Category Archives: Warm-up Activities

Visual Thinking

I’m kind of a New York Times (NYT) junkie. A few years ago, we bought a subscription to the Sunday Times at home, which additionally provided us unlimited digital access. I signed up for news alerts and a few news digests, like “Education” and “Tests and Assessments,” so I’m sent short abstracts of articles that pertain to those categories.

It was in one of these digests, recently, that I encountered the headline: “40 Intriguing Photos to Make Students Think.” Not the catchiest of titles, but the photo accompanying it piqued my interest:screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-9-27-02-pmSo, I clicked. That’s where I was reminded of another great service The Times offers: The Learning Network. In essence, they deliver education resources like lesson plans, news quizzes and the like all based on NYT articles, photos, graphics and more. Better yet, you can access the Network’s many features without a digital subscription.

Back to what brought me to The Learning Network in the first place: the above picture. It’s part of a weekly feature called, “What’s Going On in This Picture?” Readers are asked three standard questions about a visual text:

  • What’s going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can you find?

Then, they are encouraged to acutely observe (a.k.a. closely read) the image, find evidence, and post and respond to comments of others online. Partners, Visual Thinking Strategies facilitate the online discussion Mondays between 9a – 2p Eastern Time (6a-11a Pacific). On Thursday afternoons, Learning Network writers reveal a caption and backstory below the photo on the site.  Check out this week’s photo below (week of October 17):


As for classroom applications, I immediately thought of a warm-up. Whether you participate live through the Learning Network or want to spark an in-class dialog, there are images that relate to nearly any subject are. Five minutes at the beginning of class is plenty to take in the photo and respond, turn to a partner and compare perceptions. Cogs are turning, awareness is heightened and students are engaged in analysis–great practice for getting into the day’s content. And, what a great way to build a community of inquiry, teacher included!

In 21st Century literacy, when we hear or say text, we need to be mindful of the myriad forms that word may conjure. Our students are consuming these many texts in record numbers, daily. Teaching the tools to become informed about what they consume doesn’t get more real.



Plickers: An Engaging Formative Assessment Tool

I was at a Digital Technology workshop earlier in the week, and I was pleased to hear the presenter talk about technology as a vehicle through which to engage students and support learning, not as a learning outcome itself. In fact, a mantra we heard frequently throughout the morning really hit home for me: It’s not about tech; it’s about learning.”

It's not about the tech; it's about the learning.

It’s not about the tech; it’s about the learning.

I can’t remember the first time I was introduced to Plickers, but I do remember the first time I actively used it; that was just a few weeks ago, as we were introducing Professional Learning Teams to three of our middle school staffs that would be collaborating across school sites. Plickers is a formative assessment tech tool. Using Plickers to pose questions and record live responses would both engage our “students” and support their learning, just what we’d hope could be replicated by teachers in their own classes. The tech tool simply enhanced what we might have done with paper and pencil. But, the more opportunities we have to purposefully and effectively integrate technology for students, the more opportunities we have for buy-in from various stakeholders.

This tool is free, easy to prep, and effective. It can be used in any content area to “take the temperature” of a class on their understanding of a concept, their perception of a theory, or their progress on a task, for example. It has its limits; you can’t ask a constructed response question with it and have a means for quick feedback, but it has a place in the assessment toolbox.

Click on the video below to get a feel for what Plickers is and how it works, then try it for yourself! After you do, drop us a note in the “Leave a Reply” box below this post, so we can all benefit from your pilot!

Warming-up: Just do it

As I age, I’ve noticed that warming up before exercise is becoming more and more important. Walking a couple of blocks before I start jogging really does help me get my body and mind ready for the task ahead and avoid injury. When I think about applying the metaphor to school, it makes sense: I may not get “injured” in the academic aerobics in which I participate, but it’s certainly helpful to take a bit of time to reset and remember, before engaging in new learning. Thus, whether anticipating physical or mental exercise, I am a proponent of warm-ups.  Like preparing myself for a run, I find them to be a way of refocusing my students’ minds on math during the first five minutes of the period.  The key word in that sentence is “five.”  Unless I set a timer for myself, that five minutes can easily turn into 10 or 12. Like when I run, if I don’t push a little harder, my progress is going to be slow.

Forty-five minute class periods do not allow teachers to be as effective as we would like to be with our students.  When trying to figure out how to structure that precious time, we have to think hard about what which pieces have the greatest impact on student learning.  One piece that is often under fire is the daily warm-up; I’m here to remind you: it’s worthy!

...but warm-ups are!

…but warm-ups are!

