My Evaluation of Prodigy Math

Written by: The Recovering Traditionalist

I get emails a lot from teachers asking me what I think of this program, or that app, etc.  Well, two times in one week I got asked about the math game Prodigy Math.  I hadn’t heard of it, so after the second question I decided to look in to it, especially because the second person was at a school that uses Dreambox (which I LOVE) and their district is looking into using Prodigy instead.

I went in and spent 20 minutes in there playing as a student because I have no experience with the program.  So here are my thoughts…but again only after 20 minutes of exposure…so I’m sure I’ll get heat on this, but I’m posting it anyway because what I saw in 20 minutes is so much like every program out there and I wanted to give you all some of the things I saw from the kid side.

That is my first recommendation….when looking at an online program, go in and play it as a KID!  Don’t trust the marketing the company puts out about how great their program is and how it meets the standards and uses models to help the kids solve problems.  Go play it and see what it feels like/what’s required from the child.

So, here is what I saw:

1) There is no teaching happening in the program.  Kids either know it or they don’t.  There is a hint, but the hints I took just tell me how to do it procedurally.  So I think this *could* be okay to use as a way to give kids more practice IF they already have the understanding.  On some tasks, there are “math tools” that I can use but I first have to know how to use them.
2) There is a lot of game play with a little math sprinkled in, but the math is all procedural (that I saw).  In the 20 minutes I spent in there, I probably only did math about 3 minutes of actual math.  The rest of the time I was playing and traveling in the wizard world (which may be an issue with some families as when kids answer a math problem they are actually casting a spell onto another person or monster).
Prodigy Math Game

Screen capture of the ‘battle’ inside Prodigy Math. Kids cast a spell upon their opponent each time they answer a math problem correctly.

3) The way they make kids type in their answers leads to procedural thinking.  For example, one problem I encountered was 20-10 and it was stacked vertically.  I typed in 10, but it showed up 01…the program “fills” the answer in from right to left as if a kids were doing the algorithm…i.e. the first number I typed (1) they put in the ones place because we are supposed to subtract our ones first then move to our tens, you know.  🙂
Prodigy Math Game makes kids fill in answers from right to left, which makes them think procedurally instead of conceptually.
These may seem like small things but I think it probably paints a picture of the program as a whole…I’m the first to admit I ONLY spent 20 minutes in the program.  I think the reason many districts want to use programs like Prodigy is that it’s free and good, in-depth programs that build kids understanding of mathematics, like Dreambox, are not…but you get what you pay for people. 🙂
I would also like to direct you to this wonderful blog post by Tracy Zager.  In this post, she analyzed math game sites and apps and gives her criteria for what makes a good program/game/app.  She also is a fan of Dreambox, but I think her blog post lays it out very nicely.

Fact Fluency Part 1:  4 Types of Addition & Multiplication Facts

Written by: The Recovering Traditionalist

As I was looking over my presentation for this week at NCTM and getting sidetracked by checking Tweets about NCSM (which I didn’t get to attend this year), I saw a few tweets about Steven Leinwand and Patsy Kanter’s presentation at NCSM and how well it connects to my presentation for NCTM (tomorrow, 4/14) and it sparked me to write this post about building addition and multiplication fact fluency.

NCSM tweet1 NCSM Tweet2

I wrote a book a few years ago that included this addition fact chart and since then I also created one for multiplication:

Addition Fact Chart to develop fact fluency Multiplication Chart to develop fact fluency

I share these with teachers when I do math professional development trainings, but I’ve never written about them on here.  The idea is that the old way of teaching kids to learn isolated facts should be retired and in its place should be the idea that facts are related AND that certain facts come easier than others.  Thus there is really only 4 types of facts that students need to “learn” that then help them with all the other facts:

4 Types of Addition Facts:

Orange: Doubles

Green: Make 10

Blue: 10 + something

Purple: Adding Zero

4 Types of Multiplication Facts:

Green: x2

Red: x10

Blue: x5

Purple: Properties (x1 and x0)

If you focus heavily on those 4 types of facts PLUS building your students’ number sense so that they can use number relationships to help them derive the related facts to those 4 types of facts, teaching the “facts” becomes a whole lot easier. I.E. If a child knows 3 + 3 (an Orange fact) AND they know how numbers relate to each other, then 3 + 4 (lighter Orange fact) is a piece of cake.  That is the case for all those lighter colored facts in both charts, if you know your x10 facts (Red fact), that can help you with your x9 and x8 facts (lighter Red facts)….but,only if you understand how the numbers relate to each other.

