Friday, July 26, 2019

Students Are Never Too Old to Play a Game

I currently teach remedial math students on the college level. These are the students who fail to pass the math placement test to enroll in College Algebra - that dreaded class that everyone must pass to graduate. The math curriculum at our community college starts with Basic Math, moves to Fractions, Decimals and Percents, and then to Basic Algebra Concepts. Most of my students are intelligent and want to learn, but they are deeply afraid of math. I refer to them as mathphobics.

We all have this type of student in our classrooms, whether it is middle school, high school, or college. When working with this type of student, it is important to bear in mind how all students learn. I always refer back to the Conceptual Development Model which states that a student must first learn at the concrete stage (use manipulatives) prior to moving to the pictorial stage, and in advance of the abstract level (the book). This means that lessons must include the use of different manipulatives. I use games a great deal because it is an easy way to introduce and use manipulatives without making the student feel like “a little kid.” I can also control the level of mathematical difficulty by varying the rules; thus, customizing the game to meet the instructional objectives my students are learning. However, as with any classroom activity, teachers should monitor and assess the effectiveness of the games.

When using games, other issues to think about are:

1) Excessive competition. The game is to be enjoyable, not a “fight to the death”.

2) Mastery of the mathematical concepts necessary for successful play. Mastery should be at an above average level unless teacher assistance is readily available when needed. A game should not be played if a concept has just been introduced.

3) Difficulty of the rules. If necessary, the rules should be modified or altered in order that the students will do well.

4) Physical requirements (students with special needs). These should be taken into account so that every player has an opportunity to win.

In addition to strengthening content knowledge, math games encourage students to develop such skills as staying on task, cooperating with others, and organization. Games also allow students to review mathematical concepts without the risk of being called “stupid”. Furthermore, students benefit from observing others solve and explain math problems using different strategies.

Games can also….
  1. Pique student interest and participation in math practice and review.
  2. Provide immediate feedback for the teacher. (i.e. Who is still having difficulty with a concept? Who needs verbal assurance? Why is a student continually getting the wrong answer?)
  3. Encourage and engage even the most reluctant student.
  4. Enhance opportunities to respond correctly.
  5. Reinforce or support a positive attitude or viewpoint of mathematics.
  6. Let students test new problem solving strategies without the fear of failing.
  7. Stimulate logical reasoning.
  8. Require critical thinking skills.
  9. Allow the student to use trial and error strategies.
Only $3.00
Mathematical games give the learner numerous opportunities to reinforce current knowledge and to try out strategies or techniques without the worry of getting the “wrong” answer. Games provide students of any age with a non-threatening environment for seeing incorrect solutions, not as mistakes, but as steps towards finding the correct mathematical solution.

One math game my students truly enjoy playing is Bug Mania.  It provides motivation for the learner to practice addition, subtraction, and multiplication using positive and negative numbers. The games are simple to individualize since not every pair of students must use the same cubes or have the same objective. Since the goal for each game is determined by the instructor, the time required to play varies. It is always one that my students are anxious to play again and again!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Drill or Kill?

When I was a kid, one of the things I dreaded most was going to the dentist. Even though we were poor, my Mom took my brother and me every six months for a check-up.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have fluoridated water or toothpaste that enhanced our breath, made our teeth whiter, or prevented cavities.  I remember sitting in the waiting room hearing the drill buzzing, humming, and droning while the patient whined or moaned.  Needless to say, I did not find it a pleasant experience.

I am troubled that, as math teachers, we have carried over this idea of drill into the classroom. Math has become a “drill and kill” activity instead of a “drill and thrill” endeavor.  Because of timed tests or practicing math the same way over and over, many students whine and moan when it is math time.  So how can we get student to those “necessary” skills without continually resorting to monotonous drill?

First we must understand the difference between drill and practice.  In math drill refers to repetitive, non-problematic exercises which are designed to improve skills (memorizing basic math facts) or procedures the student already has acquired. It provides:

1)   Increased proficiency with one strategy to a predetermined level of mastery. To be important to learners, the skills built through drill must become the building blocks for more meaningful learning. Used in small doses, drill can be effective and valuable.

2)   A focus on a singular procedure executed the same way as opposed to understanding.  (i.e. lots of similar problems on many worksheets)  I have often wondered why some math teachers assign more than 15 homework problems.  For the student who understands the process, they only need 10-15 problems to demonstrate that.  For students who have no idea what they are doing, they get to practice incorrectly more than 15 times!

Unfortunately, drill also provides:

  3) A false appearance of understanding.  Because a student can add 50 problems in one minute does not mean s/he understands the idea of grouping sets.

 4) A rule orientated view of math.  There is only one way to work a problem, and the reason why is not important!  (Just invert and multiply but never ask the reason why.)

5)   A fear, avoidance, and a general dislike of mathematics. A constant use of math drills often leaves students uninterested.

