Growth Mindset Math Posters Freebie

      As a student who really struggled with math growing up, I would love to have these growth mindset concepts presented to me. If I had known and believed that you weren't just born "good at math", I wouldn't have felt so defeated right out of the gate. I would have felt far more confident in what I did know and more willing to take risks.

     As it was, not only was I struggling to understand the often confusing algorithms, and when to use them - and spare me from word problems! - I was always trying to hide the fact that I didn't know as much math as my classmates. I remember, as early as third grade, hearing students make math statements in class and thinking, "How do you KNOW that???" I have to accept some responsibility. If I had taken my nose out of my never-ending library books and actually listened during class, I might have had a clue, but who knows?  During those years, teachers, parents, and students all believed what I did: you were either good at math or you weren't.

     These growth mindset learning concepts were presented during a professional development session many years ago, although they weren't called that then.  I've used them as posters in my classroom almost non-stop. I think that struggling in math as a child gave me greater understanding and empathy for my own students over the years.

     I love that these growth mindset posters give a message to students that we can grow and move on from where we are today.  I've put my own spin on them and offer them to you for your classroom in hope that they will encourage your students to accept where they - and others - are on their learning journey. I'd love to hear how they work for your students. Enjoy!
Growing Grade By Grade
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Constructed Responses: 3 Reasons They Are Great For Kids

     The Common Core/State Standards Curriculum emphasizes that students be able to communicate higher-level thinking in all subject areas.  Instead of only creating good test takers who can guess the correct answer from four choices, we want to train analytical thinkers who know that they can arrive at answers differently, critique others’ thinking, and who can clearly communicate their thought processes.

     Constructed responses are a powerful tool in this journey.  Responding to a task via a constructed response means that the student literally “builds”, or constructs, their answer through a complete explanation.  Of course, we want any facts used to be correct, but we also want to know that students have mastered basic content concepts and developed complete schema.  

     In a good constructed response, information must be recalled, but it may be put together in a new way.  Students may be asked to recall content,  explain their thinking, tell why they chose that solution path, or explain another situation in which they might have to apply the same content knowledge.  

     Keep in mind that constructed responses are generally different from journal prompts in several ways.  Journal prompts tend to ask about a student's opinion, their experience, or engage their creativity and imagination, so basically there is no wrong answer.  Constructed responses are generally non-fiction in origin and are based in facts, and still engage students in higher-level thinking.  The creativity comes from how the student puts together the information, how they solve the problem, or what direction they take in the solution.  Below are some examples/non-examples.
*Constructed Response: "Spies are generally a part of war time. Tell what spies do and how they operated during The Civil War."
*NOT a Constructed Response: "Name a spy who worked during The Civil War"; or, "Would you have liked to be a spy during The Civil War? Why or why not?" 
*Constructed Response: "Deer, rabbits, hawks, and snakes can all live in the same ecosystem.  Explain how they can all survive while competing for the same resources."

*NOT a Constructed Response: "Tell about a time that you interacted with a deer, a rabbit, a hawk, or a snake."

*Constructed Response: Benjamin said, “Halves are larger than fifths so ½ is larger than 4/5.”  Is he right or wrong?  How can you tell?" 
*NOT a Constructed Response: "Compare 1/2 to 4/5."

     So, why are constructed response activities a useful experience for students?

1. Students must master content.  Whether it is from independent reading, personal research, listening in class, or watching videos the student is responsible for owning the information.

2. Students have a great opportunity to use their creativity. They can explain their own solution to a problem or take a unique direction in their answer. They are not held to a "either you're right or you're wrong" test-type answer.

3. It's easy for a teacher to see if a student has really "gotten" the concepts. Guessing is not going to work here.

     There seems to be a plethora of journal prompts for every topic imaginable.  Just search "journal prompts for ______" and you'll see!  Constructed responses can be a little harder to find.  High stakes, end-of-grade testing has increased the need for students to have practice and assessment opportunities, so I've spent a good bit of time creating math, science, and social studies constructed responses. Consider checking out some of my products with the links below. 

