# MAT Blog

YouTube is pretty awesome. YouTube videos have helped us fumble our way through countless tasks from how to build a staircase and put up drywall, to how to cook the perfect steak and make sushi. It has also helped us in the classroom when we needed to show our math students something rather than tell them about it.

While there are lots of useful math tutorials on YouTube, there’s also just as much rubbish, which makes sorting out the good stuff tedious and time consuming.

This morning we made an exciting new discovery—a video tutorial website called ThatTutorGuy. It’s run by a Stanford University graduate named Chris who is well-versed in anything from pre-algebra and analysis to trig, pre-calculus and physics. After watching several of his tutorials, we assure you that he’s the real deal.

While you will find several free videos on his site, you’ll have to become a subscriber to access all of them. For \$30 a month you’ll get 24/7 access to all the videos in all the classes on the site, to watch in whatever order you want, as many times as you want. As new classes are added, you'll get access to those as well.

If you’d like to try before you completely buy, Chris offers a seven-days-for-\$7 trial. There’s also a discounted, six-month plan for \$97 (that’s 46 percent off the regular subscription price).

To give you a sense for what his algebra tutorials are like, check out the video below.

“When will I ever use this?” It’s one of the most common questions math teachers hear from students. While there are lots of ways we can respond to this question, we believe the best answer comes from showing, rather than telling, our students why math is relevant to their lives.

Yummy Math is a web resource that will help you do this. All of the activities you’ll find on the site use real-world problems and scenarios that are not only familiar and engaging to students, but require them to use math to solve them.

Everything you’ll find on Yummy Math corresponds with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Process (NCTM) Standards and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Mathematical Practice. Yummy Math is also in the process of adding CCSS correlation to every activity on the site. New lessons are added a few times a week and all of them are completely free.

Here are two examples of the types of activities you’ll find on the site:

Boorito
For Halloween 2013 Chipotle (a fast-casual Mexican restaurant chain) is offering \$3 burritos to any customer that comes in dressed in their Halloween costume after 4 p.m. Even better, Chipotle will donate up to one million dollars of the proceeds from the \$3 items to the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation. This foundation is dedicated to creating a sustainable, healthful, equitable food future.

• I wonder how likely it is that Chipotle will be able raise one million dollars in one evening? Take a couple minutes, first individually and then with a partner, to think about whether this goal is even reasonable? Write some of your observations and thoughts below.

•What information would be helpful to know in order to figure out the probability of Chipotle reaching their goal? Record your thoughts below.

Can you imagine sailing off to the West, into an empty looking ocean, to find what your captain believes is a good route to the Indian subcontinent?  This was a pretty risky navigational feat. Luckily the ships experienced good weather on their trip to the Caribbean.

These are only two amongst dozens of math activities you’ll find on Yummy Math, so be sure to stop by and browse their resource library.

Most teachers are passionate about their subject matter, but few join the ranks simply based on their love of knowledge. No, most of us have a deep-seated drive to become change agents: We want to connect with others and make a difference in the lives of young people; we want to show them how much they know, not how much we know. A big part of engaging students means injecting a little personality into our pedagogy. To help you do this, we’d like to share five tips from Stella Erbes’s book, What Teachers Should Know But Textbooks Don't Show.

Pedagogy with a personality: 5 Ways to Start Engaging Students

Start attending school activities
After a long day in the classroom, we might wonder if we have enough stamina to hang out for another hour and a half for the baseball game or band concert to start. Understandable, but attending school activities has a big payoff that can help strengthen your relationships with students both inside and outside the classroom.

Here’s a personal example: In high school, there was a math teacher who I did not particularly get along with. One evening, I saw him sitting on the bleachers during our baseball game. The next day, he approached me in the hallway and said, “That was a really great game you played yesterday. You throw quite a curve ball.” This one encounter completely transformed our relationship. I still struggled through his class, but I started working harder, asking questions and staying after class to talk with this teacher simply because I respected him.

Acknowledge the staff as a part of the team
Let’s face it, we need the staff—librarians, counselors, athletics directors and secretaries—as much as our students do. The office staff keeps track of our attendance records, relays messages, delivers our mail, guides and counsels our students, and the list goes on and on.

Given that, we must treat them, as Stella Erbes puts it, as “equal contributors in the educational enterprise.” This means promptly responding to their requests, returning paperwork in a timely fashion and doing everything possible to dismantle hierarchy (if it exists). We are all members of a community and we must unite for the common good of our students.

Our friends and spouses do the best they can to listen and understand our lives in the classroom, but they lack the context, the “in-the-trenches” experience, that truly allows them to relate.

Once you’ve settled in and identified the colleagues that you connect with, try organizing (or joining) a bi-weekly group. Meet during planning periods or at the end of the week at a local coffee shop. If, as Erbes puts it, “the school year is to be viewed like a marathon, then reaching each mile marker throughout the year should be celebrated.” Find creative and relaxing ways to connect and encourage one another as you conquer the school year together.

