Math talk: Which number doesn't belong?

A key theme of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics is the need for students to use deeper mathematical thinking and reasoning skills (rather than just memorizing procedures) -- and to apply their understanding of mathematics by justifying conclusions and communicating them to others.

What I think this means is that the Common Core math classroom is going to be a much livelier place, full of discussion and teamwork and talk. That's a wonderful thing.

Here's a fun math conversation starter:

Which of the following numbers doesn't belong? 9, 16, 25, 43.

Let us know what you think. And remember, EXPLAIN YOUR REASONING!

Our natural abilities are just a starting point

Scholastic's David Dockterman was asked onto MSNBC's "Disrupt with Karen Finney" show on Sunday to talk about the importance of students having a "growth mindset" about learning.

Basic lesson to be learned: Your brain is a muscle, and it can grow and change and develop throughout life. So your intelligence isn't fixed. If you struggle with math now, that doesn't mean you can't get better at it in the future.

"Our natural abilities are just a starting point," says David Dockterman.

Click through to watch the video in full!

Teachers tell us they are enthusiastic about the Common Core but see the challenges

Twenty thousand public school teachers were surveyed as part of the Primary Sources series of reports and today, their viewpoints on the Common Core are available. 

First things first, teachers know what is happening out there.  Ninety-seven percent of teachers nationwide know about the Common Core State Standards and in the states adopting them, it is a complete 100% that are aware.  With this established, teachers in the adoption states were then asked about all of the Common Core details.  Interestingly, the study found that those teachers with the most experience with and exposure to the standards are the most positive towards implementation. Seventy-three percent of teachers who teach math, ELA, science and/or social studies agree they are enthusiastic about Common Core implementation in their classrooms.  Seventy-seven percent also believe the standards will have a positive impact on their students’ ability to think critically and use reasoning skills.

However, these teachers are realistic, with 73% telling us that they believe implementation is going to be challenging. They are going to have to change – or have already changed – their teaching practice, and when asked about special populations, they are most concerned about students currently working two or more grades below grade-level, followed by special education students.  For these students, teachers are asking for age-appropriate, leveled instructional materials.  For themselves to successfully implement the standards, teachers report their top two needs as more planning time to find materials and lesson plans and quality professional development.

Teachers are working in an evolving education system and it has never been more important to hear what they have to say and learn what they need to do their jobs!  Even with so much happening at once, it was great to see that 88% of teachers agree that the rewards of teaching outweigh the challenges.

To learn more about the Common Core State Standards Preview from Primary Sources, a project of Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, visit

Teachers, tell us what you think!  Do you agree with 20,000 of your peers?

Google in the classroom

For most of us, Google plays a huge role in our lives. Whether we use it to search the Internet, get directions using Maps, or communicate with Gmail, it’s everywhere we turn, swipe, or click. But what is Google’s role in the classroom? Read on for some tools that can benefit both teachers and students.

Google Drive

Within Google Drive, you can store and collaborate on files, spreadsheets, and presentations. Teachers and students can access files from any web-enabled device. Enhance collaboration and assessment with these tips:

  • Add Voice Comments to Documents to provide feedback on student work. Watch this helpful tutorial on Kaizena, the app that enables this feature.
  • Create your own assessments in Google Forms, which allows you to embed images and YouTube videos, and collect responses in a connected spreadsheet. Want to grade these quizzes? Install Google Form script Flubaroo.

Google Search

Try these search tips and share them with your students:

  • Add search operators to help you get more specific answers (e.g., results from a specific site or publication).
  • Narrow your search to results from the past five years by adding “&as_qdr=y5” to the end of the URL. The date the content was published appears under the link to each search result.
  • Search Google Images with images by dragging and dropping the file into the search bar. How could this be useful? Have students take photos of plants on a nature walk, then identify the plants and begin their research.

Any other essential Google tips for the classroom? Add them in the comments below! 

Hitting the sweet spot for learning

In this American RadioWorks podcast, psychology professor Dan Willingham explains the learning "sweet spot."

We all thrive and learn most efficiently when we're presented with the right amount of challenge -- just beyond the point where a task would be too easy and bore us, and just short of the point where it would be too hard and frustrate us. Other scientists might call this the "zone of proximal development," but I think calling it the "sweet spot" makes it a little easier to understand.

Ensuring every student is working in his or her "sweet spot" all the time is, of course, one of the fundamental challenges of education. This is the heart of differentiation. In a classroom full of students with divergent needs and at different levels, how do you meet every child where he/she is and give him/her just the right amount of challenge to push him/her forward?

Interestingly, Dr. Willingham says he more frequently gets questions from educators asking how to appropriately challenge high achieving students, rather than low achieving students.

What are your strategies for ensuring every child is hitting the sweet spot for learning?

Families and educators: Partnering for student success

School is in full swing across the country. And we begin a new year with many challenges facing the education system that underscore the need for engaged families, and then some. From the release of the film Fruitvale Station to the release of the documentary, We The Parents, there is a growing sentiment that engaged families still represent a critical component of the three-legged stool to educate young people.

With the onset of Common Core, many continue to share that our children are not achieving, that they simply are not fit to enter the military, go to work or enroll in college. While this may be partly true, we should all be mindful that our young people need us now more so than ever before. The challenges they face coupled with a system sending competing messages about their intellect, can be a recipe for disaster. Left to interpret the policy discussions, conflicting laws and budget woes, families are stuck in the middle striving to do what’s in the best interest of their children.

At one point in society, it seemed pretty straightforward: Enroll your child in the neighborhood school, attend the schedule parent teacher conferences, and talk with your child about their future. That seemed to be an equation for student success.

However, in this day and age, families and educators must think differently about how they partner together to help every student achieve. I intentionally use the term “family” in lieu of “parent” because I’m conscious of the number of extended family members (grandparents/aunts/uncles/siblings) who have picked up the mantle and shoulder the responsibility for ensuring ALL children receive a quality education.

To succeed going forward, our young people need an ecosystem composed of those who embody the ‘and then some principle.’ Today, not tomorrow, our students need educators who arrive early and work late – they need teachers and then some. The leaders of tomorrow need leaders today at the central office and state capitol who are willing to set aside adult issues and allocate, not cut, the resources needed to ensure OUR future. The children of now require families to sacrifice their own goals and lifestyles to enable the achievement of dreams on the horizon.  

The founder of Bethune-Cookman University put it best when she penned these words in 1954: “Our children must never lose their zest for building a better world. They must not be discouraged from aspiring towards greatness, for they are to be the leaders of tomorrow.”

Byron Garrett is among the speakers at the 3rd Annual Scholastic FACE Symposium running Sept. 29-Oct. 1. Several talks from the symposium will be livestreamed here, including Dr. Karen Mapp of the Harvard Graduate School of Education (8 a.m. on Monday the 30th) and Ralph Smith of the Annie E. Casey Foundation (11:45 a.m. on Monday the 30th). We invite you to listen in and join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #ScholasticFACE.


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