Math Strategies

Why I Love IXL Math…and an IPAD Mini Giveaway!

iPad Ideas and Giveaway from The Lesson Deli

Hey fellow techie teachers!  I’m linking up with my friends at The Lesson Deli to showcase some ideas for using iPads in the classroom.  Hop through the posts to learn about some useful classroom iPad apps, then don’t forget to visit the Rafflecopter for a chance to win an iPad Mini.

Why I Love IXL Math for iPads and Why You Will Too from The Pensive Sloth

IXL? What’s that? Read on to find out!

8 Reasons to Use IXL In Your Classroom

First, what is IXL?  IXL is a super organized website for students to practice math skills, from the very simple ‘naked’ problems that just deal with the arithmetic to the multi-step word problems that have students apply what they have learned.  IXL is like a bunch of really well developed digital worksheets.  Here’s why I love it, my students love it, and why you will love it too!

1.  INSTANT FEEDBACK FOR STUDENTS–Research tells us time and again that feedback is most helpful when it is immediate (especially for our digital natives).  Students work on a skill, and if they get it right they know!  There is no waiting for you to check their work.  If they miss it, they find out immediately and IXL explains why so that the student can learn from his/her mistake without practicing the wrong way multiple times.

2.  INSTANT FEEDBACK FOR TEACHERS–Let’s say my class needed to practice equivalent fractions.  I could assign a lesson to my students and monitor their progress from my teacher computer.  The beauty of IXL is that it instantly updates you on how many questions a student has answered correctly.  If I notice that little Johnny has answered 20 questions and missed 15, it is time to intervene!  Or, that little Sarah has answered only 6 questions and the rest of the class is almost finished, I might need to help her find a more efficient strategy.

3.  IXL IS FORGIVING–We all make mistakes when learning something new.  IXL recognizes this and rewards students for learning, not just a percent of questions they get right.  For example, students who miss several questions early on still have the ability to recover to earn a high Smart Score because they are learning.  They will have to answer more practice questions to ensure they’ve got it, but they can still score high and be rewarded for their efforts.  Students who already understand a skill won’t have to answer bazillions of questions.  IXL picks up on this, and their score will be equally as high for showing mastery!  There’s no reason to make a student who knows something practice it again and again forever.  IXL catches on quickly so students can show mastery early and move on to something more challenging.

4.  DIFFERENTIATION–Is a great buzzword, but IXL can make it happen easily in YOUR classroom.  If you have students who are below level, you can assign them practice on skills to meet their needs.  If you have students who are advanced, move them ahead.  IXL covers K-12 standards, so the sky is the limit!

5.  ORGANIZATION–I have never seen a math program as teacher-friendly as IXL.  You can search by skill, monitor progress by skill, go up and down a grade level based on your state’s standards, whatever works for you and your students.  I typically would write a lesson on the board I wanted my students to complete based on what we were studying and I even took grades on their work.

6.  SMALL GROUP/MATH STATIONS–Add an IXL math station to your rotation so that you can meet with small groups and still know that your students are engaged in purposeful work as mathematicians.

7.  FLEXIBILITY–IXL worked on my classroom desktops, laptops, and iPads.  Plus, students could work from home if parents requested extra practice!  Once you set up student accounts and passwords, they can use IXL on any device with an internet connection.

8.  BOOST THOSE TEST SCORES–Overall, IXL makes it easy to fill gaps in learning, help students track their progress and see how their efforts produce achievement, and help you target skills students need to be successful on state assessments (whether you follow your state’s standards or Common Core), IXL can help your students succeed on state tests with confidence.

Now, you may be wondering if IXL is free???  The answer to that is NO and YES.  As a teacher, you can sign up for 30 day free trials.  Yep.  I had to sign up for a few free trials.  In fact, my whole grade level used it, loved it, and had so much success, that our school purchased it for the campus this year.  If after giving it a try you decide you MUST have it, talk to your principal, PTA, hold a quick fundraiser, or consider writing a grant through Donor’s Choose.   It is worth every penny!  Oh, and you should know that I am NOT being paid to talk about IXL.  When a friend of mine mentioned it to me last year, I gave it a try and now every time I meet a math teacher, I share my experience with it.

You can learn about MORE iPad apps from the teachers at  The Lesson Deli

iPad Linky for iPad giveaway from The Lesson Deli

Click this image to go to the Linky screen for more great ideas on using iPads and apps in your classroom. Brought to you by the teachers at The Lesson Deli.

 Want to win an iPad Mini?  Of course you do!  Please note that this giveaway is only open to teachers (classroom and homeschool) who are living in the United States or Canada. The winning entry will be verified and proof of eligibility may be required. Please see the complete terms and conditions at the bottom of the giveaway for more information.

