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Teaching Empathy to Our Children

When I was in Kindergarten, I learned my first real lesson about kindness. Or, at least, one that I still remember with sadness today. It is one of several stories that I recount when I’m asked why I am so adamant about teaching empathy to my children. Our Kindergarten was probably like the one you remember. It was a warm, fuzzy environment, where we sang songs and practiced our letter formations. My favorite letter book was “O”, because it had a funny purple octopus on the front. When we were let out for recess, though, things were not so warm and fuzzy. Our school was a K-6 school, and the culture of the playground was transmitted from the older grades on down. The adults rarely intervened – their philosophy was “kids are kids” and as long as no one was bleeding, all was ok. I remember the old rusty playground equipment, and a slide in particular, that had a rusty butt print at the top. No, it wasn’t really a butt print, but it vaguely looked like one, so we all declared that it was. At some point in the school year, some of the kids started a rumor that the butt print had been created by Claire, a slightly overweight and very shy little girl in our class. We were not nice to Claire. We made up songs, we pointed and laughed, we teased her constantly. She eventually left school – whether it was because of our teasing or because she happened to move away, I don’t know, but it is cemented in my mind that we made her life so miserable that she had to change schools.

In the end, everyone got hurt… I was the teaser, not the teasee, yet even I look back on this and cringe with guilty feelings. Was it preventable? Maybe not entirely, but I do think that the environment where I was raised contributed to the choices that we, as Kindergarteners, made. It was this Lord of the Flies mentality – the idea that playground culture should be transmitted from older kids to younger kids,without any intervention whatsoever from adults. It was a combination of our lack of social skills and a lack of informed direction on how to best develop those skills.

I hope that, by teaching my children empathy, I help them to avoid feeling these guilty feboys_huggingelings that I have held on to for three decades. My children are very aware that there is no place in our house for mean behavior, making fun of people, or disrespecting other people’s property. I’m not saying that they don’t do it on occasion, but they certainly don’t do it to the extent we did it to poor Claire. Here are a few ideas that we use at our house to teach empathy:

1. Checking In

In the heat of battle, kids always want you to pick a side. They run to you with their story of injustice, hoping that you will right the wrong by imposing a harsh consequence on a sibling. Our first step towards conflict resolution is to have the child who feels wronged check in with the child who has done the wronging. The injured party gets to say what they’re so upset about and why they are upset (“You took my toy and I was in the middle of playing with it and that made me sad”). The other party then apologizes and asks “What do I need to do to make you feel better?” to which the first party usually responds “I need a hug.” Most of the time, this is enough to repair their relationship and they happily start playing together again. You’re probably thinking “There is no way that will work in my house”. And you’re right. It won’t work at first. It only worked for our children after months of coaching from us and their teachers (we learned this approach from the Missoula Community School, where they use it as part of their curriculum). But, now they really get it. And they can quickly put themselves in someone else’s shoes and say “yeah, I guess I did hurt their feelings – I should probably fix that.”

2. Saying sorry doesn’t mean you did it on purpose!

There is a thinking error that every kid seems to develop without careful grown up intervention. Kids almost alway say they’re sorry when they are forced to by grown ups. This is usually when they’ve done something that they were not supposed to do. Sorry, though, is something that we are supposed to say to make someone else feel better – not to do penance for our bad behavior. Saying sorry is supposed to be about the other person, but I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve heard a kid say, “Yeah, but I shouldn’t have to say sorry because I didn’t do it on purpose!” Well, is that how we work as grown ups? Is that how we want our children to grow up acting? Image if someone accidentally knocked you over on the street and did not feel that it was necessary to apologize because it wasn’t done on purpose. That is essentially what we are telling our children is ok by not asking them to apologize when they hurt someone by accident. Saying sorry is not about being bad – it’s about being a good friend, sibling, and community member. When we apologize, we show other people that we care about them.

3. Our favorite part – our saddest part

This is a Graham family dinnertime tradition. As our kids grow older, I have to admit that we don’t have as many family dinners as we used to. One of us always seems to be driving a group of kids to activities while the other is sitting down with whomever is left at home. Sometimes, the kids eat at the counter and I stand across from them scarfing down whatever I can in the five minutes before we have to leave for our next activity. That is just life with six busy children. But, when we do get the chance to eat together, we have a tradition that I think helps our children to develop empathy. We go around the table and each person gets to talk about their favorite part of the day and their saddest part of the day. I think that most families just talk about the good parts of the day, but talking about what didn’t go so well has its advantages. First, it gives the kid who had the experience the opportunity to vent and reflect. Second, it gives the other kids a window into a sibling’s life. It helps our children to understand and value each other as individuals, each with his or her own struggles and achievements.

4. Holding the door

This is an easy one, but one that I think just creates this simple, internal awareness of the outside world. I ask my kids to hold the door for strangers, and I also model this behavior any chance I get. The reason is simple – I grew up in a suburb of New York City where holding the door for someone was unheard of (things may have changed since then, so don’t get mad at me New Yorkers). When I moved to Montana, this was one of the first things that I noticed: everyone held the door. It created an instant change in me – in the way I viewed the people around me, and in my willingness to show kindness to others. My sense of community was shaped by this one very small act of kindness that I’m pretty sure people in Missoula just grew up with. Holding the door for another person forces you to stop and think about how your actions can positively affect the people around you. I think it is a great exercise for kids and adults, and an easy way for a parent to teach empathy to a child.

