Math Game: Build a Polygon

As we get closer to Christmas, things can get a little stale in the classroom. Teachers are tired, students are less tolerant of each other, and everyone has at least one eye aimed at the coming break. Many teachers look to spice things up a bit. They might show a movie, design a STEAM challenge, or set aside time for a holiday craft.

For some awesome ideas, check out John Spencer’s article 10 Creative Alternatives to Showing a Movie Before Break. Or just look at his graphic:

If you like your fun activities a little more closely aligned with the standards, you can have students play a math game. The game described below, “Build a Polygon,” comes from Education.com.  I like it because it gives students the opportunity to practice precise measurement, requires them to accurately read a ruler, introduces concepts of polygons, involves problem-solving, and provides practice in finding the perimeters of shapes. It’s also easy to play, easy to set up, and doesn’t require you to go out and buy stuff. It’s perfect for second through sixth-grade classrooms.

Game: Build a Polygon

polygon

This geometry  game will make your child a master of the polygon! He’ll compete against other players by measuring and drawing out shapes with playing cards determining the length of each line. Careful though, the measurements of lines will need to connect in order to close a polygon. If the card drawn doesn’t give the number he needs to finish his shape, start the line out or draw the line in another direction and wait to turn the next card. Whoever completes the most polygons wins!

What You Need:

  • Playing cards
  • Metric ruler
  • Pencils
  • Paper

What You Do:

  1. Announce the point system to all of the players as follows: Face cards= Wild (players can assign whatever value to the card that they want), Aces =1.
  2. Shuffle the cards and place them face down in the center of the table. Each player needs a pencil, ruler and a piece of paper.
  3. When his turn comes, each player should draw one card and use the value of their card to draw a line in centimeters.
  4. In order to determine the length of line needed to complete their shape, players will need to use their rulers, as long as the value is not too large they can begin drawing the line. Make sure to write the measurement number on the line.
  5. For the second round, everyone draws a new card and traces another line which stems from one end of the first line.
  6. Each player tries to make a complete polygon by closing their figure with the next turn. If they can’t finish their polygon with the card value drawn, they have two options. If the number on the card is less than the length of line needed to complete the shape, they can either start on the line that will eventually close the shape, or they can start a new shape stemming from either end of the shape they’re currently trying to complete.
  7. When a player finishes a polygon, they need to state its perimeter. For each correct answer, they receive 5 points. Then, they can start on the next polygon.
  8. Whoever earns 50 points first, wins!

Helpful Hints: Remind your little one throughout the game that a polygon is a closed plane figure bound by straight lines, whereas the perimeter is the distance around a two-dimensional shape.

——————

What are your favorite math games for the classroom?

What are some fun things your students do during the lead-up to the holiday break? 

Share in the comments and share this post on Facebook and Twitter so more teachers can read your ideas! 

The Best Christmas Gift For Your Child’s Teacher

gift teacher

I’m a parent as well as a teacher, so you’d think I’d be one of those parents who spoils his daughter’s teachers with great gifts for the holidays. After all, I ought to know exactly what they want. But the truth is, there are years when I get them nothing at all. It’s not because I don’t appreciate what they do. All teachers know exactly how difficult the job is. Even teachers who do the bare minimum are providing parents a hugely valuable service. If you doubt that, take a look at child care costs these days.

There are a number of reasons — most of them bad — that I fail to get my daughter’s teachers a little something to show my appreciation. I’m cheap. I’m lazy. I don’t like shopping. I don’t want to look like I’m sucking up. But the biggest reason is that I have no idea what to get someone I don’t really know. So I do nothing and then feel bad about it.

But this year is going to be different.

As a teacher, I know that we don’t really want anything.

Actually, scratch that. It’s not true. Like everybody, we like getting gifts. I should say that we don’t expect anything.

