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Dedicated to Teachers


On the Podcast: Remote Math Instruction with Sue O'Connell

stem-t4l--PnSpCHYKsw-unsplashWith schools across the country closing for weeks, possibly months, how do we keep our math learning going for our K-5 students? Like all of you, we're also getting used to this new way of learning. Our hope on the Heinemann Blog and the Heinemann Podcast is to create a resource that can help you during this time. 

UPDATE: During this podcast the author mentions that she has pulled together a list of resources for teaching math remotely for K-5 students. Those resources are now posted on a new webpage on the Heinemann website. 

Learn more about the Math in Practice series!

On today's podcast, our colleague Josh talks with author Sue O'Connell, lead author of Math in Practice. Josh started by asking Sue what our goals for math learning should be during the closures. 

A full transcript of this episode will be available soon!

Sue: Well, right now we're kind of frantically trying to figure out how to send materials home or what home learning looks like. I think it's important to remember that when we talk about sending schoolwork home, we're not talking about school as usual in the home. We're not planning for six hours of learning opportunities every day for every child. I think one important thing is, first I heard someone talking about Maslow Before Bloom to remind us that we need to first make kids feel safe and then we want to give them some normalcy. I think we're trying to figure out ways to get kids reading, writing, doing some math every day while they're home, along with creative activities, outdoor play, music, other fun activities. Those could be either through technology or face-to-face, parent, child or siblings doing those activities together. That's going to depend on the resources within each home. But I hope we're not thinking that our goal is to send home lengthy packets and have, basically, parents school at home that looks like it would in a school setting. This is something completely different.

Josh: Right. You know, I wonder, obviously you talked a little bit about the environment that we're in and we know teachers are certainly feeling some intensity around this pressure as they try to figure out how to navigate this. How do you think, what have you heard from teachers that you've talked with about how they're feeling and how that impacts their planning around school closings?

Sue: There is a great deal of anxiety right now. I think teachers are certainly stressed professionally, but we have to remember they're also stressed about their own families. They're concerned for their own children, they're concerned for their students. They're concerned not just for their students' math learning, but for their students' ability to get lunches or who's going to take care of them at home or whether they're going to have exposure to the virus themselves.

Then remembering too that teachers like to be planned and prepared for things. Most of us were really taken off guard with this. We can't send the lessons that we prepared for a classroom home. We need to rethink what it looks like to send something home to allow for learning opportunities. That's all very anxiety-provoking. Then you add in there teachers who may not feel that comfortable with the whole distance learning or technology pieces and that adds one more layer of anxiety.

Josh: If teachers have a little bit of time to prepare, whether it's that their school districts have given them a day or two to prepare or their schools haven't closed yet but they're expecting it to happen at some point soon, what do you think about prioritizing in terms of how they might want to think about that planning?

Sue: Well, there are a few ways I guess I can answer that question. One, it has to do with prioritizing curriculum pieces because teachers are professionals and we know we can't be replaced by an app or a worksheet, so we can't reasonably think you can send a worksheet home or tell kids to get on that app and it's going to teach the way a teacher would do it.

Maybe schools and districts need to think about the math curriculum and the topics that are coming up and maybe reorder, reprioritize some of those for some topics that would work better at home. I'm thinking things like money and time and learning about shapes or measurement. Those are things that are less stressed to ask a parent to step in with or to feel as though an app or a website or a video might be able to support kids to learn that.

Maybe thinking about is there a way we can reorganize our standards so that we're sending home things that are going to be more effective as home activities or are there skills that just need practice at a certain level? Could we send practice tasks home to support skills that we've already taught. I'm thinking of things like that mastering math facts, that's always a priority at the K-5 level. This will be a great time to do activities that reinforce and practice skills that have been taught already in the classroom.

One of the problems is we have a couple things going on across the country. I heard this morning, 36 out of 50 States have school closures going on, so we've got two different scenarios going at the same time. We have teachers who are still in school and may have a few more days to prepare and we have teachers that their schools have already been closed down so they're thinking about it and they're responding to this need in two different ways.

For those who are still in school, I think it would be important to find out what kind of technology students and parents have. Do they have computers, do they have tablets, do they have phones, do they have internet to know whether technology is even an option? Then teachers would have a few days to prepare a list of ... assemble some websites or videos to give parents, not a list of 50 of them because I feel like we're being overwhelmed lately, but picking a few that really support the math content and the grade level of those students and send those home and take some time to in class, before the closures come, to help the kids understand how to use those tools. It's a whole different situation.

