What I’m Reading this Week

When I think of the word “language” I think of a community of people communicating with one another using a specific vocabulary of symbols and words. I currently teach in one of the most diverse cities in the state of Michigan, with a robust international community and culture. There are approximately eighty-three different languages spoken amongst our students in our school district. In addition, in any classroom you will find a variety of needs and abilities for each individual student. With all these differences in languages, background and abilities, I cannot help but question what role does vocabulary play in learning mathematics? How can I best teach my students the “language” of mathematics?

grandma foreign language

We are all curious about new words we may hear in everyday life situations and often we want to find out their meaning. For many of my students, when they come across a word they don’t know they either skip it or create their own meaning for the word. “Rich development and understanding of mathematics vocabulary is essential for students to become actively engaged in mathematics past mundane computational requirements to thorough understanding and meaning making.” (Riccomini et. al 2015). As teachers, parents and students we need to be aware of the critical role that vocabulary plays in mathematics, other content areas, and in real-world situations. Interestingly enough, it begins even before students step foot into a classroom.

David Barner, director of the Language and Development Lab at UC San Diego conducted research on the importance of using numbers when you talk to toddles. Rather than relying on the memorization or sing-a-longs for 1-2-3 counting rituals, “number talk” can help with the comprehension of what numbers really mean. Barner says his study provides “the strongest evidence to date that the language a child speaks affects the rate at which they learn number words, and also that hearing number words in naturalistic speech – not just in counting routines and procedures – is a critical part of number word learning.” For some of my students with specific learning disabilities I see their reliance on songs they they have memorized for how to skip count or complete an equation. However, this does not indicate they know the true meaning of how or why they are performing the task, let alone the vocabulary and language being used. On the flip side, learning this insightful information gets me thinking….perhaps some of my students who come from a variety of backgrounds with different language origins have an advantage in the classroom that I have yet to explore and find a way to open up.


This videos below explain the many challenges of the language of math

So what can we do? How can we teach the language of mathematics? Let’s count the ways by reviewing a few articles that will provide helpful insight into ways in which we can incorporate different strategies to learn the language of mathematics.

#1 Graphic Organizers:

Graphic organizers have the potential to support the development of conceptual knowledge in content areas by efficiently displaying key ideas and the relationships among them (Hughes, Maccini, & Gagnon, 2003). In the article, Students Use Graphic Organizers to Improve Mathematical Problem-Solving Communications

by Allan Zollman, he demonstrates how many of the reading and writing strategies we use with various graphic organizers can have a positive influence in mathematics as well. With the four corners and a diamond graphic organizer, students answer the following five important questions:

  1. What do you need to find? ~ state the problem
  2. What do you already know? ~ list the given information
  3. Brainstorm possible ways to solve the problem. ~ explain the methods for solving
  4. Try your ways. ~ identify math procedures in your work
  5. What things do you need to include in your response? What mathematics did you learn by working this problem? ~specify the final answer and conclusions

The key here is that students can work around the problem even if they are unsure of the final answer. Working through a story problem with this method would be a great way for teacher to identify quickly where their students are struggling and “see” their thinking process.


# 2 Using Representations

Another way to teach many mathematical concepts and operations is through a concrete-representational-abstract (C-R-A) sequence.

  1. Each math concept/skill is first modeled with concrete materials (e.g. chips, unifix cubes, base ten blocks, beans and bean sticks, pattern blocks).
  2. Then, math concept/skill is modeled at the representational (semi-concrete) level which involves drawing pictures that represent the concrete objects (e.g. tallies, dots, circles, stamps that imprint pictures for counting)
  3. Finally, the math concept/skill is modeled at the abstract level (using only numbers and mathematical symbols)

Dr. Okolo from Michigan State University says “Representations are particularly advantageous for students with weaker reading and/or language skills, as visual representations may provide access to knowledge that is not possible through text”. In the article The Role of Representation(s) in Developing Mathematical Understanding Pape and Tchoshanov address some of the important practices that should be used in the classroom when using C-R-A. The four key ideas include:

