Ideas for Keeping the Math Fresh in Students’ Minds

The end of the year is often a time for reviewing the math learned throughout the year, whether to prepare for state tests, final exams or cumulative projects, or just to fill the days after testing is done.  However, I have come to see how important it is to review all year long and not just wait until the end.

My first year teaching, my students seemed very receptive to my lessons, seemed to grasp the concepts, and did well on the tests I gave them after each chapter.  However, I was surprised and disappointed in the standardized test scores of some of my best students.  I realized that the problem was that once we finished a chapter and moved on to the next chapter, they never saw the material from that first chapter again and so by the time standardized tests came around they had forgotten some of the things that they used to know really well.  I learned from that experience and have since incorporated various ways to keep the math fresh throughout the year:

keeping math fresh

  • I know different teachers have different opinions on calculator usage, but my personal feeling is that once students prove that they can do something by hand, I allow them to use calculators so that they aren’t spending too much time on the computational aspect of a complex problem. However, I don’t want them to forget how to do problems by hand, so once a week I give them a “no calculator review” in place of my traditional “do now” questions.  They usually cover topics like fraction, decimal, integer, & rational number operations.  (You can read more about my No Calculator Reviews in this post).
  • After each chapter test, I give my students a cumulative review that I count as a quiz grade. It covers things from all previous units that we covered.  Students know that the cumulative quiz is coming so they know that they can’t just forget the material after they learn it.  Sometimes I allow students to use their notes for the cumulative quiz or give it as a take-home quiz, but most of the time I give it as a traditional quiz.  Not only does this encourage students to (hopefully) retain the math they are learning, but it shows me if there are particular concepts that a lot of students seem to have forgotten that I may need to revisit.
  • This is, in my opinion, the most important strategy. I give my students problems and ask them questions that require them to use skills learned previously in the year.  It is so important for students to see connections between the different units they learn, so any time I can incorporate an “old” skill/concept into a “new” one is a win in my book!  Here’s an example of a task card I made for a lesson on finding the area & perimeter of irregular figures that requires students to use previously learned skills:

irregular figure

To find the perimeter students need to use the Pythagorean Theorem and to find the area & perimeter students need to perform operations with mixed numbers, so this one problem reinforces a couple of different skills learned throughout the year.  Giving students lots of problems like this makes it virtually impossible for them to forget the math they learned earlier in the year since they are constantly using it.

 

I hope this gave you some ideas for helping students keep the math fresh!  If you are looking for ways to keep it fresh over summer break or just need a good end of year review packet, I have math review packets for students going from 5th to 6th grade, 6th to 7th grade, 7th to 8th grade, and pre-algebra to algebra I in my tpt store for $4 each.    Each packet contains detailed explanations of how to do the various types of problems, worked-out examples (showing each step), and 100 practice problems.  Click the pictures below for more information on each packet.

Slide1 math review packet new cover math review packet for 7th-8th grade pic1 Slide1

 

Thanks for reading,

Christina

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Studying for Math Tests

studying for math tests

One of the comments I hear year after year from students and their parents alike is “you can’t study for math – you either know it or you don’t”.  After hearing that comment over and over again I decided a couple of years ago to address that misconception at the very beginning of the year before I have to hear it!  I like to give my students several different ideas for how they can prepare for my tests and quizzes the first week of school.  On back to school night (which is 2-3 weeks into the school year for me), I go over that same list of ideas with the parents.

