Archive for September, 2011


New Presentations for the Fall

Monday, September 26th, 2011


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nyscate

As the fall gets into high gear, I will be getting on the road again. If you’re in New York, try to attend NYSCATE this year and register for my session on Singapore Math on Sunday, November 20. If you can come on Saturday, I will be giving a three-hour workshop on NaNoWriMo in the classroom, which will be fun and hands on.

I will also be offering six Singapore Math full-day workshops this fall, starting in October and ending in December. The schedule and links to register for those, and for the conference, are at the bottom of my Professional Development page. If you come, be sure to tell me you saw this website, and you will receive a special little gift!

Review: Number Bonds Software for Singapore Math

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011


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Number bonds software

Crystal Springs Books recently produced a new software program for number bonds practice. This concept is foundational to Singapore Math. Number bonds can be used for everything from addition and subtraction to understanding fractions, and Singapore Math makes great use of them in its teaching.

The software, intended for grades K-2, is a simple Flash-based program. The CD comes with installers for both Mac OS and Windows. The program is small and snappy, even on older or slower computers; I have tried it on a first-generation Macbook Pro as well as two netbooks. I have used the software with young students and demonstrated it in front of a group of teachers, and this is what we found.

The program comes with four different games, ranging from very basic to more advanced. In the first game, Pond Bonds, children must move frogs to the appropriate lily pad to form correct number bonds. In the second game, Bird Bonds, the purpose is to move the appropriate bird to the right hole in the birdhouse. In this one, each bird is labeled with a number. The third game, Which Number, shows number bonds with one of the numbers missing; students must click on the correct number to complete the bond. The final game, Which Bond, gives students a number at the top of the screen, with two number bonds below. The student must click on the correct question mark where the top number should go.

The games follow the progression of Concrete > Pictorial > Abstract, which is known to lead to student success. Picking up a kicking frog and dropping it on the lily pad, or hearing it splash in the water, triggers concrete sensory feedback, especially when used with a touch screen or interactive white board. Moving birds with numbers on them starts to combine the concrete with the abstract, and the shapes of the holes in the birdhouse mirror the shapes of the number bonds in the next levels. The final two levels use the pictorial and abstract levels to good effect.

The software has several options for customization. For each game, you can set a numerical range, a time limit, and a number of players. Be aware, though, that if you go with the defaults, it may be a recipe for failure; the time limit is set to lowest, and the numbers are set to the highest range, meaning even a very fast adult can’t get a very high score. I wish the defaults had been reversed. On the other hand, if you need to move students quickly through stations, the fast pace can be good. The fastest time may not allow adequate time for learning, though. Once you set the settings for a game, they stay that way until you change them.

One area where this software is lacking is educational feedback for the player. On the early games, if you miss a question, you can go back and try again, but you don’t receive any clues about what went wrong. On the higher games, if you miss one, too bad; you can’t even try again. I would like to see some sort of helpful feedback when mistakes are made.

When you have one player set, the score for the player is displayed at the end of the game. For more players, the others have to sit through each entire set until the scores are displayed at the end. I think more interactive game play would be nice. There is no way to save scores in the software, either. I would recommend that teachers create individual score sheets for students to keep track of their scores and how they improve over time, so they compete against themselves, not against others.

Since the software is Flash-based, it cannot run on iOS devices. I hope they develop a version for that platform soon.

UPDATE: As of March 2013, an iOS version is available! Read the review here.

Conclusion: Highly Recommended
Number Bonds is a simple, inexpensive software package that can provide extra addition and subtraction practice in the classroom or at home. Children find it fun and engaging, and it provides good composing and decomposing practice, as well as mental addition and subtraction. I would use it for a wider age range of children; it can be helpful for differentiating, like with more advanced preschoolers and upper elementary students who need foundational number bond practice. It would be nice if the software had a few more features, but I’m sure those features would take away from the software’s speedy response on older hardware. For best results, it should be run on a touch device, so it would be great if it could be installed on iOS or Android in the future.

Pros:
Not expensive
Site license available
Small and fast
Good educational design (concrete > pictorial > abstract)
Fun for children
Range of levels and challenges
Compatible with a wide range of desktops and laptops
Singapore math-based!

Cons:
Not enough feedback on mistakes
Can’t save score data
Settings need to be reset when first played
Not a true multiplayer game
Needs teacher introduction to be most effective (not stand-alone)
Teachers need training to make the most of it, but program-based help is minimal

Writing How-To Essays & Site Updates

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011


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firstbasket

One of my pursuits this summer, when I wasn’t as active on this blog, was writing step-by-step articles on instructables.com. Projects included everything from a camp shower enclosure to a 35-cent book weight.

This type of writing, the how-to essay, is great for students to practice order words (first, next, then, finally), as well as to understand how to organize their work so it makes sense. See an example of a second-grade student’s how-to essay here.

NCTM Illuminations 2011

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011


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modeldraw

This summer I gave a three-hour workshop on Singapore Math model drawing at the NCTM Illuminations Institute in Reston, VA. This was a fun workshop with a great group of people, and we accomplished a lot of model drawing practice and understanding.

I was pleased to see recently that the workshop received a couple of mentions on the web. One is on the thinkfinity site, which is run by Verizon and which I first joined after attending ISTE 2011. The other is from one of the participants, who wrote a blog post mentioning it.

If you are interested in seeing what I can offer your school, please be sure to contact me.

Musical Proofreading: A Different Approach to Teaching Punctuation

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011


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This post was originally published on the Patch on August 5, 2011.

music

I was recently working with a young student who had a hard time figuring out when to add commas or periods in his writing. I had given him a worksheet made from a paragraph I wrote and from which I removed proper capitalization and end punctuation. All he had to do was rewrite the paragraph with correct periods and capitals.

Even though this sounds simple, he had a hard time determining where a period should go. Instead, he sometimes added a comma instead or skipped a period entirely.

After trying several approaches to help him, a new thought occurred to me. “Listen to the music of the words,” I said. I compared punctuation to rests in musical notation, with which he has some experience. “Commas are like short rests, and periods are like long rests.”

I then hummed the paragraph without the words for him once, and then again while pointing to the words I was humming so he could follow along. He said it was almost like he could hear me saying the sentences. I said, “Yes, the music and rhythm of language help give it meaning.” To show some contrast, I read the same paragraph in an absolute monotone with no pauses for punctuation whatsoever. “Much more boring, isn’t it?” I said, and he agreed.

With this new tool under his belt, my student was able to successfully detect when to add periods in the rest of the paragraph. He continues to use this tool months later.

I have taught this method to other struggling students, and it’s helped them, too. A search for similar methods didn’t turn up anything online, so I wonder if this is a new idea. I hope this way to use “musical intelligence” adds another useful tool to other writing teachers’ tool kits!

        
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