  • Students need opportunities to practice representation
  • Representation is a “social activity” and should be performed with students interacting with one another
  • Instruction should be both analytic and geometric
  • Representation should be used as thinking, explaining and justifying tools

CRA example  new_tools.jpg

Image Source

# 3 Explicit instruction

Whether using you are using graphic organizer or manipulative it imperative that you use them in conjunction with explicit instruction. “Common elements of explicit instruction include logically sequencing key skills, reviewing prior skills and knowledge, providing step-by-step teacher models of new skills along with opportunities for guided and independent practice, and assisting students with connections between new and existing knowledge” (Archer & Hughes, 2011). Explicit instruction could be in the form of preteaching vocabulary before a lesson to ensure the students are aware and understand the important terms that are going to be used. Making sure you are using appropriate labels clearly and consistently. In addition, it is beneficial to integrate vocabulary knowledge in assessments to ensure mastery or the need for reteaching. In the following article by Hughes, Powell, and Stevens they describe several common error that teachers often make that may cause disturbances in learning math vocabulary. They strongly believe that in order to support students and promote the understanding of mathematics, there must be a consistency, precision and accuracy of the language embedded into teach strategies.

# 4 Word Walls

word wall closeup

The use of word walls in classrooms no longer only applies to language arts classrooms. Using word walls to reinforce unit vocabulary is a great way to support long-term retention. As mentioned above, once words are explicitly taught in the context of the given unit, you can then add definitions, examples and visuals to the word wall. In the article Vocabulary beyond the Definitions from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics they describe many unique and creative ideas for using word walls in your math classroom.  A helpful suggestion included displaying all the vocabulary for the unit as an anticipation guide, or a start to preteaching to stimulate interest in a topic and give students a preview of what is to come. Then from there you can make a pre-assessment by asking students to find the words that don’t belong or even group words of similar meaning.

From the various readings above it is clear that there are many ways to teach mathematics vocabulary. In addition, I think it would be beneficial to weave these strategies into your instruction to allow for students who learn in different ways.

While co-teaching math this coming school year I think I will try out a few of these skills!

References :

Archer, A. L., & Hughes, C. A. (2011). Explicit instruction: Effective and efficient teaching. New York, NY: Guilford Press

De Garcia, L. (2008, November 24). Concrete-Representational-Abstract Instructional Approach. In Strategies for Teaching Elementary Mathematics A resource to improve the teaching and understanding of elementary mathematics. . Retrieved June 30, 2017.

*Hughes, E. M., Powell, S. R., & Stevens, E. A. (2016). Supporting Clear and Concise Mathematics Language: Instead of That, Say This. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 49, 7-17. doi:10.1177/0040059916654901

*Kiderra, I. (2013, October 23). One, Two, Buckle My Shoe: International Study Documents Importance of Language to Learning Math. In UC San Diego UC San Diego News Center. Retrieved from http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/pressrelease/one_two_buckle_my_shoe_international_study_documents_importance_of_language

Moschkovich, Judit N. 2002. “Supporting the Participation of English Language Learners in Mathematical Discussions.” For the Learning of Mathematics 19 (1): 11–19.

Okolo, C. (2017, June). Teaching Math Concepts through Representation. Retrieved July 2, 2017 from: https://d2l.msu.edu/d2l/le/content/576255/viewContent/4999516/View

*Riccomini, P. J., Smith, G. W., Hughes, E. M., & Fries, K. M. (2015). The Language of Mathematics: The Importance of Teaching and Learning Mathematical Vocabulary. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 235-252. doi:10.1080/10573569.2015.1030995

*Zollman, A. (2009, November). Students Use Graphic Organizers to Improve Mathematical Problem-Solving Communications. In Association for Middle Level Education. Retrieved from http://www.amle.org/BrowsebyTopic/WhatsNew/WNDet/TabId/270/ArtMID/888/ArticleID/130/Graphic-Organizers-Improve-Mathematical-Problem-Solving-Communications.aspx?_cldee=Ym5vbGFuZG96YnVybkBob3RtYWlsLmNvb

That’s a Wrap!


