Category Archives: Connections to Prior Knowledge

Retaining Information

Below is a model for information processing (retention and retrieval). Here are a couple key points I want to highlight:

  • A lot of information is filtered out so what gets through? Information that is interesting or relevant.
  • Information that is connected to prior knowledge, is relevant or that is organized has a better change of being stored effectively for retrieval.
  • Working memory has a limited capacity. Consider what happens to your computer when you have a lot of apps open. Your computer may start to buffer which is basically what happens to our kiddos if instruction involves opening too many apps in their brains.
  • Long term memory is basically retrieval of information. Think a student’s book bag with a ton of papers crammed in it. How well can he or she find homework? Compare this to a well maintained file cabinet that has a folder labeled homework with the homework assignment in question stored in this folder. That paper is much easier to retrieve. This is analogous to long-term memory. If the information is relevant or meaningful it will be stored in the file cabinet folder and more easily retrieved. In contrast, rote memorization like the rules teachers present students are papers crammed into an overflowing bookbag.

Information Processing.jpg

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Introduction to Solving Equations

I introduce solving equations by building off of the visual presentation used to introduce equations. The two photos below show an example of handouts I use. Below these two photos I offer an explanation of how I use these handouts.

intro to solving equations

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First I develop an understanding of a balanced equation vis-a-vis an unbalance equation using the seesaw representation.intro to equations balanced vs unbalanced

I then explain that the same number of guys must be removed from both sides to keep the seesaw balanced.

intro to solving equations balance and unbalanced

I then apply the subtraction shown above to show how the box (containing an unknown number of guys) is isolated. I explain that the isolated box represents a solution and that getting the box by itself is called solving.

intro to solving equations adding

I use a scaffolded handout to flesh out the “mathy” steps. This would be followed by a regular worksheet.

solving 1 step equations add scaffolded

I extend the solving method using division when there are multiple boxes. I introduce the division by explaining how dividing a Snickers bar results in 2 equal parts. When the boxes are divided I explain both boxes have the same number of guys.intro to solving equations multiplying

The students are then provided a scaffolded handout followed by a regular worksheet.solving 1 step equations multiply scaffolded

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Trick for subtracting integers

I have algebra students, in high school and college, who struggle with evaluating expressions like 2 – 5.  This is a ubiquitous problem.

2-5 problem

I have tried several strategies and the one that is easily the most effective is shown below. When a student is stuck on 2 – 5 the following routine plays out like this consistently.

  • Me: “What is 5 – 2?”
  • Student pauses for a moment, “3”
  • Me: “So what is 2 – 5?”
  • Student pauses, “-3?”
  • Me: Yes!

5-2

I implemented this approach because it ties into their prior knowledge of 5 – 2. It also prompts them to analyze the situation – do some thinking.

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Example of Using Support Class to Support Current Math Content

I have posted on how to effectively provide support for current math topics. Here is an example (below) of how support can focus on both the current topic and prerequisite skills.

For example, on the 22nd in this calendar the current topic is solving equations. The steps for solving will include simplifying expressions and may involve integers. The support class can address the concept of equations, simplifying and integers which are all prerequisite skills from prior work in math.

examples of support class prerequisites

This approach allows for alignment between support and the current curriculum and avoids a situation in which the support class presents as an entirely different math class. For example, I recently encountered a situation in which the support class covered fractions but the work in the general ed classroom involved equations. Yes, equations can have fractions but often they do not and the concepts and skills associated with the steps for solving do not inherently involve fractions.

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Basic Skills Older Students

A widespread problem at the secondary level is addressing basic skills deficiencies – gaps from elementary school. For example, I often encounter students in algebra 1 or even higher level math who cannot compute problems like 5÷2. Often the challenges arise from learned helplessness developed over time.

How do we address this in the time allotted to teach a full secondary level math course? We cannot devote class instruction time to teach division and decimals. If we simply allow calculator use we continue to reinforce the learned helplessness.

I offer a 2 part suggestion.

