The Goal: Guiding Teachers to Incorporate CREATIVITY into Analytical, Logic-Oriented Math Classes
Have you ever wondered where Math Giraffe came from, who I am, or why I do what I do?
Well here’s the scoop for those of you who have the more curious minds ;)
I’m Brigid…I am obviously a math dork, but I'm also a wife and a mom. I’ve got a lot of those typical “teacher” characteristics you think of when you imagine a math teacher – I like to bake, organize, plan with sticky notes, and reign with tough and logical discipline blended with never-ending love. But then I also have some twists God threw in to spice it up. It turns out that even though I’ve got a very analytical and logical math mind, I also have a huge dose of creativity in my brain. I’ve always been into designing unique things around the house, on the computer, and in the yard. I was into scrapbooking and floorplan designing as a kid. I created special gift boxes that I sold as a little girl, and my mom still has one or two that she uses! I have slowly come to realize that I think of math more visually than most Algebra- oriented minds do.
I have a wonderful husband who cooks our meals, builds our furniture, and makes our home peaceful and happy every day (and that’s all on top of his actual job!). We have a very sweet little girl and a fun and spunky toddler son. I started out teaching in Ohio. After spending a couple years in Texas on the US-Mexico border, we moved back up north - closer to family. (Yay!) While I am certainly loving the hiking, campfires, and snow up here, I really miss my palm trees and sunshine! I am a summer girl at heart.
Over the past years, I’ve discovered that math students really do have a need for the creative design and unique ideas that I enjoy building. My goal is to help logical left-brained math teachers like me to integrate creativity in each and every math classroom! Today, I want to share how my beliefs about teaching math transformed into a platform dedicated to guide you in building engagement and creativity into your classroom!
I started out as a middle school teacher in Ohio teaching 6th through 8th grade. I got hooked on inquiry-based learning, and I began to try to develop better ways to teach this way. I actually originally fell in love with inquiry in college when I took a class all about setting up GeoGebra exploration lessons to allow students in Analytic Geometry courses to investigate the principles. This way, they develop the formulas and notice the relationships themselves. It’s such a wonderful learning method, especially for Geometry.
My true passion is actually teaching high school Geometry, particularly proof and logic. After teaching middle school, I got to spend just a short time teaching high school Geometry in an all-girls Catholic school. It was an incredible experience. I was surprised to see how much I enjoyed the all-girls atmosphere, since I was so used to being surrounded by boys. (I have 7 brothers).
I always tried to give my students a challenge and try to make everything really rigorous. I’m one of those teachers who teaches by setting the expectation level toward the top 50% of the class, but then differentiates as well, adding a TON of support. In Geometry periods, I started to notice how the new twist I added to teaching proofs made such a difference. It was a simple in-between step that no one was doing. It went such a long way to help their understanding and decrease frustration compared to the previous class that I had followed the traditional sequence with. I decided to put it into writing and share it in resources online to help other teachers do it this way too!
Shortly after having my daughter, I began creating more and more resources, and set up a blog to spread the word. I knew these methods I was starting to develop worked better than what most teachers were doing, and I wanted the world of math teachers to know it! Now, thousands of teachers are teaching proofs with my additional step and my own proof unit (with awesome success!), and hundreds of thousands of students have had an easier experience with the dreaded geometry proofs because of the tweaks! I got hooked on the community feeling, and the excitement of other math teachers when they could see these effects too. I kept at it!
Then, when doodle notes were born, even more teachers fell in love and saw an impact. It was so exciting for me to realize I was introducing a new method of note-taking that was more effective for focus and retention, and more accessible to students even than other visual methods like sketch notes. It is such a weird, but awesome feeling to see that now this strategy and these lesson pages are used in hundreds of thousands of classrooms. But I am loving the journey of sharing unique and creative ideas with math teachers around the world.
Next, more and more teachers started emailing asking for help with creating their own doodle notes, so I designed the Doodle Note Club, a place where teachers can access templates, graphics, and video training I've created to make it easy for them to build doodle notes for their own classrooms, no matter the subject area. And so it continued on -- As I got new types of requests, I just added more and more communities, resources, and ideas to help solve the problems that teachers asked for solutions to.
I never would have expected (or intended) to become a blogger or curriculum creator, but throughout this process, I discovered my love for creating teaching methods and resources. I have absolutely enjoyed serving teachers and students in a unique way. It's all about taking steps to teach math more effectively by teaching it more CREATIVELY!
Teachers are the heroes of their classrooms. They are rocking the world of education every single day and impacting so many students. My goal is to be a guide and a resource for you. I want to support more and more math teachers to discover that integrating creativity in math class leads to happier, more engaged students, as well as higher test scores!