Constructed Responses: Civil War Version
     Let me hear what your experiences are with constructed responses and I'd love some feedback on my products!
Growing Grade By Grade
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Mentoring A Student Teacher: A Series #2

     Time is racing by as ST and I work together!  The first week was chock-full for both us.  My first post listed some of the things we did to help orient her to the school, the classroom, routines and procedures.  This continuation of the first week lists other important activities that we covered, some planned, some not planned:

     The First Week, Continued:

Building Positive Parent Relationships: The reality is that all interactions with parents will not be positive. This is where being proactive is vital.  ST and I discussed ways to build a genuine, positive relationship with parents so that, if all interactions are not positive, they can at least be reasonable. Have I always hit a home-run with this? Of course, not. But, I've learned so much over the years and I hope that can pave the way for ST and her future students and parents. 
     Some suggestions I made for proactively building positive school-home relationships:
  • Be approachable to students and parents.
  • Proactively share positive notes, calls, and emails. Don't let the first time a parents hears from you be negative.
  • Document everything. You'll be glad you did. When in doubt, copy administration.
Responding to Parent Emails: Whether positive or not, how we respond to parent emails is critical.  Here are my suggestions:
  • Reply immediately, even if you will have to get back with them again later with the information or answer.
  • Thank them for reaching out to you. It's a positive step to let people feel they are a partner and not a bother.
  • Assure them that the issue is important to you and you will work to resolve it as soon as possible.
Planning, Planning, Planning: You know the old adage, "When you fail to plan, you plan to fail".  It's true! There are so many facets to planning: Year-long sequencing and pacing, unit planning, individual lesson planning, planning for special needs, data-driven planning, what you hope to do, what you really end up can be overwhelming!
     Knowing going in that the task is gargantuan helps, I think; that is, if you feel overwhelmed, understand that it's not just's part of teaching. It takes time to feel comfortable juggling all of the components  Feeling overwhelmed all of the time is not productive, however. Chiseling away at the process is the best way I know to explain it. Start with the big picture (year-long sequencing and pacing), then work your way down through the layers. We'll have more on this later.

Changing On The Fly: During ST's very first week, we experienced a grade-level special event pizza party, an early release day, (neither of which she knew about yet) and a 2-hour weather delay.  It was a perfect time to address how teachers have to change their plans with little or no notice!
     At times like this, you have to extract the most vital part of your day's lessons and focus on that. In a perfect world. In the real world, sometimes you don't even have time for that. In cases when special circumstances wreck havoc with your schedule, you might need to access a special game or activity to make good use of less-than-ideal chunks of time. I feel another post on this idea coming on.

Routines and Procedures: With ST beginning her student teaching just after the holidays, it was a perfect time to teach her...and reteach our students...our basic classroom routines and procedures.  I am a huge advocate of Whole-Brain Teaching and I utilize many of their ideas.  The students and I taught ST our classroom rules and we actively went through many procedures (lining up, morning procedures) so she could see where we're going.

Pulling Data to Drive Instruction:  There are a myriad of opinions for and against, reasons, and ways to pull data to drive instruction. I strongly believe that a teacher's own knowledge of her students is an important component of planning, but data is just as critical. My first experience showing ST how to pull data for future math lessons is a perfect example. We created and scored a decimal skills pre-assessment. Well, it was really a mid-line assessment because we've been reviewing 4th grade skills, but I still needed to know where we were.   All the while I'm telling ST, "This is going to be a snore, they pretty much have these skills mastered."  WRONG!  I was amazed, and not in a good way, to see the many areas that we need to reteach and practice. However, the data showed us exactly where we needed to begin.
     The point is that as ST begins to plan her first lessons, she needs to know what is really needed.  The ideal lessons we're taught to create in college are the "gold standard" we're always trying to meet, but our classroom data is one of our best tools for real-life teaching.
     Wow, we're still in the first week! I look forward to sharing our further adventures. Have a great week!
Growing Grade By Grade
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Fraction, Decimal, Percent Puzzles

     My kids needed a fun way to practice converting fractions to decimals to percents and to recognize the major ones we use day-to-day.  I came up with this Fraction, Decimal, Percent Puzzles format and invited a "product test group" (my students) to give it a try. Results were mostly positive!
     There are several ways to student can solve all of the puzzles or small groups can play.  Directions and photos are included in the product and below.  I made sure that each student had pencil and paper or whiteboards and markers to justify their math reasoning.  That is, if a player wants to add a piece to a puzzle, he/she has to show the math to prove it fits.

