Bring Writing into Math?! 6 Ways It Will Benefit Your Students!

Two years ago, I transitioned from special education to general education.  One of my main goals was to not just shove content and procedures down their throats, but to help them truly understand math.  Math Journals were one of the first things that I implemented to help accomplish this goal.  After two years of tweaking, revamping, and organizing the Math Journal process, I am pleased to say that my students have flourished in their ability to not only complete mathematical concepts, but explain and truly understand what they are doing.  Want to know how I believe it has benefitted my students?

1. Math Journals require students to dive deep.
Do you know how many kids just follow a list of steps that you teach them without knowing why?  I was always so surprised to hear students' responses when I would ask them why they were putting a zero placeholder when they were multiplying.  They honestly didn't know.  They were just doing what they were told.  While that might be ok on standardized testing, I wanted my students to be able to do more than just pass a test.  I wanted them to dive deep and discover why we put that darn zero there.

2. Math Journals serve as a resource for later.
One reason that I LOVE about using Math Journals is that I now have the ultimate way of requiring independence in my classroom. At our school, we use Accelerated Math and IXL to continually review skills throughout the year.  If a student comes to me in January to ask about a skill that we covered in September, I can send them to their journal.  Typically, once they refer to their journal entry, they are quickly reminded of the steps or process, and are able to continue the problem on their own.  I seriously love watching them flip through old entries and see the look on their faces when they are thinking, "Duh!  How did I forget that?!"

3. Math Journals reinforce comprehension and writing skills.
I love the first time that I ask students to compare and contrast adding whole numbers and adding decimals.  They are instantly saying, "Comparing and contrasting is for reading!" (They do this to me in science and social studies too!)  My response is usually something like this, "Actually, comparing and contrasting are just real life skills.  Don't you ever compare yourself to another student? Or Justin Bieber and One Direction?"  Over time, students are easily able to compare and contrast, write how-tos, or explain the sequence of mathematical procedures.

4. Math Journals are naturally differentiated.
Although there are requirements for my students when working on their Math Journals, the process is also just naturally differentiated.  They are always able to reference their math notes, seek help from classmates, ask the teacher, or have things read aloud to them.  They are able to answer the prompt in only words, only illustrations, or a combination of both.  My students have complete freedom to answer the prompt in whatever mode works for them.  By giving this freedom, it allows my students to each work at their own level and learning style, and receive help as needed throughout the process.

5. Math Journals allow teachers to easily assess understanding.
After reading (or let's be honest, skimming) a response from a student, you can EASILY tell their mathematical abilities.  With a quick glance, you can also tell who truly understands the concept that you are covering.  After all, teaching and explaining a concept is one of the best ways to demonstrate your knowledge.  If they don't know or understand a concept well enough to write about it, it requires them to seek help, or gives you the opportunity to pull a small group and reteach!

6. Math Journals don't feel like math!
We all have "that" kid, who just HATES math.  Well, this doesn't feel like math.  It could play to other strengths that they have in language arts.  On the flipside, we all have those students who EXCEL at mathematics, but dread writing.  I have never had a kid who can't complete these Math Journals, and this is my theory: Regardless of their strengths, they have enough to get these thoughts on paper.  Maybe they are phenomenal writers, but poor in math.  That's ok!  They have the writing skills to carry them through.  Maybe there are terrible writers, but kick butt in math.  Again, that's ok!  They have the math knowledge to be able to outshine their writing weaknesses.  At the end of the day, although this incorporates math and writing, I don't think it feels like either!

If you're thinking about implementing Math Journals in your classroom, here is my rubric that I use for assessing my students' responses!

Dear General Education Teacher...

As teachers, I feel like we all have topics or subjects that are near and dear to our hearts. For me, that topic is special education.  Specifically, the way students with disabilities survive in an inclusive classroom.
I was once told that working as the special education teacher in an inclusive setting is one of the trickiest jobs around.  You are walking into someone else's classroom, and attempting to serve the students that are often the most difficult for them to reach.  I try my best to always respect the classroom teacher, but I am also an advocate for that child.

Over the years, I've always had a list of things that I wish my fellow general education teachers knew.  Today, I'm sharing my list.  Your special education teacher *may* be thinking the same things.

I'm not there to judge you.
Of all people in this building, I understand that not everyone is the same.  Just like kids have learning styles, teachers have teaching styles.  I respect that, and I rarely ever compare one teacher to another.  While I may be offering suggestions or helping to brainstorm strategies, that is in NO way a judgment of your teaching, your ability to handle the student, or you as a person.  Please know, that I am only trying to help make your day easier.