I am passionate about a few things in the world of math ed, and my wish here is to spread that joy and passion to you in your own classroom.
I want your kids to light up instead of whining when you say it’s notes and lecture day.
I want your kids to get excited when they finally “see” why a mathematical property is true.
I want your kids to use their own creativity in math class instead of being restricted to only a logical left-brained typical math experience.
I want your kids to feel the success when they can visualize and remember what they learned as a result of both their teacher's creativity and their own creativity and ownership.
I want your kids to acheive the boost in memory and focus that leads to stronger, deeper learning.
I want you to see test scores rise in your class BECAUSE of engagement and creativity, not by SACRIFICING engagement and creativity for test prep!
So if you are still with me, here are my math class philosophies. If you care to join the party and stick with me here, click the links below. Also, be sure to subscribe to my email list to get free resources, updates, and ideas sent right to your inbox.
1) I believe…
that the discovery process allows students to take ownership of the material, understand the content more deeply, and remember the concepts. Inquiry style lessons, or investigations, guide students to discover properties, formulas, and concepts for themselves. Instead of presenting students with a formula or rule, you give them a lesson that is structured to help them develop the formula or rule on their own. When your class understands WHY the rule works and HOW it was developed, they do not have to memorize it - they can reproduce it themselves at any time!
The goal: Let kids discover properties themselves and write their own formulas that they’ll remember and understand
LINK: inquiry learning
2) I believe…
that math isn’t just memorization, and relaying rules and facts. I believe that math class can be approached with creativity! Spicing it up with some variety while keeping the rigor level high is the ultimate combo!
It is a rare blend for logical, analytical-minded math teachers to also incorporate high levels of creativity, so I hope to share guidance to help your own classroom benefit from that approach, without sacrificing rigor. I'd love to help you give your students a brain boost by adding CREATIVITY to math.
The goal: The elusive but perfect blend of fun & rigor
LINK: Creativity in Math
3) I believe…
that students retain material better when they are taught with a right-brain / left-brain integrated approach. When we can add a bit of color, doodling, or creativity into a logic-based class, we require the two hemispheres of the brain to work together. This has been proven to lead to an increase in learning, focus, relaxation, retention, and internalization of the lesson material! Students can really benefit from visual brain triggers. I love to let them interact with math content through coloring, sketching, or doodling in a productive and related way!
The goal: Combine visuals with linguistic input to boost student learning
LINK: Incorporate theright brain in math class
This is where the "doodle notes" concept came from. I loved the concept of visual sketch notes, but needed a more guided, structured version of visual notes instead. I needed something that kids could use easily. I debated just making my infographics black and white to be more color-friendly, but it just was not enough to activate the full brain benefits. I wanted it to be the best of both worlds. So the other features of doodle notes came together to become a whole new way for kids to interact with notes during lectures.
These have completely cured all the students' note-day dread, while also boosting their brains! Even the kids are amazed at how much more they are able to retain. It has been absolutely amazing to see the results of this method. I'm totally hooked on the doodles, and have been diving into the research, process, and benefits that these offer. As I continue perfecting my own creation of visual triggers and doodle-analogies to maximize the benefits of these pages, I also teach about how to make your own in the Doodle Note Club.
Here are some great places to dive into the teaching strategies that I believe in and have seen great results from:
So thank you for following along and trusting the benefits of blending rigor and creativity in math class!
I would love to hear from you! If you’ve seen a positive impact after coming across material here at Math Giraffe, or have questions, could you leave it in a comment below?
Thanks for reading!
Let me know how I can help you on your journey to teach math with a touch of CrEaTiViTy!! :)
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Navigating the Pre-Teen / Teen Homeschool Experience, Including the Dreaded Pre Algebra
Children in Middle School are at a pivotal age where they need to start preparing for high school, adapt to physical changes, manage emotional changes, all while balancing still being a kid! Teachers in middle schools tend to be used to this. They know how to adapt to all of these changes, from years and years of dealing with middle school students. As a parent crossing these bridges for the first time, however, you might need a little bit of guidance.
Here are some top tips to help you succeed in homeschooling your teen or pre-teen (general tips plus specific math strategies that will help you get through Pre-Algebra)!
Move Towards Greater Independence by Explicitly Teaching Organization, Math Study Skills, and more...
Whether your middle schooler is moving on to the local high school soon or remaining in homeschool, he or she is at an age where greater independence needs to start to occur; because, believe it or not, they will be full-fledged high schoolers before you know it!
They need to gradually be given more and more responsibilities, such as managing time after school for homework, and preparing for tests and quizzes on their own.
