Teaching Math Mastery in the International School Fourth Grade Classroom

” In this changing world, those who understand and can do mathematics will have significantly enhanced opportunities and options for shaping their futures. Mathematical competence opens doors to productive futures. A lack of mathematical competence keeps doors closed…All students should have the opportunity and the support necessary to learn significant mathematics with depth and understanding. There is no conflict between equity and excellence.” NCTM (200, p 50)

As an international school fourth grade teacher, I realize that I have 22 students of widely varying degrees of mathematical understanding. The following is a body of thought on how I approach teaching in my classroom.

I believe that each child  be encouraged to take control of their own mathematics learning. This means that I am to create an environment where students discuss findings, compare ideas, and peer tutor. In creating such an environment, I first need to develop a highly structured classroom with easy access to mathematical tools. The students need to develop relationships inside the classroom. I need to develop routines and habits that foster thinking. This is a constant work in progress that finds me tinkering to find small, incremental improvements that alone are not readily noticeable. The students need help each other without exception.

You need lots of math manipulatives.

Curriculum is to fit the student population. This means that school leaders must constantly investigate results to find trends in student math learning. Teachers are to understand reasoning behind decisions and differentiate expectations for each child. I strongly believe that mathematics teachers need support from school leaders. This includes regular, focused and differentiated professional development for mathematics instructors. School leaders must recognize and foster collaborative activities among teachers.

Students learn what the teacher teaches each day. They easily see when a teacher does not deeply understand mathematics instruction. I am a big believer that elementary school teachers need to support each other in explaining ideas that develop teacher ability. This means regular, intentional time for teachers to look over student work and to discuss ideas in how to teach a particular concept.

Assessment is an integral but not overwhelming management aspect. I tend to focus on a bevy of pre assessment strategies so that I can pinpoint my instruction and find a “just right” learning for each child. I teach students to constantly use reflective assessment tools that show and celebrate their “new, big, idea” from each day’s lesson. I post “exit slips” each day and make sure that exemplar posts are widely viewed.

I believe that technology plays an ever increasingly important role in the mathematics classroom. I am a huge fan of ViHart,  Khan Academy and Brainpop in helping me accelerate student understanding. I use these sites religiously. They are excellent tools in a differentiated mathematics classroom.

That is all for now.

Teachers,“How do you approach mathematics instruction in your classroom?”   Please feel free to comment below.

Good luck.

National Council of Mathematics (2000) Principles and standards for school mathematics Reston VA

How to Teach Literacy to Fourth Grade Students

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Fourth grade is now in session. The students know each other and each kid understands the rules. They are happy and they want to learn. Now, it is time to teach.  It is crucial that the effective fourth grade teacher offer an environment where all students can read and write. This takes investigation, knowledge of pedagogy, and confidence in delivering the curriculum. The master teacher is already developing short-range plans for each student entrusted in her care.

Teaching Reading: Humans are earth’s only cultural species. Our ability to read is perhaps our greatest achievement. The alphabet is an incredible invention that has shaped our lives. “Every teacher bears the burden of experimenting carefully and rigorously to identify the appropriate stimulation strategies that will provide students’ brains with an optimal daily enrichment.”(Dehaene, 2009)

As adults we forget how difficult it is to read. It is imperative to remember and provide connections with each child to their struggles. It is imperative to compliment, compliment and compliment each student’s accomplished goal. This means a teacher must provide daily, time-bound instruction, appropriate text, and time to read.

I am also of the belief that the master teacher should have at least some understanding of how the brain functions while reading.

Teaching Writing: Teach the kids to learn how to write from writers. This has been a game changer in my classroom. Each day, teach the craft of writing. Empathize with your student writers by writing each day yourself. Share your stories, struggles, pitfalls and achievements. The kids will appreciate you and offer you valuable insight.

The act of teaching children to appreciate and acknowledge superior writing is a gift. Give students the time to write each day. Allow them time to share their writing with writing partners. Celebrate with passion and allow for reflection after each unit. Provide ample opportunities for students to learn from mentor texts.

Read Aloud: Each day, after lunch recess, my students grab their water bottles, notebooks, and pencils and sit on the rug, waiting for me to begin my read aloud. My books are reserved for the year but I change titles depending on my mood.  I perhaps model reading with an overbearing sense of awe and drama. I figure that if books do not excite me, then I should not be teaching young ones. “Reading aloud is the single most important classroom structure there is.” (Ray, 1999)

This time is sacred to students and to me. I do not allow the students to lie down and rest during read aloud. I specifically teach them to be wide-awake and to notate during read aloud.