After completing 6 weeks of CEP 810 – Teaching Understanding with Technology it’s time to reflect on all of my learning. Throughout my learning in this course I have been thinking about all of the different ways I can incorporate technology into my teaching as well as my professional career. Early on we were introduced to many of the important aspect we should be thinking about while incorporating creative, unique and specific technologies into the classroom. Bransford, Brown and Cocking stated “schools and classrooms must be learner centered”. As a special education teacher and working with a very diverse population of students it is so important to model our instruction based on learner-specific needs. This includes not only their abilities, but perhaps how we can use technology to assist the learning of our students.

During the second week of class we began thinking about a skill or task that we have always wanted to learn. This would become a five week project of learning something new with the challenge that you can only use technology for your learning. Carol Dweck said “motivation is a key determinant of transfer”. This was such a unique learning experience and yet because I was  motivated by choosing what I wanted to learn, it gave me a purpose for the task. This project did not come without its problems, hurdles and learning curves, but it definitely made me consider the endless possibilities available for any of our learning needs. As I read my classmates blogs and watched their video updates, I was amazed at the differences in tasks and how everyone was able to access different forms on the internet to assist them in all of their learning needs.

This course also opened my eyes to the resources available to me. When creating my Professional Learning Network, I realized that I have numerous outlets for growth, assistance and guidance available at my fingertips. I think this has allowed me to see that I can continue to expand this network and hopefully use the resources more often to benefit my classroom instruction. In the National Educational Technology Plan is concluded that “the goal of these career-long personal learning networks would be to make professional learning timely and relevant as well as an ongoing activity that continually improves practices. These networks and other resources would enable educators to take online courses, tap into experts and best practices for just-in-time learning and problem solving, and provide platforms and tools for educators to design and develop resources and share them with their colleagues.” My fellow colleagues are a wealth of knowledge and I would love to share many of the new ideas I have learned from with course. 

As I set forth in achieving my goals I do have some unanswered questions I have been thinking about. How can I become more involved with professional development opportunities specific to integrating technology in the classroom? How can I ensure that technology is helping to improve my students learning? I am extremely excited to start the coming school year so I can effectively use what I have learned throughout this course to develop my instruction using technology. I want my students to be able to experience the same learning experiences that I have had during this course. My goal is to provide my students with opportunities for exploration, networking, collaboration and creation in our 21st digital world.

Cooking with TPACK – Fruit Salad?

This week in CEP 810 we were asked to take part in a fun virtual TPACK quickfire activity. TPACK stands for Technological, Pedagogical and Content Knowledge. Dr. Punya Mishra and Matthew Koehler go on to explain that this is what we as teachers need to be aware of when teaching the students of today. Let’s take a deeper look at each part of TPACK. Technology Knowledge – Teachers have to have the knowledge and mastery of the technology they plan to use so that they can use it efficiently in their classrooms. In addition, they need to able to teach their students how to use this technology as a resource for their learning. Pedagogical Knowledge – Teachers knowledge and practice of teaching and learning that we can use in our classrooms such as classroom management, taxonomies, planning and assessments. Content Knowledge – Knowledge of subject content including theories, ideas, frameworks, and establishing practices including ways to develop such knowledge.

The ultimate goal for a 21st century teacher requires the proper implementation of all three aspects in the classroom. The more conscious you are of these three important areas of teaching the more likely you will be to succeed in using this framework successfully and efficiently.

In this week’s activity I asked my niece to come into the kitchen – she had to select from the kitchen drawers and cupboards three things: a plate, a bowl and a utensil. I did not tell her what kind or specifics for any of the tools. She chose a big red bowl, a small Toy Story plate and a spoon. Next I asked her to choose one of the slips from the hat. Each slip corresponded to various tasks I would have to do. Watch the video below to see what happened.