The key word is gradual. Don’t just randomly set them free to figure out how to study for tests on their own! That could be setting yourselves both up for failure (depending on your child). So, teach them helpful study skills first, and over time move to letting your child choose when and how to study.
Teach your child specifically HOW to study in math. It's different than studying in other subject areas. You may find this skill pack handy (aligned versions for other subject areas are available for smooth integration as well!)
Set goals alongside your child
An important way to help your child move towards greater independence is by teaching how to set goals and work towards achieving them.
I believe it’s important to start with a self-evaluation. Before your child can really decide what they need to work on as a goal, they need to begin with a reflection of where they are now and how they did in each area over the past semester.
Then, comes the goal setting and planning.
When they are ready to choose a goal to formally write up, it can be helpful to review the "SMART" goal criteria. Goals should be:
- Realistic / Relevant
I created a doodle note sheet to help guide them through this process. Click here to download for free!
It’d be fun for you to set some goals for your own life alongside your child, as well!
Just like any life skill, modeling it is the best way to teach it!
Incorporate Problem-Based Learning
April Smith, from Performing in Education, shares a ton of helpful information about Problem-based Learning in Homeschool.
Here’s what it looks like in homeschool: “Project-based learning is a learning method where kids gain and apply skills by working on a long project where they complete an in-depth inquiry into a specific topic or question. Like all methods, it’s not standalone. It can be added to any homeschool curriculum or activities you are presently using. PBL allows for more real world application and in-depth understanding of concepts in math, language arts, social studies, science, art, and business.”
Read her post to get more specifics and learn the elements of PBL (modified for homeschool) and about how to find projects!
Along these lines, it's a great time to go more in-depth with teaching personal finance. By 6th grade, students are ready for the basics of consumer math. This incorporates problem-based learning experiences, real-life scenarios, and valuable lessons.
This finance unit is a great resource for homeschool, because your child will build a financial "life" and make decisions. They choose whether to rent or buy a home, lease or purchase a car, and even explore retirement, insurance, and other tricky concepts.
Plan Field Trips Whenever You Can
Incorporating field trips as much as possible is a great way to help your child succeed in homeschool. Field trips allow your child to get real-life exposure, while keeping them engaged.
The Homeschool Buyers Co-op provides a map of the U.S. that allows you to click and your state, enter your zip code, and links all field trip ideas in your area! You can even search by category or view popular field trips.
Make Planning Math a Breeze
Planning a homeschool curriculum can be tedious and time-consuming! Math tends to be the toughest content area for parents as children reach 7th grade and start diving into Pre-Algebra.
Make math curriculum WAY more simple and effective by using this Pre-Algebra Doodle Note Book. It offers all of the brain benefits of visual notetaking all throughout their coursework If you’re new to Doodle Notes, check out doodlenotes.org!
This guided, interactive book includes 170 pages of doodle note lessons covering each Pre Algebra concept (fractions, decimals, integers, percents, geometry, equations, inequalities, the coordinate plane, slope, graphing, systems of linear equations, functions, and more). Each chapter progresses through the lesson topics with guided notes, visual references, and graphic review sheets that follow the brain-based doodle note method.
The best thing about this book is that it covers all the key topics from 6th grade all the way up until your child is ready to begin Algebra 1! So you can use it for a few years. It’s kid-tested, and they LOVE this creative method!
And of Course… Don’t forget they’re still kids!
Don’t forget that they are still kids and need time to have fun! Make sure you are still fitting socializing, extra-curriculars they’re interested in, and time to be active into their schedule! (But this part, you already knew!)
I hope these tips help you make homeschooling a success!
What homeschooling tips do you have? Other readers would love to hear your tried and true strategies from in the trenches!
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Boosting Focus Through Doodling
LD Online tells us, “Associated with this disorder’s core symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity are a variety of disruptive classroom behaviors (e.g., calling out, leaving seat, interrupting activities, etc.). Consequently, it is not surprising that these students are at risk for school failure.”
Use Multiple Research-based Teaching Strategies
There are a ton of resources out there on supporting your students with ADHD, and you most likely learned some of this in your college education (if you graduated in the last 10 years or so), but as a reminder, here are a few:
● Allow students to have an “Idea Paper” out, where they can doodle and jot down ideas that pop into their heads
(maybe this can help with any blurting issues!)
● Incorporate movement into learning
● Set up a small goal with a timer
● Set firm and clear expectations for the entire class
● Give them breaks from sitting and learning
● Show them how you stay organized (Teach them how to use a checklist and planner)
● Don’t take it personally. Any negative behavior is not an insult directed at you; it is a symptom of what is going on for the student. Work to eliminate the behavior, but remain supportive of the student. Keep that perfect blend of high expectations, low tolerance for what should not be tolerated, and loving support.