Your students don't learn like you do.
Duh, right?  That's why they have identified disabilities, right?  But what does that mean to you as the general education teacher?  I think the best way to understand what students are going through is to experience it yourself.  The website Misunderstood Minds has multiple ways to experience common struggles that our students are going through.  My favorite is the auditory activity that proves how hard it is for some students to follow directions.  For many of us, school was easy.  We loved it, but we likely loved it because it was easy for us.  Not all kids fit that mold. 

She’s not brain dead.
Whoa!  I seriously didn't mean for that to sound so negative.  Let me tell you what I mean.  By upper elementary, many kids with disabilities are YEARS behind.  As a general education teacher, I want you to have high expectations for all students, including your kids with disabilities.  Learning disabilities tend to effect only a small portion of their learning (example: decoding or fluency), but they don't typically impact every. single. aspect. of their academics.  So, yes, she has a learning disability.  But, she is NOT brain dead.  It's seriously ok to push them.  It is seriously ok to have high expectations.  But please, don't treat her like she's the classroom pet, where her classmates hold her hand and teach her to rely on others.  Work hard to discover her areas of strength and MAXIMIZE them!

Your identified kids aren't lazy.
Often times, your students with learning disabilities are actually some of your hardest working kids.  These are the kids that have to work their tails off to reach each and every milestone.  Sometimes hard work reaps different rewards and rates of growth. And, I'm ok with that.  Try to recognize the work rather than the gaps.

If they could control their behavior, they would.
Now, some kids are truly smart enough to manipulate situations, and they ARE in control.  However, many of the students sitting in our classrooms, cannot control their impulses, emotions, or reactions to peer situations.  I always try to explain this in relation to my energy level.  I don't know about you, but I'm ready to crash by 7:00 on a Friday night.  I WISH I had the energy level of my four year old.  But, I don't.  There isn't anything I can do to change that.

If your little guy with ADHD could control those his impulses in your classroom, trust me, he would.  But he can't, just like I can't will myself to have the energy level of a toddler.  Help him to find ways to work off a little energy AND complete classroom assignments.

Why do we care about grades so much?!
Wouldn't it be perfect if every single kid in your classroom was a straight A student?! Last time I checked, that isn't realistic.  Like, not even a little bit realistic.  So why do we always put so much emphasis on grades?  Why can't we celebrate a hard earned C-?  When I sit in parent-teacher conferences with the parents of students with disabilities, I always encourage them to focus on their IEP progress monitoring or other area of growth rather than the letter sitting next to their reading or writing grade on their report card.

The IEP isn't optional.
Many teachers want to be choosy in regards to accommodations.  An IEP is a legal document, in which the general education teacher(s), special education teacher(s), principal, and parents have the ability to write, change, and adapt the services and supports for the student.  If there is an accommodation that you don't agree with, see a need for, or simply want to adjust, ask the special education teacher for a meeting.  You are legally obligated to provide the services, supports, and accommodations that are outlined.  Make sure that you understand them and that they are fitting for the student.  If those accommodations were written, then at one point in time, a team of people met, discussed, and agreed that those accommodations were necessary.  It's not your job to pick and choose based on what works for you.

An IEP is NOT an excuse.
Have a student with a reading disability, but they're doing horrible with basic computation? Oh, it must be the disability.  Ummm, no?!  And shut up, you've heard it at some point in your career.  Some parents, students, and teachers see an IEP as the ultimate excuse.  Math homework taking too long at night?  Let's pull the IEP card to reduce the amount of homework.  Didn't pass statewide testing?  That's ok!  They have an IEP!  

Well, I disagree.  A student with a disability might do poorly in one area of statewide testing, and homework might take a bit longer.  But each time we use this as the ultimate "Get Out of Jail FREE" card, we devalue that IEP a little more.  It is there as a support, not as a crutch.

I am NOT perfect, and I'm usually the first to admit that.  I also hate confrontation with parents, other teachers, and administrations.  So, if I'm being real with you, students with disabilities in a general education classroom is HARD.  But I also believe that putting them in a self contained, special education classroom is not the ideal placement for them.

Now that I am in the role of a general education teacher, I constantly have an internal struggle between the general ed and special ed parts of my heart.  It is never easy.  Just remember, EVERY teacher wants is to look back on a school year, and know that they did everything possible to ensure the success of all students in their classroom.

