Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Parent's Guide to Eureka Math

So, as if being a parent isn’t traumatic enough, you now have to help your child navigate the morass that is Common Core Mathematics. Number disks, number bonds, arrow method, decomposition, tape diagrams - what ever happened to simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division?

Considering the international comparisons of math achievement of our students, this is how U.S. students view the different branches of arithmetic...

During my time as a mathematics instructional coach, I have learned one very important lesson: As the nation transitions to the Common Core math standards (and its related shift in instructional practices), it is essential that we support the parents at home.

The students? They will roll with whatever we teach them. They will be just fine.

The teachers? Yes...they are going through a season of panic, but at least they are receiving professional development to get them up to speed.

It is the parents who are left out in the cold! They are the ones who are being asked to support their children at home with mathematics that they themselves did not experience as students. Parents need support!

What is Common Core?
The Common Core State Standards-Math (CCSS-M) is essentially a list detailing which math skills and concepts are taught at each grade level. Including the District of Columbia, 44 states have formally adopted the Common Core math standards. Some of the remaining states, while not formally adopting CCSS-M, are using their own list of standards that are remarkably similar to the Common Core standards. Politics...ugh.

The benefit of having such a consensus in standards across states is that for the first time in the history of the United States, we have the same expectations for what a student should learn regardless of their home address. A 4th grader in Massachusetts will learn the same high-quality math as a 4th grader in Mississippi, Montana, or Modesto. This is very, very powerful in our highly mobile society.

Why does math have to look different?
To understand why we need to teach math differently, let’s first take a brief look at our track record for math achievement in the United States. It is not a pretty picture. In international comparisons of math achievement of 4th and 8th graders, the U.S. average math score is typically below average or average (at best). We see this in the PISA and the TIMSS studies.

With respect to college readiness, we see similarly woeful results. Even at the most highly selective colleges and universities, students are entering college needing to take remedial math classes.

In response to recognizing that our math achievement track record leaves a lot to be desired, we need to change not only what we teach, but HOW we teach. This means there will be a much greater emphasis on teaching for understanding, rather than just teaching. Teaching for understanding looks very different from the “old” way of teaching in which the teacher showed the class how to solve a problem and then the students spent the rest of the period trying to mimic the teacher’s work. Here are a couple of nice videos that explain the difference between teaching and teaching for understanding:

Video 1 (Vox)

Video 2 (Dr. Raj Shah)

How can you support your child at home?
In order to teach for understanding, the teacher must begin with the presupposition that the student indeed can learn the mathematics being taught. Furthermore, parents and teachers alike must subscribe to the notion that mathematical achievement is a function of the students’ effort rather than the innate ability. In a cross-cultural study comparing parental beliefs about genetic influences on math achievement, American parents are far more likely to attribute math achievement to “good genes”, while Japanese parents believe that effort plays a key role in determining the level of a child’s math achievement.

Dr. Carol Dweck is a national leader on “fixed mindset” versus “growth mindset”. The fixed mindset is the most prevalent mindset in the U.S. and it is the belief that your ability to achieve is based on your inherent nature. The growth mindset is the belief that achievement is a matter of effort, not natural ability. How a parent responds to a student at home during homework time influences whether the child develops a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. Here is a video on Praise versus Effort.

Video (Trevor Ragan)

During homework time, make sure you do the following:
  • Provide a quiet place to do homework
  • Praise your child’s effort not speed
  • When your child gets stuck on a problem encourage the use of Google and YouTube to find help on the Internet
  • Go ahead and share your method (the old way). Ignore your child’s complaint, “That isn’t the way my teacher did it at school!” 
  • No tears! (You or your child.)

What if you don’t understand the math?

There are tons of online resources available to you and your child during homework.
This is where we will post all the Eureka Math files, documents, and other information that is specifically related to Pleasanton Unified School District.

YouTube videos made by our K-5 Mathematics Instructional Coach, Duane Habecker. Videos at
A constantly updated resource with all the latest information about mathematics in Pleasanton Unified School District.
“Tip sheets” are guides designed to provide you with module-by-module guidance for supporting your child’s study of math. Do you know how to make a number bond or use a rekenrek? Need a refresher on how to use a number line? Struggling to remember what a decimal fraction is? Don’t worry – they’ve covered that and much more.

Ultimately, if you and your child cannot figure out how to do the mathematics, just write a note to your child’s teacher. In your note, explain what you and your child tried to do to get over the hump. Ask the teacher to help your child at his/her earliest convenience. (The teacher was probably going to do this anyway.)