Any gift we receive — homemade macaroni masterpieces,  coffee mugs, Christmas ornaments, Amazon gift cards–will be appreciated. That said, there is one gift that will be treasured by any teacher and that I’ll be giving each of my daughter’s teachers this year.

Here’s what makes it the best Christmas gift for your child’s teacher:

  • It’s free.
  • It takes just a few minutes.
  • You don’t have to leave the house.
  • If you forget, you can still deliver it once the holiday break starts.
  • It’s foolproof; every teacher will love it.
  • It’s valuable and enduring.

What is it?

An email of genuine appreciation that specifically praises the teacher and that is copied to his or her principal.

Here’s why:

First, a lot of teachers have a tremendous amount of self-doubt. Most of us fear that we’re not very good. We’re sent this message quite regularly. Politicians aren’t shy about saying it. School leaders might try to be supportive, but administrator walk-throughs, pacing guides, and an insistence that teachers adhere to unproven programs instead of using their best judgment all send the message that we’re not trusted because we’re not very good.

Even in the best school cultures, teachers are presented with daily evidence of their failures. While we tend to credit students for their successes, we accept responsibility for their failures. And there are always failures. Stuck in our own rooms all day, we have little idea if what we’re doing is any good, so we assume it probably isn’t. We know that our most successful students would probably be successful with any teacher, while we wonder if those who struggle with us might be better off in a different room. A letter of appreciation lets the teacher know that you value their work. That they’re are making a difference for your child. That they don’t suck.

Second, teachers are evaluated by their principals. These evaluations are often based, at least in part, on observations of their teaching. The observations are subjective, and principals are human beings. They can’t know everything that’s going on because they’re too busy. But they hear things. Those things influence their opinions of teachers. If principals hear more positive things, they’ll think more highly of their teachers. It’s similar to how we judge movies. If you hear that a movie is great before you see it, you’re predisposed to like it. A principal that hears a lot of good things about a teacher is going to be more likely to give that teacher a good evaluation.

So if you want to do your kid’s teacher a solid, or if you just want an easy gift idea, send your kid’s teacher an appreciative email and make sure you CC her boss.

Here’s a template you can start with:

Dear Mrs. [Teacher’s Last Name],

I just wanted to take a minute to express my profound gratitude for the work you do as [Child’s Name] teacher. [Child’s Name] has not always loved school, but he really looks forward to coming to school each day this year. I know a large part of that is the relationship he has with you.

I also appreciate how you communicate with me and other parents through your newsletter and by promptly responding to emails and text messages. I always know what’s going on.

Lastly, I know the job of a teacher is stressful. I have just two kids of my own and can only imagine the challenges of trying to teach [Number of Students the Teacher Teaches]. While I’ve never seen you teach, [Child’s Name] tells stories, and I am impressed by the good humor you’re able to maintain in the classroom.

I hope it’s okay that I copied your principal on this email. I just want him to know how much this parent appreciates the good work you do. Have a wonderful holiday season and enjoy your well-deserved break. Thank you!

[Your Name]

No, We Didn’t Sign Up For This

sign up

We teachers sure like to complain a lot. At least, that’s what I’m told by people who don’t teach. Here’s one comment left on an article I wrote:

“Quit complaining. Everybody has things they don’t like about the professions they chose but teachers are the biggest whiners.”

Here’s another:

“I know about a dozen teachers. Every single one of them knew going in how much education they’d have to invest and the amount of effort expected.”

One of the most common refrains complaining teachers hear from non-educators is that we knew what we signed up for.

“Hey,” they say, “You knew the score going in, so no bitching about it now.” It’s an argument that, on its face, makes some sense. It’s true that teachers knew at the outset we weren’t going to get rich. We knew the job would be challenging. We understood that no matter how good we were, no one was going to build a monument to us.

But the truth is, the job of a teacher has changed a lot in a very short amount of time.