Another simple, but effective tip: I’ve had success with just walking over and resting my hand gently on a student’s desk when I notice that his/her attention is just not with me. This way, without having to say anything or call attention to the student, I give a subtle reminder and my proximity helps that student to “zone back in” (at least temporarily).
A Multitasking Option
Because of the way that kids’ brains process information, it turns out that doodle notes can have a powerful effect on the learning in your classroom. But, the positive effect this method can be even more powerful for your students with ADHD.
Here’s why Doodle Notes are a no-brainer when you want to support your students with ADHD:
Provide a More Mindful Version of “Fidgeting”
(an intentional distraction with a purpose)
According to ADDitude Mag, Sydney Zentall, Ph.D., of Purdue University, studied the factors that help children with ADHD succeed in the classroom. ADHD and Education notes that attention “deficit” increases with the length, familiarity, and repetitiveness of a task.”
In other words, students tune you out when tasks get boring or when there is a lack of variety. Shocking news, I know!
According to Zentall, an activity that uses a sense other than that required for the primary task — like listening to music while reading a social studies textbook — can enhance performance in children with ADHD.
Doing two things at once, or multitasking, focuses the brain on the primary task. **as long as the second task does not require enough attention to become a distraction!! -- (This is key)**
Doodling is the perfect task for accomplishing this!
One of the research-based benefits of doodle notes is that it helps students to focus on the material. Doodling takes just enough focus to keep students from completely zoning out, but without requiring enough brain activity to distract from the learning.
Doodling even made #6 on Edutopia’s list of 17 Ways to Help Students with ADHD Concentrate; this list is teacher-tested!
With the trademarked doodle note method, the doodling has a purpose. Students blend graphics and text to boost the brain's ability to convert information into long-term memory. The integration of the two brain hemispheres with this creative approach increases focus!
Build Stronger Mental Connections
Our goal as teachers should be to integrate the left brain and the right brain and encourage communication across the corpus callosum. Whenever you achieve a crossover between the two hemispheres of the brain, student learning is enhanced.
When a student with ADHD engages in coloring, doodling, or artistic embellishment of their lesson material, the two sides of the brain work together. This collaboration across the corpus callosum has numerous benefits for the student learning process, including boosting focus, strengthening memory, and building stronger connections.
Since students with ADHD have so much going on in their heads at any given moment, it’s essential that they build stronger connections to the material, so that it is easier to recall in the future.
Bring Creativity into the Class to ENGAGE!
Lastly, doodling brings creativity into the classroom.
According to Brain Balance Achievement Centers, “Students with ADHD can be creative and innovative. And while some children with ADHD may miss the details, they can be big picture thinkers who are imaginative in their approach to problems. The creative energy that comes with these students can be directed in a way that encourages academic success and fosters the imagination.”
Creativity utilizes different networks of your brain; there is a Math Giraffe post on Teaching Math with Creativity here, if you’d like to read more about the neuroscience.
If you’re looking to bring creativity into the classroom, doodle notes are really a no-brainer!
Try Doodle Notes for Free
There are a few different options if you’re interested in trying out doodle notes, but don’t want to pay until you give it a try with your own class and their specific needs. Download this free “Engage Your Brain” Doodle Notes. This set teaches your students the powerful impact doodling has on their learning!
It’s a perfect way to introduce your class to a new strategy and show them how their brain works! They can learn a little about the way the brain reacts when you integrate the left and the right hemispheres.
They discover the benefits of this and give concrete examples of activities they do daily that are associated with each hemisphere. Then, they can practice combining these to cross the corpus callosum and activate their brain for learning!
Later, they'll notice that extra focus and increased retention kicking in once they try it!
Additional free materials for getting started are available at doodlenotes.org
Whether you choose to implement multiple research-based strategies, or simply implement doodle notes to cover all your bases, it’s important to be patient. ADHD can be a challenge and frustration (for all involved) in your classroom.
What strategies have you found helpful in teaching your students with ADHD?
If Doodle Notes have had a positive effect on your student(s) with ADHD, tell us about it in a comment below! We would love to hear additional thoughts from teachers using these to help students with a variety of different needs. Some have been noticing the difference already:
"Perfect for students with Dyslexia, ADHD, or other learning disabilities.“
“My students loved this! The coloring helped relax the students while they took notes.”
“MY special education students love these. Color coding and decorating the notes gives them more time to interact with the notes without just reading them 10 times or extracting information. This makes it much more interesting for them, and my spatially-inclined students LOVE the chance to draw and doodle.”
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