Encourage – Don’t Discourage! Why do students feel bad when math doesn’t make sense?

Call me an optimist, but yes, when it comes to math, I am an optimist. Over so many years of teaching math, I have heard and seen it all (okay, maybe almost heard and seen it all). One experience that stands out to me is when a student does not understand a math concept, and yet they feel embarassed to ask questions. Why is that? Before you continue reading this post, take a moment and read what Albert Einstein once said.

Trust me on this, everyone has some form of difficulty in math. Some concepts might come easy to some, and other concepts might be difficult for some.

Here is my take on why I believe students get embarassed when they cannot understand a math concept. Math has been idolized as the ‘thing‘ that will make or break your educational career. Don’t get me wrong, math is important in all aspects of our lives, and we need to let kids recognize the importance of it, but do we need to let them fear math? No.

Right from when kids start counting objects, through solving their first algebra question, the ‘smart’ kid is described as the kid that can count or solve math problems. Is that the only reason to describe a kid as a ‘smart’ kid? How about the kids who can write a great story? Or the student whose illustration stands out in a crowd? They should all fall into that category.

I believe it is time we change our mindset on how we present math to kids. In Jo Boaler’s Book: Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching, she does an amazing job of teaching parents and teachers how to show all children how to be successful in math. If you haven’t already, you have to grab a copy of her book. I promise you, it will change your mindset about how you approach the rhetoric about math.

 

Make a decision today to be the change to the rhetoric on how we respond to kids when they first encounter difficulty with math. What we say around them, and to them makes all the difference in the world. A student does not have to make math their favorite subject, but they should not feel embarassed when something does not make sense. This starts with me and you, as parents, teachers, administrators, and advocates – Let’s teach our kids not be embarassed to ask questions. There is wisdom in asking questions. Eugene Ionesco once said, It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” 

The next time you encounter a student (or your kid) who is feeling embarassed about asking math questions, take the time to encourage them to ask questions with confidence. It makes a difference in their educational journey!

My advise – Don’t leave any student behind because you believe their math capabilities are not up to par. 

Jo Boaler said it best:

Banish math anxiety and give students of all ages a clear roadmap to success

Note: Another amazing book I will recommend about mindsets, is by Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. She wrote the forward on Jo Boaler’s book on mindsets.

 

 

 

 

 

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Learning Tips for a successful school year

    • Make note of due dates. Having a schedule is important any time of the year, but especially important in the summer months. As soon as you receive your syllabus, download a copy, print it, and keep it next to your laptop, PC, or Ipad. Highlight the due dates, and keep your schedule handy. If you have a dedicated area for studying, a whiteboard is a great alternative to a printed schedule. I make changes to my whiteboard each week. Sometimes, more than once a week, depending on what is going on that week. Do not wait till the night before a due date to complete an assignment, technical glitches happen.

  • Keep a notepad next you. This tip is from my students. Most of my successful students always say that they keep a notepad next to them when they are studying. They take notes, and write down formulas. This comes in especially handy during final exam preparation.
  • Participate in class. Students who participate in class are usually the students who ask questions, and stay motivated. In the online classroom, we all know that we do not have face-to-face contact with our instructor or classmates, so the best way to stay connected is through discussion threads or weekly webcasts. Don’t post your required discussion thread response and disappear for the rest of the week. Take a break for a day or two, come back and read other students’ posts, comment on other posts, ask questions – the more you participate, the more you learn – trust me on this one.  
  • Do not fall behind. Sometimes, students make the mistake of thinking that studying online is easier than a face-to-face class. If you are one of them, you are in for a rude awakening. Online classes are demanding, and you need to stay on top of things. As I mentioned in the beginning, create a schedule and keep up with your schedule. If you ever have an emergency, contact your instructor (or let a family member contact your instructor). Your instructor will work with you to keep you from falling behind. It’s life, emergencies happen. Our goal is to see you succeed.    
  • Take advantage of resources. I cannot tell you how many times some students do not take advantage of resources designed to help them succeed. If you are using an adaptive technology system such as MyMathLab by Pearson, trust me, utilize the study plan. I cannot stress this enough. It has helped many students, and it will help you. Take advantage of tutoring services offered by your university, you will come out the winner.  If your instructor offers virtual office hours (and I can attest to this – every instructor offers virtual office hours), use it. Let me say this again, “Use your instructor’s virtual office hours“. If the office hours posted does not work with your schedule in any particular week, your instructor will work with you to set up a time that will work for both of you. I do this with my students all the time. With the advancement of technology, we have access to online whiteboards, my students love this. I can explain math concepts to them in real time, and it’s awesome. If you need more online resources, click on ‘Resources’ on the menu tab on this page, and you will find free resources to help you in your class.