  1. Periodically use chunks of class time allocated for differentiation. I provide a manilla folder to each student (below left) with an individualized agenda (below right, which shows 3 s agendas with names redacted at the top). Students identified through assessment as having deficits in basic skills can be provided related instruction, as scheduled in their agenda. Other students can work on identified gaps in the current course or work on SAT problems or other enrichment type of activities.
  2. Provide instruction on basic skills that is meaningful and is also provided in a timely fashion. For example, I had an algebra 2 student who had to compute 5÷2 in a problem and immediately reached for his calculator. I stopped him and presented the following on the board (below). In a 30 second conversation he quickly computed 4 ÷ 2 and then 1 ÷ 2. He appeared to understand the answer and this was largely because it was in a context he intuitively understood. This also provided him immediate feedback on how to address his deficit (likely partially a learned behavior). The initial instruction in a differentiation setting would be similar.

2018-12-20 11.20.25

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Introduction to Imaginary Numbers

The topic of imaginary numbers is one of the most abstract and therefore difficult math topics to teach in algebra. Here is how I introduce it to students (emphasis that this is only an introduction).

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I write 1, 2, 3… on the board (see photo above) and explain to the student “at some point in life you learned to count on your fingers, 1, 2, 3…” These are called the Natural numbers.

toddler counting

Then I explain, “later you were told that no cookies means ZERO cookies. Zero is a new type of number. We call 0, 1, 2, 3… the Whole numbers. You learned a new type of number.”

This continues, “A little later on you were told you could have half a cookie and so you learned about a new type of numbers called fractions.”

This continues with negatives. Then I explain that all these number types can be found on the number line. We call the set of all of these numbers Real Numbers.

I conclude with “Now we have a new type of numbers that are not found on the number line. These are called imaginary numbers. Just like before you had number types you had before and now you have a new one to learn.”

The point of this approach is to help the students understand that a new number set simply builds on previous number sets. Also, the students have encountered this situation before.

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Juggling Gaps and New Content

In math, many students with special needs fall behind. What results is a Catch-22 in programming and services. If the student is provided extra time to work on the gaps, he or she likely falls behind with current content. If the student is provided extra time to receive support for current topics, the gaps are not addressed

In both cases the extra support time can actually be counterproductive.

  • The focus on gaps likely results in the student working on different math topics which in effect means the student has TWO math classes – just what a student with math anxiety doesn’t need.
  • The focus on current topics means the student is trying to learn math topics for which he or she doesn’t have the prerequisite skills needed.

I recommend identifying the prerequisite skills for a current math topic and address ing these skills concurrently in math support or during the summer. For example, I used a Common Core coherence map (top photo below) to identify Common Core prerequisite standards for the standards a student faces in her upcoming school year. Then I listed these with each grade level standard (bottom photo below). The prerequisite skills can be identified using a task analysis approach as well. Screenshot 2018-06-12 at 6.03.52 AMScreenshot 2018-06-12 at 5.45.22 AM

This approach allows for a systematic approach to fill in gaps and to prioritize when they are to be addressed. When implemented effectively, the student can see the immediate benefit of the support time – it helps them in math class. Even better, the support teacher can match instruction and work with what is covered in math class.

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Congruent Triangles

Screenshot 2017-12-13 at 8.45.06 AM

As Piaget highlighted, our brains make connections between new information and previous information (prior knowledge). I introduce the concept of congruent triangles by connecting it to prior knowledge of identical twins (photo above).

This connection is carried throughout the chapter. For example, to show triangles are congruent we look at parts of the triangle, just as we can look at shoe size, pants size and height of 2 people to determine if they are twins (see photo below).

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Function Notation for Algebra

Below is a video of a lesson I recorded on function notation using the Explain Everything app. The lesson starts by addressing the concept of function notation by connecting it to the use of the notation “Dr.” as in Dr. Nick of Simpson’s fame. The lesson builds on prior knowledge throughout with a focus on color coding and multiple representations.

This videos shows an instructional approach to teaching function notation and concepts in general and video lessons can be used for students who miss class or who need differentiation.

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Function Notation

Screenshot 2017-11-24 at 8.24.37 AM

Function notation is challenging for many students yet we teachers overlook the reasons for the challenges. For example, students see the parentheses and rely on the rule they were taught previously, y(5) is “y times 5”. Because this is overlooked by teachers we often skim over the concept of notation and delve into the steps. This document is a means of presenting the concept and the use of function notation in a meaningful way. Feel free to use or revise and use the document as you wish.

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