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Grammar… the Daily Downer?

There are many times during the school day where we have to teach “necessary skills”. Grammar is one of those skills. I think grammar is a funny one, though. For the most part, our children speak with proper grammar. It’s when they begin to write stories that we encounter problems with their sentence structure. But, if they can say it, then they must already know it. The goal of teaching grammar, then, should be to access a student’s ability to properly speak a sentence and apply it to the written word. Teaching grammar should involve more than just circling nouns on a worksheet or listing verbs in a large group. It should require students to speak sentences, write sentences, analyze and proofread their own literary creations.

I felt that it was important for my children to have a basic understanding of the parts of speech, but as we began to talk about them, I realized two things. The first is that I was boring myself to tears, and I couldn’t imagine how uninterested my children must have been. The second is that I didn’t completely remember the parts of speech. To be honest, I couldn’t tell you if a word was a preposition unless I sang the preposition song that I had learned in the third grade. And yes, I remember the tune of the entire song, but only some of the prepositions. However, I can read… I can write… so does it matter? Yes and no. Yes, we need to understand how our language is constructed. We need to be able to speak and write in a way that makes sense. However, our educational system seems to be so caught up on evaluating the facts that a student knows, instead of what he or she can do with those facts. Does it matter that a word is an adverb, a preposition, or an article? Will that knowledge change what we do with it? Can we give our students a basic understanding of the parts of speech without turning them off to writing all together?

IMG_0292So, I stopped talking about the parts of speech and thought about ways to help them “get” the parts of speech. Mad Libs were my first idea, and a great one for my older boys, who already had a basic understanding of nouns and adjectives. This, combined with an extensive vocabulary of bordering-on-inappropriate words, is pretty much all you need to play Mad Libs. We needed something more, though – something to help them to identify the parts of speech without constantly using me as the dictionary. We found the “200 More Sight Words Super Fun Deck” that I had originally purchased to help my daughter with autism learn how to read. It sat on our shelf for a while after that, but we pulled it out again to see if it could help us on our mission to better understand grammar. We were not interested in the sight words part of this deck. It came with an additional “sentence builder” deck that contained color coded cards for each part of speech. For example, all of the verbs in the deck are green. We then created a card game around the deck and we began to have fun! My boys will request to play the card game when they have free time in and out of school. They enjoy playing it just like they play “Uno” or other card games, with the added benefit that they are strengthening their abilities to write and proofread a cohesive sentence. We created the rules for this game together and they have evolved as we continue to play… give it a try and let us know if you come up with your own version!

Sentence Builder Card Game

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Your Children Love Gaming…

…Why don’t you?

Many educators have weighed in on the great video game debate of recent years. I know that I’m going against the flow here, but I believe in the positive power of video games. I was a kid once (in the not too distant past) and a part of the first

xbox kinectgeneration to enjoy handheld video game technology. I remember taking refuge from my daily struggles in Super Mario Brothers, in the same way I would often hide out in the pages of a good book. I also remember my parents getting mad at me for spending too much time on gaming and not enough time running around outside. Sound familiar? Fear not, parents! I turned out just fine and chances are, so will your kids. Video games are a part of life and telling your children that they are evil will not work. In fact, being negative about your child’s favorite device may just create enough space between the two of you to throw them into that ever feared “My parents just don’t get me” mindset. So, how do we embrace the fact that gaming has become an important part of our children’s lives while also keeping them safe, engaged and healthy? Here are a few ideas:

1. Encourage Cooperative Gaming

I don’t like first person shooters (these are the games where it seems like your child is just running around shooting everything that moves). Most parents don’t, but many parents think these are the only games out there. There are a number of games that encourage cooperative, creative play. My kids are currently lost in the world of Minecraft. In Minecraft, you build and explore your own world and occasionally, you kill zombies. My sons will work together for hours, creating their virtual world. The Lego games are also great for collaborative play. These games require players to work together to solve problems and finish levels. Lego Star Wars is a fun one to play with your kids, assuming you have a sense of humor and you love Star Wars.

2. Make Your Kids Move

My kids play video games during home school. You heard me – during school hours. In our 15 minute video game breaks, they run, jump, dance, laugh and sweat. How is that possible? Because we have an Xbox Kinect. The Kinect has a video camera that tracks your movements and turns your body into the controller. It is hilarious when you see your avatar (a graphical representation of you) on the screen dancing with your favorite pop star, throwing the javelin or making your way through an obstacle course. The Wii, Xbox and Playstation all have different versions of the “human controller”, so you can get your kids up and moving with whatever system you already have in your house.

3. Play with your Children

Let’s face it – your kids don’t want to sit at the dinner table and play scrabble with you and you’re probably pretty frustrated about that. Here’s a funny thing, though – put a Scrabble app on your iPhone and suddenly it’s the most exciting game they’ve ever seen! There are so many ways to engage with your children through video games. And, there are even ways that will appeal to you as well. Our family loves to play Risk on the iPad. Yeah, the board is a little bit smaller than the real game, but we never lose any pieces and there are cool animations whenever we attack.

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Make 10 Plus Quests is on iTunes (for all IOS devices)

AND it’s free for now, so WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? GO GET IT!

