Thursday, July 5, 2012

How to deal with kid's math anxiety

Annie Murphy Paul wrote this article How to Deal with Kid' Math Anxiety that gives some wonderful information and tips for dealing with children who are more than capable of understanding and doing math, but freeze up in ways that leave to frustration and disappointment. The article is based on a recent findings published in Psychological Science journal.

Math anxiety is a negative emotional reaction to situations involving mathematical problem solving. Math anxiety has a detrimental impact on an individual’s long-term professional success, but its neurodevelopmental origins are unknown. In a functional MRI study on 7- to 9-year-old children, we showed that math anxiety was associated with hyperactivity in right amygdala regions that are important for processing negative emotions. In addition, we found that math anxiety was associated with reduced activity in posterior parietal and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex regions involved in mathematical reasoning. Multivariate classification analysis revealed distinct multivoxel activity patterns, which were independent of overall activation levels in the right amygdala. Furthermore, effective connectivity between the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex regions that regulate negative emotions was elevated in children with math anxiety. These effects were specific to math anxiety and unrelated to general anxiety, intelligence, working memory, or reading ability. Our study identified the neural correlates of math anxiety for the first time, and our findings have significant implications for its early identification and treatment.

 The study used MRI scans of children's brains (getting kids to lie still in an MRI must have been an achievement in itself). Ms. Paul reports on the findings:

Regions of a brain structure called the amygdala, responsible for processing negative emotions, were hyperactive. At the same time, activity in the posterior parietal and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex—areas involved in mathematical reasoning—was diminished. The scientists’ analysis of neural networks revealed that the two activity levels were connected: The buzz in the brain’s fear center was interfering with the ability of its problem-solving regions to do their job. The pattern the paper’s authors identified was specific to math, unrelated to general intelligence or to other kinds of anxiety.

 I have had many students in the past who demonstrate this math anxiety, so I wanted to know what to do about this. Fortunately, the author provided some answers based on other research.

One way to relieve this burden on working memory, Beilock and her colleagues have found, is to spend ten minutes writing about one’s thoughts and feelings about a math exam just before taking it. Students effectively offload their worries onto the page, enabling them to tackle the test with a mind free of rumination and distraction. In the lab, Beilock reports, engaging in this exercise “eliminates poor performance under pressure,” and the method has produced encouraging results in real-life classroom settings as well.

I tried this with some students that show anxiety during math tests and they felt and worked better.

Other approaches that have proven successful at reducing math anxiety and improving performance include having students reaffirm their self-worth by listing important values like relationships with friends and family, and having students think about why they might do well(“I am a student at a high-level university”) rather than poorly (“I am a girl taking a difficult math test”). These interventions are simple but effective: By deliberately shifting their frame of mind, students can make that creepy-crawly feeling of anxiety go away.

I think this is a very important article that can help teachers and parents better understand the frustrations of many of their students during tests or homework.  A child with math anxiety may not be just a child that is doing poorly at math. I shared this article with the teachers at my school last Spring and got a lot of positive feedback.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Two Rules for Writing an Effective Paragraph

This is a Teachers Pay Teachers download that I wrote and developed. I use these lessons at the beginning of every year with my class and they can always retell me the "Two Rules for Writing Effective Paragraphs" at any point in the year after that. I always ask them, "What do you need to do to be an effective writer?" before any writing assignment and it helps them to remember to 1) stick to the point and 2) use descriptive words. This is a paid digital download and can be found here along with more information on the contents of the download.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

10 Things to do without worksheets for Sarah, Plain and Tall

I am learning about how to use the Teachers Pay Teachers website and today I put up my first product. It is free is you want to check it out. I would love to hear any feedback, both positive or negative particularly if you ideas for making this better. I produced an activity guide called 10 Things to do without worksheets for Sarah, Plain and Tall that teachers can use for creative type activities that do not involve worksheets. I dislike worksheets! It is for the book Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. There are 10 simple and fun ideas in the book, although I have to warn all teachers NOT to attempt one of the ideas! There are a lot of great teacher created resources on Teachers Pay Teachers website and many of them are free. I learned two things over the course of creating this resource. It is much easier to create a file like this in Powerpoint than in Microsoft word. I also learned how easy it is to turn a Powerpoint file into a PDF. You can sign up to promote your own lessons and products here.

3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th - Poetry, Reading, Arithmetic -

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lessons from an ice cream bowl

Here are some pictures of an end-of-year thank-you gift from one of my students this year. He made me this super large "ice-cream" bowl so that I can enjoy my favorite food. I love how he chose lessons from the school year to personalize the bowl and commemorate the year.

The center of the bowl is the Kenyan flag. Of course, I went on a trip to Kenya last summer and I shared so much of what I saw and experienced with my class.  That was such a big part of my year and what I learned and saw in Kenya was certainly important to my teaching this year. As a personal note to Nathan, I am surprised that the word "stuff" is not included on the bowl. The class and I had laughs all year over how I described elephants raising their trunks while on safari (youtube moment here, full safari video here). This from a teacher who asks that student's learn to use precise words!