So, stay tuned for Part 2 of Fact Fluency where I will tell you the biggest mistake we make when trying to teach fact fluency…..and that I am saving until AFTER my presentation tomorrow or else you wouldn’t come to it.  But for those unable to make it, I’ll share after the session.

5 Math Games That Decrease Your Prep Time

Written by: The Recovering Traditionalist

5 evergreen math games

Many of you know that I am a HUGE proponent of using math games to build your students’ mathematical minds.  However, the biggest complaint is that math games take so much time to prepare and then you have to teach the new game to the kids before they can go off and play the game on their own in math centers.  Then it’s just a cycle of rinse & repeat every time you want to introduce a new game.  Well, in this post I will share with you a way to decrease the prep time for math games, both for you and for training the kids on the games.

The secret is a thing I call Evergreen Games…. I give my childhood years a little credit in the name here.  I grew up working on my family’s tree farm, so for those of you not familiar, evergreen trees stay green all year round thus the name ever-green.

These games are Evergreen because they can be used with ‘ever-y’ 😉 math concept, plus, many can be used with any subject as well.  The BONUS is that once you teach the general rules of the game you don’t have to re-teach the game, you can just swap out the concept.  For example, Memory (finding two cards that ‘match’) is an evergreen game because you can play Memory with any content.  I can make a deck that the kids have to find a card with a number and find a matching card that shows a visual representation of that number.  Or I can make a deck where they have to ‘match’ two cards that add to 10. Or I can make a deck that shows a decomposed area model and the kids have to find the matching expression that shows the distributive property.  Each time I swap out the content within the game, I don’t have to teach how to play a new game because they already know.  I just have to explain what is considered a ‘match.’

The concepts you can ‘teach’ through Memory are endless and thus it makes the game Evergreen.  There are 5 games that I feel are evergreen math games; Memory, Capture 4, Bump, I Have Who Has, and Difference To.  I’ve created a PDF that gives you an explanation of each one PLUS three pre-made games for each type of game…yup, that’s 15 versions of these evergreen math games.  Click the image below and I’ll email them to you.

Evergreen math games

Also, if you haven’t been following me over on Periscope, get over there!!!!  It’s a fun way to interact as you get to watch me play math games with my personal children every Saturday.  The videos are only available for 24 hours and then they disappear.  So, go on over to Periscope and search for me as @BuildMathMinds.  If you want to see my old Periscope videos, I do ‘katch’ them and you can see the math games I’ve played previously over at https://katch.me/BuildMathMinds

 

How I Got My Daughter to Stop Writing 501 as 5001 in 10 Minutes

Written by: The Recovering Traditionalist

Help Students Build Place Value and Learn to Write Numbers

Writing numbers correctly is often a struggle for young kids.  Most kids can say the numbers but when they go to write them down the way we write numbers doesn’t align with how we say them.  This causes confusion in our students and is one of the reasons students lack place value.  In this post I will share with you how my 1st grade daughter struggled with writing numbers (she would write 501 as 1500 and as 5001) and how I helped her in one night, while I was cooking diner (aka…I really didn’t do much, it was all because of the tool I had her use).

 

So, this all came about just this week.  My mom was watching my two school aged children when they got home from school.  When I got home, my daughter, Sierra, couldn’t wait to show me all the numbers she had written in her journal while she was home with Grandma.  She handed me her journal and as I took a look she said, “I know that I was doing it wrong to start with and then I changed it to the right way towards the end.”  This is what I saw:

Her "incorrect way"

Her “incorrect way”

Her "correct way"

Her “correct way”

 

I am used to seeing kids write numbers similar to her “correct way”…she was trying to write 504, but wrote it 5004…How many of you have seen that in your classroom???

