Monthly Archives: September 2011

More Than “Just Numbers” – Math Success: The Cognitive Ingredients

More Than “Just Numbers” – Math Success: The Cognitive Ingredients

A friend came over the other night for a little wine and cheese.
Eventually (as so happens every once in a while with friends) the discussion turned to education in general, and then to her daughter in particular.

“Zoe” (a successful, energetic mother of two) started to talk about her youngest child who is have a tough time in her Grade 4 Math class.

“She (“Petra”) just doesn’t seem to get it ,” Zoe began to say, “…. and I’m worried because she’s starting to think that she’s dumb.”
Ugh … It’s bad enough when a child struggles in school – but when it starts to affect his/her self-esteem – well, that’s when things can get really “ugly”.
Now I know Petra … and she certainly doesn’t present as a child who would struggle with anything. Petra is in fact a chatty, upbeat, athletic, avid reader who has always enjoyed school.
I asked Zoe whether she had talked to her child’s teacher about this. When the answer was “no” I informed my friend that at least we knew where to start.

I told Zoe that the first step ought to be a conference with Petra’s teacher — and off of the top of my head I could think of three really good reasons as to why. First of all, teachers want to work in partnership with parents to ensure for school success – academic, social and emotional. Secondly, teachers are trained professionals. We want to use what we have learned (and what we are learning) to make sure that our children have positive and progressive experiences in our classrooms – our home for the year. Lastly, we are human. Yup … go figure: We don’t like to see any child struggle or feel badly. It breaks my heart and selfishly makes me feel as though I’m not good at what I do. (I am for example, always second guessing myself … it’s not a good feeling, but I have learned to accept this part of my personality and “roll with it”.)

I went on to explain to Zoe’s mum that Math is much more than “numbers & calculations”. There are heavy attention, memory, language, etc. components. Furthermore, I wanted her to understand the complexity of Math, and that while Petra may require additional support in some areas/strands of Math (e.g. Number Sense & Numeration) she may well excel in others (e.g. Geometry & Spatial Sense). Only time would tell.
In the meantime is was about time to speak with her teacher.

This got me thinking: What are some of the necessary cognitive abilities for learning in Math?
Here’s what I came up with. I am going to share this with Zoe today over date scones and tea!


Some of the Cognitive Abilities (& a couple of other things thrown in for good measure) Associated Understanding & Achieving Math Success in the Classroom:

1. Attention

2. All of the “Memories”:
Short Term & Longer Term Memory
Working Memory
Auditory Memory
Sensory Memory
Semantic Memory
Memory for Math Facts
Procedural Memory
Memory for Rules
Pattern Recognition

3. Language Skills (Math has a heavy language component):
Language processing
Verbal Expression
Understanding Vocabulary

4. Nonverbal Skills / Abstract & Spatial-Temporal Reasoning:
The ability to recognize sequential organization
The ability to recognize visual information and relationships
The ability to recognize spatial patterns and manipulate them mentally
The ability to recognize and remember visual sequences as well as cause and effect
Symbolic Thinking

…. & as with anything: The willingness to take risks

“See – Say – Sign – Share” – A Whole Class Memory Strategy

“See – Say – Sign – Share”:
“Cheer/Chants”- A Whole Class Memory Strategy

If you were a fly on my classroom wall you would at times walk in to see children performing “Cheer/Chants” in order to memorize/further engrain strategies, steps or information.

Cheer/Chants are great because students are involved in the creative component of the process and therefore feel a sense of ownership (they are also more likely to remember what has been taught/practiced as a result).

& so in a nut shell here are the steps.

Enjoy & have fun!

“See – Say – Sign – Share”:
“Cheer/Chants”- A Whole Class Memory Strategy

1. See –  See the teacher deliver a lesson e.g. How to read numbers in the billions. How to perform long division. The States of matter & change. Engage in hands on activities as relates to the topic. Explore, play and ensure for understanding.

2. See the teacher lay out the information or steps in point form.

3. Say – See & say the steps along with the teacher. Repeat several times. Have fun with it. Be enthusiastic. Again, ensure for understanding.

4. Sign – As a group create actions (movements, sign language, etc.) to accompany the steps or information – think “1/2 American Sign Language, 1/2 Cheer Leader”.

5.Say & Sign – Now say the steps and perform the actions as a class – super fun!

6. Share – Shout “1-2-3-Share!” and have students turn to a preassigned buddy to share (explain) what they have learned.

*P.S. This process will of course take place over the course of several class periods.

A Quick Blog & List For Teachers: Organizational Ideas & Strategies in the Classroom

A Quick Blog & List For Teachers: Organizational Ideas & Strategies in the Classroom

If you were a fly on my classroom wall you would see that I spend a significant amount of time focussed on teaching organizational skills and on creating an organized environment.  
I hope that you find the following list useful. Take from it what you will .. & I would love to hear ideas and strategies from other!


A Quick List: Organizational Ideas & Strategies in the Classroom

  1. Teach student how to organize their “world” (e.g. books, desks, lockers, homework, etc.) – don’t assume that they know how. Reinforce strategies daily.
  2. As the teacher show that you value organization.
  3. Model an organized “way” & classroom – model strategies.
  4. Set high/consistent standards for organization.
  5. Have firmly established rules, routines and schedules – post them in a highly visible place.
  6. Post a class calendar for all to see.
  7. Post all homework & due dates.
  8. First thing every morning have students hand in their homework & place a ruler, pencil, eraser and a highlighter on their desks before heading out for morning recess.
  9. Prepare for the next class (e.g. books, binders, pencils on desks) before heading out for recess, music, Library, etc.
  10. Have a place for everything & keep everything in its place.
  11. Colour code duotangs and binders.
  12. Pool resources (e.g. paper, binders, pencils, etc.) and hand out as needed.
  13. Use cutlery trays from the dollar store to organize writing utensils, glue sticks, scissors, etc. in desks.
  14. Conduct regular binder and desk checks.
  15. Use dividers and folders.
  16. Provide students with agendas (& teach them how to use them effectively) within which to record homework, assignment due dates, tests, any special days at school, etc.
  17. Ensure that students have homework buddy – someone to call in a pinch.
  18. Remind children not to rush – take the time to do things well the first time.
  19. Help students break assignments down into manageable units.
  20. Teach students to use highlighters & post-it notes effectively.
  21. Teach homework and study strategies.
  22. Schedule in a time to “organize” at the end of every day.
  23. Never “rush”.
  24. Be mindful.
  25. Make organization a habit.