 

Always remember to …..

  

 

Feedback techniques to ensure success

I had a wonderful experience working with Cherie over at Reminded Homeschooling. Now that summer is wrapping up (..or has wrapped up for some), and we are heading back to school as students, teachers, and homeschool parents, giving feedback is an essential part of the learning process.

Please share with us your experience with feedback, and how it has affected the learning process. Feedback Techniques to Ensure Success.

Guest Post: When Teaching and Learning Styles Differ – A Homeschool Mom’s Story

Ever wondered about your learning style or your teaching style, and how it affects your learning or teaching? Today, I am honored to welcome a blog post from Cherie of Reminded Homeschooling, an experienced homeschooler who has had the privilege of homeschooling four of her children. 

By: Reminded Mom

 

One of the biggest challenges we have had in our homeschool is a mismatch in learning and teaching styles. My older children were more closely matched to my own learning style and so, the teaching methods that I used intuitively worked very well for them. Our homeschool days back then rarely challenged my educational ideology or stretched my thinking in the way homeschooling my youngest has. When there are struggles, one of the first places to think about evaluating is learning style.

 

At first, I truly had no idea why we were having certain struggles. I had attributed most of it to my daughter’s sensory processing and brain integration challenges. However, through these challenges, I was lead to, and ended up doing a learning-styles assessment on her. This revealed that she is primarily a Visual-Spatial learner with a strong preference for Kinesthetic learning as well. I am a strong Logical Learner but also have Kinesthetic Learning fairly high on my learning styles inventory. I was teaching somewhat intuitively and my style of teaching, for the most part, matched my learning style, not hers. Thankfully, the one place we have some commonality is in our secondary preference for kinesthetic learning.

 

Why does it matter what my learning style is if I am the one teaching?

 

You may ask, why not choose a curriculum that is written to teach a variety learning styles? While there is truth in that idea, unless you recognize your bent toward learning, as well as your child’s, you will naturally gravitate toward selecting curriculum and teaching it in a way that suits your own style. It is just natural and intuitive to do it this way.

 

Seriously, why would I choose visual-spatial curriculum and techniques when I completely prefer a more logical process? I did not even know about visual learning techniques much less know how to teach a visual learner. Give me that outline and diagram, let’s analyze it, what fun we will have! {Daughter rolls eyes}

Not recognizing that I lean toward a particular learning and teaching style that differed from my child’s, and one which makes her eyes cross, led to many days with folded arms and shouts of, “I can’t do this!” When I finally had her do the learning styles assessment, it opened my eyes to a whole new world. I realized that I needed to make some changes but first I decided to learn about her learning styles and what worked for her.

 

I began with our common ground of kinesthetic learning and incorporated some of the learning techniques that enhance kinesthetic learning. I did this easily due to the fact that I could relate to this type of learning. To start, I primarily chose curriculum that used manipulatives, and had plenty of hands-on activities. I also bought a balance ball for her to sit on during lessons and I allowed her to have some clay in her hand to squish while I was reading or teaching. This gave her the movement she needed to stay focused while learning.