Last Day of School Circles!

I always dread the last day of school for some reason.  I want my students to remember more than just the academics that we covered throughout the school year.  I want them to remember that I have a sense of humor, the laughter that we shared together, and the sense of community that we had in my classroom.  So today, I had them gather around the room in a small circle.  

And one by one, they took turns drawing a card from the basket.  

Then, they completed the action that was given on the card.  These tasks ranged from captioning a meme, describing a classmate using three adjectives, or creating a "Would You Rather..." using activities that we did throughout the school year.  

 If this looks like something fun you would like to do in your classroom, click the image above to grab it from my TpT store!

Totally Random!

Over Christmas Break, I was searching Pinterest for a few ways to really spice up my test prep.  While searching, I found this crazy, silly game called Stinky Feet from Teaching in the Fast Lane.  I absolutely loved the concept, and I knew that I had to use it in my classroom.

I really loved the idea, but I had a few twists to keep things totally random!  When my students walked in from recess, they found THIS, and they were ready to play!

During the week before state testing, we were reviewing decimal computation.  I split my class into teams of four.  Then, I would display a problem and give them a minute or so to complete it as a team.  

When their time was up, one student from each team would come up to my iPad to place a finger on the screen.  Using the app Chwazi, my students would be randomly selected to share their answer.  My students really loved this app.  They insisted that there was a pattern to its selections, but they sure couldn't figure out how to cheat it!

After the Chwazi app randomly selected a team, the team would share their answer.  If their answer was correct, they would get to choose a Post-It note from the board.  Written in pencil (because markers bled through) on the back of the Post-It note, they found a point value.  Some of the point values were positive while others were negative.  This added another random element to the game!

We had a BLAST playing this game!  It was extremely fun to play because correct answers and being selected by the Chwazi app were not always good things.  It was a game of pure luck and was TOTALLY RANDOM! :)

If you would like to play this game with your students, you can grab a Power Point template by clicking the image above.  You'll need this, the Chwazi app, and a few Post-It Notes! :)

Top Five Ways to Use Task Cards

Who loves task cards?  Let me tell you, I am seriously an addict!  I make them, buy them, wishlist them, dream about them....ok, this is getting crazy!  But seriously, I love them.  My students and I thoroughly enjoy using them in my classroom.  I am by no means a task card expert, but I use many of the same ways in my room on a regular basis and I wanted to share them with you tonight!

Scoot!  I stinkin' love it!  I love how it encourages fluency and continued practice over a given skill or skills.  I also love that it gets my kids up and moving.  Sure, I could pass out a worksheet with the same questions but it will NEVER be as effective at engaging students to focus and practice a particular skill.  Anytime I pull out task cards and begin to explain what we are going to do, my kids BEG for Scoot!  

Here's how Scoot works in my room:
1.  Pass out a task card to each student in your classroom.  I require my students to keep their card face down on their desk until I give them permission to flip it over.
2.  Provide a recording sheet to each student to work out and record their answers.
3.  Have students take a peak at their card to see what number they have.  Since there is only one number ONE, all students will be beginning the set of task cards at a different spot.  I have them peak at their number ahead of time to avoid them starting in the incorrect spot.  
4.  Set a timer for a specified amount of time.  The amount of time that I use always varies depending on the skill that we are working on.  I usually use the first round to help me determine the length of time that is appropriate for students to complete the problems.  
5.  Tell the students to GO!  Then, give them time to complete the problem.
6.  After the time is up, tell them to STOP!  I also instruct my students to flip their card over after they are done.  I like this because it keeps the student behind them from working ahead.
l7.  Have the students scoot to the next spot and repeat!
8.  After allowing all students to move throughout the room and they have returned to their original seats, I review the correct answers aloud.  I usually do this by starting at number one and "scooting" my way throughout the room.  The students check their answers as we go.  
9.  Allow students to ask questions if needed about incorrect answers.  
10.  Since many sets of task cards come with 24 or more cards per set, I am usually able to also take a grade on any remaining cards.  Since I have twenty students in my classroom, I usually have four left over task cards.  After allowing students to ask questions about missed problems and doing a quick mini-lesson on any common mistakes I noticed while the students worked their way through the room, I put the last four problems on the board for a grade!