However, the way she knew was incorrect, I had to ask her about.  She said “Well, I put 400 then put a 1 in front.”  So in that first picture she has 401 written as 1400, 501 as 1500, 801 as 1800 and so on.  And seriously it was on and on…she filled up almost a whole page before I got home, all the while writing the numbers incorrectly (even when she thought she had changed to the “correct way”).

Writing Numbers1

 

So, how did I help her?  I pulled out my favorite tool for helping kids understand Place Value…Place Value Cards!  These are also known as Hide Zero Cards or a variation is known as Arrow Cards.

Modeling numbers with place value cards

 

The image above shows her modeling 13 using the cards, but it wasn’t easy for her to start out with.  She was fine showing 1-10, but when she got to 11 she wanted two of the 1 cards.  I asked her “What is a 1 and 1?”  Her response was “Eleven.”  So we talked for a minute about what really makes 11, how it isn’t made from 1 and 1, because when you put 1 and 1 together it makes 2.  She caught on very quickly as the cards helped her to see 11 as 10 and 1. Then, while I was cooking dinner, she continued making numbers, writing them in her journal (correctly this time), all the while building her place value:

Making 22 with place value cards

Making 57 using place value cards

Making 91 with place value cards

 

The cool part about the cards is that in the upper left corner is the VALUE of each digit.  So when she puts the 90 and the 1 together she sees it as 91, but can also see it as 90 and 1.  She continued on building numbers correctly until 110, and this is what she put together:

Trying to show 110 with place value cards

 

It looks correct, right??? But, let’s zoom in a little closer to see how she actually made that number:

Trying to show 110 with place value cards_zoomed

 

Now when this happened my husband said she was right…I said she was wrong.  We got into a little debate about it :).  I see his side that, symbolically, she is showing 110 correctly, BUT she isn’t showing me understanding of place value…she used the 100 and the 1 to show 110.  Often we get wrapped up in helping kids to write numbers in “standard form” but when they do write numbers in that form, they loose the value of the digits.  I am such a big fan of these cards because children get to see the standard form of a number but they ALSO get to build their place value understandings.  Here is my daughter explaining how she showed 153:

Now, I know she is using the value written at the top to help her say the numbers…but that’s what you want.  In the early grades we need to build that solid foundation of the value of the numbers so that when we move to just the standard form students know the value of each numeral.  I love that these cards help kids see the value while also seeing how to write the number in standard form.  I’ve already heard my daughter getting better at reading larger numbers.  Like 134…it’s not 1, 3, 4 anymore when she says the number…it has turned into 100-30-4…YEAH!!!

And just an FYI, I did not make her sit down and go until 153.  She just kept doing it, all night.  We had to make her put the cards away during diner. 🙂

If you like the idea of these cards, there is a wonderful app for Apple devices called Montessori Place Value.  It is not free, but it is great!  I sell sets of these Place Value Cards on my website, but if you are looking for FREE, you can sign up to receive my template for all the cards (1-1000).  Just click HERE for the download and you can make your own sets.

Leave me a comment and let me know if you’ve used Place Value Cards before.  How did they work for your students?  Do you have other ways to help kids learn to write numbers which also help them understand the numbers??

Can Timed Tests Help Develop a Growth Mindset?

Written by: The Recovering Traditionalist

Yesterday, during a PD session, I was asked my thoughts on timed tests.  With all the talk about growth versus fixed mindsets, the topic of timed tests for facts has become a popular topic.  My thoughts may not match up with the popular thought of the moment, but I’m going to post it anyway.  (If you don’t know about growth versus fixed mindsets check out this quick synopsis.)

Timed Tests

Our education system is famous for its pendulum swings and math education is right in the thick of some now.  One is the debate about timed tests.  For quite awhile the pendulum has been over on the side of using timed tests daily.  Now, that pendulum is swinging to never using timed tests. (See this article and this article.)