He also placed the names of the two Brian Selznick books that I read aloud to the class early in the year. The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck. I loved sharing these books with the class and the class thoroughly enjoyed delving into all sorts of topics related to both books.

The exterior of the bowl has pictures of ice cream cones. Ice cream is not only my favorite food, but our class won an ice-cream party at the end of the year. Ice cream rules!

Then there is the poem, "The Red Wheelbarrow" printed on the bowl. We do a lot of poetry writing and a lot of the poems we write are inspired by the poetry of William Carlos Williams. The class also learned how to use Animoto to create digital poetry and showcase their own creativity.

Finally, there is an Ironman symbol. I am not sure if this was placed on the bowl because I completed 5 Ironman distance triathlons back in the 1980s (1983 and 1984 through 1987) or if it is because of the times I talk to the class about difficult situations and how they can handle them. I talk about Ironman John Blais who died of Lou Gehrig's disease and who teaches us to "roll through" difficult situations or about Ironman Jullie Moss, who teaches us to "crawl through" difficult times.

I absolutely love this gift. Well done, Nathan! What I appreciate as a teacher is that he chose important lessons from throughout the year that had nothing to do with the official school curriculum. As a teacher, you have to bring your own interests and personality into your classroom, for it seems that these are the times that you can make the biggest impression on a student. When you can tie your interests into the curriculum, then you deserve a big heaping bowl of your favorite ice cream, but this bowl is too nice for any amount of ice cream!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Kids Should See This

I love this website as it comes in handy at odd times during the day and my students and I get introduced to all sorts of fascinating subjects. The Kids Should See This is a growing collection of kid-friendly videos.
There's just so much science, nature, music, art, technology, storytelling and assorted good stuff out there that my kids (and maybe your kids) haven't seen. It's most likely not stuff that was made for them...
But we don't underestimate kids around here.
Kid-friendly not-made-for-kids videos for all! Collected by Rion Nakaya and her four year old co-collector.
 I like to show these at the end of the day when the kids are waiting for their buses to be called. I just go to the website and show a video up on the Eno board. Some are hits and some are not, but many times we get a discussion going before they head out the door about something exciting in the world that may not be a part of our normal curriculum. The Kids Should See This is also great when you have a few open minutes and want to do something interesting. I also just like to watch the videos myself to see where I can tie them into the curriculum or to just learn something new.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

The first book I read to my class this year was The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. It has always been a fun book to read aloud to my class and I wanted to read it before the movie adaptation Hugohit the theaters. I then realized that Brian Selznick had a new book coming out called  Wonderstruck. As soon as it was available, I bought I copy and read it to my class. My fourth graders love both books. This is how I know. Every Friday when we go to library, someone in my class takes out either book to reread.  I think that both books have stayed in constant rotation in my classroom all year! Here is a link to my classroom blog with posts on "The Adventure of Hugo Cabret". Here is a Glogster interactive poster that I made for my class before I read them Wonderstruck. It was made to provide them some background information that would help them enjoy Wonderstruck as I read it to them. Hover the mouse over the poster and click "view full size

Here is virtual field trip presented by Brian Selznick and Scholastic to the American Museum of Natural History. 

Here is a reader's guide to Wonderstruck and other Brian Selznick books. Here is a video interview from Kid Reporter with Brian Selznick.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Slow down you read too fast!

Here is a post by Thomas Newkirk an English professor at UNH called Reading is not a race: The virtues of the ‘slow reading’ movement where he talks about slowing down the pace of reading and a few other traditional reading practices that are often lacking in educational settings today. His new book is called The Art of Slow Reading: Six Time-Honored Practices for Engagement. He starts off by alluding to the Dibels tests that seem a standard reading test in many elementary schools:

Go to just about any elementary school in this country and you will see teachers with stopwatches assessing “nonsense word fluency.” When I first heard the term, I though someone was pulling my leg. Fluency in reading, I had always thought, was about meaning, about understanding. It had nothing to do with nonsense.

But children are tested regularly in 60-second bursts on meaningless letter combinations — often pushed to go faster than one per second. Fluency equates to speed. I understand the importance of decoding skill, and I’m sure that some kids — the sprinters — might like this form of racing. But I wonder what image of reading we are passing on, and how the stragglers feel.

What is slow reading?

Slow reading is also about recovering old practices that have traditionally aided readers in paying attention — oral performance, annotation, exploring complex and difficult passages. It is about reading that generates ideas for writing, what Ralph Waldo Emerson called “creative reading.” And even memorization.

 Why slow reading?

By slowing down, by refusing to see reading as a form of consumption or efficient productivity, we can attend to word meanings and sound, building a bridge to the oral traditions that writing arose out of. We can hold passages in memory, we can come to the view that good texts are inexhaustible. And by being patient and deliberate, we can tackle difficult texts.
The goal of reading instruction should not be to rush this process, not to put students on the clock, but to say in every way possible — “This is not a race. Take your time. Pay attention. Touch the words and tell me how they touch you”

I suppose you could just call it something like "thoughtful" reading!