Late last spring, Learning With Meaning introduced our first math app: iGet Math: Base 10. Kids loved it, but parents and teachers struggled with the way it was set up. We received a lot of feedback about the complexity of the controls and quests. We have incorporated all of your feedback into our new (and much simpler) line of early childhood math apps. The learning is the same, but all of the complex controls are gone. We invite you to try these new versions of our Math Discovery Apps for free and let us know what you think!

Make 10 is our first of several simple math games that will help young children to really understand how math works. Players can move fun, animal shaped blocks from one side of the equation to the other and see how the math changes. This helps children to learn how to read the language of math and also offers one to one correspondence between objects and numbers. The balloon dog blocks (go to settings and tap the blocks to see the different blocks) are still the favorite of our young software testers… they really seem like balloons floating through the air!

Download it now from the app store!
MAKE-10-AD

For teachers, Make 10 Plus Quests is a great center for your Preschool, Kindergarten or First Grade Classroom.

This app addresses the following common core standards by allowing students to play with and discover math:

Count to tell the number of objects.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.CC.B.4
Understand the relationship between numbers and quantities; connect counting to cardinality.
CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.CC.B.4.A
When counting objects, say the number names in the standard order, pairing each object with one and only one number name and each number name with one and only one object.
CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.CC.B.4.B
Understand that the last number name said tells the number of objects counted. The number of objects is the same regardless of their arrangement or the order in which they were counted.
CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.CC.B.4.C
Understand that each successive number name refers to a quantity that is one larger.

Compare Numbers.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.CC.C.7
Compare two numbers between 1 and 10 presented as written numerals.

Understand Addition

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.OA.A.4
For any number from 1 to 9, find the number that makes 10 when added to the given number, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record the answer with a drawing or equation.

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Ten Years of Teaching #10: The Importance of Storytelling

Stories are powerful. Children weave storytelling into play, make up exciting and often unbelievable stories to share with friends and glean important lessons from story books. Embracing storytelling in both my classroom and in my educational philosophy transformed my teaching. My classroom is now full of times to tell and appreciate great stories, but it wasn’t always that way.

A few years ago I was teaching a K/1 class at a small progressive school. I had been reading about a way to help students expand on their verbalization as a pre-writing skill and we were all having a lot of fun with the exercises. I would draw a really rudimentary picture without any color and the kids would share what they saw- dog, tree, house, pig, etc. And then something almost magical would begin to happen, they would go from the concrete level of what was on the page to making inferences about what was likely happening in the picture. If there was a picture of a cabin with smoke coming out the chimney, students would say, “someone’s home and they started a fire.” From there, they could expand about the story. I would say, “tell me more” and the kids would describe intricate details about characters, the setting and sometimes problems that might exist in the imaginary world they were collaboratively creating. It was a fun activity that I’m just now realizing I haven’t used in a long time… huh. I might dust that one off for tomorrow.

Anyway, one day something exceptional happened while working on this verbalizing activity. We were looking at a picture that was a simple sketch of an old man feeding a squirrel while sitting on a park bench. My class began from the concrete elements and then I witnessed one of those amazing teaching moments that was unplanned, effortless and awesome. The students began to weave an interesting story about the old man taking the squirrel home because he was lonely. The squirrel was a good pet at first, but it trashed his house and was a bit of terror as time wore on. The kids were all contributing equally without raising hands or interrupting one another. They built an amazing story from a quick sketch. Their interest and energy facilitating a truly amazing exchange with ten highly invested young learners. I honestly was able to step back and watch the process unfold before me.

When they were done, the class had created a lovely story about the old man and the squirrel with a perfect story arc. I suggested that maybe we should write the story down and make it into a book, but the class didn’t like that idea. The oral story telling had flowed effortlessly, but writing was challenging for the young group and they feared something would be lost. We decided the story would live in our hearts and, in that moment, that would be the end.

As luck would have it, fate intervened and that night when two of my students who were twins went home and told their parents about the old man and the squirrel. The next day the parents donated a video camera to the school and, with that one act of generosity, completely transformed the way I teach and totally ruined my sleep schedule for the next two weeks because that camera and computer editing was very new to me.

We began production of The Old Man, the Old Woman and the Squirrels the next day. The kids decided to add characters so everyone would have a part. The movie’s audio was really hard to hear and some of the cuts were a little rough but the film was Oscar gold in all of our hearts.

The Old Man

On a cold December evening The Old Man, the Old Woman and the Squirrels debuted to a classroom packed with students, parents and siblings. The kids gasped as each of their names graced the big screen and they laughed themselves silly during the funny scenes.

Seeing how powerful and engaging movie making and storytelling can be changed me as a teacher. Since then I have been part of making about twenty movies with students and it’s become an activity that each class requests. I’ve also fully embraced story telling in my classroom and we frequently drink tea and have large blocks of time to practice storytelling and listening. I love to hear about what the kids are playing and how their imaginations are forming complicated games and pretend bakeries just outside the classroom window. I feel so lucky to hear, see and experience my students stories and share my own from time to time.

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Ten Years of Teaching and a Decade of Lessons

When I first sat down for teaching job interviews I ran into a problem again and again- many of the best jobs were only looking for teachers with at least three years of experience.  I often wondered what third year teachers knew that I hadn’t yet discovered.  What wisdom arrived after a teacher’s third year?

Well, this is my tenth year teaching.  In the last decade I’ve learned a lot about how to be a good teacher, but more importantly I’ve learned lessons that I never learned in college or from books.  So here are ten posts from ten years that are ten lessons that have changed me as a teacher (in order of importance).  Enjoy!

