Articles by Ashli Black, Andy Gael and Andrew Stadel
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Building Conceptual Understanding in Middle School

This Tuesday (Dec 2nd) Jenise Sexton will bring to you ideas about taking an "elementary" approach to teaching middle school math. This involves the use of manipulatives, scaffolding tasks and small group instruction.

Oh, Homework...

There are so many discussions to have around the assignments, but how do you select and arrange the problems that go onto them?

A recent NY Times piece, Studying for the Test by Taking It, centers around two research articles. The first is a good read, but I’m going to highlight the second as it was done across eight 7th grade classrooms in Florida and taught me a new edu-word: interleaving. Interleaved assignments, as opposed to blocked assignments, are ones where each problem requires a different solution strategy than the prior problem. The research is a great read and the measured benefits of doing interleaved assignments with respect to assessed learning are clear, though it is interesting to note that the authors are unsure of the exact mechanism causing said benefits.

If you’re now pondering how you might use some interleaving in your own assignments, check out this blogpost from Dylan Kane on how and why he sets up ‘mixed’ homework in his classroom the way he does.


By Ashli Black (@mythagon)

Number Strings

You may be aware of the Contexts for Learning Mathematics curriculum developed by Cathy Fosnot.  A major component of the curriculum is a pedagogical technique designed to introduce and practice computational ideas and strategies called number strings.  You may not be as aware of how to utilize this particular technique in your classroom.  That’s where Rachel Lambert and Kara Imm’s blog called Number Strings comes to the rescue!

We started talking about where we kept the number strings we wrote every day as classroom teachers: bulging file folders, assorted post-it notes, a massive notebook,” recalls Lambert about the inspiration for the blog. “What was the digital equivalent, we wondered? Could we make a website that collected number strings and shared them freely with teachers? That was our initial inspiration for the site. We started to look for information on the web about number strings and found that many sources were misinformed about number strings, and so we wanted to provide clear guidance for teachers.”


A number string is a short, focused computational routine in which kids share multiple strategies that are represented by the teacher. There is a focus on the development of flexible strategies for computation and big mathematical ideas.  “Many of the number strings on the site are written to solve the current problems that teachers have, particularly with places in which the Common Core expectations don't match with available curriculum.” Lambert answers as to how classroom teachers can use the site.

If you’re wondering how “number strings” differ from “number talks” you can find out here.  “Teachers as designers,” Lambert says is the goal for writing the blog. “That's what we want to restore to teachers --- the idea that teaching is a creative, generative, imaginative act.  This is very different for teachers who feel like teaching is implementing someone else's ideas, in a kind of scripted manner.  Especially in a time of heightened pressure to prepare for tests, this designing aspect of teaching is really important.”

By Andy Gael


That Red Button

Remember hearing a recording of your voice for the first time?

  • Is that really how I sound?

  • Do I really say “like”, “uhhmm”, “y’know” that much?


Remember watching a recording of your teaching for the first time?

  • Oh, I had to do that once. I didn’t like it.

  • Wait! What? I’ve never recorded myself.


I remember recording my teaching during my credential “training”. It was brutal. And it seemed like such a big deal...

What if it wasn’t such a big deal? (Maybe it needs to become common practice.)

What if someone sees it? (Maybe a trusted friend/colleague/coach can watch with me.)

What if I suck? (Maybe I’ll get better at teaching.)


I think it’s so beneficial to video-record your teaching and debrief with a friend, colleague, coach, or even four walls. Cathy Yenca gives a quick and painless nudge for us to press that red “record” button: Time-Lapse.

By Andrew Stadel (@mr_stadel)
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