metacognitive thinking, sooner or later they will follow.

Consider This: Do you write homework assignments and upcoming test dates on the board for your students? Most educators do because we place a high emphasis on homework and tests (i.e. grades); and therefore, they are also important to our students. Along with the homework and tests, do you also display how they can – and should – use today’s lesson outside of school? By prominently listing homework and test dates, students think the reason why they are learning the material is so they can complete an assignment or pass a test. Therefore, the focus shifts away from how they are learning or how they will apply the lessons in the future. Is that what teachers want for their students?

What would happen if teachers only listed the “hows” on the board instead of test dates and assignments? Would the emphasis of “how” students learn change? Would the types of questions being asked change, too?

A simple pyramid such as this one can show students how they are going to learn the order of operations. This pyramid was made using MS PowerPoint and could be displayed on a SMARTboard or projected on a wall from a computer screen.

On a smaller-yet-equally-important scale, students need to see how they are going to master a skill. Most students don’t know how they learn; they just go to school each day and try to survive while grabbing new pieces of information along the way. If teachers show students how the learning process works, then we might have a better chance at increasing their interest in the lesson, focus, and overall success.

I challenge teachers to consider the questions they ask and hear each day. Keep track of the number of “how” questions being asked in your classroom daily. Over time, try to increase the number of “how” questions; you’ll also notice an increase in your students’ interest and placed value in your lessons.

Math on the Move

While I was visiting my favorite fourth graders yesterday (You know who you are!), I saw that they were doing a very cool math activity that required thinking AND moving! It was so cool and the kids were so excited about it, I just had to share this neat activity that their teachers had planned for them!  Unfortunately, their teacher was away at a conference, so I wasn’t able to get the name of the activity. So I have dubbed this one, “Math on the Move.” You can call it what you like. 🙂

Needed Supplies: pencils, paper, markers, construction paper, and a math word or short phrase (10-15 letters long). Optional supplies: student clipboards, pre-made page with fill-in-the-blanks for the word or phrase you choose.

Fold the construction paper in half.


Planning and Set-Up: First, fold the pieces of construction paper in half width-wise (hamburger style). You should have one piece of paper for every letter in your math word or phrase.

Secondly, think of some math problems that are related to the current unit or standard of study (they were studying division). You should have one problem for every piece of construction paper. Therefore, if your word/phrase is 12 letters in length, you should have 12 pieces of paper and 12 math problems.

Write the math questions on the inside of the folded construction paper.

Next, write one of the problems on the inside of construction paper 1. Write that answer (BIG and clearly so it can be seen from across the room) on the front of construction paper 2. Flip to the inside of paper 2 and write a second problem. Write the answer for the second problem on construction paper 3, and so on. This should eventually create a chain of problems and answers.

Write the answers clearly on the outside flap of the folded construction paper.

Last, make sure that one letter from your math word or phrase is written visibly on each piece of construction paper. (I wrote the letters in the lower right-hand corner.) Then tape the construction papers around the classroom OUT OF ORDER. (If you put them in order around the room, students will just be floating in a monotonous, circular motion and they’ll be tempted to look ahead at the answer without solving it on their own.) You can tape the papers to walls, doors, desks, light switches, cupboards, whiteboards, bulletin boards, etc. Put them in fun, creative places!

Lesson Instructions: Tell the students that they are going to be solving a mystery math word (or phrase) in class. However, in order to solve the mystery, they have to move around the room and solve various math problems.

Make sure that the paper is visible and can be reached by all students as they move around the classroom.

When they solve a problem, they must look for the answer on another piece of construction paper. When they see the answer, they can write down the mystery letter that is on that paper, and then flip up the top half to find the next, new problem! Once they have solved all the problems, they should be very close to figuring out the mystery math word.

Why this lesson is GREAT: This lesson requires mobility and creative thinking. Students can collaborate to find answers and the teacher can be mobile to help students who may be stumped on a specific problem. The lesson is student-centered, appropriate for any age, and geared toward independent use of resources!