Big observation – making fruit salad with just a bowl, plate and spoon is a challenge. The spoon (although not typically used in this manner) served as an okay tool for cutting up the banana for the fruit bowl. Given that banana’s are softer and easy to slice, repurposing the spoon as a make shift knife was doable. However when it came to cutting the apple, the spoon was not as efficient as hoped for. I was able to somewhat slice slivers of the apple in order to kind of complete the task, but it wasn’t the greatest. In order to accomplish the task I had to repurpose plate to be more like a cutting board. The bowl was a good size and shape. If I could have another tool or the choice I would choose a knife because it can be used to cut both items for my fruit bowl. Obviously, they make a plethora of specific tools to make cutting fruit more efficient and if I really had the choice, this would be perfect for the banana, and this would be great for the apple. The plate and bowl were adequate tools overall, because they both served a purpose in my task and I didn’t change their purpose all too much.

So now my reflection – How does this TPACK activity relate to teaching? Teachers have a strong knowledge base and with this knowledge they are often challenged to apply what they know in various unique circumstances. This scenario was very similar. Obviously, there is never one perfect way to do something and sometimes we are given the challenge of integrating complex technology into our lessons. We are constantly developing new and innovative ways comprehending new technology and creating accommodations to meet the needs of any given tasks. I cannot wait to try this with my students to see their problem solving strategies and what they use to figure out complex situations that they are not used to.


Mishra, P., & Koehler, M.J. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054. Retrieved from http://punya.educ.msu.edu/publications/journal_articles/mishra-koehler-tcr2006.pdf_download_.pdf

The Challenges of Cooperative Learning

Are two heads better than one? We have all heard this saying before and it describes the idea that if two individuals are working together, they have a better chance of solving a problem than if just one person was working alone. However, is this always the case? When we think of a classroom of learners working together we are reminded of the idea of cooperative learning.

Cooperative learning is when students are working together to accomplish a shared goal amongst all members. This goal should benefit not only themselves, but also the group as a whole. Often times we see cooperative learning in the instructional use of small groups or partnerships working collaboratively together to maximize their learning. In theory this sounds fantastic. What teacher wouldn’t want all of her students collaborating, interacting, sharing ideas and ultimately learning cohesively with one another? The success of cooperative learning unfortunately doesn’t come without its challenges.

This week in CEP 842 we uncovered many of the drawbacks to cooperative learning and how it is used in real world inquiry in various content areas. Many studies have shown that collaborative learning positively impacts student achievement. In a recent study 6th grade students in Istanbul were a part of a cooperative learning environment where they were studying 6th grade content for “Systems in Our Body”. This study showed the method of cooperation-based learning had favorable effects on their achievement and learning. “The cooperation based learning-teaching environment provided cooperation, supported permanent learning, provided opportunities to be successful, contributed to the development of social and personal skills, but also caused worry as it requires students to be successful at all stages.”

In order for achievement and success of the strategy to take place, what do we need to consider? Let’s look at some challenging questions that need to be addressed early on:

  • How will we create groups of students?
  • How do we teach/foster appropriate social skills to promote working together?
  • How can we assess group involvement/work?

Group Size:

Group size should be appropriate for the task and include varying abilities amongst the group. Sometime, providing each group with the appropriate additional resources is a great way for students who need additional assistance to create or participate on the same level as their peers. Each lesson or activity should be presented in a manner that shows students that they will need all members of the group in order to be successful. In other words, groups must be constructed so that everyone is encouraged to work together and no one feels left out or that someone is doing all of the work. One of the concepts I teach in my class is that there should never be a “boss” of the group, but rather “leaders” within the group. Caution: not every collaborative learning situation should have a sole “leader” because the roles and tasks should be evenly distributed.

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 8.46.47 AM

Social Skills:

Let’s be realistic – never assume all of your students are equipped with the same skills including social skills. Social skills and etiquette for working with one another need to be explicitly taught. Start with partnerships and role-play appropriate partner behaviors. Students need to have the ability to empathize and recognize that not everyone will have the same viewpoint or opinions. In your classrooms it is helpful to model turn taking, listening, discussing on others ideas, as well as conflict resolution. When you don’t agree with someone what should you do? In my classroom I find that the best way to promote good social skills is to start early on in the year and begin with creating opportunities for students to work together with team building activities that are not academically related. The focus should be on making working together an enjoyable and beneficial activity for all.