While I’m not a big fan of timed tests, especially the way they are often used in classrooms, I am a firm believer in moderation…in everything in my life.  For example, I have a massive sweet tooth.  If I try to go without candy, a few days later I’ll end up eating 5 candy bars in one day.  Instead, of going back and forth between the two extremes (no candy to 5 in a day), I find it easier to allow myself a candy bar now and then when appropriate.  And that is where I stand on timed tests.  If we go to the extreme of no timed tests I think we are going to see it not work and the backlash to it will swing us back to daily drill & kill.  Instead, lets help teachers to learn the difference between using timed tests to TEACH versus using timed tests to ASSESS.

Teachers who do timed tests every day as their “fact practice” are using the tests to teach.  However, by using them in that way teachers are facilitating a fixed mindset in their students; “I must be bad at math because I’m not good at these tests,” or “I must be good at math because I’m fast at these tests.”

Teachers who use timed tests every once in a while to assess how well their students are progressing with their understanding and development could actually use the tests as an opportunity to develop growth mindsets in their students.  What if every once in a while (maybe once a month, maybe every two weeks??) we assessed our students to see how many facts they can get correct in a minute….but instead of telling them they didn’t get enough correct in that minute, what if we had them keep a graph every time so they could chart their progress?  Or try having a set number of facts (ones that particular child has been working on building their understanding of) and time them to see how long they take to do them all…then later assess those same facts again to see if they can get through the set faster than they did previously.  Wouldn’t this help them see where they are and encourage them to grow in their understanding and fluency?

I am intrigued, yet concerned with the movement to do away with timed tests.  I’ve seen the damage they can do to kids when they are pressured to perform, especially in front of the whole class (I’m sure we all have those memories of standing at the chalkboard).  However, just because teachers in the past might have taken timed tests to the extreme by using them daily and in ways that put extreme pressure on students, does that mean we shouldn’t encourage kids to get faster at math?

I am a firm believer in the power of building a solid foundational understanding that helps children think flexibly about mathematics.  I encourage teachers daily to use number talks, put mathematics in context, and go deep with their students to develop a conceptual understanding.  I complain all the time about how Common Core has put the introduction to multiplication & division starting in 3rd grade and by the end of that year they need to know the facts from memory, hell, I even wrote a book to help teachers develop students’ flexibility with numbers as a lead into developing fluency with addition and not once in there did I ever encourage the use of timed tests. But I still think there is a time and place to encourage kids to become faster with math (notice I said faster, not FAST), because I’ve worked with school districts who only emphasized the conceptual understanding of math and did not spend time helping develop procedural fluency.  I see that without both, our students can often struggle to work with deeper tasks because they can’t work fluently with the “menial math” in order to get to the deeper understandings.

What do you think?  Could we actually use timed tests in a way that helps develop a growth mindset in our students and helps them to see how they are growing and becoming more fluent in their math understandings instead of the way we all remember timed tests being used?

My #NCTMBoston Takeaways

Written by: The Recovering Traditionalist

I had the great pleasure of presenting at the Annual NCTM Conference.  For those of you interested, you can download my presentation on my other website www.MathematicallyMinded.com. This year it was held in Boston and I got to take a tour of Fenway Park!!  I even got sucked into the excitement of game day and went to a game.

Boston Red Sox

But the best part of the trip wasn’t what I did in Boston, it’s what I’m taking away from Boston:

Friends

This was the first year I’ve ever been to any NCTM conference where I didn’t feel “on my own.” I’m quite an introvert and I would always go to the conferences and learn, but never felt connected.  The moment that started to change was in 2010, when I met @DrMi at the NCSM Annual in San Diego and got to know him more that week (well, I really just stalked him) while attending NCTM.  With Dr. Milou’s help these past few years, along with my venture into blogging and Twitter, I had so many people I was connected to this year.  Every day of the conference I was getting hugged!! Special thanks to, of course @DrMi, but also @robertkaplinsky, @mr_stadel, @gfletchy, @MathRack20, and @tracyzager. The community that is out there online is so welcoming.  Which brings me to my 2nd takeaway.