Nurture the self-esteem of students
Although we should nurture self-esteem in all of our students, Erbes reminds us that those with special needs can “easily enter a downward spiral that leads to negative self-esteem if they are continually unable to meet the expectations of a regular classroom.”

We may have the best intentions when we ask students to stay inside for recess so we can give them extra help on their work, but students often see this as punishment. Some students may always need extra time to complete a task, even if it appears simple to us. Asking students to stay after class or skip recess will do more harm than many teachers realize. Erbes suggests finding “learning outcome[s] to suit the capabilities of individual students”—things like correcting in a non-threatening color, offering short, but encouraging comments along with your constructive criticism, and allowing students to go to recess even if all of his/her work is not complete.

Most of us know that rehashing the same teaching format can dry up our students’ (and our own) enthusiasm. Along with varying your lesson plans and teaching strategies, try rearranging the room. Rows of desks may be suited for test days or lectures, but try rearranging the room in a circle so that you are sitting with your students. Have a classroom discussion, put students into groups of four or five, or place a large blanket on the floor and conduct your classroom activities right there on the floor. Students will welcome these changes.

Teaching entails many things, but at its core, teaching is about relationships. Relationships breathe life into a curriculum that would otherwise be static; relationships also create a safe space for open discourse, they encourage exploration, confidence and respect. Most of us believe this and while we do our best to nurture strong relationships with students, we often feel them getting lost in the hum of daily activity and the increasing demands of our profession. Thanks to Diane Mierzwik’s book, Quick and Easy Ways to Connect With Students and Their Parents, we’ve got five simple ways you can strengthen your relationships with students.

5 simple ways to strengthen student engagement

Handing back papers
Returning papers is a perfunctory activity; it doesn’t require any preparation or expertise, so often we ask one of our students to hand back papers while we take attendance or make last-minute preparations. But there’s a good reason for teachers to reclaim ownership of this activity.

When teachers return papers, they have the opportunity to connect a student’s performance to that student. “But why not simply glance at my grade book?” you say. Sure, you can do that too, but we’ve found that handing back papers helps connect specific assignments and lessons with that particular student; this makes it easier to remember when our students are succeeding and struggling.

Collecting assignments
Many of us collect work by having students “pass up” assignments from the back row to the front. This is efficient, but it is another lost opportunity to connect with students. Walking up and down the row to collect each assignment may take another minute or two, but the payoff can be huge.

When you collect homework, you know immediately who did not complete the assignment. Instead of literally getting lost in the shuffle, now you know exactly who you should speak to after class to find out why the assignment is missing.

Imagine a track runner; every time she completes a lap and passes her coach, he simply shouts, “B minus!” That’s not very helpful, is it? Based on this “feedback,” the runner is able to ascertain that she could be performing better, but she still has no idea what she’s doing wrong. Now apply the analogy to your students.

Regardless of where we teach, most of us are expected to issue letter grades. Fine, but is there a way to supply your students with more information about their performance? Where could they improve? What did they do well? All it takes is a sentence or two to encourage, congratulate and instruct.

Teaching our students to self-assess is an important life skill. Too often our students look to us to give them the answers or tell them what is “wrong” with their work. Having students write self-reflections and attach them to their homework gives us the opportunity to see their work through their eyes; it also gives students the opportunity to think critically about their own work, what they did well, and where they could improve.

Informal, 5-minute conferences
Another effective way to connect with students is through informal conferences. The purpose of these conferences is simply to catch up and ask your students how they think things are going. We encourage students to openly share their thoughts. We usually ask them the following questions:

• What activities do they enjoy?
• What are their least favorite?
• Where could they improve?
• Where are they succeeding?
• What are their goals for the upcoming month?
• How might we better assist them in their goals?

While you can run conferences during class, we recommend having them before or after school, or turning them into an informal “lunch with a teacher” event.

No matter what grade level or subject we teach, most of us are expected to issue report cards two, three or four times a year. And no matter how many years we’ve been doing it, writing effective report card comments is never easy. To help you cut down on the hours you spend writing and reviewing your comments, stop by Report Card Comments.

To give you a feel for the language, we’ve listed a few comments below:

• Pupil name is a reserved member of the group who displays a quiet interest in the subject

• Pupil name always listens carefully and puts full effort into tasks

• The progress Pupil name has shown this year has been hindered by attendance issues

• Pupil name puts considerable effort into his work but doesn't plan out his tasks in sufficient detail.

While we do find this application helpful, you’ll still need to finesse the default comments. Take the last comment as an example: We know that the pupil “puts considerable effort into his work,” but we’ll need more information about what tasks he doesn’t plan out in detail and what steps he might take to accomplish this.

If you’re looking for more information on how you can write more effective report cards, you might be interested in one of our recent blogs, 5 tips for writing clear and constructive report card comments or check out Susan Shafer’s book, Writing Effective Report Card Comments.