My First Video Blog

Alright, if I’m going to talk the talk, I need to walk the walk. That is what I am doing with this blog entry. I am such a huge fanatic about flipping the classroom and I want to prove how much of a fan I am by flipping my blog!

Flipped videos don’t have to be perfect…just good enough to get your message across.

Due to limited uploading space, I am sharing just a few short clips of a video blog I made to share some of the key reasons why teachers are flipping their classrooms.

Is my video perfect? Nope. (Let’s just say Spielberg won’t be calling me anytime soon to direct one of his movies…or will he?) But, do I get my message across? Well, I guess that is for you to decide.

Follow this link to watch the clips, and then e-mail me (thatmathlady@gmail.com) with any comments or questions you have about flipping: That Math Lady’s Video Blog Clips

Autumn…My Favorite Time of Year!

Pumpkins….apple cider…football…cooler weather….and Halloween. These are just a few of the many reasons I love the season of autumn!

In honor of this special time of year, I have created an activity sheet of autumn-themed arithmetic word problems! This is perfect for an arithmetic review or math warm-up in grades 3 – 5. If you are a member of the Claco family, you can view them in my Claco binder. Everyone else, you can download the worksheet from my website homepage, www.thatmathlady.com.


An Introduction to Flipping the Classroom

The process of teaching and learning throughout history has been somewhat predictable. Student goes to class. Teacher stands at the blackboard and presents a lesson.

There is very little collaborative learning in a teacher-led classroom. Flipping your class allows for more collaboration with peers!

Student takes out his notebook and scribbles down notes – to the best of his ability – as the teacher is talking and modeling the lesson on the board. Finally, the bell rings and student goes home to practice what he learned at school. Sound familiar?

But what happens to the average student who still needs assistance when they get home? To whom does the student turn toward to get the assistance they need to complete their homework correctly and on time? If only the teacher could come home with them and teach the lesson again, as many times as necessary, until it finally clicks. And while the teacher is there, he or she could probably help with the homework, too!

Let’s propose that the teacher does the instructing at home instead. The student comes home from school and instead of pulling out a workbook, they pull up a video their teacher has made. The student watches their teacher present a 10-minute lesson on the computer and takes notes. They can watch the video once, twice, or as many times as they need. The best part? Students can pause the video if needed, get up and stretch, grab a snack and learn in the comfort of their home without interrupting the teacher!

What happens the next day in class? The student goes to school and the teacher reviews any questions the class may have from watching the video. The teacher does a review problem and then gives the students the typical homework to do in class with the teacher’s support. Because the instruction and the initial learning was done at home, the teacher can better utilize the in-class time to work with small groups as well as individuals. There will also be more time allowed for formative assessment so that the teacher can check for understanding throughout a unit. Just by flipping the traditional structure of learning in school, more time is created for student engagement, assessment and active learning inside the classroom.

Flipping The Classroom is a growing trend around the world. Teachers and school districts nationwide are starting to recognize the benefits of this phenomenon thanks to the growth of technology in our homes and in our schools. There is no better time for you to jump on board and witness these same positive results!

Are you already flipping your classroom?  If so, please share your success stories with us at http://www.thatmathlady.com!

Using Comics to Communicate

I took a course this past spring that talked about various ways to communicate with students, especially in distance-learning scenarios. The course instructor encouraged us to find ways to creatively communicate ideas with others. One of my favorite modes of communication became virtual comics.

After being introduced to online comic creation, I started researching. There are many websites out there that are devoted to comic creations. My favorite, so far, is Pixton. “Pixton introduces the world to Click-n-Drag Comics™, a revolutionary new patented technology that gives anyone the power to create amazing comics on the web.” (About Pixton for Fun, http://www.pixton.com/company)

We are always looking for ways to engage our students and find a unique way to hook their interest. Well, comics may just be the way to do it! Just think of how tickled your students would be if they walked into your class and saw two horses sitting on a beach talking about quadratic formulas! That would hook their interest for sure!