If tech is not available, in which case then maybe pulling some of those games out and playing them with kids these last few days. Games that support basic skills and sending the games home with the kids. When the schools do close with some dice or spinners or paper clips or whatever they'll need to play these games.

Those schools that are still in session have an opportunity to do a little bit of prep and send those things home with students. Not every school is in that situation. Clearly 36 out of 50 States have, already have closed schools, so that's not an option for them to do that kind of prep work. But then it's maybe figuring out how to get the word out to students and parents if school is closed quickly, abruptly. I've seen where it's been done through the school website or through mailings to students or through ... One school had baskets outside the door where kids could come and pick up materials to work with at home. People are being very creative, trying to figure out how to get information out when those schools were abruptly closed without things being sent home.

Josh: You talked a little bit about, I want to come back to some of the really good technology resources, but we've talked about it's a national conversation about students that don't have access to technology and you talked a little bit about being able to send things home with students if you're still in school. Do you have any thoughts, any other thoughts about what to do for students that don't have access to technologies, what teachers can provide, what parents might be able to do?

Sue: I think the biggest thing is I just don't think we want to overwhelm kids with these huge packets of worksheets. I just think it's overwhelming for parents, for students, and quite honestly I just don't think they're going to get done, so I think what we want to look for are more interactive tasks, something that feels more like a game or a creative activity.

We've pulled together some materials from John SanGiovanni and I wrote Mastering the Basic Math Facts at Primary and Intermediate Levels and I pulled some of the games from that, which we'll post on our Math in Practice website so that whether people have that book or not, they can access some of those types of games. We pulled some games from Math in Practice, games on just some basic math skills, comparing numbers or comparing decimals or something where kids are rolling dice and spinning spinners and doing something a little more engaging. I think we've got more of a shot at really getting kids participating in these tasks when we make them more fun and engaging for them.

Those are kind of hands-on pieces. Certainly if schools are still in session, I would really encourage them to try and send some materials home with students, whether it's something as simple as some dice or some number cards or maybe even some materials if they felt as though they could spare them some Geoboard, some different kinds of cubes or 10 frames and then show them just a few of the kinds of games and things that we do all the time in the classroom with kids that they can take home and do at home.

Josh: You know you talked about earlier on that the technology sites, the websites and things like that, there's just, there's so many suggestions out there right now. Do you have a couple of those that you think might be particularly helpful for students that do have access to technology?

Sue: Yes, and actually there are a lot of sites that don't require memberships ever, but lately some of the sites that do have membership fees or subscription fees are waiving those fees. You have huge groups like DreamBox is offering a 90-day trial for parents so kids can use DreamBox at home and it's a very comprehensive math program that would be great for parents to be able to access at home.

Other educational companies like BrainPOP and Discovery Education and Mangahigh, they are offering free subscriptions, but you've got ones that have always been free, Math Playground, NRICH Maths, which comes out of the U.K. and is a wonderful site with lots of great math puzzles and interactive games. Open Middle, Greg Tang's math site, that all post free games for kids and they're great places. The Math Learning Center has some wonderful apps and virtual manipulatives that kids and parents can go on and get without any kind of fee at all.

Josh: One thing I'm wondering about is when you think about districts, right? There's a lot of conversations within schools and even within districts, but then as states close their schools down and so then you have multiple districts dealing with the same issues and questions and needs, what do you think are some ways that districts can be supportive of each other and in a time like this?

Sue: I think this is the time to share. This is the time to not do things just for your school or your district, but to post it in a way that other people can access it. One great example of that is the San Francisco Unified School District. They developed and released 10 days of math learning for each grade level, K-5, including student pages, videos. They linked lessons that go with them from sites like NCTM's Illuminations website or some are linked to The Math Learning Center or Math Playground, but they're all pulled together and linked together about a certain math topic. They went ahead and made that public and those are the kinds of things that really support other districts.

We're trying on our Math in Practice Facebook group, we're inviting people to get on there and share things that they've done, post sites where different resources are available. I think this is the time for us to reach out to everyone else and not just develop materials for our own use, but to open those up for everyone's use.

Josh: Finding those ways to share resources together it seems like it will be a huge encouragement to a lot of different people. When I think about encouragement, I also think about parents and parents who are now going to act in some ways as teachers for their students and be doing some of this planning and thinking along with what the schools are sending home. What are some tips that teachers can give to parents who are going to be supporting learning at their home, whether it's through technology or not?