 

In the meantime, I began to research and learn about visual-spatial or “Right Brian” learning. People who learn this way are very unique, and their learning style is in direct opposition to the mainstream teaching methods, which have prevailed for decades. Navigating the waters of visual spatial learning was uncharted territory for me. Thankfully, there seem to be endless resources online for visual-spatial and right brain learning, as well as other learning styles. I ended up turning to Dianne Craft and her Right Brain Learning resources as well as Child 1st Publications. I had amazing results in teaching spelling to my daughter using the visual techniques taught by Dianne Craft in her materials.

 

As I incorporated these right brain learning techniques, I was amazed at the results I was seeing. My daughter, who has dysgraphia, went from a child who struggled with spelling, (she could spell words orally but could not write them down correctly), to being able to create a visual picture of the word in her mind which enabled her to spell it both forward and backward orally. This did not solve her writing challenge but did make it a little easier. She could see the picture of the word in her mind, allowing her to use her mental energy to write, rather than concentrating on the spelling of the word.

 

There are various learning styles models, each with its own critiques and skeptics. The important thing to think about is that there are many ways in which an individual learns and is able to, “cement” information into their memory. Each person is unique in how they do this, with some leaning more strongly to one particular style and others having a mix of various styles. Discovering your own learning style as well as that of your child or student should be looked at as a tool and guideline rather than a label or diagnosis. The goal is to recognize your own strengths as well as those of your child and work with those strengths to create ease of learning.

By discovering my own learning style, I was able to recognize the ways in which I was inclined to teach, based on the way I learned, and this was not always the most effective way to teach someone else. I was able to recognize the areas in which I would need to spend extra time and energy in my teaching style and learn to do the things that did not come naturally to me.

 

Do you know your learning style or your child’s learning style? Share your experiences with us in the comments below. Each of us is unique and it is always good to hear from and learn from the experience of others.

Cherie

Reminded Mom

How do you learn?

If someone walked up to you and asked, “how do you learn?”- will that seem strange? Think about it for a minute!

In our classrooms, whether it is a face-to-face class or an online class, we typically have a textbook we use, then if we are lucky the teacher will add some other external resources such as articles, worksheets, and some videos. How do we know which of these materials are beneficial to our students? How do you as a student know which of these materials will benefit you? I have had students over the years tell me that they prefer videos to reading a textbok. Others tell me that they prefer online games, where the system walks them through a problem, and allows them to solve each problem step by step. I’ve had others also tell me that they prefer the good old pen and paper with their textbook infront of them. Oh, and don’t forget the student who prefers the teacher in the classroom walking through concepts with them instead of an online computer system. Do you realize a pattern here? All of these students have different approaches to learning.

Over the last few years, at one point or another, we’ve heard the debate on learning styles. Some people believe that learning styles should be taken into consideration when instructing students. Others believe that learning styles are not important in instruction because there is no evidence that incorporating activities based on different learning styles improves the learning process. I promise that I didn’t make up the part about “no evidence on learning styles improving the learning process.” Take a look at this article from the Center for Teaching and Learning (Vanderbilt University). They do a great job defining what ‘learning style’ is, and go through the trouble of including research on the contradictory results from researchers on learning styles. What do you think?

This is what I think – I’ve had extensive experience working with various students at varying skill levels in math. I do believe we all learn differently. A student might grasp the concept of simultaneous equations in a shorter time if they use an adative system that is engaging. That same student might spend a longer time grasping that same concept if they are given a textbook to read. I am not agreeing with one part of the research against the other, I am sharing what I believe due to my experience. I do believe that it is imperative we take into consideration different learning styles when we instruct students. Isn’t there a saying that, “Experience is the best teacher?”

What has your experience been in the classroom as a teacher or as a student when it comes to learning? Do you prefer one method of teaching and learning or a combination of various methods? If you are an educator, how do you select learning tools for your class to make sure that all your students have a choice on what learning materials they use? If you are a homeschooling parent, how do you choose learning materials for your kids? Share your thoughts with me in the comment area. It will be enlightening to myself and my readers what others do to enhance learning.

Don’t study in isolation – Study Partner!