Rafflecopter Button for iPad Giveaway from The Lesson Delia Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

–The Pensive Sloth


Talk Like a Pirate Day Math Freebie with Tape/Strip Diagrams

I’m linking up with Krista of Teaching Momster for Math Madness Wednesday in honor of Talk Like a Pirate Day…

Math Madness Wednesdays Link from The Teaching Momster

“If I hear one more pirate joke I’m going to make you ALL walk the plank!”  That’s right teachers, international Talk Like a Pirate Day is just around the corner.  Friday, September 19th to be exact.  I actually really like silly holidays, so here is a math freebie to celebrate!  Students answer the decimal addition problems to solve the riddle.  But, these aren’t any old decimal addition problems, matey.  These problems are set up using tape/strip diagrams to build those algebraic thinking skills!

Talk Like a Pirate Day Math Freebie from The Pensive Sloth

Students answer decimal addition questions (in tape/strip diagrams)  to solve the pirate riddle.  Designed for grades 4 to 6.

Click HERE to download this Talk Like a Pirate Day free math activity from The Pensive Sloth!

In my last post about tape/strip diagrams, I shared some ideas for using them in upper elementary math.  Here’s another idea.  Provide students with a tape diagram with a missing part.  Then, ask them to write what they would type into a calculator to find X.  It isn’t as simple as you might think!  Depending on the location of the unknown, X, students must form an equation that will get them to the right answer.  Give it a try…

Tape Diagram But What Do I Put In the Calculator Chart from The Pensive Sloth

Put a spin on your math lesson–Don’t ask your students to just SOLVE the problems, ask them to tell you what they would type into a calculator to get the correct answer! This is a challenge when students are working with unknowns in different locations. Try it. It makes them think!

Fair winds my fellow pirates!

–The Pensive Sloth

Shameless plug–If you need some tape/strip diagram worksheets or task cards, I’ve got some for adding and subtracting decimals to the tenths and hundredths place.

Using Tape/Strip Diagrams in Upper Elementary Math

Ok, so I recently learned about tape/strip diagrams.  These simple little diagrams go by so many names!  You may have heard them called bar models and part-part-whole boxes (in younger grades).  In a nutshell, the diagrams help students look at part-whole relationships when problem solving.  What I really like about them is that they provide a visual for students and help build algebraic thinking skills.

Strip Tape Diagram Anchor Chart from The Pensive Sloth

Use strip/tape diagrams to boost algebraic thinking skills with your upper elementary math students.

3 Things To Do With Strip/Tape Diagrams in Upper Elementary Math

1–Model using them to solve word problems.  Model a lot!  Students need to see how they can be applied in a variety of problems, to identify when the whole is missing and when a part is missing, so they can internalize this strategy.  You can start simple with problems that have 2 parts and build from there.

2–Use them with the skills for your grade level.  In first and second grade, students may be using them with one and two digit numbers.  But, in the upper grades they can be applied to adding and subtracting with decimals and multiple digit numbers.

3–The beauty of these diagrams is that they don’t give the kids an equation to solve.  The student has to come up with the equation!  Kids have to manipulate the numbers in their mind to build the equation, especially when one part is missing.  Make kids write the equation they used to isolate the missing variable, X.  This really gets them thinking!

The diagrams are nothing new.  They’ve been around for years, but they seem to be resurfacing because they have been referenced recently in the standards.  In Texas (where I teach) they can be found in the new math TEKS in 3rd and 4th grade.  Texas calls them strip diagrams.  They are also referenced in Common Core.  To be honest, when using them with my 5th graders I use the word TAPE DIAGRAM on purpose, not STRIP DIAGRAM.  If you teach 5th grade, you understand why!

–The Pensive Sloth

PS– If you are interested in some task cards for tape/strip diagrams, I put together a set for my students to practice adding and subtracting decimals.  There are 3 sets of task cards in this pack for a total of 72 task cards.  Plus, they have QR codes so students can self check!  A non-QR code version is also included.

strip tape diagram task cards from The Pensive Sloth

Looking for practice activities for your students using strip/tape diagrams? Check out this set from my TPT store.

Meet My New Best Friend–Hands On Equations

This post inspired by The Teaching Momster.  To read more about algebraic thinking in the intermediate grades, check out this week’s Math Madness Wednesday by clicking the red badge below.

Math Madness Wednesday algebra prealgebra algebraic thinking for 5th and 6th grade

If you haven’t heard of Hands On Equations by now,  listen up.  Hands On Equations will rock your world!  Seriously! I believe this system or program or curriculum supplement came out in the mid 1980s.  In a nutshell, students learn to solve algebra expressions using game pieces like pawns and number dice.  It’s amazing, and a quick Google search will gather all you could ever want to know about it.

Hands On Equations for 5th and 6th grade algebra

Hello, I’m Hands On Equations and I’m here to make learning algebra fun and easy!