I started teaching in 2000. I thought I knew what to expect. I doubt I’m alone. Since many big changes to education have happened in the last 10 years, there are likely millions of teachers who are currently doing a job for which they did not sign up. So when our critics tire of hearing us complain and tell us that we knew the deal going in, they are often wrong. There is a lot of stuff we didn’t sign up for.

We didn’t sign up for a Department of Education that doesn’t actually believe in public education.

We didn’t sign up for wage gaps and the “teacher pay penalty.” In 1996, while I was in college deciding to “sign up” to be a teacher, the average weekly wage of public-sector teachers was $1,122 (in 2015 dollars). In 2015, it had fallen to $1,092. (SOURCE) Weekly pay for all college graduates rose by $124 dollars per week over the same period. I might have signed on knowing I wouldn’t get rich, but I sure as hell didn’t sign on expecting to be paid less after 17 years on the job.

Part of that declining pay may have something to do with diminished political clout. Because when I signed up to be a teacher, teachers’ unions still had power. In the intervening years, Republican-controlled legislatures have done everything they can to erode the unions’ influence. My state, Michigan, became right-to-work in 2012. State legislatures around the country have also removed tenure protections, curtailed collective bargaining rights, abolished last in, first out policies that protected veteran (read, more expensive) teachers, and attacked pensions.

We also didn’t sign up for fewer resources. But according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 31 states provided less per-pupil funding in 2014 than they did before the recession in 2008. In 15 states, those cuts exceeded 10%.

We didn’t sign up for increasing federal intrusion. No Child Left Behind was signed in 2001. Its goal of having all students proficient by the year 2014 was mocked by anyone who knew anything, but that didn’t stop the feds from doubling down with a piss-poor rollout of the Common Core State Standards and a bribery scheme called Race to the Top to get states to adopt those standards.

We didn’t sign up for high-stakes teacher evaluation systems that rely on crummy data and the opinions of administrators whose motives may not always be pure.

We didn’t sign up to give students an ever-increasing number of flawed standardized tests that spit out unreliable data used to determine a meaningless teacher rating.

We didn’t sign up for value-added modeling, a statistical method used to evaluate teachers that the American Statistical Society says, “typically measures correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.”

We didn’t sign up to be scapegoated by politicians. The staff of Central Falls High School in Rhode Island sure didn’t sign up expecting the President of the United States and the Secretary of Education to endorse their collective firing. While we may have expected to be treated like dirt by Republicans, we didn’t sign up knowing the Democratic party would abandon us in such a publicly humiliating way.

We didn’t sign up for longer school years or balanced calendars.

We didn’t sign up for substitute teacher shortages.

We didn’t sign up for active shooter drills.

We didn’t sign up for higher poverty rates and needier students. In my state, there are 15% more kids in poverty today than there were in 2008.

We didn’t sign up for increased funding for charter and virtual schools. The same politicians who claim they can’t spend more on education manage to find billions of dollars for charter schools every year, in spite of their lackluster performance. Virtual schools are even worse, but legislators seem to love them anyway.

We didn’t sign up for declining autonomy in the classroom. We didn’t sign up to have our hands held — mistrusted, second-guessed, and told to toe the line, to teach this content at this time in this way. We didn’t sign up for pacing guides, scripted lessons, or strict fidelity to unproven programs.

We didn’t sign up for less planning time.

We didn’t sign up to implement policies we know are bad for kids. We didn’t sign up for less recess, less gym class, less art, less music, and less fun.

We sure as hell didn’t sign up to give eight-year-olds reading tests that could result in their retention.

We elementary teachers didn’t sign up to stress out nine-year-olds over their “college and career readiness” or to take the play out of kindergarten.

There’s an awful lot about teaching today we didn’t sign up for.

