Monday, February 25, 2013

Math Educational Apps for the iPad

By Savannah Hill, RME Professional Development Coordinator

Apple iPads have taken the US by storm. One of the major markets they push for is education. If you are new or unfamiliar to this technology, here are some additional resources to help you get started.

You may ask, "Is it really a valuable tool for me to use in my class?" There have been several research studies done on this topic, but here are a couple.
  • In a study done by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in California showed that students using iPads saw their math test scores increase 20% in one year compared to students using traditional textbooks (Bonnington, 2012).
  • A study centered on Motion Math has shown that the iPad can help with fundamental math skills. Fifth graders who regularly played the game for 20 minutes per day over a five-day period increased their test scores by 15 percent on average (Riconscente, 2011). Click here for the final report.
During the lunch hour at the RME Conference, we explored some mathematics educational apps for the iPad and had many requests for more information about these. Here is a little more information about them!

  • Motion Math: Hungry Fish (Free version) Students can practice mental addition and subtraction with this app. The fish are hungry for numbers. Students can make sums by pinching two numbers together - instant addition! Keep feeding the fish to win a level and unlock new colors and fins. Also check out Motion Math: Wings - This game is for children ages 4 and up to develop a conceptual understanding for multiplication. Students play by tilting your bird to the bigger number. Students will master multiplication in 6 different visual forms: rows of dots, clusters of dots, groups of dots, a grid, a labeled grid, and symbols.
  • MathBoard (Free version) MathBoard is a highly configurable math app for students in kindergarten through elementary school, addressing simple addition and subtraction to multiplication and division. More than just standard drills, MathBoard encourages students to actually solve problems, and not just guess at answers. This is done by providing multiple answer styles, as well as scratchboard area where problems can be worked by hand.
  • Chicken Coop Fraction Game In this hilarious educational game you will be shown a fraction and your job is estimate the decimal equivalent by placing a nest on a number line. Our hens are mathematical experts and they will fire their eggs towards the correct answer. If your estimate is good the eggs will be caught in the nest but if you’re too far out it all gets very messy.
  • Teach Me 2nd Grade ($1.99) This app keeps children engaged with a unique reward system where children earn coins by playing learning games at the school. The simple and intuitive user interface is designed to be child friendly, which allows children to play with help from the teacher. An animated teacher gives verbal instructions and feedback to encourage the child to learn and succeed! In addition, the learning screens are colorful, fun and rotate between six different subjects so children don't get bored.
For a table of all of the available apps to use for mathematics education, visit TCEA's iPad List and click the mathematics tab. This list is organized into concepts and gives the price of the app with a description.

Bonnington, C. (2012, January 23). iPad a solid education tool, study reports. CNN Tech. Retrieved from 
Riconscente, M. (2011) Mobile learning game improves 5th graders' fraction knowledge and attitudes. Los Angeles: GameDesk Institute.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Using PLC's to Strengthen Math Content Knowledge

By Dr. Janie Schielack and Dinah Chancellor

Professional Learning Communities can strengthen a group of educators in various capacities providing a framework intended for professional growth but also an environment that fosters personal learning that effectively improves their individual teaching practice. This level of engagement with fellow teachers encourages a trickle-down effect, whereby teachers apply the same process as students work through an activity. When this level of engagement with students is consistently practiced, a deeper level of understanding by the student is achieved.
  • Do you currently use PLC's? How are they useful to you? 
  • If you do not, how do you think they could benefit your own teaching practice?
  • How might students benefit from a teacher who is in a PLC?

Research in Algebra: Algebra Readiness in the Elementary Classroom

By Dr. David Chard and Cassandra Hatfiled

In our session, we explored three big ideas in algebraic thinking for elementary students (1) arithmetic as a context for algebraic thinking (2) equations and (3)functional thinking. Throughout the presentation classroom practices of mini lessons, using multiple representations, modeling with a double number line, and providing students with activities that allow for generalizations were discussed.
  • Think about your own practice of listening. What do you hear in children's thinking that you might be able to use in ways that could deepen algebraic thinking?
  • Think about your own daily classroom practice. Where do you see opportunities for algebraic thinking?
  • What are some concepts that you think kids should explore, make conjectures, and develop generalizations about? (ex: prime and composite numbers ~ factors should be explored more instead of just teaching the two words and moving on expecting students to remember the definitions.)

Blanton, M., Levi, L., Crites, T., Doughterty, B.J. (2011). Developing essential understanding of algebraic thinking: Grades 3 – 5. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

Research in Algebra: Tackling Algebra in M.S. and H.S.

By Dr. Candace Walkington and Dr. Nick Wasserman

Nationwide, students struggle in algebra classes. This breakout session will present ideas to address these struggles by focusing on two aspects of effective teaching: relevance of content and teaching practices. Research has shown that using personalization and kinesthetic learning has an impact on algebra understanding for struggling students, and advanced mathematical content knowledge can positively impact classroom practices for algebra teachers.
  • Why do you think algebra is so difficult for students to learn? 
  • How could you practically incorporate these ideas (personalization, increased content knowledge) into your teaching?

Developing Pedagogical Content Knowledge: Focus on Assessment

By Beth Richardson, Sharri Zachary, Dr. Deni Basaraba, and Dawn Woods

Assessment and instruction work in partnership to support students in meeting high academic standards. By looking at student’s assessment data and research-based evidence for writing quality assessments, participants will learn how assessments can be specifically designed to provide students with opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned during instruction.
  • How do you use assessment data to inform instruction?
  • How do you target multiple levels of cogitative engagement in assessments?
  • What are the guidelines for item development?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What Are You Tweeting About?

By Savannah Hill, RME Professional Development Coordinator

Twitter is becoming an essential instrument for almost every teacher's toolbox. It is a great way to communicate between other teachers, your students or parents, and the general public.

