Starting the New School Year Right

Starting off the new school year right can make the difference in a student’s performance throughout the year.  Here are some suggestions that can help:

  1. Organization: The key to staying on track is to be well organized.  This means using the school provided agenda or planner.  Make sure that it is filled in everyday.  Also, if long term assignments are given, they can be noted in the planner so that they won’t be forgotten.   Backpacks should be packed the night before  so that is nothing is left at home by mistake.
  2. Communication:  Keep the lines of communications open with your child’s teacher.  If you have concerns about your child be sure to communicate them in a positive fashion.  Most teachers are responsive to parents concerns and will work with you.  Remember that classrooms are crowded and the teacher is doing his or her best to make sure your child is receiving a quality education.  
  3. Technology:  Most schools have websites that will keep you abreast of the latest happenings.  Teachers also have websites that apply specifically to your child.   Make sure to visit it at least once a week in order to review class assignments, spelling words, etc.  Often, teachers will have links on their sites to educational websites.  I find this a great resource for skill building and strongly recommend visiting  them.
  4. Online Grades:  It is now easier to keep track of your child’s progress by checking their grades through online programs such as Powerschools.  Graded assignments and attendance are available to review so that there are no surprises.  It will also allow you to see any patterns where your child is struggling and address them immediately.

These are just a few ways to stay on track and make this school year a great one!


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Colored Candy to Advance Number Sense

In my last post, I discussed the importance of number sense, which is the ability to use and understand the meaning of numbers.  In this post I will talk about a fun activity that your child will enjoy as they learn the properties of numbers.

The manipulative that we will use is any small bag of colored candies that you can pick up at the checkout counter such as M & M’s™,  Skittles™, jelly beans, etc.  If you buy more than 2 ounces, split the candy up into a sandwich bag with a total of about 50.


Have your child separate the candies by color.  On a piece of paper, have them write the total number of each color.  Then you can ask questions comparing the colors such as:  

  1. Which color has the most?
  2. Which color has the least?
  3. How many red candies do you have?
You can then ask greater than, less than or equal to questions such as:
  1. Are there more than, less than or the same number of blue and green candy?
Change up this question to compare the different colors.
Using colored candies is also a great way to learn about fractions.   Have your child count the total number of candies and explain that this is the whole or total number of candies.  You can also introduce the mathematical term of denominator, depending on the age.  Then have your child separate the candies by color.  Just as before, you ask how many red there are.  This time, though, explain that this a part of the whole.  Again, you can give the mathematical name of numerator if it is age appropriate.
How many total candies do you have?
I have 50 candies.
How many candies are red?
14 candies.
So 14 of the 50 candies are red.  I could write it 14/50 .  This tells me that of the total number of candies, 14 are red.    Lets do this with the rest of the candies.
After all the candies have been divided into fractional groups, you can then do comparisons as described in the first part.
Have fun!

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The Importance of Number Sense

What is number sense?  “Number sense is the ability to use and understand numbers” ( In the article by Russell Gersten and David J. Chard, “Number Sense: Rethinking Arithmetic Instruction for Students with Mathematical Disabilities” , (2001) the authors compare number sense to phonemic awareness.  In order to understand how to read, a child needs to understand how sounds work together to make words.  In math, students have to understand the attributes of numbers in order to become proficient problem solvers.

Here are some of the characteristics of number sense:

Fluidity-It is important for students to learn that numbers are flexible.  10 can be broken up to 8+2 or 14-4.   This concept is used in Singapore Math to demonstrate how numbers can be broken apart in order to solve more complicated problems.

Meaning-Just as words have meaning so do numbers.  Students, especially during early elementary school, need to be able to express numeric meaning through representation.  This can be shown through manipulatives (dried beans, cubes, candy, etc.).  The student should be able to show the meaning of 10 by counting out 10 cubes or drawing 10 circles.

Mental Math-Students who develop fluidity in math can begin to picture and manipulate numbers in their head.  By conserving energy on math facts, the brain is able to spend more time on problem solving.

Strategies-The beauty of math is there is more than one way to solve a problem.  As a student becomes more proficient in understanding the properties of numbers, they can spend more time on figuring ways to solve a problem.  For example, a multiplication problem can be represented with pictures, through repeated addition, broken down into a smaller multiplication problem and added together, using a known to find an unknown, etc.  What is important is for the student to see that math is pliable and there is not just one way to find an answer.

Recognizing Patterns-Math patterns occur everywhere in nature, such as the pattern on the outside of a pineapple or the nautilus shell.  Finding patterns in math  increases a students ability to solve problems more quickly and accurately.  One example of a pattern in multiplication is the products of 9.  The digits in the product, when added together, equal 9.  For instance, 9×9=81.  8+1=9.