A learning community

Some people that I met at NCTM I’m just starting to get to know in person but it felt like I knew them already via the #MTBos aka Math Twitter Blogoshpere.  The MTBoS is a group of educators who connect via Twitter and/or writing blogs.  There are so many great math educators out there and it has been amazing this past year to learn from them.  If you are looking for a way to connect with other educators, consider participating in the MTBoS Challenge that started last month (don’t worry you can still join in the fun).  It’s a series of activities designed to get more educators online, because like @robertkaplinsky always says, “The group is smarter than the individual.” I encourage you to join in and make sure to follow these people on Twitter and via their blogs/websites:

 

Twitter Handle

Blog/Website

@BuildMathMinds  (that’s me)

TheRecoveringTraditionalist.com

MathematicallyMinded.com

@DrMi

ericmilou.com

@robertkaplinsky

robertkaplinsky.com

openmiddle.com

@mr_stadel

mr-stadel.blogspot.com

estimation180.com 

@gfletchy

gfletchy.com

@tracyzager

tjzager.wordpress.com

@MikeFlynn55

mathleadership.org

@ddmeyer

blog.mrmeyer.com

@zakchamp

shadowmathcon.com

@mpershan

rationalexpressions.blogspot.com

@ekazemi

https://education.uw.edu/people/faculty/ekazemi#profile-faculty

@Trianglemancsd

talkingmathwithkids.com

@JSchwartz10a

exit10a.blogspot.com

@bstockus

bstockus.wordpress.com

@kassiaowedekind

mathexchanges.com

@MathRack20

mathrack.com

@MathMinds

mathmindsblog.wordpress.com

n/a

theelementarymathmaniac.blogspot.com

@Mr_Harris_Math

n/a

@turtletoms

n/a

 

#Shadowcon15 might prove to be another way for teachers to start connecting with each other.  It was a fabulous way to end the first day of the conference.  The speakers all energized the crowd.  Each presenter gave a short talk followed by a call to action.  A video of each talk will be posted at www.shadowmathcon.com along with a spot for people to converse about how they are implementing the call to action.  Go check the videos out (they will be posted one at a time, and the first one is already up!!!), and then report back on the website about how it’s going.  It could be another great way to building the online community of math educators….but you have to get in there and participate.

A theme for my year:

You attend LOTS of session while at an NCTM conference, but three of the ones I attended really stuck out and all of them seemed to be telling me the same thing: Have A Plan and Keep it Consistent

Dr. Eric Milou got the whole crowd going with his request to question the status quo (especially around the standards and assessments) during the Ignite session.  He demanded that we start a conversation and let our voices be heard about the things we don’t feel are good for our students.

Karen Karp did an amazingly funny presentation on Response to Intervention.  She said that her ideas for RtI were NOT something to buy, it is something to TRY.  Too often we buy a program that is supposed to fix our struggling learners.  Her message was that instead we need to fix the instruction to keep it consistent for all students.  Think of how confusing it can be when a teacher in the lower grades shows one way to model a problem but then in the upper grades their teacher tells them they can’t do it that way.  Or how about when we tell kids a ‘rule’ and then later that rule doesn’t apply anymore.  For example, “You can’t take a larger number from a smaller number (like 7-9),” but then in the upper grades they do.  Karen encouraged the attendees to get everyone in their school on board with creating common Language, Models, and Notation:

Karen Karp-Consistency

Karen recently wrote the fabulous article 13 Rules That Expire and is a co-author on the Teaching Student Centered Mathematics books (aka My Math Bibles) with John van de Walle, et al.

I have to say this about Ruth Parker before I talk about her session; she and Kathy Richardson were the first educators to begin the idea of Number Talks (check out her new book, Making Number Talks Matter).  OK, on to her session….The whole hour she presented at NCTM was full of wisdom.  It was the only session I typed the entire time!!!  I was so busy typing I didn’t stop to take pictures of her fabulous slides.  Thankfully while I was there typing away, right next to me @tracyzager was snapping pics like this and posting to Twitter (I gotta get better at that!):

Ruth Parker Math Wisdom

I am taking away 8 Guiding Principles for Teaching Mathematics from Ruth Parker:

Guiding principles are for teachers and teachers of teachers.  If you teach teachers just replace ‘kids’ with ‘teachers.’

Guiding Principle #1: All kids can learn math.

They just need: Safe learning environment, time to learn, sense making at the heart, challenging & engaging tasks, freedom from high stakes assessment

Guiding Principle #2: Meaningful tasks that reveal “soft spots” in understanding should front load a unit of study.