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iGet Math: Base 10 Understanding Make 10 Quests 5-8 (Medium)

[dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”100%” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Learn, practice and assess common core standards through iGet Math: Base 10 quests. Quests can be reached from the game screen by touching the quest icon. A list of all quests completed by students can be easily accessed by touching the assessment icon on the main settings screen.
Quest Key
Blue – Operations & Algebraic Thinking
Orange – Counting & Cardinality
Purple – Numbers & Operations in Base 10
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quests-button
Quest Icon
assessment-tab
Assessment Icon

Understanding the Make 10 Skill

Make 10 focuses primarily on kindergarten counting and operations and algebraic thinking skills. By completing all the quests in Make 10, students will:

– develop skills for one-to-one correspondence counting
– develop a concrete understanding of basic addition problems
– develop a strong foundation in base 10 addition
– develop addition skills by counting starting at numbers other than one

[dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”100%” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ] Make 10 Quest 5 (Blue)
Quest Name: Parts of an equation
Instructions: Touch the first addend. Touch the second addend. Touch the sum.
Definitions: addend, sum
Description: Quest 5 reinforces a student’s understanding of the parts of each equation. The student is asked to touch each number in the equation, demonstrating an understanding of addition terminology and concepts.

Common Core Standards:

CCSS.Math.Content.K.OA.A.1 Represent addition and subtraction with objects, fingers, mental images, drawings1, sounds (e.g., claps), acting out situations, verbal explanations, expressions, or equations.
[/dropshadowbox] [dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”100%” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ] Make 10 Quest 6 (Purple)
Quest Name: Regroup the blocks
Instructions: Move all of the blocks so they are over the second addend. Regroup the blocks. Solve the equation.

Definitions: addend, regroup, equation
Description: Students are asked to take the blocks that are over the first addend and move them over to the second. As they do this, they will see the equation change with a one-to-one correspondence to the block that they are moving. When all of the blocks are moved over, the equation will read 0+10 and there will be 10 blocks above the second addend. Students will be prompted to convert these into one tens stick, demonstrating the relationship between 10 ones and one 10.

Common Core Standards:
CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.NBT.B.2
Understand that the two digits of a two-digit number represent amounts of tens and ones. Understand the following as special cases:
CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.NBT.B.2.A
10 can be thought of as a bundle of ten ones — called a “ten.”

[/dropshadowbox] [dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”100%” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ] Make 10 Quest 7 (Blue)
Quest Name: Find the addends and the sum
Instructions: Touch the first addend. Count the blocks above it. Touch the second addend. Count the blocks above it.
Definitions: addend
Description: Students are asked to identify and touch the first addend. They will then count the blocks that correspond to that addend. Students then repeat the process for the second addend. Students can make the connection that the addends in an equation relate to real world items by comparing the number of blocks to the number in the written equation.

Common Core Standards:

CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.B.4 Understand the relationship between numbers and quantities; connect counting to cardinality.
CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.B.4a When counting objects, say the number names in the standard order, pairing each object with one and only one number name and each number name with one and only one object.
CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.B.4b Understand that the last number name said tells the number of objects counted. The number of objects is the same regardless of their arrangement or the order in which they were counted.
CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.B.4c Understand that each successive number name refers to a quantity that is one larger.
CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.B.5 Count to answer “how many?” questions about as many as 20 things arranged in a line, a rectangular array, or a circle, or as many as 10 things in a scattered configuration; given a number from 1–20, count out that many objects.
[/dropshadowbox] [dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”100%” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ] Make 10 Quest 8 (Blue)
Quest Name: Get 1000 xp
Instructions: Get 1000 xp on the Make 10 level
Definitions: none
Description: Quests 4 and 8 on every skill invite students to explore the equations and blocks for a better understanding of how math works. Students can earn XP (XP, or experience points, are a common part of many tablet and computer games) by touching parts of the equation, counting blocks, regrouping (by touching the airplane), and ungrouping (by pulling fingers apart on a block). As students play and explore the equation, they will develop a better understanding of how equations relate to real world questions.

Common Core Standards:

CCSS.Math.Content.1.OA.C.6 Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10. Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8 + 6 = 8 + 2 + 4 = 10 + 4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13 – 4 = 13 – 3 – 1 = 10 – 1 = 9); using the relationship between addition and subtraction (e.g., knowing that 8 + 4 = 12, one knows 12 – 8 = 4); and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6 + 7 by creating the known equivalent 6 + 6 + 1 = 12 + 1 = 13).

CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.B.5 Count to answer “how many?” questions about as many as 20 things arranged in a line, a rectangular array, or a circle, or as many as 10 things in a scattered configuration; given a number from 1–20, count out that many objects.
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Homeschool Parents – Why You Should LOVE the Common Core

[dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”lifted-both” width=”%” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]” You can use the standards to guide decisions on what you teach them, not how you teach them – that is up to you.”[/dropshadowbox]

Yup. I said it. And I know I’m going to pay for it (comment away, angry Facebookers), but I really think that homeschooling parents should love the Common Core. Now, I’m not for tests that make your children cry or ridiculous worksheets. I never have been. In fact, those who know me know that I rarely embrace traditional education practices. But that’s not what the Common Core is. At its heart, the Common Core is a beautiful document, sharing a vision for basic competencies for ALL children in this country. It provides school districts with a comprehensive list of what students should know so that no one has the “we didn’t know what to teach” excuse (though it certainly doesn’t address the “we can’t afford it” reality). The Common Core standards are an attempt to make sure that EVERY SINGLE CHILD is given a basic set of skills to help them move through life.