On the other hand, practice is a series of different problem-based tasks or experiences, learned over numerous class periods, each addressing the same basic ideas. (ex. different ways to multiply)  It provides:

1)   Increased opportunity to develop concepts and make connections to other mathematical ideas.  (i.e. A fraction is a decimal is a percent is a ratio.)

2)   A focus on providing and developing alternative strategies.  My philosophy, which hangs in my classroom, is: “It is better to solve one problem five ways than to solve five problems the same way.”  (George Polya)

3)   A variety of ways to review a math concept.  (ex. games, crosswords, puzzles, group work)

4)   A chance for all students to understand math and to ask why. (Why do we invert and multiply when dividing fractions?) 

5)   An opportunity for all students to participate and explain how they arrived at the answer. Some may draw a picture, others may rely on a number line, or a few may use manipulatives. Good practice provides feedback to the students, and explains ways to get the correct answer.

Let’s look at it this way. A good baseball coach may have his players swing again and again in the batting cage. This drill will help, but by itself it will not make a strong baseball player whereas practicing hitting a ball with a pitcher requires reacting to the different pitches with thought, flexibility, and skill.
I am of the opinion that drill should not be omitted from the math classroom altogether.  Basic math skills should be automatic because being fluent in the basics makes advanced math easier to grasp.  There is a place for drill; however, its use should be kept to situations where the teacher is certain that is the most appropriate form of instruction.  Even though practice is essential, for math it isn't enough. If understanding doesn't come, practice and drill will only leave a student with disjointed skills. If we want to produce strong mathematicians, we must focus on the BIG conceptual ideas through practice in problem-based lessons. We must present ideas in as many forms as we can so that students will go beyond rote drill to insight.

If you are interested in sharing this with your staff, colleagues or parents, check out the power point entitled: Drill vs. Practice

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

FALL Season Literacy and Math

Hi Everyone, 
If you are looking for a quick, yet efficient way to review or teach your students/children various literacy and math topics, then you have come to the right place.  

This Fall Resource has 64 pages of fun activities for your students/children. You can use this for centers, homework, morning work, end of the day work, or even immediately after lunch, etc. Although this resource is for Preschoolers, you can totally use this for your lower level Kindergartners as a scaffolding tool.
This resource includes:
  • Identify/write letters
  • Match uppercase to lowercase
  • Identify/write numbers
  • Sequencing numbers and letters
  • Identify large and small items
  • Recognize groups of objects
  • Following directions
  • Counting more/less than
  • And more.....
All you have to do is PRINT AND GO!!  



Thursday, October 4, 2018

Digital and Leveled Retell Task Cards (Guided Reading Levels A, B, and C)

Literacy and Math Ideas is excited to introduce paperless literacy centers.  Three guided reading levels are included in this bundle.  Access it here

No fussy apps.  They are easy to use and keep score.  These three interactive PDF files are leveled so that students can work at their own guided reading levels.  Each one is aligned to the guided reading, Flesch Kincaid, and Lexile leveling systems for easy progress monitoring.

Guided Reading Level A:  Short Vowels
Guided Reading Level B:  Blends
Guided Reading Level C:  Long Vowels

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Retell Task Cards (Leveled)

These are the first ever task cards that are organized by guided reading levels.  They are designed to make Daily 5 guided reading instruction so much easier.

There are so many things to do as an educator.  One must meet the needs of students at multiple ability levels, teach a variety of skills, and keep track of progress. This series is such a time saver.  It makes it so much easier to review skills and provided leveled guided reading practice.  Leveled task cards, progress charts, student recording forms, answer keys and printable boxes are all included!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

60 Differentiated Passages (4 Levels of Nonfiction Passages)

60 Differentiated Nonfiction Passages (4 Levels Per Topic)

Reading instruction has just gotten easier!  This resource contains four levels of reading passages per topic.  


  • Save time as you plan lessons.
  • Ensure students learn the same content at their own individual levels.
  • Track progress.  The guided reading, lexile, and grade level equivalents are all included for each passage.
  • Three types of leveling systems were used to measure readability to promote reliable progress monitoring.
  • The nonfiction passages cover many of the topics students cover in social studies and science to make it easier to integrate instruction.

Click Here To Access It
60 Differentiated Nonfiction Passages (4 Levels Per Topic)
Charts are included to make it easier to plan instruction.

60 Differentiated Nonfiction Passages (4 Levels Per Topic)
A variety of topics are included.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Free Leveled Main Idea Task Cards

Try out this unique freebie from my store.  It contains leveled main idea task cards.  The guided reading level and lexile levels are written on these cards.  

I created this series to make it easier to provide specific data about student progress.  Being able to provide literacy center task cards that match specific guided reading levels has been helpful with helping students and parents alike track student growth.  Task cards are available across many topics and guided reading levels.  Follow the link to access them. Click Here To Access Them
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