But wait, there’s more.  Because I am new to teaching math this year, I watch a lot of YouTube.  I search something I’m about to teach and watch an expert teacher before I even try it out in my classroom.  I can’t tell you how helpful this has been.  Upon searching for Hands On Equations lessons, I happened to find a teacher who…get this…has recorded all of the lessons!  Oh my!  She is an angel sent from above.  I am writing her a thank you letter as we speak.  The lessons are about 10 minutes long and I have used the first 4.  Why play the clip instead of teaching the lesson myself?  One, students love YouTube.  Two, I get to observe a master teacher.  Three, I can walk around and intervene, and the lesson keeps going.  I carry my mouse with me around the room and pause every so often to have my students work an example independently before she solves it on the video.  After each lesson (video clip), students work on 10 problems.  All of this takes about 35 minutes a day and is supplementing our regular curriculum.

If you are looking to build algebraic thinking skills with your intermediate students, here’s a link to some puzzles.

@ThePensiveSloth prealgebra puzzles for 5th and 6th grade

Use puzzle task cards to engage your students in pre-algebra activities. Great for building logical reasoning and algebraic thinking. WARNING: Will make your students think!

Thanks for stopping in!

–The Pensive Sloth

Fraction Boot Camp–Preparing for the STAAR Test

With our state test approaching we are reviewing concepts from earlier in the year to make sure we’ve got it!  Fraction Boot Camp was one way our class prepared this year.  Here’s how Fraction Boot Camp worked in my classroom:

STEP 1–Write fraction standards on chart paper, set class goals, and plan a class celebration.  Our class decided on 85% for each assessment as our goal and that we would celebrate with a picnic outside on a nice weather day when we met our goal.

STEP 2–Review each skill with a mini-lesson, have students complete a few ‘number problems’ to make sure they understand, then give partner time to work some word problems while meeting with a small group who needs a little extra help.  Number problems are simply working with the numbers.  I need to know that my students understand equivalent fractions with mixed numbers and improper fractions prior to giving them lots of word problems to solve!  Check out CC Sheets.  It is one of my favorites for number only problems.  Because I teach the TEKS and not CC, I search by skill rather than standard and grade level.

STEP 3– Assess and report class averages on the chart.  The kids love to see their progress posted in the classroom.

Valentine's Day fractions matching game for equivalent fractions, including mixed numbers and improper fractions

Valentine’s Day fractions matching game for equivalent fractions, including mixed numbers and improper fractions

This year’s Fraction Boot Camp was a big success!  Our class averages were in the 90s each time and we got to celebrate with a picnic outside.   We also played some fraction games and you can find those here!  There is a winter set, Valentine’s Day set, and St. Patrick’s Day shamrock set.

St. Patrick's Day/Shamrock Theme Game--Students sort fractions by finding equivalent fractions and matching them to the simplified (or reduced) fraction.

St. Patrick’s Day/Shamrock Theme Game–Students sort fractions by finding equivalent fractions and matching them to the simplified (or reduced) fraction.

Fun heart themed fractions games to help students practice matching equivalent fractions, including improper fractions and mixed numbers.

Fun heart themed fractions games to help students practice matching equivalent fractions, including improper fractions and mixed numbers.

un winter-themed game for students to practice equivalent fractions, including improper fractions and mixed numbers!

Fun winter-themed game for students to practice equivalent fractions, including improper fractions and mixed numbers!

Math anchor chart for landmarks--mean, median, mode, range

Anchor Chart Thursday–Mean, Median, Mode, Range

I found this really nifty song on Pinterest, though I don’t remember where so that I can give credit!  But, I thought I would share it.  It has helped my kiddos a lot with remembering what the ‘landmarks’ represent.

Hey diddle diddle

The median is the middle

You add and divide for the mean

The mode is the one that appears the most

And the range is the difference between

Math anchor chart for landmarks--mean, median, mode, range

Math anchor chart for landmarks–mean, median, mode, range

Also, I discovered the greatest site for math practice worksheets.  If you are looking for basic problems, like those not all dressed up in word problems, so that you can know your kiddos have mastered a skill, you’ve got to try THIS SITE.  I’m a Texas teacher and do not use Common Core, so if you are in Texas, don’t search by standard or grade level.  Just look at the skill because it is taught in different grades.  I used the Mean, Median, Mode, Range set with my 5th graders even though it is listed as a 6th grade set.  The great part about this site is that all of the sheets are organized the same way, they come with answer keys, and there are 10 versions for each skill!   This is perfect for small groups because if the student didn’t understand whole group, you can re-teach in small group and have something for them to practice.  Love it!  It must have been created or organized by a teacher because it is super classroom friendly.  Happy teaching!