I also love to print my task cards in black and white to allow students to practice them at home.  I am the queen of stuffing these into mailboxes during recess after seeing which students struggled during math groups.  They are typically the same students who need additional help and their parents are happy to chip in.  I always send home an answer key so that either the students or their parents can quickly and easily check for student accuracy.  I have received many compliments when doing this.  I think it is many parents realize that their student needs more support, but they don't always know how to provide it.  This is a quick, easy, and cost-effective way to solve that problem!

My teaching partner, Shelby at Education Lahne, created this fun freebie to help students knockout task cards in a self-paced way.  She created a template with nine circles.  As students travel through stations or sets of task cards, they earn stickers or stamps for each destination.  We used this for grammar review before statewide testing.  It was a great way to give our students choice while ensuring that they are accountable for their work.

This is a new game for me this year but I. am. in. LOVE....and so are my kids!  I lay pairs of cards around my classroom.  Students are paired in groups of two and tasked to solve all of the problems in the room quickly and accurately.  I "rank" my students according to our STAR Math or Reading scores and pair my highest and lowest students together.  Then the second highest with second lowest, and so on.  I love this method of peer tutoring and it really levels the playing field to allow all pairs a fair shot at winning the game.  

Here's how Solve It, Switch It works in my room:
1.  Place pairs of cards around my room.
2.  Provide a recording sheet to each student to work out and record their answers.
3.  Assign or allow students to choose a partner.
4.  Explain to students that when you say GO, they will solve ONE task card while their partner solves the other.  I usually complete the first round together as a class.  After they both complete their card, they SWITCH cards.  Once again, I usually do the first round together.  After they have solved the second card, they must CHECK their answers.  If their answers match, they can find another set of cards to work through.  If their answers do NOT match, they must rework the problem(s) together to find the error.  

5.  I also lay out an answer key on my back table.  When students are confident that they have correctly answered each question, they can go check their answers with the key.
6.  The team who answers the most correctly in the fastest time wins!  Since they are working in pairs, I can't remember a time when my students didn't make it to the answer key without the correct answers in place.  

My last way of using task cards is SERIOUSLY a treat for my kids....and me!  I hide a set of task cards throughout the room and it is their job to find and solve all of the task cards.  I leave many of them just lying around in very obvious places, however, I hide a few in tricky spots.  This adds a completive element as well as a little mystery that keeps things interesting!  It makes the dreaded task of division a little more bearable!  Just as the game Scoot gets my students up and moving, so does Solve the Room!  They are up, moving, and exercising their mathematical minds!

I have also tried something new recently, due to a fabulous idea from FlapJack Education!  These Stikki-Clips are amazing!!!  I leave them up around my room, and simply switch out sets of task cards depending on what we are working on.

Sidewalk Scoot

Is anyone else knee deep in test prep?  UGH!  I am, and I'm trying my best to make it as engaging as possible.  While at the store last weekend, I bought a few items to make our test prep this week a little less boring.  Today, we played Sidewalk Scoot!

As you can see from the picture above, each student was assigned a square on the sidewalk.  Prior to coming outside, each student created a multiplication or division problem.  In their square, they had to write their computation problem in their neatest handwriting.

After everyone had written their problem, it was time to SCOOT!  They moved through each problem on the sidewalk "Scoot Style."

Click the image above to grab the free recording sheets! I would love to see your students doing Sidewalk Scoot on Instagram using hashtag #mathfun.


Have you heard of the app Aurasma?!  I hadn't until recently and had to put it to use in my room.  We've been slaving away on ISTEP (Indiana's high stakes test), and I wanted a fun way to let our students share their feelings on ISTEP.  My students loved using the app so much, that we had to use it again in the following activity!

I love Kid President and jump on any chance to share one of his videos in class.  We began by watching this video on YouTube about making the world more awesome.  

Then, my students brainstormed a list of three things that would make the world better, AND what they could do to help achieve this!  They recorded themselves sharing their ideas!

Here comes the fun part!  After recording their video, we opened up the Aurasma app.  If you haven't used this app, here are the basics.  It allows you to create a "trigger" image, which works similar to a QR Code.  When that trigger image is scanned with the app, it can take you to an image or video of your choice.

My students used their own faces for trigger images.  When a classmate scans their face, they will be able to watch their video and hear all of the things that they believe would make the world a better place.

When the trigger image is scanned, the video pops right up on your device.  As you move your device, the image moves as well.  It is so much fun and an excellent way for students to demonstrate their learning.  This is the sample that I created of my daughter to show how the app worked to my students!

Next up on our Aurasma agenda, creating book trailers for our book club books to be played when we scan the covers of our books! :)


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