In one of the readings from CEP 842 this week, they presented a lesson Promoting Inclusive Practices in Inquiry-Based Science Classrooms. Within the lesson they showed the hands-on, collaborative approach to instruction used in science classrooms in order to encourage students with a range of abilities and needs to be included within the classroom. This structure focuses on UDL. Universal Design for Learning is a framework that addresses the variability of learners in the classroom by promoting multiple means of representation, actions and expression, and engagement (CAST, 2011). In the experiments students with disabilities in the groups were given roles in which they could be successful as the groups used the principles of cooperative learning with assigned roles to work as a team. The assigning of roles within a group environment can be extremely easy and effective. For instance, in my Language Arts class we use a program called Enbrighten. Although this can be used as a whole group method of delivery, you can also use this approach for students to work as partners or small groups. Enbrighten encourages the development of critical thinking, listening, metacognition, and speaking skills in the classroom. Students are given various roles including: summarizer, vocab master, connector, clarifier, visualizer, predictor and questioner. This now holds each student accountable for his or her participation and provides him or her with a meaningful purpose within the group.


When working in a collaborative learning environment it can be difficult to assess students’ individual ability. Assessing the quality and quantity of each member’s contributions and giving providing feedback to the group and individual is extremely important. If students are solely graded independently they will not work with the group. Similarly if groups only receive a group grade some students may sit back and let others do all the work. It’s possible that some students will try to control the entire project if assessment is based on a group grade. Teachers can systematically create assessment for cooperative learning by ensuring that there is an overall goal that every member is working towards as well as an individual reward or goal that each person will receive independent of the group.

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 8.47.04 AM

How can we apply this to content area instruction? Click here for great classroom examples!


ALTUN, S. (2014, December 10). The Effect of Cooperative Learning on Students’ Achievement and Views on the Science and Technology Course. In International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/.


Cooperative Learning. (2017). Context Institute. Retrieved 24 June 2017, from http://www.context.org/iclib/ic18/johnson/

Cooperative Learning: Teaching Strategy (Grades K-12). (2017). TeacherVision. Retrieved 22 June 2017, from https://www.teachervision.com/professional-development/cooperative-learning?page=3

Johnson, D. and R. Johnson, Circles of Learning, Washington, DC: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1984.

Johnson, D. and R. Johnson, Learning Together and Alone, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1983.

Final Networked Learning Project


Over the past 5 weeks in my CEP810 course I have been working on my Networked Learning Project which included learning something new that I have always wanted to do. For this project I decided that I would learn how to use the various tools necessary to build and construct a nightstand. As I previously mentioned I am a new home owner and finding and buying new furniture can be a challenge. So after scouring the internet I came across three different building plans. I decided that I would attempt to building the “barn-door nightstand”. My main online source that I used to create my nightstand was from the site Shanty-2-Chic. These two women are phenomenal to say the least. Their blog, YouTube channel and online materials are extremely explicit in their directions. For a newbie like me this was exactly what I needed to gain the knowledge I never had. I did need some other assistance with where to buy the materials, how to use the tools and which tools come highly recommended. Below I listed a few helpful sites:

I began my project by reading as much as I could about the overall plans, supplies and necessary tools. The plans provided required a lot of cuts of the different types of wood. One of the most beneficial things I learned was on the home Depot website help forum page – many people said that you could actually get them to make most of your cuts. Now typically at the store it says that it costs money for each cut, but I read in many of the reviews that most home Depot representatives are extremely helpful and do it at no cost. So I decided to take my chances because the less heavy machinery I had to use the better and by that I mean my dreaded table saw. Luckily, the help forum was exactly correct – I ended up making many trips to Home Depot over the past few weeks and sure enough, all of the cuts they made were free 🙂

IMG_9366    Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 9.46.38 AM.pngScreen Shot 2017-06-19 at 9.46.49 AM

After completing the cuts I had to drill all of the pocket holes using my Ryobi drill. The pocket holes hold hex screws that allow for a study and secure hold. In addition to the hex screws each piece of wood was put together with wood glue. You’ll notice all of the sticky notes I used to keep my mind straight. There were so many different dimensions for the different cuts of woods that this was the trick that helped me stay organized. Once all of the boards were prepared with their pocket holes it was time to build! I began with the frame of the nightstand.