Beyond using warm-ups to review the concepts of the previous day and/or to preview the day’s upcoming lesson, Jessica Bogie a high school level Geometry and 6th grade math teacher (and blogger – Algebrainiac),  proposes that warm-ups are good for conversation about math ideas – a worthy idea! Jessica hosted an episode on  Global Math called Warm-ups = What Are They Good For? .    She suggests a two-week rotating schedule of warm-ups:

Two-week warm-up rotation idea.

Two-week warm-up rotation idea.

I’ve blogged before about my love for Estimation 180 here and here  and Would you Rather here, so I was happy to see both in her 10-day rotating schedule.  I love the Visual Patterns site and Math Mistakes well and will likely blog about them in the future.

With much buzz about Carol Dweck’s Mindset theory applying in education, having a Mindset Moment Monday every month is  a great way to continue the conversation all year.  Check out the list of short videos that Marisa from the blog, La Vie Mathématique, posted on the topic.

Another warm-ups resource Jessica mentions, is Lisa Bejarano’s Filing Cabinet of Warm-ups on the Crazy Math Teacher Lady blog.  Lisa teaches Geometry and blogs about the lessons she teaches. This list repeats some sources I’ve listed but offers new ones as well.

So, praise be to warm-ups; just as physical ones get our bodies ready for the exertion of exercise, these mental ones get our minds ready for the hard work of learning!

Growing our mindset

Embracing challenges vs. avoiding them; expending effort vs. settling into complacency; learning from vs. avoiding feedback. These contrary actions describe the differences between Growth and Fixed Mindset.  Growth Mindset is becoming a popular initiative of teachers and teacher leaders around the United States and the United Kingdom. If you’ve not read  Mindset by Carol Dweck, I highly recommend it.  A quick read, it’s impactful on many levels–as an educator, partner, parent, coach, and the like.  The book, accompanied by an Educational Psychology class I took almost two years ago that discussed the Power of Yet and How We Learn, has my mind spinning about how we can help our students succeed. First, we need to believe our students can succeed.  And second, our students need to believe they can succeed.

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 10.06.55 AM

There are many resources I’ve looked at over the last year or two that have continued to give me insight into the importance of growth mindset. The following are three of the resources that I find exceptionally valuable:

  1.  Jo Boaler’s YouCubed  website is the first.  She has short video snippets that can be shown to students to help explain how their brains learn, why mistakes help fire the synapses in the brain, and the plasticity potential of the brain. Her website also include tasks, research, and a Mooc for students with 6 sessions on How to Learn Math.
Short Video Snipit from YouCubed about the Black Cab drivers in London.

Short video snippet from youcubed about the Black Cab drivers in London.

2.  Marissa of La Vie Mathematique shows a video (see example below) from her Mindset Moment List  once or twice a month as a warm-up to spark conversations about having a Growth Mindset. She sees value in connecting traits like perseverance, effort, and educational risk-taking to all students, regardless of content area.

Kid President with a Pep Talk

Kid President with a Pep Talk

3.  Mike Mann from Dexter McCarty shared an extensive list of resources on a google doc  last year.  In it, are  articles and videos lending themselves to close reading/viewing techniques, as well as graphics to post in your room.

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 10.19.38 AM

I would love to hear what are you doing in your classroom to help develop a growth mindset in your students.

Number Sense: I don’t like this game anymore

I have a twitter account.  I don’t tweet much, but I do follow a fair number of those who do. One of those I follow is Andrew Stadel.  I have posted about him before; he’s the one who started Estimation 180, an engaging website that helps students improve their number sense (NS). Interestingly, NS is difficult to put your finger on, so after consulting several sources, I’ve landed on an intuitive understanding of numbers, their uses, interpretations, magnitude, and relationships. Definitely a needed area of growth for our students.

Estimation 180 is an activity to deliver Generating a Hypotheses,  one of the high-probability instructional strategies Marzano and Hattie reference. According to their research, the process of explaining students’ thinking helps to cement their understanding.  In Estimation 180, students are asked to explain how their observations of an image (height, weight, length, etc.) supports their estimation.  The discourse around their observations and reasoning has some rich potential.

Example of what students would see.Stadel presented an IGNITE talk called Number Sense: I Don’t Like this Game Anymore during the California Math Council North Conference in December 2013.  In an IGNITE Talk, each speaker gets five minutes and 20 slides that advance automatically every 15 seconds to teach, enlighten, or inspire the crowd.  In Stadel’s talk, he explains how he uses Estimation 180 in his classroom.  Rather than try to paraphrase him, when you can take 5 minutes, check out his video.