Recognizing Errors-A person with good number sense is able to recognize errors in problems.  They understand that if the answer for a subtraction problem is greater than the number they started with then there is something wrong.  The student is able to understand that 8 is greater than 6.

These skills can be incorporated in everyday activities.  Whether it is cooking, shopping or playing a game, these concepts can be part of an informal home program that will make math learning fun.  In my next post, I will go into some specific ideas that you can use.

If you would like to read the article cited in this blog, this link will take you there:

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Context for Reading Comprehension

It’s hard for today’s student, due to their age and life experience, to understand a world without cell phones, computers, and game systems, let alone all the modern amenities that make our world run. However, without understanding the big picture, comprehending what is being read can and will suffer.


When reading a story with your child, it is important to discuss when the story takes place. Is it in the past, present or future? If the story is in the past, it is essential that your child understand what was going on in history at that time. Some questions to discuss (adjusting for age) are:

  • What kind of technology did the people have?
  • How did they travel? • How did they get what they needed to eat?
  • What were living conditions like?

A 5th grade student that I was working with read a passage about castles in the Middle Ages. When it came time to show her comprehension of the story, she had to draw a picture of life on each level of the castle tower. In the lowest level, she included a refrigerator.  We talked about the fact that there was no electricity, a concept that is hard to relate to if you don’t know life without such conveniences.

It is also important to understand that if a story takes place in the future, that the author has more flexibility with what is allowed in the story.


Understanding where the story takes place is just as important as the time period.  For someone who has grown up in a warm, sunny climate, relating to a cold, barren place like Antarctica can be difficult without making it real.  Since a trip to Antarctica is out of the question, here are some ways that you can make learning about the setting more fun:

  • Ask your child what they know about where the story takes place.
  • Explore maps.  Compare where the story is set to where you live.
  • Use the internet to search the place that your child is reading about.  Pictures of a location make it come alive.

With a little time investment, every story can have deeper meaning for your child.

The story will make more sense with the knowledge foundation that you help build.

Create an adventure together!

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What to Read

Reading should be a pleasurable time when you can take a mini vacation and travel the world in your mind.  There is nothing more wonderful than finding a book, series or author that you want to share with others.   In order for this to take place, it is important that you choose a book that interests you.  The same is true for your child.

In school there are going to be required books and stories to read.  Some will catch your child’s imagination and others they will have to just get through.  However, in order to encourage your child to read for pleasure, allow them to choose books that appeal to their interests.  Any book that hooks a child will keep them engrossed.

Series books are wonderful for elementary readers because they become attached to the characters and want the adventure to continue.  A few series that have really caught on, besides Harry Potter, are Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Junie B. Jones, Cam Jansen, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Magic Tree House, to name just a few.

Nonfiction books are another wonderful way for children to explore the world around them.  See what fascinates your child–animals, history, biographies, etc.–and find books that satisfy their craving.  Take a trip to the local library and see what strikes your child’s fancy.  The books are free to borrow and allow for a variety of choice.

To show that you value reading, make a time when you can read together.  You can read a book while your child reads their book.  Another wonderful way to share reading is to have your child read to you.  It’s nice listening to someone else read but it also helps you be aware of any struggles that your child may be having.  Discussing the book together allows you to see if they comprehend what they read.

Reading, whether it’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not or War and Peace, is a wonderful way to expand your mind as well as share quality time with your child.

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Test Taking Strategies

  • Study, Don’t Cram: Instead of waiting to the last minute to prepare for the exam, review your notes and problems nightly.  Doing homework also reinforces the concepts that you are learning.  These two steps can increase your chances of scoring well on your exams.
  • Breathe: Taking 3-5 slow, deep breaths before putting pen to paper will help to settle the nerves so that you can focus.
  • Relax Your Muscles: Tightening and relaxing the muscles in your hands can help you relax.  Simply put your hands in your lap.   Tighten your hand into a fist and hold for 5 seconds before relaxing your hand.  Try this 2 or 3 times before beginning the exam.
  • Answer the questions that you know first: There is no law that says questions must be answered in order.  By completing the questions that you know, you can build your confidence in your ability to complete the test.  Make sure to review the answers before turning in your test to guarantee that you have answered all the questions.

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Making the Most of Tutoring

Whether tutoring is for yourself or your child, it is important to make the most of your investment.  Here are some pointers for a successful outcome.

  1. Pick a tutor that is not only knowledgeable in the subject area but has a flexible personality.   A tutor who can adjust to the student’s learning style as well as what is going on that day in the student’s  life will make the session more productive.
  2. Make sure that all the work that needs to be completed  for school is brought to the tutoring session.  A good tutor will have supplementary material, but if the goal is to understand and complete school work, bringing  materials is essential.
  3. Ask questions!  The whole point of tutoring is to gain a deeper understanding of the subject being studied.  A good tutor will take the time and make the student feel comfortable so they can ask as many questions as necessary until they comprehend the issues.

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