Once the frame was put together I had a mini panic moment because a lot of the edges were not exactly perfect and it seemed very “unfinished”. Little did I know, the next step of including the trim around the base and the front would thankfully cover up some of my imperfections.

My learning process was a little scattered and I had many emotions. In the beginning, I was extremely excited about the new opportunity to learn something new. Unfortunately, learning something new doesn’t come without it’s challenges. I know we all saw it’s okay to make a mistake, but my mistakes were definitely learning moments for me. Below I have included a video documenting my progress throughout the project. I give you a glimpse at the end result in my learning as well as some of the challenges along the way.

I think one of my favorite parts was actually putting the barn door together. Building the door and using the hardware was basically a culmination of all the skills I had learned from the beginning of my learning.

I am very satisfied with my final product and very proud of the learning that took place in such a short period of time. In the future I also plan to extend upon this specific process by staining this piece as well as adding a few extra details like stoppers on the doors. One the largest aspects of this project that made it meaningful to me and I think it would be meaningful to others as well, is that from the beginning of the project we were given the choice. This meant that we truly were able to decide what we wanted to learn. You would be surprised what a difference it makes when your learning something that you find purposeful or meaningful to you. I definitely felt that way while completing this task and I can see how beneficial it will be in the future when I design various lessons for my students. I can definitely see myself continuing this type of learning in the future and I am excited to hopefully expand upon my DIY furniture to create and build many new things. Thanks for following me along in my learning journey!


21st – Century Lesson Plan

This week in my CEP810 course I created a lesson plan for the 21st century learner. In my 21st century lesson plan (here) my students are asked to create a short (2-3 minute) iMovie book trailer on the novel they have been reading in pairs. Each reading pair was based on their individual reading levels. The purpose of the book trailer is to work collaboratively together convince the listeners to read the book that they are recommending. This trailer is essentially a persuasive trailer to convince the class why they should read their specific book. The iMovie book trailer should cover important elements from the novel, including the plot, theme and conflict of the story. The iMovie trailer should include visuals aids, illustrations, or photos from the actual book. Each semester my student have been completing “book talks” in various forms (speech presentation, comic strip etc.) and now for their final project they are working in pairs.

Much of the lesson I have created as been centered around Renee Hobb’s 5 essential competencies of digital and media literacy. She describes the 5 fundamental literacy practices being access, analyze, create, reflect and act. My lesson encompasses these competencies in many ways. By creating a collaborative team of pairs, my students are asked to use technology to represent something that is not in digital form. They have to creatively think about the creation process from beginning to end. Of course, all students need some guidance and direction, which is why I provide them with modeling and guided practice along the way. One of the reasons I enjoy this lesson is that it allows me to see my student thinking and understanding of the important aspects of the novel they have read. They must reflect on their reading in order to provide graphics and text related to their story’s elements, which include the plot and theme. In addition, concluding the lesson they are asked to self-assess their progress using a provided rubric to ensure their own completion of the project. Take a look at the lesson and let me know what you think!


Hobbs, R. (2011). Digital and media literacy: Connecting culture and classroom. Thousand, Oaks, CA: Corwin/Sage.

Reflections on Content Area Instruction

This week in CEP 842 (Content Area Instruction for Students with Mild Disabilities) we were asked to look at the challenges that students with disabilities face while receiving instruction in various content areas. I have been teaching for the past three years as a special education resource room teacher and part of my role is to work with students who have a wide range of learning needs.