What is Twitter? Twitter is an online social networking site, which allows users to send and receive messages of up to 140 characters. It helps you to build a network formed around a shared interest.

Why should I join Twitter? Twitter is an extensive online community for anyone to quickly share and gain ideas on a topic, such as math education or a current event. It’s free and easy to use.

What do I tweet about? Tweet about what interests you now. What has your attention? Tweet an inspiring quote you hear. Ask questions – Twitter is a great tool for getting immediate responses from colleagues and other educators around the world (remember to use a hashtag (#) to group your tweet with other similar tweets!).

Key Lingo:
  • Tweet: an individual post; a tweet is just the way to say you posted something on Twitter.
  • RT (Retweet): Re-telling someone else’s tweet; if you see a tweet you like, you can post it to all your followers by “retweeting” it.
  • Message: Direct message to a follower (private).
  • @username: open message to a specific person; The “@” symbol always comes before someone’s Twitter name.  Not only will the tweet go out to everyone, but that person who has been tweeted at will be able to see a notification that they have been mentioned. For example: @RME_SMU
  • #Hashtag: Use hashtags to group and track discussions (conference, seminar, classroom activity, etc.); If you put a hashtag in front of a word, then your tweet will be grouped with all the other tweets that contain that hashtaged word. Hashtags make it very easy to search for posts on almost any topic.
Some great math educator hashtags to follow are
 #mathchat #edchat #edtech
  • Trending: When something is “trending” on Twitter, it means that many people are talking about the same thing.
What role does Twitter have in education? Twitter is a great way to communicate short, direct thoughts.  Take a look at this news report that shows how Twitter has been used in this classroom.

Here are some other ways you can use Twitter for math education:
  • Have your students and parents follow you on Twitter where you can post reminders about quizzes/tests/homework, upcoming field trips, websites to check out, etc.
  • Hold “Twitter Chats” with your students. Allow them to ask questions or have discussions about a particular topic after class using predesignated hashtags.
  • When attending or leading trainings and conferences, place a hashtag at the end of your tweets to organize them for easy access later. For example, at our annual RME conference, people who attend will be using #RME2013 at the end of their tweets. Attendees could easily find other tweets about the RME conference just by searching the official RME hashtag.
  • Follow other teachers! There are educators and educational companies on Twitter who post valuable links and ideas daily. A “Twitter Chats” are a series of conversations on a particular topic using a predesignated hashtag. For example, a great chat on gifted and talented students is held on Fridays at 11 AM and 6 PM CST using #gtchat. These chats can be great tools to communicate ideas with other teachers from around the world!
  • Use Twitter to build a Professional Learning Network (PLN) so that you can learn about the latest trends in teaching!
Summing It All Up
Our educational landscape is changing rapidly. Students are using technology, such as Twitter, every day, and as educators we must stay current and utilize this technology as a way to teach and engage our students. Used effectively, Twitter can transform your classroom, your school, and your teaching.

So sign up, start following, and start listening using Twitter today! Pretty soon, you will have your own professional learning network!

Follow us on Twitter!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Why is Factoring So Important? Factoring Series Part I

By Beth Richardson, RME High School Math Coordinator

“Of all pre-college curriculum, the highest level of mathematics one studies in secondary school has the strongest continuing influence on bachelor’s degree completion. Finishing a course beyond Algebra 2 more than doubles the odds that a student who enters postsecondary education will complete a bachelor’s degree (Adelman, 1999).”

Picture taken from
The United States is boosting the rigor of its mathematics curriculum. The state of Texas requires students to receive 4 math credits, 3 of which must be Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2 in order to graduate. Another highly recognized initiative is the Common Core State Standards (CCS) adopted by most states. The traditional pathway of the nation-wide CCS requires high school students to take Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, and, in most cases, one other math course.

Based on the above information, completing Algebra 2 is a target for our students. Therefore, we need to provide our students with the math skills and knowledge that will lead them towards success. As a former Algebra 2 teacher, I strongly believe a crucial concept for success in Algebra 2 is factoring. Students are required to use factoring as a problem solving strategy and a method of simplification with multiple parent functions and equations (ex: quadratic, rational, and all 4 conic sections) throughout the curriculum.

Many students struggle with factoring. At its core, is an application of the distributive property in which students should begin developing in elementary school through arithmetic. In Algebra 2, factoring of polynomials with variables is a complex, abstract idea. Few students are provided experiences to connect the application of the distributive property with their prior learning. We need to make this clear to them. It is important to take time and explain the underlying mathematical properties at play.

Concrete and visual models are great tools to use when new material is introduced. They help give students a real-world context to connect abstract algebraic properties. Below are some samples of models that are used with the distributive property when students are first learning the concept and when students apply the concept to factor in algebra.

A typical model used to demonstrate
the distributive property in 4th grade.
A typical model used to teach factoring
(opposite of distribution) in Algebra.

Summing it All Up
So, how do we help students’ transition between the different uses of the distributive property (including factoring) while understanding that the property always remains the same? In the next parts of this factoring series, we will explore specific strategies that can be used in elementary, middle, and high school to help cement factoring and the underlying distributive property.

Teachers of all grade levels, we’d like to know strategies you use (types of diagrams, models, vocabulary) that you’ve found help your students be successful with the distributive property and/or factoring. Your comments will help shape our next blogs in this series.

Texas Education Code: Chapter 74: Curriculum Requirements 
Common core state standards for mathematics: Designing high school mathematics courses based on the common core state standards. Appendix A
Common Core Standards Writing Team. (2011). Progressions for the common core state standards in mathematics (draft). Retrieved from
Adelman, C. (1999). Answers in the Tool Box: Academic Intensity, Attendance Pattern, and Bachelor’s Degree Attainment