It goes without saying, but what we write in report cards and how we write it impacts our students and their parents. Thoughtful, well-written report card comments offer praise and constructive criticism; they are clear, concise and solution-oriented. Vague and poorly-written report comments, however, may confuse and discourage parents and students.

To help you write report card comments that inspire, instruct and promote growth, we’d like to share 5 simple tips from Pam Robbins’s and Harvey Alvy’s book, The Principal’s Companion.

5 tips for writing clear and constructive report card comments

1. When you are describing a challenge or an area in which the student could improve, be specific and try to provide recommendations.

“Ned is not doing well in speech class” is vague and doesn’t offer any feedback.

On the other hand, “Ned’s speeches show potential: he is at ease in front of the class and always appears confident. However, his speeches need more organization. I’ve encouraged him to rehearse his speech by setting a timer and/or practicing in front of friends/family to help him organize and pace his presentation” is clear and offers suggestions for how Ned can improve.

2. Keep in mind that a report card is a permanent document; it’s also a keepsake and memory record: Parents often keep these in old shoe boxes and pull them out years later.

Considering this, report card comments should be meaningful. “Elise has a habit of forgetting to write her name on her homework” is probably not something that deserves to be a part of a student’s permanent record.

3. Be discreet and avoid insensitive comments: Praising a student is one thing, but avoid comparing him/her with peers. “Joey continues to excel in composition; in fact, he is the best writer in the class” will certainly make the student and his/her parents feel good, but this is not a competition. Avoid praising one student and undermining 15 others at the same time.

4. Make sure the grade matches the comment: Praise next to “needs improvement” is confusing.

5. If you want to make a general point, use the “general comments” section on the back of the report card instead of the designated subject area section. Mentioning that “Jessica is a pleasure to have in class” or “Steven is often late to school” should not be the primary point under the math section of the report card. Summary comments about the student’s overall performance belong in the additional comments section.

We hope some of these tips help you in the forthcoming school year. If you are looking for more tips on how to write effective report card comments, we highly recommend Susan Shafer’s book, Writing Effective Report Card Comments.

Photo credit: Aburk018

Every morning before work, I stop by Yahoo with the intention of checking my email—and only checking my mail. Without exception, this is what happens: In the half second it takes me to move my cursor over the email icon and click, it’s all over. Suddenly, I find myself halfway into an article entitled “Nike pulls poorly timed t-shirts from stores.” “How did I get here?” I think to myself as I polish off the last paragraph of an article about Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. Of course I never want to read these articles, but the power of an enigmatic, well-written headline can get me to read just about anything.

So what can teachers learn from the power of a well-written headline and how can they harness it for engaging students?  Here are a few ideas we gleaned from one of our favorite authors and educators, Dr. Richard Curwin. We highly recommend checking out his blogs here.

Headlines always use teasers. Teachers should too.
Regardless of what you teach, try beginning each lesson with some sort of provocative statement—something that will make your students go, “huh?”

Which of these two questions do you think would work best for engaging students?

• “Please take out Kevin Jennings’ essay, “The American Dream.”
• “I have a question: What does Kevin Jennings have in common with Jay-Z.”

You went with the second one, yes? How about these two questions:

We bet you went with the second question both times. Why? Because Jay-Z and Keyboard Cat are interesting. At first glance, they also seem completely unrelated to the essays you asked your students to read. This will not only capture their curiosity, it’ll force students to think critically to make a connection. Here’s another tip for engaging students that comes courtesy of Dr. Curwin.

Use Compelling Questions
Have you ever forgotten the name of a song, a book title or even someone's name and spent the whole day trying to remember it? It was under your skin, so to speak, and the need to remember was compelling to the extreme. The same is true when you begin a class with a question that creates a compelling need for students to know the answer. This strategy is based on the principle that questions should come before answers. Typically, teachers give information and then ask questions about it. Hearing the question first, especially a great one, radically increases the need to learn the information just to find the answer. Great questions have these things in common:

1. They are related to the subject you're teaching.
2. They amplify the students' natural sense of wonder.
3. They challenge the students' belief of the way things are.

Here is a sampling of compelling questions that teachers from various content areas have shared with me:

• Middle school math: What does Martin Luther King have in common with Algebra? Answer: they both are concerned with equality.
• First grade science (studying particles): What is the smallest thing you ever held in your hand?
• Upper elementary history (studying the Pilgrims): Is there anything your parents could ever do to you that would make you run away from home?
• Elementary art: If humans had to be a color other than any color they already are, what color would you choose? Why? Draw some people of this color.
• High school English: If Hamlet were a television sitcom, what would be a better name for it?
• High school social studies: If Napoleon spread nationalism, how did nationalism bring him down?
• Middle school English: Why don't "good" and "food" rhyme?

Questions like these begin your class with energy, excitement and most importantly, a desire to learn.

Photo credit: Adam Sundana at http://www.flickr.com/photos/cukuskumir/