What most people hate is not the Common Core Standards, but the way in which these standards are being perverted across the country and the testing that many students will have to endure. Much like the Bible or the Constitution, a document that is beautiful at heart can be used to support all sorts of ugly causes. And, unfortunately, education is a lucrative industry and no one wants to be left out of the new Common Core money that districts are obligated to spend. This means anything from textbooks to worksheets to testing to apps. Learning With Meaning has even created a Common Core aligned math app and we promise you, our goal is to make your children laugh… not to make them cry. We know that the Common Core can also be fun and we set out to prove it.

Our Trebuchet Project - Fall 2014
Our Trebuchet Project – Fall 2014

Ok, so as a homeschool parent, you child is probably not going to be subjected to tests that confuse them or worksheets that make you angry. You get the best of the Common Core – a set of guidelines for specific skills your child should probably be proficient at. That’s it. How you teach those skills is up to you. Last year, we undertook a building/gardening project and incorporated several 2nd and 4th grade Common Core standards into our project. This fall, we built a trebuchet and again, incorporated several 3rd and 5th grade standards into the project. Believe me, there was nary a worksheet involved and my children only cried when they had a blister. But, at least I had a comprehensive set of guidelines on what information I should try to share with them, written by experts who know a whole lot more than I do about what is appropriate for students at a given age.

Homeschooling can be scary at times. You doubt yourself, you wonder if your kids are getting enough of what they need and you worry about how different your classroom is from a traditional one. My kids have not learned much about being quiet, raising their hand, or walking in line. But, by knowing the Common Core standards, I know where they are at in relation to their peers without having to put them through a single standardized test. So do yourself a favor and just have a look at them. You can use the standards to guide decisions on what you teach them, not how you teach them – that is up to you. 

The Common Core Standards – Just READ them – they won’t bite: http://www.corestandards.org

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The Discovery Math App

Teaching is a wonderful thing. As a teacher I know that I have knowledge that I can impart to my students that will likely help them to be successful in life. I also know that learning occurs differently for everyone, that there are multiple intelligences and that the most meaningful learning comes from discovery. That’s why we decided to make what we believe to be the very first math discovery math app available on the market.

The most important thing that I’ve learned as a teacher is to not take away the discovery in learning. The moment I fail to match the excitement of my students when they notice that snow dusted with salt melts faster than regular snow or that one thousand, ten thousand and one hundred thousand is just like ones, tens and hundreds, then I’ve diminished the learning they’ve accomplished. So much of the world, galaxy and universe has been discovered documented and mapped that we sometimes forget to allow children to be explorers. When a student discovers something it’s no less remarkable than its initial discovery and it’s deserving of fanfare. In this sense, teaching is not imparting knowledge, but journeying with learners.

When we at Learning With Meaning began to discuss what kind of app we wanted to create, we noticed that there were some math teaching apps and many math practice apps available. We chose to develop an app that doesn’t deliver answers to students or let them memorize facts more through practice. We designed our app to give children an engaging workspace to make their own mathematical discoveries.

iGet Math: Base 10 allows students to build a solid foundation of basic computation skills at their own pace powered by personal intrigue. As we were designing the app we realized that so many of the Common Core math standards were in the skills of the app that we could include quests to help direct young students toward those standards while still allowing them the space to discover it for themselves. This is why the quests are an optional learning journey, but not the heart of our iGet Math: Base 10.

Recently I was using iGet Math: Base 10 with a group of kindergarten aged students and one the children noticed that 14 + 6 = 20 and 6 + 14 = 20. The other four students were intrigued so we worked through several equations to test the idea using the Make 10, Make 50 and Make 100 Skills. The students found that it was universally true that the addends could be switched without affecting the sum. We then tried the same idea in the Take Away quests and discovered that it did not work with subtraction.

The students had discovered the commutative property of addition and they fully understood how and why it works. As tenderly as I could, I shared that they had discovered a very important mathematic principle called the commutative property of addition and the kids were excited that they were thinking like mathematicians. They were also thrilled that they could use that knowledge all the way through high school.

At Learning With Meaning we are committed to offering young learners apps to intrigue, challenge and inspire them to discover their learning. We have many more apps to to come and we are committed to creating a variety of discovery learning opportunities. We hope that you’ll support us in our mission.

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Where did your math anxiety come from?

Learning With Meaning AppsHere’s what we’re hearing from some grown ups about our new iGet Math apps: “I don’t get it.”

That’s right, you don’t. We’re not offended… we didn’t make them for you. As an adult, you probably need things to be orderly and goal oriented. A math app should drill your child on math facts until they have them memorized. We grew up with math drills and we know our math facts. What worked for us will work for them, right?

Ah, but did it really work for us? For many of us, we got more than we bargained for when we did our timed tests and high stress math drills. We also got a pretty unhealthy dose of math anxiety. I have spoken with so many adults (my husband included) whose anxiety is so high that they feel ill equipped to even help their elementary school aged children with math homework. “I can’t do math. I was never any good at it.” They can still remember the math group they were part of in the fourth grade and the endless, painful nightly drilling to learn their times tables. Think about it – does the very idea of math make you cringe? Do you tell your kids that no one likes it, but it’s just something we all have to do?

