How an award-winning teacher uses an app and camera phone to reinforce good math skills

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Nicholas Garcia

Looking to step up your technology game in the classroom, teachers?


Check out all the cool apps and software Carolyn Jordan, a teacher at Normandy Elementary in Littleton, uses in hers. (Tease: One involves a camera phone, math and parents).

Jordan was among a group of educators recently honored as part of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Along with receiving $10,000, she was given the opportunity to fill out our new How I Teach questionnaire. Here’s what she had to say …

School: Normandy Elementary

Current subject/grade: 4th grade, including an Advanced Math class

One word or short phrase you use to describe your teaching style: Engaging, multi-sensory story-teller

What’s your morning routine like when you first arrive at school?
I review the learning objectives for the day and think, ‘How will my students learn what is presented? What is the best way for them to receive the information, practice it, and share out what they have learned?’ This is done for each subject, so no lesson goes by without a pause, or reflection, before it is implemented. Being prepared for your lesson is key. Then the fun begins when the students take it further than you imagined and you allow them the time to investigate more.

What does your classroom look like?

My classroom has calm colors, superhero decorations (because we all have our unique super powers), areas for partner works, a quiet reading corner, and is visually engaging with sentence starters and helpful tips. There are tall desks for kids who like to wiggle, pillows for floor choice, stools for others and rocking chairs as needed. There are five computers, students’ weekly jobs and independence to move in the room as needed.

What apps/software/tools can’t you teach without? Why?
My Smart Board (an interactive whiteboard) and Doc Camera (a fancy overhead projector) are used for almost every lesson. Zooming in and showing big-size is important, and interacting with Smartboard lessons allows students to be engaged. I love This allows me to take photos and video of students in class, and send them to their parents in a secure way. Parents are only able to see what is specifically linked to their child, and they can comment and praise their child. I shift the role of photographer/videographer to the students, and they are in control of showing their parents how they solve a math problem, or read to the camera their latest narrative story. The parents love this. I use MobyMax, SpellingCity, for skills practice. And often go to Plickers and Kahoot! for quick class check-ins.

How do you plan your lessons?
It is a process. I take notes on what learning objectives need to be covered, then I brainstorm resources to implement the lessons. Sometimes it’s manipulatives for math, or a sorting activity for spelling. It can also be small group work on brainstorming how to approach a problem-solving activity. Knowing the desired outcome is the first step, and then backwards plan to meet the goal of mastery.

What qualities make an ideal lesson?
I was taught the Madeline Hunter Method of lesson planning. It is still very similar 23 years later. You need to start and present the “What they are learning,” the “Why it is important,” and “How you know you will have learned it.” The modeling and check for understanding can be done by the teacher or student. Having the students talk is so important, so by sharing with each other what they already know, it lets the experts in the room already share their knowledge. The lesson also needs to be engaging. Kids need to participate in the learning, not just be receivers of information. Games, acting, drawing, watching, moving, elbow-partner sharing….all need to be involved. Students are not cookie-cutter images. They all have different needs and ways to learn. So during your school day, have you taught in a variety of ways so that each child is reached?

How do you respond when a student doesn’t understand your lesson?
I love when kids ask questions. When they are needing support, that clues me in that I need to share the information differently so that child can access the information in “their language.” Having another student re-teach the info, or share it in their own words, is more effective than my broken record playing over and over again. Using drawings and concept maps really help cement the concepts

What is your go-to trick to re-engage a student who has lost focus?
I will walk near them, place my hand on their shoulder, or come by and tap on their desk. I find that my voice is not effective. They easily tune me out, so I need to be creative. I tend to sing, chant, clap, or interrupt the class with a brain break, if I need to get students back on track.

How do you maintain communication with the parents?
I love sharing information with my parents. I use email, my website, and the SeeSaw app. I also write notes in the student planners, which parents sign nightly. Communication with parents includes due dates, and homework, but more importantly, it is about what learning is happening in our room and the emotional well-being of the class as a whole.

What hacks or tricks do you use to grade papers?
I try to narrow the focus to one or two items to grade. For example, with writing, I ask the students to puts a star next to the paragraph they want me to grade. This way, I can quickly give feedback on one item, instead of needing to provide feedback for the entire piece of writing.

What are you reading for enjoyment?
I am re-reading the Outlander series, by Diana Gabaldon. Since STARZ has a TV series mirroring the books, it is great to dive back into the stories.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
Praise openly and often. Discipline privately. And love them up like you would if they were your own.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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