(Note: A link in this post is an affiliate link, and I will be compensated when you make a purchase by clicking on the link. Please note that if I didn’t find this product useful, I would not feature it on my blog. )

You know the saying, “Two heads are better than one?” Wondering why it applies to your life as a student? As students, there is so much you have to deal with – tracking deadlines, memorizing rules, completing assignments, studying for tests, and a whole lot more. If you happen to be an adult learner, then you have much more to deal with (trust me, I know the feeling) – family (if you have one), work, work-related travelling etc., and that is not easy to combine with school. Sometimes, we find ourselves studying in isolation because we are so busy, or we don’t know how to approach someone to ask them to be a study partner, or we can’t find any good reasons why we should have a study partner.

If you believe you are too busy to have a study partner, remember you don’t have to meet with your study partner weekly. You can only meet with your study partner as and when both of you need it. Meet with your study partner if you have a major assignment or paper coming up, and you want to bounce ideas off of each other, or if you have a test or exam coming up and you want to share tips on how to study or discuss concepts you find difficult.

Are you struggling with how to approach someone to ask them if they want to be your study partner? Here are some tips:

  • wait a week or two after class starts to get comfortable with your classmates
  • send an email to a few students asking them if they want to study together, you will be surprised how many responses you will receive (other people want study partners too).

Are you someone who believes that they don’t need a study partner? Think about a study partner as a class buddy, someone you can have a quick chat with about any frustrations in the class or someone you can bounce ideas off of. Sometimes your study partner might approach a problem from a different angle that will make understanding a concept easier.

These tips all seem great if you are only taking classes face-to-face right? WRONG! You can have a study partner or join a study group if you are taking classes online too. I know it’s easier if you and your study partner (or group) live in the same city, but if you don’t, you can work your way around the distance issue.

During the first week of class, be active on the introduction thread. After you post your original introduction thread, be sure to comment on other students’ posts. Ask them questions, get ‘chatty’, it will help you get to know them better. After a week or two, when everyone has settled into a routine in the class, send an email to a few students asking them if they want to be study partners. Once again, you will be surprised at the responses you will receive. Once you find your online study partner(s), you can try online collaboration tools such as skype to meet in real time. If you decide to use skype, make sure you have a whiteboard in your space to discuss questions or make notes. I purchased the whiteboard below from amazon, and installed it on the wall in my home office. I use it to take notes or show steps to a problem if I am discussing math with someone over skype, schedule appointments, or create a to-do list.

 


Viz-Pro Dry Erase Board, 40 x 30 inches, Silver, Aluminium Frame WB4030L

 

If you prefer an online whiteboard, try  Scribblar. I’ve used Scribblar many times with my students for online office hours.

Do you plan to meet an online study partner in person?

 

  • Be sure to meet in a public place (library or coffee shop).
  • Let someone know where you are and who you are meeting with.
  • Keep communication professional, and be safe.

Study partners are a great part of a student’s academic career. However you choose to approach obtaining a study partner, be sure to make the best out of every situation. Some study partners may turn into lifelong friendships and professional networks. Have you ever had a study partner? What was your experience? Share with us in the comment section.

 

 

 

My Virtual Math guide is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Returning to school after a long break? Get over the hurdle!

Summer break is here, but for some of you, the learning continues. At various times in our lives we may return to school for different reasons. Over the last few years, there have been many discussions about the adult learner and what they need to be successful. I have been privileged to work with students who for various reasons have taken a break from school for many years, and now ready to obtain their degree. The reason why I say that I have been privileged to work with returning students is because of the wealth of knowledge they bring to the table from life experiences, both personal and professional.