How could this have happened? Well, mostly because adults and kids “get it” in two totally different ways. Adults like having a plan, a goal and a reasonable time estimate. Drills seem like the most efficient way to accomplish any goal. But adults also usually possess the key ingredient to learning and retaining information: motivation. Drills may work as we get older because we are motivated by a better job, a quest for more knowledge, or simply a good grade in a class. Kids like to play – they aren’t motivated by any of these things or by much beyond the knowledge that they can relate to their play. But, play can be enough of a motivator to facilitate learning. Minecraft and legos are great examples of this. These are both environments where kids are allowed to just play, with no real structure. They will happily build away for hours, creating and destroying just for the joy in it. It’s beautiful when you think about it – their motivation is just to be in the present and not worry so much about the future.

So, why can’t our learning and teaching apps function the same way?

Developing our first app (iGet Math: Base 10, a k-1 addition and subtraction app) was an amazing process for me because I got to watch my kids play it. And they all really played it – from my 17 year old with autism down to my 5 year old who was just starting kindergarten. My first grader, who struggles with just about every aspect of school, loved the different tools that we had for picking the base 10 blocks up and moving them across the equation, especially the spaceship. She enjoyed throwing the blocks around the screen, stacking them on top of each other, and changing the blocks into different animal shapes. She especially loved the fact that she did not have to come up with a right answer to play the game. She just had to play and have fun. And she got it. She made connections all on her own that she just wasn’t making in school. Our app helped her to understand math on her own terms, not just to reproduce it on demand. The best part is that she did it without feeling bad about herself.

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iGet Math: Base 10 Understanding Make 10 Quests 1-4 (EASY)

[dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”100%” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Learn, practice and assess common core standards through iGet Math: Base 10 quests. Quests can be reached from the game screen by touching the quest icon. A list of all quests completed by students can be easily accessed by touching the assessment icon on the main settings screen.
Quest Key
Blue – Operations & Algebraic Thinking
Orange – Counting & Cardinality
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quests-button
Quest Icon
assessment-tab
Assessment Icon

Understanding the Make 10 Skill

Make 10 focuses primarily on kindergarten counting and operations and algebraic thinking skills. By completing all the quests in Make 10, students will:

– develop skills for one-to-one correspondence counting
– develop a concrete understanding of basic addition problems
– develop a strong foundation in base 10 addition
– develop addition skills by counting starting at numbers other than one

[dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”100%” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ] Make 10 Quest 1 (Blue)
Quest Name: Swipe the equation
Instructions: Solve the equation. Swipe the equation.
Definitions: equation
Description: This is the first and most basic of the iGet Math: Base 10 quests. This quest helps students to understand the dynamics of an equation and how the numbers relate from left to right. The student is asked to push the solve button and watch an animation where the blocks from both sides are pushed together to form the sum. Then, the student is asked to swipe the equation from left to right and listen as the equation is read aloud.

Common Core Standards:

CCSS.Math.Content.K.OA.A.1 Represent addition and subtraction with objects, fingers, mental images, drawings1, sounds (e.g., claps), acting out situations, verbal explanations, expressions, or equations.
[/dropshadowbox] [dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”100%” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ] Make 10 Quest 2 (Orange)
Quest Name: Count the sum
Instructions: Solve the equation. Count all of the blocks in the sum.

Definitions: equation, sum
Description: Students are asked to solve the equation and watch the animation as the blocks are pushed together. Students then must count the blocks in the sum to complete the quest. In this exercise, students can observe the relationship between the numbers in the equation and the number of blocks above the sum. They can also count the blocks to view the relationship between the highlighted blocks and the counting numbers.

Common Core Standards:

CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.B.4 Understand the relationship between numbers and quantities; connect counting to cardinality.
CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.B.4a When counting objects, say the number names in the standard order, pairing each object with one and only one number name and each number name with one and only one object.
CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.B.4b Understand that the last number name said tells the number of objects counted. The number of objects is the same regardless of their arrangement or the order in which they were counted.
CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.B.4c Understand that each successive number name refers to a quantity that is one larger.

CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.B.5 Count to answer “how many?” questions about as many as 20 things arranged in a line, a rectangular array, or a circle, or as many as 10 things in a scattered configuration; given a number from 1–20, count out that many objects.
CCSS.Math.Content.1.OA.D.7 Understand the meaning of the equal sign, and determine if equations involving addition and subtraction are true or false. For example, which of the following equations are true and which are false? 6 = 6, 7 = 8 – 1, 5 + 2 = 2 + 5, 4 + 1 = 5 + 2.
[/dropshadowbox] [dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”100%” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ] Make 10 Quest 3 (Orange)
Quest Name: Count the first addend
Instructions: Touch the first addend. Count the blocks above the addend.
Definitions: addend
Description: Students are asked to identify and touch the first addend. They will then count the blocks that correspond to that addend. Students can make the connection that the addends in an equation relate to real world items by comparing the number of blocks to the number in the written equation.