Sue: One of the things that I've seen suggested a lot in the last few days is the idea of creating some kind of schedule for the day. I don't think the intent there is to mean to really over-schedule things, but just to make sure that there is time for creative time and game time, time for reading, time for writing, time for math, all as a part of the day.

When I think about the math pieces, I think about the ways we can integrate things like games into their math learning. It's amazing how many board games have a strong math component to them. When you think about checkers and chess and Mastermind and Connect Four and all the logic that goes in those games or Battleship, it's a coordinate grid activity or Candy Land or Sorry or Chutes and Ladders where kids are counting as they're moving around boards or all the games where kids have to keep score. Play some card games, play Rummy, play Yahtzee and have the kids keep the score.

Play card games like War. War is just comparing numbers from one to 10, so really encouraging parents to see the math in everything around them and make sure that they're keeping math fun and engaging for their kids. I think about things like carry-out menus. You've got the carry-out menu, let's figure out the cost of what we're going to order together or the grocery ads that come in the mail. Let's take those and use those to do some math. Cook recipes. Let's talk about the fractions in the recipes as we're cooking something together or for the little ones, count everything. Grab the forks and spoons out of the drawer and have them count up how many of all different things you have in the house. There are just so many opportunities for math within our homes, within games, within all of these real-world math connections that we see.

I just think we want to make sure that parents aren't feeling that this needs to be a teacher/student more formal math lesson. That math lessons can happen in some of the most fun things that they're doing during the day. That's really what we want. We will post this on the Math in Practice site too.

In Math in Practice, every year April is math month and so what we did is put a calendar together of just some fun parent/child little activities and discussions that they could do for 30 days in April. I think that this is just a great time for us to make those public. There's 30 different parent/child discussions or problems or quick math activities. There is a calendar for each grade level, K-5. If you have a second grade student, you can grab it and see 30 different just at-home discussions or problems or math that you could talk about or do. We'll put those on the website too so that parents can take a look at those and get some ideas of just everyday math that you can do with your children.

This isn't about drills and grading and plowing through worksheets. It's really about revisiting and practicing math, talking about math. But also at the same time, remembering that everyone's going through a pretty tough time right now and that we all have families and our own children or relatives that we're concerned about. The last thing we want to do is overburden or overstress teachers or parents. I would say to teachers, "You don't have to do 50 things. You may see," I know we're posting all of this long list of possibilities you could do. I would say, "Pick a few that you think will make a difference for your students and those are the ones that you share, not giving people long lists. We're just giving you lots of options so you can find what connects with you or what you think will connect with your students. But we don't want you to pass those long lists on. We don't want to overwhelm anyone."

Most importantly, I think just to remember that yes, we believe math learning is so important and needs to continue to happen every day. But the children's physical and emotional health is also just as important. There's a time to work and a time to play and we just want to make sure in each day there's a little bit of mathematics going on, but there's lots of time for the reading, the writing, the playing, the talking and the helping the kids just feel safe and happy.

Learn more about Sue's Work and Math in Practice at Heinemann.com

We'll be sharing resources on the Heinemann Blog from other Heinemann authors for educators related to COVID-19. If you have something you'd like to share with us, or a question related to something that can help during this situation, you can email us at socialmedia@heinemann.com, Tweet us @HeinemannPub, or message us on all social media.


Sue__OConnell_4424Susan O’Connell has decades of experience supporting teachers in making sense of mathematics and effectively shifting how they teach. As a former elementary teacher, reading specialist, and math coach, Sue knows what it’s like in the classroom and her background is evident throughout her work as she unpacks best practices in a clear, practical, and upbeat way.

She is the lead author of Math in Practice, a new grade-by-grade K-5 professional learning resource. She is also coauthor of the bestselling Putting the Practices Into Action, Mastering the Basic Math Facts in Addition and Subtraction, and Mastering the Basic Math Facts in Multiplication and Division.  She served as editor of Heinemann’s popular Math Process Standards series and also wrote the bestselling Now I Get It.

Sue is a nationally known speaker and education consultant who directs Quality Teacher Development, an organization committed to providing outstanding math professional development for schools and districts across the country.

Watch an introductory Math in Practice webinar, hosted by Sue.

Click here to watch Sue talk about the links between reading and math.

Connect with Sue on Twitter @SueOConnellMath

Posted by: Steph GeorgePublished:

Topics: Math in Practice, Mathematics, Podcast, Sue O'Connell, Heinemann Podcast, Math, Distance Learning, Covid_19

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