This year, my I have scheduled “accountable talk” time. This time is set aside for the students to talk about their connections, observations, predictions and wonderings about the current read aloud book. The circle discussion is student centered and a pleasure to conduct.

Word Study: Words study in fourth grade is essentially recognizing and developing control of spelling conventions. However, it is so much more in a master teacher’s classroom. When students understand that words are inventions and each word grew from different cultures and circumstances, they begin to appreciate the magic of language. Instruct students to analyze and sort words each week and reflect on their growth. Allow time for students to investigate idioms. This is always time well spent.

This is enough for today. Enjoy your students and have an amazing year of literacy.

Dehaene, S. (2012). Reading in the brain, the new science of how we read. Penguin Paperbacks.

Ray, K. W. (1999). Wondrous words, writers and writing in the elementary classroom. Natl Council of Teachers.

Watching your Parents age from a Distance…Saying Goodbye as an Expat

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Each summer, before returning to Asia, I have to say goodbye to my parents. It is an awful ritual. It is increasingly difficult as the years go on. This summer was nothing short of torturous in that my mom and dad are struggling so mightily to live. It kills me to see them in pain.

I wrestle with self-centeredness, by balancing the thought of my mom and dad’s exceedingly dwindling quality of life versus my need to learn from them and enjoy their company. I am often times needing to tell them that I have a really good life and that I am happy. Each year, I find myself playing the loser’s game of wishing that I might see my parents just one more summer. I find myself wondering if I am living a life of meaning if I cannot even take care of my own parents’ basic needs. Each year I try to reconcile my conflicting emotions. “Should I stay or should I go?” Should I risk taking a real pay cut to return home? Can I eek out one more year?

Would I be  an added burden if I finally did decide to return home?

In writing this piece, I think of a quote from Confucius that I read somewhere. To paraphrase, “a man is not a man if he leaves his parents’ hometown before they have died.” This quote slays me each time I think about it, knowing that I have left my parents when they need me most. This quote is especially gnawing in that I feel like I have left my siblings holding the bag.

I am sure that I am not the only expatriate dealing with these thoughts.What helps me is to remember and share the advice my parents sent my way,such as:

“Live simply, boring is good.” “Have a good life, enjoy your time with your wife.” “Be happy is all that I ask.” “Don’t live to help people. That is egotism. Simply live to not hurt others. That is enough.” “Whenever in a hospital, you got to eat.” “There are not a lot of people who have a relationship like we do.” “Life is incredibly humbling.”

What also helps is to organize their lives as much as possible to set them up for survival. I did this with my mom by writing a financial, mental, and physical health plan that is achievable. I aided my dad by showing him all that he can still do, and not tell him what he should do.

Finally,below are ten ideas that help me live overseas while my parents age:

1.Accept that you cannot stop the aging process, even if you are living nearby.

2.Appreciate the kindness and positivity of your parents as they look upon their lives. Listen to them.

3.Thank them incessantly in for all that they have done for you.

4.Empathize with their plight, but do not allow yourself to wallow in pity.

5.Help your parents adapt to technology and accept the tools that are just too overwhelming.

6.Do what you can, whenever and whatever.

 7.Continue to make memories.

 8.Listen to them…just sit by their sides.

9.Trust caregivers and hope for the best.

10. Pay it forward and volunteer to work with the elderly in your newly adopted country.

 

 

 Expat reader, I sincerely wish you luck as you watch your parents age. Off to Hong Kong.

 

 

 

Teaching Technology to Expat Teachers

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Recently, I had the good fortune to attend the educational professional development course, Teaching Technology to Teachers. Justin Reich and Tom Daccord  led the class. The training was held at Harvard University’s Adolphus Busch Hall. Below are some notes and reflections I found useful for international educators. Additionally, I have provided some links from the course.

Justin clarified to me that effectual educational technology assists students to:

Collect information needed for understanding.

Relate to each other in collaborative learning groups.

Create meaningful, authentic performances of understanding.

Donate their work to a broader audience.