The idea of returning to school after taking a break might be daunting, but whatever you do, don’t let that thought stop you. The paperwork, deciding on a degree plan, finding the right fit for method of learning, enrolling in the ‘right’ classes, and finding time in your already busy schedule to complete school work almost seems impossible to achieve, but I am here to tell you, you can do it. Here are a few tips if you find yourself in this position:

  • Student Support Services. Take advantage of student support services, they will help you manage the paperwork.
  • Student Advisors. Keep in touch with your student advisor. Most of the time they are your first point of contact for all issues concerning enrollment and picking the right classes.
  • Method of Learning. Thinking about what method of learning will be right for you? Assess yourself, your time commitments, family and professional obligations, and choose the right method of learning for you. Do you prefer an online class because of time constraints? Be prepared to work hard and create a schedule. Do you prefer a face-t0-face class? Find one that fits in your schedule.
  • Schedule. My advise to you even before classes starts, is to set a schedule for yourself. What days and times work best for you? What environment is conducive to learning for you? Do you prefer to study at home or at the library? Try and map out a game plan for studying as best as you can. Another tip: always have a backup plan.
  • Ask for Help. Anytime something doesn’t make sense, don’t wait till it’s too late. Need clarification on an assignment? Ask your instructor. Have an administrative question? Ask your advisor or any staff member in student support services. Need help understanding a concept? Walk into the tutoring center or utilize the tutoring center online.
  • Engage. If you are taking classes face-to-face, be sure to participate in class and try to find a study partner. If you are taking classes online, interact with your fellow classmates, especially during the first week of class when everyone introduces themselves. You never know what you may have in common with someone else.
  • Math Requirements. Thinking about taking that math class at the end of your degree plan? Don’t! Take it as soon as possible. Take advantage of tutoring services, your instructor, and other resources provided by the university.
  • Accomplishments. Take a step back and think about your accomplishments, the work you had to put in to get where you are. Apply the same perseverance, and you will be surprised at what you are capable of achieving.

Best of all, take one step at a time, success is the only reward when you don’t give up.

 

 

 

Be Intentional! Get Results!

Over the weekend, I was wondering about what my upcoming blog post should be, between writing a paper for my comprehensive exam, (due in 19 days), blending smoothies and juicing, attending a graduation party, working out, and hanging out with my family. I kept wondering – should I blog about the exciting math adventure I am embarking on, my students’ successes, a new technology to help you learn or teach math, or other math related topics? ..and then just this morning it came to me – “blog about your experience this weekend”.

I have quite a bit on my plate this month. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when I have a lot on my plate. I am wired that way, but we all know that, sometimes we have that moment where we are tempted to say, “forget this“.

I work with a lot of students in any given month with lots of capabilities in math – some of my students love math, some of them take the class only because they have to, and some of them loathe math. One of my students once told me that math just makes her depressed. I love my students, I always believe each and everyone of them is capable of success. I am not just saying this just to say it. I do sincerely believe each of my students is capable, so I am always encouraging them to do their best. I never sit on the sidelines, I help any way I can. I am the first to tell my students to take the next step, to take a break and come back to whatever they are struggling with. I advice them to never give up, and to always ask questions. So when I found myself feeling overwhelmed with what I have on my plate this week, I asked myself, “what will one of your past students say to you?” They will tell me to take a step back, look at how far I have come on working on my paper, remind myself about the impact my work will have on others, reorganize my schedule, make a to-do list and conquer it. Yes, my students are that smart!

If you are struggling in a class, or overwhelmed with preparing to teach a class, whatever it is, think about the impact your accomplishments will have on your goals and on others, if you just take a step back for a moment, reorganize your plans, and make a go for it.

This week, I urge you to be intentional in everything you are doing, reach out, and make sure you get results.

SOLE – Self Organized Learning Environment: Are you the student or the teacher?

The future of learning – Have you ever imagined what the future of learning will be? Have you ever envisioned a ‘perfect’ learning environment as a student or an educator?

As educators and administrators, we try our best everyday to find learning and teaching strategies that will help teachers and students succeed. Last week on this blog I talked about adaptive technology, a form of personalized learning that utilizes technology to customize learning components to student’s individual needs. I have had the opportunity to use adaptive technology, and so far most of my students have found it useful. Are you ready to find out more about another learning and teaching strategy?