In spite of this, most teachers will continue to do the job. Most will do their best. I’m not naive enough to expect those who call teachers whiners to join us in fighting for change. I have no illusions about any of the things I didn’t sign up for going away anytime soon. I won’t challenge our critics to get in the ring and become teachers themselves. After all, they now know what they’d be signing up for. But I will ask them to believe teachers when they tell them what needs fixing. And if they won’t do that, then I will kindly ask them to shut up, and quit telling teachers that they knew what they signed up for.

What do you think, teachers? What else didn’t you sign up for? What’s changed since you decided to become a teacher?

____________________________

Thanks for reading! Thanks even more for spreading the message on your favorite social media platform. If you’d like to receive new articles directly in your inbox, you can subscribe. Just click HERE.

Don’t Let the Last Hour Spoil the Whole Day

end of day

Here is a list of nonsense words:

lurst, nifkin, bluck, pansate, wazzle, morky, wolire, chagg, fonticule, kittop, glope, tercopular, moobin

Fun, aren’t they?

In 1964, a German researcher named Hermann Ebbinghaus conducted a series of experiments using words like those above. He wanted to determine whether the position of a word on a list affected how easily it could be recalled. To accomplish this, Ebbinghaus prerecorded lists of nonsense syllables, then played them to himself and tried to recall them. He found that the words near the beginning and end of the list were more readily recalled than those in the middle. He called this the “serial position effect” and postulated that the words at the end of the list were more easily recalled because they were still in his short-term memory, a phenomenon he called “recency effect.”

The recency effect is a recognized cognitive bias nowadays, and you see it everywhere. Your favorite sports team (and its coach) is judged by what they have done lately, regardless of how successful they’ve been in the past.  Investors make decisions based on how the stock market has done recently, instead of paying attention to historical trends. Companies use the recency effect in their marketing by making sure the product is as attractive as possible at the point of purchase. You get angry with your spouse over some trivial matter and forget all about the wonderful things they did just last week. Recency matters, and the classroom is no exception.

The recency effect explains why the last hour of school has the potential to ruin your (and your students’) perception of an entire day.

Earlier this year, my class was really struggling during the last 45 minutes of most days. I’d shoehorned science into this time slot and was attempting to include a lot of hands-on group work into my units. Students were not handling it well. Many were off-task. Patience was thin. Kids argued and fought over everything from who got to use what, to how long they used it, to whose idea was good and whose wasn’t. There were more than a few blowups from students whose frustrations reached the boiling point. And of course, my own willpower was at its nadir. I had little tolerance for nonsense and that just made the whole thing even more volatile. It wasn’t a good situation.

When I got home and my wife asked me how my day had gone, I told her it was horrible. I replayed what had happened at the end of the day and lamented how poorly I’d taught procedures and expectations. I complained that I wouldn’t be able to do hands-on, fun science experiments because the kids just couldn’t handle it. I was mentally drained, physically exhausted, and I didn’t even want to think about going back the next day.

This was the recency effect at work. But the truth was quite different.

For most of the day, my class was great. Mornings almost always went well. The students listened, worked hard, got along, and had positive attitudes. Most of the afternoon was productive, too. More students were on-task during independent reading than I’d had in years. They worked well with partners. Even recess was good. We had very few behavior problems on the playground.

When I really thought about it, the only time my students had trouble was during the last 45 minutes of the day. The problem was that when I went home for the day, it was this 45 minutes that I remembered. It left a terrible taste in my mouth, and since the recency effect also works on children, it was a horrible way for students to end the day, too. I imagine that after those chaotic science lessons, many students went home with few good feelings about being in my class. They likely shared those opinions with their parents, just as I had with my wife.

Ending your day poorly is a really good way to destroy your classroom culture, as well as your own enthusiasm for the job.

I had to find a way to combat the recency effect. So here is what I did. Try these strategies if you are finding that your last hour is spoiling the whole day.

Awareness

First, be aware of this cognitive bias we all have and give the end of the day the same weight you give the rest of it. At the end of my difficult days, I took a few minutes to just sit at my desk and replay each subject in my head. This way, I could remember how students had done during different periods of the day and remember that although we might have ended on a sour note, most of the day was actually pretty productive. Acknowledge the recency effect, and don’t judge your whole day based on how it ended.