BTW:  Andrew Stadel will be at the NW Regional Math Conference  presenting a workshop titled, “Modeling Mathematics Using Problem-Solving Tasks”  on Friday, October 10 from 12:00 – 1:30. The Conference is also holding a tweet-up on Friday at 6:00pm in the lobby of the hotel and an IGNITE on Friday at 7:00pm featuring 10 speakers.  I’ll be there.  Look for my tweets!


Estimation 180: Improving Number Sense

In October of 2012, Andrew Stadel, a middle school math teacher, created a website called Estimation 180, with the goal of helping his students improve their number sense. Andrew considers estimating key to developing number sense and reason (we are inclined to agree). He teaches Pre-algebra, Algebra and Geometry, so his estimation challenges are not limited to a specific grade level.

Every day, Andrew gives his students an estimation challenge around a theme.  He reveals a picture of an object, and students make an estimate about the object’s height, weight, or other measurement.  Each chooses a number that is too high, one that is too low, and finally their estimate, allowing ALL students entry into the challenge. In addition, he asks his students for their reasoning, a great way to explicitly teach – and for students to engage in – Math Practice #3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.   There is potential for some great math talk here.

Estimation Challenge - Day 1

Estimation Challenge – Day 1

He’s also created a worksheet for students to keep track of their estimates, their reasoning, and their error percentage.  It is a great way for students to track their own progress (a research-based strategy with a high effect size).

As an engaging extension, students and classes can submit their estimates right on the webpage, compare them to participants outside of their classroom, and see the reasoning behind others’ estimates.

Estimation Challenge – Day 53

Andrew has recently added a tab with lessons ranging from 4th – 8th grade that are focused on a particular Common Core Standard. His infamous File Cabinet task (picture below) is among those lessons he is sharing.   A fan of 3-act tasks, Andrew cleaned up many of those found in his original 3-act catalogue, tagged them with Common Core Standards, and now includes handouts to go with the lessons.

File Cabinet Task

Act 1 of the File Cabinet Task

When we think of someone who walks the walk with regard to what it means to teach with the math practices in mind, Andrew Stadel is one who comes to mind. He incorporates student collaboration and problem-solving into his lessons while balancing the need for individual think-time and accountability.

You’ll find Estimation 180, as well as a link to Andrew’s blog, Divisible by 3 on our Math Symbaloo. The math half of us would LOVE to model this in your classroom.

 We encourage your comments.

Learnin’ a zillion ways: a website resource

Happy New Year!

The best part of school is seeing your friends.  Isn’t that what kids say?  We think it is true.  Knowing that we get to see you all made our first day back bearable!

Looking through the email list of blogs and newsletters that have accumulated since December 21, the ones that jumped out were several received from LearnZillion.

LearnZillion is a website full of whiteboard video lessons that are matched to the Common Core Standards (CCSS) for Math and ELA. Many of the ELA lessons, especially in reading informational text can be adapted to social science and science, and the reading strategies modeled are effective for ALL.  You need to create an account (free!) and then start searching.  Not every standard is complete. This website is a work in progress, which is understandable considering the CCSS are relatively new.

Use the categories at the top – Math Courses, ELA Courses, Common Core Navigator – to help search for specific standard focused lessons.  Incidentally, a “course” is basically a series of lessons, each ranging from about 4-9 minutes, based on grade level/complexity. Once you’ve selected a series of videos, there is a chance you will have access to guided practice, slides, assessments, and sometimes even a Spanish video lesson.  Look in the right hand column to see what is available for that particular video.

LearnZillion also allows you to set up a class and monitor the progress of students.  We’re not sure how this compares to IXL, but it is free, and free is a very good price!

The videos are created by select teachers who are paid to make them in the summer.  In fact, if you are interested, they are accepting applications now through February 9 for a 2014 Dream Team to create more videos.

There are many ways to use LearnZillion.  Some might use it as a review to start class, or as an introduction to the next lesson.  Maybe it could be used for a student who was absent.  Some of you have “flipped” your classroom; these videos may be a helpful addition to that model.  Check out the article titled 9 Ways to Use LearnZillion in the Classroom for more ideas.

Below are some applicable lessons you may choose to use:


6.EE.8 (Write and graph inequalitites)

7.G.6 (Surface area of prisms)

8.EE.8 (Systems by substitution)

S.ID.6 (Scatterplots)

G.GPE.4 (Rectangles on coordinate plane)


8.RI.1, 2, 4, 10 (previewing a text, chunking, and visualization, among others with a Science focused article)

11-12.RI.1, 3, 4, 6, 8 (author’s purpose, identifying tone, and analyzing rhetoric, among others with a Social Studies focused article)

Happy Learnin’!