6-8 units of study through the year…stop looking lesson by lesson, start looking at big ideas within a unit.

Start the unit with a big messy problem so that misunderstandings are revealed and let’s you know what to focus on within the unit.

Principals should not ask “What are you learning today?”  Instead ask, “What are you trying to figure out right now?”

Guiding Principle #3: Disequilibrium, cognitive confusion is a natural and even desirable part of the process of learning.

I’m pretty sure this was the point in time that she posed the problem below and I got so into solving it that I didn’t take any notes, but I think this guiding principle is self explanatory…if not try out the problem to see what it feels like:

Guiding principle #4: The ‘big’ mathematical ideas are never fully mastered.  They deepen in complexity over time.

Instruction should:

Reveal fragile understandings

Have periods of dissonance

Help kids see mistakes are sites for learning

Guiding Principle #5: Learning math is about the having of mathematical ideas

   Student sense making must be central to all mathematics teaching and learning

Guiding principle #6: There are usually many different ways to solve any given problem.

Guiding principle #7: We must meet students where they are when they come to us.

Going back and helping fill in the holes is essential.  If we don’t, we are laying dirt over a sinking foundation.  She gave us an activity to try out with students of any age, called Number Bracelets.  Here’s the description and a couple of examples:

Number Bracelets task from Ruth Parker

Guiding principle #8: We need to always model the change we want to see happen.

We must be educators, not trainers….trainers pull

Most teachers teach the way they were taught

 

Resources

I did not spend much time in the exhibit hall but when I did go there I went directly to two spots: Stenhouse (to pick up a copy of Making Number Talks Matter…because Amazon had been sold out) and to NCTM to get Karen Karp’s new book Putting Essential Understanding of Addition & Subtraction into Practice.  Here are the books I bought:

Making Number Talks Matter by Cathy Humphreys & Ruth Parker 

Putting Essential Understanding of Multiplication and Division into Practice in Grades 3-5

Putting Essential Understanding of Addition & Subtraction into Practice in Grades PreK-2

 

If you have never been to an NCTM conference, I definitely recommend them.  They are an excellent way to CONNECT and RECHARGE.  Hope to see you in San Francisco next year!!

The Correct Way to Use the Area Model

Written by: The Recovering Traditionalist

Is there a WRONG way to use the area model?  I think so, but you may disagree with me.  I don’t know where this started, but I am very tired of seeing area models being modeled incorrectly.  It is so prevalent that I even saw one of the keynote speakers at an NCTM Regional Conference use the model incorrectly in her presentation.  So somewhere, some curriculum (maybe???) has shown teachers a way to use the area model that turns the area model into just a PROCEDURE instead of a MODEL of the problem.

 

Compare these two versions of the area model:

Two versions of area model of multiplication

How teachers are doing it: every model is ‘sliced’ down the middle, making four equally sized areas.

Incorrect way to use the area model for multiplication.

 

How it should be done: ‘slice’ the sides proportionally, which is hard because I know even my example here isn’t perfect, but I try to get as close as I can without getting a ruler out.  However, the only time you should slice a side in half is if you are decomposing that side in half (14 becomes 7+7).

Correct way to show area model of multiplication

 

What’s the difference?????  Proportionality of your ‘slices.’  The power of the area model is that it gives us another opportunity to talk about how numbers relate to each other.  If I cut the 14 into a 10 and a 4, the part that gets sliced into the ‘4’ should be a little less than half the size of the 10.  Plus, we really do want the Representation of the Area Model to connect to the Concrete Area Model we can build with base 10 blocks.  Models should be a MODEL of what actually happens.  When you have a 10×10 area that is larger than a 10×4 area. (FYI, the images below were created using The Math Learning Center’s wonderful Number Pieces app.)

Area Model of Multiplication using Base 10 Blocks

Area Model of Multiplication using Base 10 Blocks

Am I just getting upset about something that I shouldn’t???  I really emphasize with teachers that their area models need to be proportional in order to help the kids make connections.  Otherwise, kids just think it is magic and the area model does not become a model…it’s just another procedure.  What are your thoughts?