MS Favorite Three from TMC

For the past week or so, I have tried to hold on to every last detail and every last feeling from TMC13 (Twitter Math Camp). Reflection is a great way to make those moments last and allow each one of them to sink in. Eager to share my thoughts, finding a starting point was a challenge for me. The task seemed overwhelming. With so much to tell, where would I begin? Then Julie emailed me (and everyone else who attended the middle school planning sessions) about a “MS Favorite Three for TMC” initiative. Since writing from a prompt is way easier, and so is sharing only three thoughts, I was ready.

TMC was such an incredible experience! It was two amazing days learning from and networking with a group of creative, talented, passionate and knowledgeable  educators. TMC grew out of the mathtwitterblogosphere, an online professional community of middle school and high school math teachers, a community I discovered no more than a year ago, and a community that has greatly enriched my teaching and learning. The opportunity to mesh my virtual world with the real world was awesome! It kind of felt like meeting a rock star and long-lost friend all wrapped into one. We bonded while walking to dinner, watching windows being broken, answering trivia, folding origami, lunching by the food trucks, sitting in the courtyard, and claiming the hotel lobby as our own (who knew math teachers were so loud and rowdy?). We exchanged ideas, shared enthusiasm, asked questions and offered encouragement.

These are my MS Favorite Three.

1.  My Favorites: 4 to 1 – As a lover of all things whiteboard, Jenn Crase’s favorite was right up my alley! Students simultaneously solve questions, each answering in one of four sections on the board. The sum of the responses is then recorded in the center box. Simply check the center box. Groups with an incorrect sum work together to find and fix the error. What an awesome way to engage all students in practice!

2.  MS Math Session – Aside from making some great connections and meeting some incredible people, my biggest take away from the session (thanks, Fawn!) was the importance of incorporating problem solving into the classroom routine and not making it an afterthought. Relevance to the current concept or topic not required!

3. I Notice, I Wonder – Who knew that two little questions could lead to such rich discussion?! Max Ray demonstrated that regardless of the simplicity or complexity of the problem, everyone has something to contribute. Furthermore, by recording every response, everyone’s ideas are valued. Use at the beginning, middle or end of a task, and is a rich feedback opportunity.

With a new year on the horizon, I am excited and ready to put my learning into practice (and am early waiting for TMC14). Thank you to all of the planners, session givers, and my TMC friends. How I miss you!

Are you hungering for more? Click here for more MS Favorites. What favorites do you have to share?

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Hurray! My First Global Math Presentation!

Hurray for me! Though slightly terrified, I presented for the first time at Global Math (without talking at the speed of light)! The topic for the evening – My Favorites: Let’s Get it Organized!

The favorite shared was a sorting activity based on concept formation. This type of activity appeals to my meticulous nature and need to have everything organized. Even better, they tend to unearth students’ prior knowledge and understanding of a concept or idea! You can catch the presentation here (advance to 21:30), or scroll down to view the slides from the presentation.

The Activity:

  • Create sets of index cards based on a particular concept, such as algebraic expressions or polygons. When printing the cards, consider using different color card stock to keep track of the different decks and numbers to make sure that you have all the cards in the deck.
  • Distribute the cards and give these simple instructions. “Organize the cards into groups. Be prepared to explain how you sorted your cards!” Initially, my students demonstrated great discomfort with such open-ended instructions. They wanted more explicit directions and more specific objectives (i.e. How many groups? How many cards should be in each group?). My response to the students – “Read/study the cards”.
  • While students are engaged in the activity, the teacher’s role is that of facilitator. Move through the classroom and observe the students at work. Question students during the process. Have them share their decision making process. Should groups need more guidance or support, ask prompting questions or select cards to compare. Ask the students: What do you notice? How are the cards similar, or how are they different?
  •  At the conclusion of the sort, debrief. This prompts great discussion as students share their groupings and rationales. Or, rather than jumping into discussion, provide students the opportunity to rotate to another table and study the categories created by others. The benefits include positive reinforcement, the identification of misconceptions, ways to improve the system and the establishment of connections between the cards (particularly for those struggling to do so themselves).