The first challenge I see among many of my students is their ability to hold onto important information in order to use it to complete a task. This has to do with their working memory and how it affects many of the aspects within all academic areas. I am going to focus on some of the more prominent concerns in the area of mathematics. Students with a poor working memory have a difficult time completing multi-step tasks, which if you teach math, you know that most problems in middle school mathematics require more than one step. The processes and steps required for long division alone, causes much mental fatigue. My students struggle with basic math facts and now I am requiring them to perform multiple operations at the same time. Students with poor working memory will have a hard time in the classroom when required to remember all of the directions, take notes throughout a lesson or even understand and recall something they were just taught. Luckily, there are ways in which we as teacher can make a difference. Some of the strategies I use to help these students include: breaking down tasks into smaller chunks; providing visuals with oral directions (bulleted list on whiteboard); giving students one task at a time if needed; creating opportunities for the students to process the information in multiple ways – say it, show it, do it ( se 3-D models of shapes, equations, or manipulatives). Whichever accommodations you use within the classroom they goal is to simplify the amount of mental processing to reduce the working memory demand.

Another challenge I see facing my students is the language difficulties related to math. Math requires a deep knowledge of vocabulary. Unfortunately, many of the frequently used math terms in our textbooks include words with multiple meanings. Here are a few to think about, does the word “mean” represent offensive or average? What about the word “operation”? Does this reference a medical surgery or one of the four mathematical processes? People who have a strong language foundation do not have to think twice about the multiple meaning words, however for many of our students with specific learning disabilities as well as our English language learners it can be very difficult. Another aspect that language affects is the understanding of word problems in math. Word problems pose an extreme challenge because they require that a student is able to read and comprehend the text, identify the question that is being asked, and ultimately coming up with an equation or a way to solve. This is not an easy task by any means. So how can we help? Try listing the steps/procedures for multi-step problems and algorithms. You could create a word wall for commonly used math words. As teachers, we love to talk however this at times can be verbal overflow for students who have language difficulties. It takes a conscious effort to slow down the pace of delivery and provide information in pieces rather than a long winded explanation.

The last challenge is student engagement and participation. In every classroom you have the “hogs” and the “logs”. The “hogs” are the students who constantly steal the floor and “hog” the discussion. The students are typically pretty confident in their responses. The “logs” are the students who sit there like a bump on a log and do not contribute anything. Of course there are students who fall between these two opposites, but the question is, where do students with disabilities tend to fall on this spectrum and why? Many of my students with disabilities are the “logs”. They are passively sitting in class, not raising their hands and not providing anything to the discussion. Unfortunately because of their many challenges in math, they lack the confidence to even try. They have this preconceived notion that because they are “bad in math” they will always be “bad in math” for the rest of their lives. However, how can you change this belief or negative attitude when typically math computation is either a correct or incorrect answer?  The reality is they are constantly seeing the big red “X’s” for all of their mistakes or incorrect answers. Rather than giving tasks that have a right or wrong answer, why not create an open-ended math scenario where there are multiple ways to represent your thinking? This allows for students to see that they are not graded solely on the correct answer, but also how they got to their solution. Reflecting on this learning process may give students an open mind when approached with math. In addition, for students who lack the motivation and are constantly asking “why do we need to learn this?”, they should be provided purposeful opportunities where they can apply their math in the real-world. Giving meaning to math where these students do not see it.

Although, my examples relate closely to the area of mathematics, these challenges can be seen in all areas and to various degrees. I think it’s important as a teacher to be prepared for these challenges and to be creative in provided instruction to meet the varying needs in the classroom.

Networked Learning Project #2 Update

My progress thus far in my Networked Learning Project has made some tremendous growth and I am excited to continue on this unique learning path. I must say, by choosing to construct a new piece of furniture I was extremely excited, however it hasn’t been without its challenges. With any new learning experiences there will always be opportunities to learn from your mistakes and taking pride in your achievements.

I began my project by first making a list of helpful supplies and tools I would need to build my night stand. For those of you who read my previous post I was undecided on which one to choose. I decided that the barn-door nightstand best fit the style of furniture we would need. This project has allowed for much freedom in the decision making process. Because this project is meaningful to me I can definitely seeing how this purposeful task has changed my motivation to want to learn more about the topic. One of the main tools that I came across needing to learn how to use was a Kreg Jig. This interesting and fun name for a tool has caused me much thought and effort in the last few weeks of learning.