Common Core Standards:

CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.B.4 Understand the relationship between numbers and quantities; connect counting to cardinality.
CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.B.4a When counting objects, say the number names in the standard order, pairing each object with one and only one number name and each number name with one and only one object.
CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.B.4b Understand that the last number name said tells the number of objects counted. The number of objects is the same regardless of their arrangement or the order in which they were counted.
CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.B.4c Understand that each successive number name refers to a quantity that is one larger.
CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.B.5 Count to answer “how many?” questions about as many as 20 things arranged in a line, a rectangular array, or a circle, or as many as 10 things in a scattered configuration; given a number from 1–20, count out that many objects.
[/dropshadowbox] [dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”100%” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ] Make 10 Quest 4 (Blue)
Quest Name: Get 500 xp
Instructions: Get 500 xp on the Make 10 level
Definitions: none
Description: Quests 4 and 8 on every skill invite students to explore the equations and blocks for a better understanding of how math works. Students can earn XP (XP, or experience points, are a common part of many tablet and computer games) by touching parts of the equation, counting blocks, regrouping (by touching the airplane), and ungrouping (by pulling fingers apart on a block). As students play and explore the equation, they will develop a better understanding of how equations relate to real world questions.

Common Core Standards:

CCSS.Math.Content.1.OA.C.6 Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10. Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8 + 6 = 8 + 2 + 4 = 10 + 4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13 – 4 = 13 – 3 – 1 = 10 – 1 = 9); using the relationship between addition and subtraction (e.g., knowing that 8 + 4 = 12, one knows 12 – 8 = 4); and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6 + 7 by creating the known equivalent 6 + 6 + 1 = 12 + 1 = 13).

CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.B.5 Count to answer “how many?” questions about as many as 20 things arranged in a line, a rectangular array, or a circle, or as many as 10 things in a scattered configuration; given a number from 1–20, count out that many objects.
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iGet Math: Base 10 Common Core Math Standards

Skill PageiGet Math: Base 10 is a teaching tool that can be used in the classroom throughout the school year. Parents can also use this fun and engaging learning app to help students with homework and to extend learning beyond the classroom. iGet Math: Base 10 uses cute, animal shaped base 10 blocks in a physics based environment, which is a familiar environment for many kindergarteners and first graders (think math meets Angry Birds).

IMG_0448iGet Math: Base 10 can be used to address 22 out of the 27 Common Core standards for kindergarten and first grade in the following domains: Counting & Cardinality, Operations & Algebraic Thinking, and Number & Operations in Base 10. The price of the app is low enough that it can be purchased for an entire classroom as a supplement to existing material and educational discounts are available.

iGet Math: Base 10 Intro ScreenMany of these standards are addressed through quests, which can be accessed from the game screen. There are 12 quests for each skill and students receive a 1-3 star rating based on how many moves it takes them to complete a quest. Teachers can view student progress on each of these quests by looking at the assessment page. The assessment page can be reached by clicking on the pencil icon in the bottom left corner of the main settings screen.

Learning With Meaning AppsGet it from the iTunes App Store for $1.99!

Kindergarten and First Grade Standards that are addressed:

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.CC.A.1
Count to 100 by ones and by tens.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.CC.A.2
Count forward beginning from a given number within the known sequence (instead of having to begin at 1).

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.CC.A.3
Write numbers from 0 to 20. Represent a number of objects with a written numeral 0-20 (with 0 representing a count of no objects).

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.CC.B.4
Understand the relationship between numbers and quantities; connect counting to cardinality.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.CC.B.4.A
When counting objects, say the number names in the standard order, pairing each object with one and only one number name and each number name with one and only one object.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.CC.B.4.B
Understand that the last number name said tells the number of objects counted. The number of objects is the same regardless of their arrangement or the order in which they were counted.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.CC.B.4.C
Understand that each successive number name refers to a quantity that is one larger.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.CC.B.5
Count to answer “how many?” questions about as many as 20 things arranged in a line, a rectangular array, or a circle, or as many as 10 things in a scattered configuration; given a number from 1-20, count out that many objects.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.CC.C.6
Identify whether the number of objects in one group is greater than, less than, or equal to the number of objects in another group, e.g., by using matching and counting strategies.1

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.CC.C.7
Compare two numbers between 1 and 10 presented as written numerals.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.OA.A.1
Represent addition and subtraction with objects, fingers, mental images, drawings1, sounds (e.g., claps), acting out situations, verbal explanations, expressions, or equations.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.OA.A.3
Decompose numbers less than or equal to 10 into pairs in more than one way, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record each decomposition by a drawing or equation (e.g., 5 = 2 + 3 and 5 = 4 + 1).

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.OA.A.4
For any number from 1 to 9, find the number that makes 10 when added to the given number, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record the answer with a drawing or equation.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.OA.A.5
Fluently add and subtract within 5.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.NBT.A.1
Compose and decompose numbers from 11 to 19 into ten ones and some further ones, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record each composition or decomposition by a drawing or equation (such as 18 = 10 + 8); understand that these numbers are composed of ten ones and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine ones.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.OA.A.1
Use addition and subtraction within 20 to solve word problems involving situations of adding to, taking from, putting together, taking apart, and comparing, with unknowns in all positions, e.g., by using objects, drawings, and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem.1

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.OA.B.3
Apply properties of operations as strategies to add and subtract.2 Examples: If 8 + 3 = 11 is known, then 3 + 8 = 11 is also known. (Commutative property of addition.) To add 2 + 6 + 4, the second two numbers can be added to make a ten, so 2 + 6 + 4 = 2 + 10 = 12. (Associative property of addition.)