How might you use sorting activities in your classroom?

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(Shout out to PamJWilson for helping me show my slides!)

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What’s in Your (Math) Closet?


It’s been quite a while since my last post. Life with four children, a husband and a full-time job sure is hectic! But having shared some of my favorites before, this topic was gentle enough to entice me to post.

The Classics:

  1. Dry erase boards – These little white wonders allow everyone (from the shy student to the outgoing one) to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding simultaneously. With students revealing their answers in the air, feedback is easy! There’s the quick thumbs up for accurate solutions or a “Hmmm. Take a look at…” when an aspect of the solution needs attention. I love hearing the board clunk down on the table as a student begins to revise the solution, and the subsequent “yes” when success is achieved.
  2. 10-sided Dice – It’s amazing how the simple roll of a die transforms simple practice into something grand. All of a sudden there is a greater willingness to engage.
  3. Dominoes – These offer the same motivation as 10-sided dice. Dominoes are great for comparing and ordering activities, as well as basic operations (including fractions).
  4. Sorting Activities – There is something satisfying about listening to the discussion generated by a pile of index cards when the only instruction given is to “organize them into groups”. It is fascinating to hear how students think about the cards and make connections between them.
  5. Interactive Student Notebooks – Foldables are awesome! As a lover of all things organized, the ISN had me at “Hello”. I hope to post more about my experience in the future!

The New:

Recently my 6th grade students went 1:1 (iPads), thanks to a very generous donor. The integration of technology into my classroom has been quite exciting and has given me a couple of  new favorites!

  1. Show Me – This app is a technological twist on the classic whiteboard. Show Me is an interactive whiteboard that allows students to record voice-overs. With this little gem, students can narrate their thinking process as they solve problems and show their calculations. Presentations can then be shared! The added bonus – having constant access to a whiteboard and stylus saves precious minutes and improved classroom cleanliness! (No passing out of markers, erasers and boards. No dirty hands from the ink.)
  2. Socrative – Warm-up, exit ticket, check-in or quiz. This app is fast became a staple and has been integrated into our daily routine. Rather than complete the daily warm-up on a dry erase board, students open up Socrative and begin a mixed review (created using the app’s teacher version). Responses are collected and a spreadsheet generated! (Multiple choice quizzes are actually marked for you!). A quick glance at the spreadsheet gives me a snapshot of students’ understanding. Taking it a step further, emails are sent to every student, either informing them that all questions were correct or informing them of which concepts should be reviewed.

I hope to discover some new classics and new technology! So, what’s in your (math) closet?

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Homework Review – A Work in Progress

Insert here your remark about my homework blog post being one day late!


Homework in math is expected. Review and practice are seen as part of developing automaticity and fluency. My students are assigned homework after they have had the opportunity to practice a skill or concept. Homework is less challenging than the examples presented in class, and is expected to take students 10-20 minutes to complete.

Enter the homework review dilemma.

Reviewing the homework allows students to evaluate their work. Self-checking is a powerful and valuable tool. However, modeling the solution for each question can be time consuming, and in a 40 minute period every minute counts. This strategy has some additional unwanted consequences, such as boredom and disruption. Only a handful of students, at best, are engaged at any given moment. The relationship between student engagement and mistakes is direct. Without errors, a student has little incentive to stay on task and that will lead to trouble!

Reviewing homework does serve another purpose – law enforcement. Most of my students complete their homework in a timely fashion, making missed assignments the lesser concern. The greater lies with the quality of the work. Without review, will students give assignments the attention they deserve?

Enter the compromise.