Moreover, Justin and Tom got me questioning my teaching habits, such as, “What is my educational technology mission statement? How do I spend my time? How specifically does my technology choices improve student learning? How do I differentiate my audiences’ level of technical comprehension?How can I use technology to more readily collaborate with my teammates and teachers?”

I envision that this class will help me prod my teammates to contemplate their own philosophies on use of educational technology. I hope to offer opportunities for students colleagues and parents to appreciate that technology is not a cure-all but rather a tool delivering content.

Reich and my cohorts shared teacher-tested professional development models including:

Digital Educator Academy: (Providing college credits for Ed Tech professional growth.)

Nine tech lunch talks throughout the school year

Ed Tech prize drawings provided throughout the school year

Bagels and Laptops: Monthly voluntary breakfast meetings where cohorts share tech secrets and successes

Tech Leader Representatives per Teaching Team or Department

Geek of the Week (I love this idea in spite of the label)

Technology in practice weekly blogs

Technology Fairs where teachers are given time to informally” test drive” tech ideas

Reich explained the rewards of challenges to inspire confidence to change. He presented digital challenges that show, and not tell, teachers the joys, benefits and relative ease in using technology.  A highly engaging challenge is here.Expat teachers can reach available protocols and tutorials to cut issues that will appear. You can use your students and teachers partners to develop tutorials and screencasts. Commoncraft is one such site that has a bevy of tutorials. Screencastomatic is a simple and free site that allows users to produce screencasts while instructing. They can later be linked to teachers’ websites for future viewing.

Upon reflection, the course, Teaching Technology to Teachers, will profoundly affect how I teach my students. Specifically, my students will more markedly share their work with fellow learners worldwide. This is a path to improving student learning.I strongly recommend that international educators consider enrolling with Justin and Tom in the future. I most definitely plan to attend again next summer. I am quite grateful for this time well spent.

Have a great year and I hope this helps. Below are some links that had a great deal of buzz:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2H4RkudFzlc

xtranormal.com

mathtrain.tv

goanimate.com

Polleverywhere.com

http://thwt.org/

Questions? Comments? Thoughts? Please write back.

 

 

Watching your Parents Age from a Distance, (revisited)

Week two of my visit home continues.

I remain ever so proud of both my mom and dad. Both continue to do exercises so that they can make the most of their seventy-four year old bodies. Mom positions herself by the kitchen sink while we practice stretching and standing. Dad is now with his nursing home therapists transferring from his wheelchair to the shower room chair. This is a major goal in his ongoing battle for greater independence. The two of them are as upbeat as one may expect. They are remarkable in their perseverance.

My mom moves slowly but is as sharp and as funny as ever. She talked with me for over ninety minutes, last night. We had more than a few yucks. Currently, she is looking for a loaner guitar so she can start taking lessons at our local senior center. This has the making of hilarious possibilities.

My dad and I needed a good day. Yesterday was a very dark day for both of us. He told me how difficult life is for him at this time. He stated that he is lonelier now than at any time in his life. Dad loves the company of others more than most. When he is alone, he is truly difficult to witness. He is having a tough time sleeping at night.

Thankfully, He was able to move into a larger room by a window that overlooks a forest. Prior to this, he asked the head nurse,” What…do I have to wait for someone to die before I can get into another room?”

Dad eats all of his “hospital food” placed in front of him. He reminds me each day that when you are in a hospital, to clean your plate. He pushes himself to stay strong. He has long ago surpassed all my expectations so now I just sit with him and congratulate him on all of his successes.

I have never known my dad to ever be lonely. Seeing him struggle with life in a nursing home is quite difficult. He seems not intellectually challenged by his conversations with the staff and residents of his home. Dad is still able to complete a New York Times daily crossword puzzle with ink. Contrast that with contemporaries suffering from depression, boredom and dementia of some sort and you have a brutally tough environment to grow.

To put it simply, my dad needs visitors.

Thankfully, he had smiles for me as I left today. He rejoiced when seeing Tom Watson make the cut at the British Open.

Both of my parents continue to live one day at a time. Both continue to teach me lessons that I will keep forever.

Reader, especially expat teachers, if you have parents that are in the later stages of life, I sincerely wish you all the luck in the world. There are no secrets or hints that can help you. You truly are a bit helpless to affect much change.

Time, understanding and companionship are my only gifts that I can give them. 