My plan this year is to print out the following list on half-sheets of paper and have the students glue it into their notebooks on one of the first days of class.  Here is my list:

  • Study the vocabulary words.  This can be done in many ways and you can use the same techniques you use to study vocabulary words for any subject (i.e. index cards).  It is important to keep in mind, though, that simply memorizing definitions is not enough.  I will rarely ask you to define a word on a test.  I am much more likely to ask questions that require you to use the vocabulary words to demonstrate your understanding rather than your memorization. 
  • Reread your notes.  Look over the example problems from both your notes and the textbook to refresh your memory on how to solve the problems.  Then “teach” your parents or friends how to do a particular type of problem by describing the process or steps to take to solve it.  If you are able to successfully explain how to solve a problem to someone else, then you must have a good understanding of that topic!
  • Most importantly, try some problems!  The only way you will know if you really understand the material is by trying to solve problems.  Find problems that you have already completed and corrected and solve them without looking at your answer.  Then check to see if you get the correct answer.  Your textbook has the answers to some of the problems in the back of the book.  Try those problems, too, and then check your answers.  You can also find practice problems on the textbook website.  Once you check your answers, if they are incorrect you need to retry the problem.  If you still can not get the correct answer, ask for help.  This is, by far, the most effective way to study for math tests.  The more problems you solve successfully, the more prepared you will be for the test or quiz!

 

I always reinforce the idea that these are just suggestions and that there are other ways to study math, as well, but I try to emphasize that no matter what other techniques they use they really do need to try problems.  (I also kind of “force” them to try problems by assigning a practice test for homework two nights before a test because I know that no matter how many times I say it there will always be students who choose not to study!)

 

How do you get your students to study/prepare for your tests and quizzes?

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Test Prep: Doesn’t Have to Be a Big Deal

test prep

Let me start by stating for the record that I HATE STANDARDIZED TESTS!

Growing up I didn’t mind them at all.  I didn’t find them stressful and I always did extremely well on them.  I didn’t start hating standardized tests until I did my Junior Field Experience at a “struggling” middle school that had to bring up their test scores.  There was a huge emphasis placed on preparing for the tests at that school by taking practice tests and having students begin each class by working on pages from their big test prep packets.  I HATED those test prep packets and swore that I would never “teach to the test” when I became a teacher.

Two years later, when I had my own classroom, I did absolutely nothing to prepare my students for the standardized tests they had to take.  I was convinced that my daily lessons would be enough to prepare the students for the test and that they would do fantastic on the test even without any kind of test prep.  My students did okay on their standardized tests that year.  For the most part, their scores were pretty consistent with their scores from the previous years – some went up slightly and others went down slightly.  They definitely weren’t bad, but they weren’t wonderful, either, which disappointed me.

My second year teaching, my school got a new principal who was obsessed with standardized tests.  We had to give our students practice tests, complete test prep books, and complete online test prep programs.  There had to be some form of test prep in my lesson plans each and every day.  My students did extremely well on the standardized tests that year, but I found the year extremely stressful for me as a teacher and for my students, as well.

My third year teaching, my school got yet another new principal, who did away with the practice tests, online test prep, and book test prep.  I was relieved, but at the same time I didn’t want my students’ scores to go down.  I realized that there needed to be a balance between doing nothing to prepare for tests and focusing solely on the tests.  What I decided to do was spend a little bit of time each week simply reviewing old skills.

I begin every class period with a “do now”.  My “do nows” are typically two questions based on the previous day’s lesson.  What I decided to do my 3rd year in the classroom, was change my Monday “do nows” to review questions.  I call my Monday “do nows” “no calculator reviews” (or NCRs).  I put up 6 questions that review old skills on my interactive whiteboard for the students to complete (obviously) without a calculator.  I let them look back in their notebooks to refresh their memory on how to do the problems and sometimes let them work with a partner.  The idea is just to get the students to remember how to do skills that they learned earlier in the year.  I typically give them about 10 minutes to do the problems and then we review them.  I then move on to the day’s lesson.  Below is an example of one of my 6th grade NCRs.

no calculator review

My students did as well on their standardized tests the year that I started doing NCRs as they did the year that was focused solely on test prep, so I know that they are working.  I am not stressed and my students are not stressed.  In fact, they don’t even realize that their weekly NCRs relate to the standardized tests that they will be taking.  It’s easy, quick, and effective…I love it!

Thanks for reading,

Christina

 

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