Picture yourself with a group of your peers sitting around a computer without a teacher. You have been given an assignment, and you have to find results. How will you go about achieving results? Where will you go to seek direction? This is where Self Organized Learning Environment or SOLE comes in. A Self Organized Learning Environment is an environment where educators encourage students to work together to answer questions using technology. Dr. Sugata Mitra, a professor of Educational Technology, spent 16 years experimenting with the idea of school children being left alone with their peers to explore learning. One of his findings was that, children who did not speak English were able to teach themselves how to speak English, so they could research information in English. Without any guidance, the children were able to collaborate, face challenges, and find results.

“Children have extraordinary learning capabilities when given the opportunity”. Eliza

Have you ever envisioned your future of learning as a student or as a teacher? Are we incorporating a self organized learning environment into our schools?

Spend a few minutes, and listen to this intriguing TED Talk by Sugata Mitra on SOLE:

 

 

 

 

Somewhere in the virtual world!

 

Do a Happy Dance and walk out the door – “Have a wonderful summer break“, “See you again next semester“, “See you in the Fall“, these are all things we hear in the hallway during the last week of the semester.

Summer is a time for recouping, relaxing, pool time, barbecues, and no math right? Um, not so much! What if you are teaching a class this summer or taking a class online this summer? For most of us who take classes or teach online, even though we are wrapping up in one class this week, we will be tackling another class or two in the next week or so. The question is, “How do we stay motivated during the semester in the summer months, when everyone else around us is enjoying their beautiful summer days without having to look at math concepts?” Here are a few tips:

  • Make note of due dates. Having a schedule is important any time of the year, but especially important in the summer months. As soon as you receive your syllabus, download a copy, print it, and keep it next to your laptop, PC, or Ipad. Highlight the due dates, and keep your schedule handy. If you have a dedicated area for studying, a whiteboard is a great alternative to a printed schedule. I make changes to my whiteboard each week. Sometimes, more than once a week, depending on what is going on that week. Do not wait till the night before a due date to complete an assignment, technical glitches happen.
  •   

  • Keep a notepad next you. This tip is from my students. Most of my successful students always say that they keep a notepad next to them when they are studying. They take notes, and write down formulas. This comes in especially handy during final exam preparation.
  • Participate in class. Students who participate in class are usually the students who ask questions, and stay motivated. In the online classroom, we all know that we do not have face-to-face contact with our instructor or classmates, so the best way to stay connected is through discussion threads or weekly webcasts. Don’t post your required discussion thread response and disappear for the rest of the week. Take a day or two break, come back and read other students’ posts, comment on other posts, ask questions – the more you participate, the more you learn – trust me on this one.  
  • Do not fall behind. Sometimes, students make the mistake of thinking that studying online is easier than a face-to-face class. If you are one of them, you are in for a rude awakening. Online classes are demanding, and you need to stay on top of things. As I mentioned in the beginning, create a schedule and keep up with your schedule. If you ever have an emergency, contact your instructor (or let a family member contact your instructor). Your instructor will work with you to keep you from falling behind. It’s life, emergencies happen. Our goal is to see you succeed.    
  • Take advantage of resources. I cannot tell you how many times some students do not take advantage of resources designed to help them succeed. If you are using an adaptive technology system such as MyMathLab by Pearson, trust me, utilize the study plan. I cannot stress this enough. It has helped many students, and it will help you. Take advantage of tutoring services offered by your university, you will come out the winner.  If your instructor offers virtual office hours (and I can attest to this – every instructor offers virtual office hours), use it. Let me say this again, “Use your instructor’s virtual office hours“. If the office hours posted does not work with your schedule in any particular week, your instructor will work with you to set up a time that will work for both of you. I do this with my students all the time. With the advancement of technology, we have access to online whiteboards, my students love this. I can explain math concepts to them in real time, and it’s awesome. If you need more online resources, click on ‘Resources’ on the menu tab on this page, and you will find free resources to help you in your class.

Don’t forget to enjoy your summer, and be sure to stay motivated throughout the semester. Always remember to …..