The purpose of a Kreg Jig is to create angled screw holes or “pocket holes”. By creating these holes you can then screw your screws into the boards to create a study joint between the boards. Here are a few steps I used/learned along the way.


  1. Measure wood
    • My piece was 3/4″ thick
  2. Set the drill bit to the correct length
    • As you can see from above there is a handy little guide built into the base. You set the drill bit into the groove and adjust the hex bolt to fit the length
  3. Adjust the placement of the jig
    • The white numbers on the (left) picture represent how deep your holes will be drilled given the thickness of the wood
  4. Clamp piece of wood into jig
  5. Fit the drill bit into the guide holes
    • I used the “A” pocket hole as suggested based on the wood thickness
  6. Drill holes

The video above shows part of the steps I have listed above. You can see that it is rather easy to do once you get the hang of it.  I drilled about 40 holes in the boards, which gave me lost of time to perfect my skills. In the beginning I will openly admit I was completely lost. Often times I would reference back to various sites to make sure I was doing things correctly. I found guidance in this site for many unanswered questions along the way. This was a fabulous site that showed exactly how to use the Kreg Jig .

Below you can see the before (left) and after (right) pictures of one of the many many pieces of wood I had to screw pocket holes into. Stay tuned as I show how I put the boards together to create my final project 🙂

before.jpg After.JPG

Getting Things Done with Wunderlist

This week in CEP810 we explored the various digital options available for David Allen’s system of “Get Things Done”. Allen goes on to explain that our productivity is directly proportional to our ability to relax. “Only when our minds are clear and our thoughts are organized can we achieve effective productivity and unleash our creative potential” Allen (2001).

Immediately I was drawn to the app Wunderlist. I have used Evernote, GoogleDocs and Pinterest and I was excited to learn about something new. I began by downloading the app to my phone and creating an account on my computer. This free account/app makes managing multiple tasks effortless. Wunderlist is very straightforward to use and does not require any prior knowledge.


I decided to create various lists, which included, work, house and personal. After creating these lists I began to include the important things I need to get done. After completing the lists it was easy to move and prioritize each task. I was even able to set a reminder or assign a deadline for the tasks that were required on a given day “trash tomorrow”. I don’t think I have heard of a digital “honey-do” list, but that’s exactly what I created with my house list. One of the nice features allows you to share lists with others, which means my boyfriend was the perfect person to share the “house” list with. As I previously mentioned in a few posts, we recently moved into our first house and the things we want to clean, fix-up and buy are endless. Keeping all of our ideas straight is impossible and yet this app truly does provide a wonderful platform that can be used by many. So far, I am very pleased with this very affordable (free) app and the features it provides. Personally, by the time I completed my lists I had far too many tasks typed out and it seemed a bit overwhelming. I do wonder if there is a way that an excel list may be imported rather than typing out long lists on your phone? Regardless, I would highly recommend this app to family, friends and colleagues.

My biggest question now becomes how can I use it in the classroom?

Professional Learning Network (PLN)

Professional Learning Network (PLN) Popplet

Professional Learning Network’s (PLN) are essential for all teachers. Building connections and relationships with those you work with, helps to expand your knowledge base and grow professionally. Understanding whom you can go to for advice and guidance is important. With the many relationships and connections created you are able to share ideas, resources, and collaborative learning. Recently I read, “Teaching today is performed mostly in isolation. Many educators work alone, with littler interaction with professional colleagues or experts from the outside worlds.” (“National Educational Technology Plan,” 2010, p.39) Contrary to this statement, I am an extremely fortunate educator because I never work alone in my current position. As you can see from my mind-mapping graphic above, which I created, using Popplet, there are many sources I go to for information and individuals or groups I can rely on for help.

Many of the essential networks that I have created include my fellow colleagues, professional development opportunities and technology or social media platforms. Technology has allowed for collaboration to be on overdrive – the possibilities to be connected with educators around the globe are endless. Being newer to the profession I hope that I can continue to expand my Professional Learning Network. I strongly believe in teachers being life-long learners and what a better what to do it than interacting and collaborating with those within my network and outside.