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Watching your Parents Age from a Distance

Having completed my 21-hour flight from Hong Kong to Boston via Tokyo and Chicago, I am on finally on summer vacation at my mom’s house. I am preparing for a bike ride to my Dad’s nursing home facility. In an effort to stay clear-headed, I have decided to write a few thoughts about the challenges expats face regarding elderly care.

One of the positive aspects of living overseas is that when I do finally get to spend time with my parents, I truly am in the moment. I do not have any other cares besides caring for them both.  I spend my nights with my mom and the days with my dad. I have forced myself to slow down.

These last two days by my dad’s side have been quite positive. I have been able to see tangible growth in my dad’s physical condition. He is more positive, accepting and realistic about his life. That not to say that he does not still intend to walk unassisted, however.  He continues to work his muscles to the point of exhaustion. It is an astounding joy to watch him stand tall while he walks the 50 feet or so across the rehabilitation room floor.

Both he and I are relaxed together for the first time in a very long while. Gone are the days of a power struggle that is so common between father and middle-aged son. Neither of us is trying too hard. Sitting in a courtyard at a nursing home for long stretches forces one to accept things as they are. No longer is he struggling just to survive the day. No longer am I acting like a drill sergeant or cheerleader in getting him to move his limbs. Rather, we both are acknowledging the pleasure of reaching tiny goals.

We watch the birds, we finish the daily crossword puzzle, and we listen to each other. Dad is getting back to reading about the game of bridge (he was once nationally rated) and he is quite pleased that he still is mentally sharp. I am listening to wonderful stories from his life and getting a chance to read in the most comfortable of surroundings. It is wonderful living “off the grid.”

We are all hanging in there. I am still learning each day from my first and finest teachers.

Fellow Expats, What are your thoughts about watching your parents age?

What did I learn during my first year as an expat?

Tom Hanks in Castaway.

After being inspired by both my favorite blogger, ExpatEducator, and International School Services, I opted to reflect on my first year of International School teaching, August 2001-2002.

Here goes:

Teamwork is essential. 

Your teaching team is your lifeline. You must focus on friendly, respectful communication. Keep all opinions about teaching practices and school environment to yourself for the entire first year. Your team will help you survive your posting. They can also make your first year miserable. I was very lucky, in this regard. My teammates were funny, supportive, foodies, and sympathetic to my struggles.

Stress is merely another obstacle to conquer.

The stress during your first year overseas is immense. It gets easier. Realize that you are in for an overhaul of so many preconceived notions. I arrived in Singapore two weeks before 9/11. Walking past machine gunnery and bomb sniffing dogs each day to teach ten-year olds made for an incredibly difficult year.

You are a guest.

Do everything that you can to learn and show appreciation of your foster country. Treat your newfound address as you would your hometown. Read up the local politics. Take time to understand the local issues. Listen to the people around you and get help to understand. Again, keep your opinions to yourself, however.

Learn the language. Taking a summer off during my second stint in Asia to learn conversational Japanese was a huge break for me. Many doors opened up for me. I regret not learning Mandarin while in Singapore. Where ever you are, learn the language. People have used LiveMocha. It is an incredible resource and I recommend it highly.

Smile often and expect problems.

Live conservatively, volunteer, and take pubic transportation. Save your money. I got to travel the world, visit Hawaii and Bali, but finished the year as broke as when I started. Do not do this.

Find friends not associated with your school. International school teaching is incredibly demanding. Find friends outside your realm that will not remind you of work.

Accept yourself and your current situation. My dad told me often that I am going to have to learn to appreciate being alone if I am to survive overseas. He was so very right. I remember him specifically telling me to quit feeling sorry for myself and that if you are experiencing culture shock in Singapore….”Try moving to Mississippi!”

You are a professional, act like one. Do not personalize decisions made from your administrators. Move on.

Shop in the summer. Let’s just say that nothing fits and leave it at that.

Parents need help too. I learned quickly that my students’ parents were dealing with the same degree or more of homesickness and isolation. To be effective, I needed to cultivate relationships with parents even more so than back in the states.

You are a work in progress. Take it easy on yourself. You will make many mistakes but you will see it through. Finishing my first year overseas was a major life-affirming event. I am now into my eleventh year as an expat teacher and I could not be more happy.

 

What did you learn about your first year overseas? Educators and Parents, please feel free to write to me. If YOU are movingoverseas for the first time, please keep use me as a resource.

Good Luck!

You can find me on Twitter @LarryHermanHK