Focus on the Majority

We teachers have a tendency to focus on the negative outliers, and I’m no different. 20 students can be doing their jobs, but if three are arguing and one of them throws a fit and goes storming out of the room, the whole lesson feels like a debacle, I feel like a failure, and I worry what students think about my classroom management. Instead of focusing on the problematic few, I try to force myself to think about the majority. I’ve written more about this in my article, How to Feel Like Less of a Failure.

Understand Why It Happens

While doing research for my book Exhausted, I learned a lot about willpower. We start each day with a given amount. As the day goes on, we use it up. By the end of the day, our stores of willpower are exhausted and we have a much harder time regulating our emotions. Glucose is the fuel we need for self-control. By 3:00, we’re pretty low on it, so students have a harder time using willpower to do the right thing. It takes energy to resist temptation and have patience with others, and by the end of the day, many students, especially those who have to use the most willpower to do the right thing the rest of the day, just don’t have any left. I explained all of this to my students, but while understanding helps, it doesn’t make it any less infuriating when you feel like the class is going off the rails.

Teach Expected Behaviors

Since I knew the last hour was going to be a challenge, I committed to being much more intentional and detailed about expectations. Before we got out the science materials and split off into groups, I taught and modeled exactly what students needed to do. We also made If/Then plans for handling predictable obstacles. “If Tony isn’t sharing the magnet, then I will remind him that everyone needs a turn before time is up.”

Prevent

Frankly, all the modeling and careful attention to detail annoyed me. I’d spend 15 minutes going over all this stuff, which meant students were pinched for time to perform the science activity, which led to some of the problems I was trying to prevent. In my book Exhausted, I write about how researchers have discovered that people with the most self-control actually use very little of it in the way we normally think about exercising willpower. They don’t will themselves to do the right thing by staring temptation in the face. Instead, people with a lot of self-control use it preemptively to avoid temptations and distractions. College students with exceptional self-control use it to sit in the front row instead of using it to avoid daydreaming or playing on their laptops in the back of the lecture hall. Dieters don’t use willpower to stop themselves from eating a bowl of ice cream at night. They use it to not buy the ice cream in the first place. Knowing this, I finally figured out that the best way to set my class up to be more successful — and the best way to go home feeling good about my days — were to rearrange my schedule so that students wouldn’t have to use so much willpower at a time of day when they had very little of it. I moved science class to the morning and put writing–a much quieter, more independent subject–at the end of the day. That solved more problems than anything.

Flip the Script

The recency effect doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can be used to your and your students’ advantage by ending every day with something positive. Brainstorm a list of things you could do with the last ten minutes that will linger in your and your students’ memories. You might have students share something good that happened to them, either aloud or in writing. You could end the day with music and dancing. You can end with a game that builds the classroom culture. You could have your class meeting at the end of the day and share positives and goals for the next day. At the very least, you could do as Michael Linsin recommends in this post and end each day with calm, predictable procedures and high-fives all around. Send them home smiling and excited to come back tomorrow. Send yourself home the same way.

And now, since you’re at the end of this article, do you remember any of the nonsense words at the start of it?

Wait, let me guess….

Moobin?

 

__________________________________

Have you joined the Teacher Habits Club yet? If not, click here to subscribe and start receiving new content in your inbox.

Top Tips for Teaching Kids With Dyslexia To Read

Guest post by Laura Buckler

Top Tips for Teaching Kids with Dyslexia to Read

 

Dyslexia is a learning disability, but it is not a disease.

Kids with dyslexia simply process language differently from those without the condition. They have a problem with turning heard words and sounds into written form, and have a hard time remembering and reading words in isolation, such as on flash cards, or in sequence, such as the days of the week. Most people with dyslexia are of normal to high intelligence, and cope with their difficulties by accessing higher language learning skills.