Students review homework with a peer, identifying the solutions that are common and those that are not (marked with a *). For the latter, students examine and compare their work to find the reason for disagreement (generally a small calculation error) and then the assignment is submitted for my review. A quick perusal gives me a snapshot of my class – the good (concept mastery), the bad (struggling students), and the ugly (misconceptions) – and becomes a guide for future instruction. A nod to law enforcement, homework is graded on a simple 10 point scale. And since I do not want the grade to be a detriment to struggling students, the scale weighs heavy on completing the entire assignment, using the proper format, neatness and organization. At the end of the term, homework marks are averaged (think mode, not mean) and considered as a unit test.

For now, this compromise seems to work. But it is a work in progress. You see, reflection is a great opportunity to step back and put things in perspective, to look at things objectively and draw conclusions. It’s a chance to learn and explore. Usually, it breeds tranquility and calm. It brings me to a place of deeper understanding and insight, but not today. Today, reflection has left me unsure. And though it’s difficult to articulate why, I just know that my approach to homework review is officially under construction. It’s a good thing that I have some amazing people to learn from!

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Self-Checking = Brilliance!

Copies of the answer key are at the front of the room. When you are finished with your test, come up and mark your work. Please leave your pencil at your desk and use one of the green pens. Circle any errors and explain them.

Those were the instructions given to my 6th grade math students, as they completed their multiplying and dividing with decimals test. This self-checking idea was presented as one of Megan’s favorites during Global Math a few weeks ago. It was introduced to her by Frank Noschese. The premise, of course, was simple. And the benefit seemed obvious – less paperwork. However, today I discovered that this little exercise packs a powerful punch!

Once the class realized that I was totally serious about self-checking, the first group of students picked up green pens and got down to it. Check. Check. Oops forgot comma. I subtracted wrong. Check. Copied the problem wrong. Regrouped wrong. Check. Check. Wrote 7 instead of 4. I did 50 divided by 16 instead of 16 divided by 50. Didn’t move the decimal point. Put decimal point in the wrong place.

“I made so many careless errors,” said one student as he submitted his test.

“If I left out the comma in 13750.2. Is it wrong?” asked another student.

“What if I didn’t put a zero before the decimal point?” said a third student. “Will I lose points?” (That was a bit of a strange one, since my grades are letter-based.)

More and more students submitted their tests and shared their feedback with me. Wait. Hold on a minute. Identifying errors and writing a brief explanation meant that my students were “reading the comments” and reflecting on their work. When returning an assignment or rubric, my comment is always the same. “Make sure you read the comments.” My interpretation is, “Make sure you carefully consider my feedback and reflect. Let’s develop goals and objectives, as well as a plan for achieving them.” The students’ interpretation is, “Flip through assignment. Locate the errors. See if Mrs. Shlagbaum made any mistakes.” Clearly, something is lost in translation. And I will admit that my follow-up needs improvement and negatively affects the value of comments and reflection.

Perhaps self-checking is the first step to bridging the gap. Perhaps more experience with this form of self-assessment (along with more consistency on my part) will give meaning to feedback. Perhaps the next time I say, “make sure you read the comments,” that phrase will have more value. I wonder.

And with that, I have a brand new, brilliant self-assessment and reflection tool in my pocket.

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Wish Granted!

“IPEVO Wishpool: Your wish just came true.”

Oh, how I loved seeing that message in my email! Those words were wonderful validation, an affirmation of my teaching and pedagogy.

During a Global Math Department webinar a number of weeks ago, Alisan shared her experience with IPEVO Wishpool. All she had to do was explain how the document camera would be an asset to her teaching and the students’ learning. After review, her wish was granted! When Algebrainiac tweeted that she had her wish granted, I decided to submit a wish of my own.

“Integrating language into math has been a driving force in the development of my curriculum. Lessons and activities focus on both written and oral expression. Similar to essays, problem solving solutions would benefit from peer review. Unfortunately, not enough opportunities exist for students to demonstrate their process for solving. The use of a document camera would allow students to model their solutions, celebrating the problem solving process, as well as provide opportunities for the enhancement of math writing skills.”