How a child perceives mathematics is largely determined by how a parent responds at home during homework. Keep an open mind. Ask your child what she does or does not understand. Exhibit a genuine interest in the math. And be willing to learn right along with your child.

Would you like the slideshow for this message? Click here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Eleven Criteria for an Effective Prekindergarten Program

So I received the following article in my inbox today. I read it with great anticipation, hoping to read lots and lots about PLAY.

Hardly anything. It doesn't explicitly say, "Don't play", but it sure as heck wasn't a focal point either.

Read it and let me know what you think.

Here it is....

“Very young children learn differently even from children in primary grades,” say Christopher Brown (University of Texas/Austin) and Brian Mowry (Austin Independent School District) in this Kappan article. They suggest Rigorous DAP, an acronym for a set of principles to guide a developmentally appropriate early-childhood program that will prepare students for K-12 success:

Reaching all children – The key is providing activities that will pique children’s interest and increase their participation in academic content. For example, a prekindergarten teacher created a wilderness habitat in her classroom with families of stuffed bears, raccoons, squirrels, robins, and bats (each introduced on a separate day) and integrated all this with readalouds from books and scientific facts.
Integrating content – Teachers need to blend literacy, math, science, and other areas and take full advantage of the interconnectedness of learning. For example, a student tells how a raccoon had ravaged his family’s campsite, leading the class to a discussion of nocturnal animals.
Growing as a community – Circle times are opportunities to draw on students’ prior knowledge and get them sharing insights and questions.
Offering choices – Students should have the chance to shape part of their daily experience as they move among whole-group, small-group, center-based, child-initiated, play-based, indoor and outdoor, and loud and quiet learning experiences.
Revisiting new content – Not all students will understand and remember the first time around, so spiraling the curriculum is essential.
Offering challenges – It’s sometimes helpful to stretch content, vocabulary, and skills to what students will learn in later grades – for example, a teacher asked about the differences between what robins, squirrels, raccoons, and humans need to live.
Understanding each learner – Effective teachers learn about their students in multiple ways – being available to parents at the beginning and end of each day, making home visits, connecting with children’s diverse personal, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds, sending home a weekly newsletter, and getting parents’ responses to content-specific questions.
Seeing the whole child – Growth in one domain – physical, conceptual, emotional, and social – depends on and influences growth in others.
Differentiating instruction – Classroom activities should have built-in variability so students can engage in different ways and the teacher can adjust support depending on how students are doing.
Assessing constantly – This includes anecdotal records, work samples, digital photographs, and videos going into portfolios to give the teacher a sense of how students are progressing and how instruction needs to be tweaked.
Pushing forward – Teachers maximize each child’s learning through all of the above, keeping in mind the end goals of the content that needs to be learned, a classroom that’s a great place to be, and students growing and being successful in all areas.

“Close Early Learning Gaps with Rigorous DAP” by Christopher Brown and Brian Mowry in Phi Delta Kappan, April 2015 (Vol. 96, #7, p. 53-57),; Brown can be reached at

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Should We Stop Making Kids Memorize Times Tables?

Stanford University’s Jo Boaler says teachers and parents should stop using math flash cards, stop drilling kids in addition and multiplication and especially stop forcing students to do calculations quickly under time pressure.

Read more via Pocket

The impact of learning space design on student outcomes

A very interesting research report has come out of the University of Salford, UK, that reveals the impact of learning space design on student outcomes. This won’t come as a shock to any teacher but the physical characteristics that had the most impact might.

Teachers needs to be aware that all the hard work they spend making their room engaging, pretty, and kid-friendly may actually undermine their effectiveness. 

Please take a moment to read this report.

Read more via Pocket

Friday, April 10, 2015

Learn math without fear, Stanford expert says

Stanford Professor Jo Boaler finds that children who excel in math learn to develop "number sense," which is much different from the memorization that is often stressed in school.

Students who attempt to blindly memorize math fact tend to be the lowest achieving math students. While students utilizing number sense flexibility tend to be the highest achieving math students.

The takeaway? Teach conceptually. Teach number sense. Teach numerical flexibility.

Do NOT teach blind memorization.

Students will still end up memorizing their facts in due time!

Read more via Pocket

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Math Anxiety – Is Math Teaching in Conflict with Math Learning?

What is it about math that causes such pain and anxiety, turmoil and fighting, tears and anger? Is it math or is it the method that we employ to teach math to our children? Personally, I don’t think it is math. People have been learning math for hundreds of year.

Read more via Pocket