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.OA.B.4
Understand subtraction as an unknown-addend problem. For example, subtract 10 – 8 by finding the number that makes 10 when added to 8.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.OA.C.5
Relate counting to addition and subtraction (e.g., by counting on 2 to add 2).

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.OA.C.6
Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10. Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8 + 6 = 8 + 2 + 4 = 10 + 4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13 – 4 = 13 – 3 – 1 = 10 – 1 = 9); using the relationship between addition and subtraction (e.g., knowing that 8 + 4 = 12, one knows 12 – 8 = 4); and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6 + 7 by creating the known equivalent 6 + 6 + 1 = 12 + 1 = 13).

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.OA.D.8
Determine the unknown whole number in an addition or subtraction equation relating three whole numbers. For example, determine the unknown number that makes the equation true in each of the equations 8 + ? = 11, 5 = _ – 3, 6 + 6 = _.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.NBT.B.2
Understand that the two digits of a two-digit number represent amounts of tens and ones. Understand the following as special cases:

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.NBT.B.2.A
10 can be thought of as a bundle of ten ones — called a “ten.”

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.NBT.B.2.B
The numbers from 11 to 19 are composed of a ten and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine ones.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.NBT.B.2.C
The numbers 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 refer to one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine tens (and 0 ones).

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.NBT.B.3
Compare two two-digit numbers based on meanings of the tens and ones digits, recording the results of comparisons with the symbols >, =, and <.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.NBT.C.4
Add within 100, including adding a two-digit number and a one-digit number, and adding a two-digit number and a multiple of 10, using concrete models or drawings and strategies based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction; relate the strategy to a written method and explain the reasoning used. Understand that in adding two-digit numbers, one adds tens and tens, ones and ones; and sometimes it is necessary to compose a ten.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.1.NBT.C.5
Given a two-digit number, mentally find 10 more or 10 less than the number, without having to count; explain the reasoning used.

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Permaculture Teaching (Part 1)

My love of permaculture gardening began in 2001 when I volunteered to spend a week with Catholic Workers in Washington.  It was an inspiring week spent in food banks and digging in several community gardens, including the large, lush permaculture garden behind the main house where they lived.  I never considered myself a gardener and I despised weeding before I first met the Catholic workers, but their permaculture garden changed all that.

Permaculture gardening is simple: work with nature and not against it. This is achieved by knowing and emulating natural processes within the garden using trees, shrubs, herbs and root plants all growing together in way that promotes natural balance. The result is less a garden and more a food forest.  The Catholic Workers permaculture garden looked more like a jungle than the typical rows of plants that I had previously seen. At first I was critical, but then I saw the food yield and found that we was able to weed a large garden in about a half hour. It was at that moment that I was sold in this way of gardening.700_2471

After that week of working in the permaculture garden and within the community, I began to wonder if the common way I often do and the assumptions I make about other things also works in opposition to natural processes. When I went back to college as an education student after my work in the garden, I found that I was looking more deeply at the way I was learning to teach and my understanding of how people learn. What I didn’t realize at that time was that many of the same ideas at work creating the productive garden were very much alive in the philosophy of John Dewey, the father of progressive education.

Progressive educators try to apply essentially the same principles I learned in the garden within my classroom. In the end, I aim to achieve the same in my classroom as the Catholic Workers did in their gardens– a well balanced environment with high yield. To both garden and teach this way takes a lot of knowledge and lots of trial an error, but the learning can be rich and abundant.

A permaculture gardener strives to always observe and interact while gardening. As a teacher I I try to be in tune with my class by being part of their process, but also see stand above it. During my first year teaching in Juneau, Alaska the most astonishing thing would happen about once a week in September and October. I would be teaching a small group of students when the principal’s voice would come over the intercom informing the school that we were about to have an unscheduled “sunshine recess.” I was already stressed as a new teacher so surprise recesses didn’t help my anxiety. I decided to follow my students outside and we played math and reading games on the playground. Once winter hit and I realized that we no longer had many recesses of any sort because of the cold and darkness sunshine recess began to make sense. But even more amazing, the learning we did on the playground had really been retained. In fact, the kids retained more from our games than they did from my classroom instruction.

Seeing children as whole individuals, I now see how interacting with one another, engaging on a deep level with projects and being excited while learning is in fact much richer than my early definition of classroom learning. I try to get to know children so I can understand their style of learning. Also, learning done while on trips or while having lots of fun has a deeper impact on the students and the retain the information better than classroom assignments.

A permaculture garden is designed to catch and store energy. As a progressive educator, my curriculum aims to be driven by interest and energy of my students. Students questions, ideas and interests are recorded and I do my best to bring that energy into our learning whenever possible. When children are reading books that they want to read, they read. The same goes for math, science, writing and social studies. Harnessing students energy doesn’t change the learning objectives (the goals) only the path one takes to get there._MG_0148

Each year we make a list in my class of what we’d like to learn in our time together. One year I decided before school started that I would to try to explore every subject the students wanted to learn about. This was a kindergarten class and, for the most part, the list was what you might expect (trucks, princesses, colors, rocks) except for one young boy who wanted to learn about “holes.” I kept asking him “what kind of holes?” and he was just say that he was curious about holes. With some help from my director we engaged in a month long study on holes. We transformed our classroom door into a hole, ate doughnut holes, learned about local animals that live in holes, studied mining and wrote a song about holes. Capturing energy can sometimes be an odd process, but it can have dramatic results.