     If you've read this far, I'll do this for you: Leave a comment and your email address any time between now and February 28, 2015 and I'll send you a FREE copy!
     I'd love to hear what you're doing in your classroom with fractions, decimals, and percents!
Growing Grade By Grade
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Science: Watching A Beating Heart

     As we worked through our unit on Human Body Systems, I found a super-easy and super-affordable activity - always a winner for me! - to help us understand the work of the circulatory system.
     I purchased a bag of marshmallows (yes, we're going to eat them) and a box of toothpicks.  That's it! We washed hands and put down a clean tissue/napkin/paper towel on each desk.  I passed out the marshmallows and toothpicks.  I firmly cautioned students about using the toothpicks carefully and appropriately. 
     Students pushed the toothpick about halfway into the marshmallow and placed this "apparatus" on the inside of their wrist.  This took some serious calming down and getting quiet to keep the apparatus in place!  The point is to see the toothpick "jiggle" or "bump" with each heart beat. 
     Results were mixed.  Some students had to hunt around for a good spot on their wrist.  Once we got going, I timed 15 seconds while students counted their heart beats.  We multiplied by four to approximate our heart rate per minute.
     As you can see from the pictures, I used large marshmallows.  We wondered whether smaller marshmallows might yield different results - would it be easier to see the jiggles?  My students would really like to try it out!

 Have you tried this or a similar activity?  I'd love to hear your comments!
Growing Grade By Grade
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Mentoring a Student Teacher: A Series (#1)

   One of my favorite parts of teaching is mentoring newer teachers.  Yes, I love teaching my students, delving into subject content, developing materials, collaborating with general, most of what happens in the school day.  (OK, I'm not crazy about the paper work.)  But, taking a new teacher under my wing and helping him/her start the journey toward teacher-hood strikes a spark of excitement and anticipation in me. I see it as an chance to positively influence future students that I will not actually teach myself.  It's a tremendous responsibility and a fantastically cool opportunity!
     I'm blessed to have a student teacher this semester, which is like mentoring on steroids.  I plan to do a series of posts documenting what we do to fulfill her training.  I hope it will assist others in mentoring, training student teachers, and maybe strike a spark or two in others.
     My Student Teacher (I'll refer to her as ST from now on) is super-excited to be at this point in her education!  She literally exudes excitement!  She has served in other capacities in education in the past few years, but she's worked tirelessly to get to this point - you know it's a dream-come-true for her!
     Here's what we're doing the first week:
A Tour of the School: This is important for any teacher new to a school.  Even though my ST actually worked at our school as a TA in the past, things goodness, do they change!  On the first day, we did a walk-through:
  • meeting and greeting employees, 
  • discussing particular routines and procedures on a school-wide basis, and 
  • pointing out where specific classes were located, especially those in mobile units outside the main buildings.  Keep in mind that we teach the whole child - it's important to be familiar with every place that a child might be during the day.  
Providing Curricula and Pacing Guides: There's no telling where ST will be placed when she receives her license and begins her job search, so it may or may not be worthwhile for a cooperating teacher to make additional copies of the current curricula and pacing guides, but it is vital that she have access to what I have now.  ST knows exactly where they are and I encourage her to refer to them constantly as we plan together.
Begin Learning Classroom Routines and Procedures: Even with a ST joining us, learning must continue in the classroom.  ST and I were at the door on the first morning greeting students.  I introduced each student as they entered the room and she began learning their names quickly - she's really good at that!
     I'm so excited having ST with us!  Do you have a Student Teacher with you this year, or have you recently?  I'd love to hear about your experience, too!
Growing Grade By Grade
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