And just like that my document camera was on its way! I cannot wait until it is hooked up and ready to go. Then I can advance my own teaching and my students’ learning.

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Favorites of 2012


Back in July I happened upon the I Speak Math blog . That led me to a world that I never new existed. Only in the last week or so have I begun to blog and tweet. It’s with a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment that I participate in my first MS Sunday Funday and share some of my favorites in 2012.

  1. Dry erase boards – These little white wonders allow everyone (from the shy student to the outgoing one) to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding simultaneously. With students revealing their answers in the air, feedback is easy! There’s the quick thumbs up for accurate solutions or a “Hmmm. Take a look at…” when an aspect of the solution needs attention. I love hearing the board clunk down on the table as a student begins to revise the solution, and the subsequent “yes” when success is achieved.
  2. 10-sided Dice – It’s amazing how the simple roll of a die transforms simple practice into something grand. All of a sudden there is a greater willingness to engage.
  3. Language in Math – The integration of discussion and written expression into my classroom routine has been happening over the past few years  (which probably disqualifies it as a favorite for 2012). As my role has expanded to partner with other teachers to differentiate in the classroom, I realize how valuable language is for constructing understanding and applying knowledge. Even a brief pause to allow for peer discussion before continuing with frontal lesson is worthwhile.
  4. Math Stations – Stations have become another tool in my math practice repertoire. While this may be oversimplifying, there is something appealing about the movement from one station to the next. Freedom (to move about the room), responsibility (to meet expectations) and accomplishment (when completing one station and moving on to the next) come to mind.
  5. Interactive Student Notebooks – Foldables are awesome! As a lover of all things organized, the ISN had me at “Hello”. As a newbie, I am still struggling with what information deserves a place on the pages and how to use the ISN effectively (one of my goals for 2013).
  6. NCTM Regional Conference in Hartford – This my first experience at any professional development conference and it was like hitting the jackpot. Hundreds of professionals collaborating and sharing all in one place! Lectures. Hands-on workshops. Resources. Theories. Just the memory of it makes me salivate!
  7. Blogging and Tweeting – Continuous opportunities for professional development. Need I say more?

Looking forward to 2013!

Posted in MS Math Sunday Funday, My Favorites | 4 Comments

Math = Pencils = Brilliance!

Materials for Class:  2 sharpened pencils…All work must be done in pencil.

That’s what my classroom expectations state. Yet, it is rare that all of my students meet these expectations. My morning would be incomplete without the unmistakable sound of the electric pencil sharpener running at the back of the classroom, or the inevitable cries of “Do you have a pencil I can borrow?”. Then, with all resources exhausted, a student will approach me and ask, “Mrs. Shlagbaum, can I have a pencil?”

To give or not to give, that is the question. Some argue that the consequence for being unprepared is not being able to participate in the day’s activity. However, that usually means the student is inattentive, which leads to behavior issues, as said student begins to engage in conversations with others. In the end, the punishment becomes more mine than the student’s. The lesson needs to be retaught and the disruptions managed.

The problem with supplying students with pencils is twofold. The first issue is the sheer number of pencils required to keep up with demand. After using up a significant number of pencils (at least 6 dozen within the first few months of school), I stopped stocking them in my classroom.  I began to wonder if their availability really was enabling unpreparedness. The second issue seemed to lie in the semantics. Somehow “borrow” never really meant “borrow”. If it did, maintaining a supply would not be an issue.

After some consideration, I decided to restock my pencil supply and enact a new pencil policy. Take a pencil, give a nickel (to tzedakah, or charity). So Thursday morning before class, I sharpened a dozen new pencils. Within the first few minutes of class one of my repeat offenders asked to borrow a pencil. I quickly apprised him of the new pencil policy. To which he replied, “Rabbi S. makes us give him a shoe. That way we can’t leave the classroom [without giving back the pencil and getting back the shoe].”