Many kids with dyslexia reach adulthood without a proper diagnosis, and this can lead them to think they are not as intelligent as they actually are, simply because reading is a basic skill they have failed to master. They are scared that something is wrong with their brain, when in fact they simply learn differently.

While no one really knows what causes dyslexia, researchers believe it is hereditary. Because they learn differently from others, traditional methods for teaching them to read are not very effective. In many cases, the undiagnosed dyslexic child will use context to “read” without actually recognizing individual words to keep up with other children.

People with dyslexia can learn to read just as well as other people with the proper attention, methods, and tools. It is therefore important to diagnose the problem as early as possible to help them now and in the future. Here are the top tips for teaching kids with dyslexia.

Show and Tell (and Feel and Smell and Taste)

Kids with dyslexia learn to read best by engaging all their senses in the process.  This helps the brain create more associations with a particular word. This is the basis for the MSL, or Multisensory Structural Language, approach, and it works well with all language learners, not only people with dyslexia. Learners are encouraged to see, hear, smell, feel, and taste a word using various tools. Here are some ways to use the MSL approach with your child:

  • Use flash cards with a picture and the word printed together on it, and have the child hold it as they read the word. This gives them something to hold and look at as they say the word. Have them trace each letter with their finger as they read the word.
  • Use actual objects. Whenever possible, have the student hold the physical object of the word being taught. For example, if you are teaching the word apple, have them hold one, and encourage them to smell, feel, and eventually, taste it!
  • Use sand trays. Fill a flat, shallow tray with sand or beans in which the child can spell a word repeatedly. This engages their sense of touch and sight.
  • Use music. Songs, rhymes, and chants can help the child remember spelling rules and sequences.  For example, you can teach the child to spell “Mississippi” by chanting MIS-SIS-SIPPI!
  • Use color to classify different types of words and numbers. Use different colors for nouns, verbs, and other parts of speech. Use a different color to distinguish whole numbers from decimal numbers, and so on.
  • Use reading games. Games are always a good way to teach anything. Check out these links for some MSL games and activities to help your dyslexic child.

Start big

Some people with dyslexia see letters all jumbled up, and they have a hard time seeing subtle differences. Lower case p and q, for example, look the same to them. The same is true for b and d. To help them distinguish similar letters, write them big and bold, and put plenty of space between words. As they learn to recognize the letters, you can gradually make them smaller and closer together.

Just to be clear

Kids with dyslexia need a lot of reinforcement when learning to read. Do not assume that the student has any familiarity with the lesson. When introducing the letter B, for example, you should tell the student that it is letter of the day. You then clearly sound the letter out and ask the student to repeat it several times before introducing words beginning with the letter B.  Make the student say each word aloud several times before moving on to the next one. You can also use other strategies such as games and songs related to the letter or word.  

Repetition is the Key

Make it a habit to repeat everything several times to help kids struggling with short-term memory, which is common among those with dyslexia. Instructions, concepts, sequences, and words have a habit of slipping off into forgetful land. Encourage the student to write them down to help them remember, and make sure to correct any spelling mistakes.

An important aspect of teaching kids with dyslexia is connecting concepts when building new skills. Whenever you introduce a new lesson, make sure to connect it to an old one. If you must, refresh his or her memory by reviewing old lessons. A kid with dyslexia will learn something new better if they can associate it with something they already know or experienced.

Conclusion

Teaching kids with dyslexia to read is not hard if you accept and understand that they learn differently from other kids. Accommodate their learning styles and difficulties and give them practical coping skills using these tips and other teaching strategies. You will soon have them reading with the best of them.

 

BIO: Laura Buckler is a great writer, always making the best out of her articles. Her belief in life is that anything can be done with an amount of perseverance, so she puts an effort into all her duties. She teaches people to be aware of their potential. Check out her twitter.