3 Ways to Use YouTube in Your Intermediate Classroom in 2014 (originally posted 1/1/2014)

3 Ways to Use YouTube In Your Intermediate Classroom in 2014

3 Ways to Use YouTube In Your Intermediate Classroom in 2014

NOTE—The songs are totally cheesy! I know this and so do my students. Just go with it. They’ll love it. Sometimes to remove the “I’m too cool to enjoy this” factor I tell them that I have found THE cheesiest song about the planets (or whatever you are teaching) in the history of mankind. I play the song and they usually agree. But, they also ask to hear it again!

1—Play Funky Songs & Raps in Class
Do you want your students to go home and study, go home and share what they have learned, or at least think about what you’ve done in class that day?  Consider using a song or rap from YouTube related to the concept you are teaching.

Why it works– Many kids have access to YouTube from smartphones, tablets, pcs, home computers, and even streamed through a TV!  All it takes is playing the song a few times in your classroom to get them hooked.  There’s something about music that makes learning memorable.  I usually play the songs while we transition from one subject to the next or as a reward while we pack up at the end of the day.  I then add the link on my class webpage and let the magic happen!  Your students will most likely spend some time online when they go home and may just revisit the video you shared in class.

Some of my favorites–

*StoryBots “We Are the Planets” rap

*”States of Matter” rap (This one was made by real-life teachers!)

*StoryBots “I’m So Hot”  rap about the sun

*StoryBots “It’s My Time to Shine” song about the moon

2—Use a Math Strategy Video to Introduce or Review
The brain loves novelty and variety.  Want to make your lesson a little more engaging and unique?  Find a video clip of what you are teaching that day in math to start your lesson or review.

Why it works—Today’s students are tuned-in to technology and a 2-3 minute clip at some point in your lesson adds a little variety.  Not only do they get to see a strategy twice (once from you and once from the video), they are seeing it from someone else.  Plus, adding the link to your site gives students something to refer to should they need a refresher or if they were absent.  When I introduced fractions recently, this was really helpful!  I’ve even used a REALLY good YouTube video as my whole lesson before…but that’s for another post and is a little harder to do effectively.

Here are a few math videos I’ve used recently–

*Simplifying Fractions

*Equivalent Fractions (This one is cool because it explains WHY multiplying a fraction by 4/4 to get an equivalent fraction still doesn’t change the value of the fraction.)

3—This one is just for fun…Dance Breaks!

Sometimes we just need a little break during the day, especially if you are self-contained like me. Early childhood teachers know this and frequently use music and movement with Dr. Jean and Greg and Steve songs.  Our older students love to move as well and they REALLY love listening to their favorite tunes.  Now, I use dance breaks as a reward quite often, and it works great if you use Whole Brain Teaching’s Scoreboard in your classroom, so consider using a “Just Dance” type video to add some fun and give your kiddos a chance to get their wiggles out!

Why it works–It works because it is fun.  Students need to move.  Teachers need to move.  It’s healthy. It brings oxygen to the brain. It wakes you up.  And much more!  If you use it as a whole class reward, students also have something to look forward to when they finish an activity and have worked hard, followed directions, and paid attention as a class.  I choose videos that show the steps rather than just listening to a song and dancing along for two reasons.  First, using a dance video that shows the steps encourages your somewhat reserved students to participate because they can just follow along and not have to invent their own moves.  Second, if you have students whose dance moves might be a little too…um… ‘inappropriate for school,’ you can tell them to stick with what is on the screen.  Don’t worry if not everyone participates.  I call it the wildfire effect, but each time you do a dance break, a few more kiddos join in!  And those that done still enjoy listening to a popular tune and watching their friends get groovy!

CAUTION– You must preview the videos from home before sharing them with your class.  Let me say that again.  Previewing the videos from home and really listening to the lyrics will keep you out of trouble.  There are dance videos specifically for kids, but my students said “We’re not babies” when I tried to use some of those.  They prefer the more popular songs that they hear on the radio, so you have to watch the WHOLE video and listen to ALL the lyrics at home before you use a song in the classroom.  If not, well…not all music on the radio is classroom appropriate!

A few of my faves–

*The “Pata Pata” is an African dance

*One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful”

Anchor Chart Friday (originally posted 12/6/2013)

I’ve been working hard to add more ‘color’ to the charts my kiddos and I make.  My students have really responded to this.  We discuss, all the time, how the brain thinks in pictures and that illustrating and diagram-ing in science, social studies, and EVERYTHING can really help learning ‘stick,’  so it was only a matter of time before I had to start drawing, too!  While my artistic skills leave much to be desired, it has been a bonding experience for my students and I.  They know I am taking a risk every time I try to draw, and we laugh together at the results, someone usually offers a stretched compliment, and it makes for a memorable experience.  Here are a few charts we’ve made recently.

Here is “What we THINK we know about the Earth, Moon, and Sun.” (below)


5th Grade Food Chain–I always label my pictures so they are easier to understand! (below)


Before we delved into fractions, we discussed what they were and how they are used. (below)