And just like that, I have a brand new, brilliant pencil policy.

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Another First

Experience breeds confidence, and with it a comfort to take risks. The support of my administration to experiment and explore has been a blessing. It has given me the opportunity to learn and grow as an educator. Professional development is something I adore. While others find it a burden, I cannot get enough. Attending the NCTM Regional Conference in Hartford was like hitting the jackpot. Hundreds of professionals collaborating and sharing all in one place! Lectures. Hands-on workshops. Resources. Theories. Just the memory of it makes me salivate!

Eager to immediately implement what I had learned those two days in Hartford, it was differentiation that scared me the most. Perhaps because I was projecting my own insecurities onto my students. Being in a private school, most of my 6th grade math students have been together since kindergarten. The line between the math stars and the math strugglers seems to me apparent. There are those who have been supported daily in math and others who have participated in once weekly enrichment groups. However, differentiation in the regular classroom has not been the norm for these students. Would middle school students welcome such an experience? Would it broaden the divide between the stars and the strugglers? There was only one way to find out.

Fortunately for me, my 6th graders just completed lessons on multiplying mixed numbers. When cooking for my shabbos guests, I often need to multiply the ingredients in a recipe. Cooking and baking are natural, real-world applications for the concept. Taking what I had learned about tiered word problems (i.e. applying the same concepts, varying the level of structure, providing extension questions), I wrote my first differentiated problem. The process was certainly not easy. It took several hours to translate my vision into three versions of the Happy Birthday! problem, and there are some improvements that I would like to make.

Standing in front of my students the next morning, terrified of negative reactions to a leveled task, I read the scenario aloud and shared that there were three different versions being distributed. Each student would receive a copy that I thought was most appropriate, based on my knowledge of them as students and their performance with the concept and problem solving in general. I also shared that exchanging one version for another (i.e. one that is more challenging or is easier) was welcome! There were plenty of extra copies.

Then came the moment of truth (dun, dun, dun).

And I found out that all of my worries were for naught. All students, from the stars to the strugglers, were actively engaged in achieving success. New partnerships developed and when the bell rang, students were still working!

New is intimidating. Firsts are scary. Like writing a blog, taking the differentiating plunge was definitely worth it!

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Off You Go!

Lurker. Though I had followed an acquaintance’s blog for some time, I actually had to look up the definition. According to Wikipedia a lurker is “a member of an online community who does not actively participate.” How could a blogger use that term to describe herself? Wouldn’t writing a blog reflect active participation?

Perhaps the term more appropriately represents me. Oh, wait. That would assume membership in an actual online community! But what is an online community and what are the qualifications? Is it surfing the Internet or reading an occasional blog post? Is it having extensive knowledge of a topic or just the confidence to make it seem like you do? Blogging. Tweeting. As far as I know, these are things that only super-cool or super-knowledgeable people do. People who are witty and have influence. They write about celebrities or pop culture, commenting on the latest and hottest trends. They write about family or daily life, imparting their wisdom onto others. And though entertaining at times, blogs have never really held my interest.

Until this summer.

Where my search began on that fateful day continues to elude me. But wherever it started, it landed me in the world of education blogs. Math blogs to be more precise. The first blog I happened upon was this one. Wow! This was something I could connect with. Identify with. It’s relevant to me and my life. It mimics my desire for growth and development, my goals to enrich my curriculum through differentiation and hands-on activities. The ideas captivated me and I began to soak them in like a sponge, eager and excited to put each one into practice.

The words had lit another spark. Blogging. Tweeting. Maybe these are things that I could do. But, do I have something to offer the world? Will others value my experience and knowledge? Will anyone even care to read my blog or follow my tweets?

Recent opportunities to develop curriculum and advise other teachers has given me an incredible boost of confidence.

So… Enough sitting on the sidelines, Adrienne! Put your reservations aside, and off you go!

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