Does Your Math Teaching Have SMARTS?

Launch PadTeaching is never easy but it can definitely be fun! When you’re having fun in the classroom, kids will have fun too and learn something in the process! So ditch your worksheets and give your math teaching SMARTS!

SMARTS is an easy acronym to help identify fun ways to engage kids with math!

Songs–Who doesn’t like a good tune? Songs can help students remember the steps of long division or learn to count by 10s. Songs shouldn’t be complicated or difficult to remember and are often set to familiar tunes. Try skip counting by 4s to the tune of Row, Row, Row Your Boat and you’ll see what I mean!

There are tons of free resources on the web but I love Songs for Teaching and TeacherTube. Other teachers are a great resource when trying to identify fun songs that work (and those that don’t) so turn to colleagues or online communities for teachers like Edutopia or Classroom 2.0. The key is to ditch boring drills and make learning catchy and fun! Research has shown that movement boosts academic performance so get your kids up and moving during songs to optimize fun and learning.

Manipulatives–Use whatever you have around you to make math meaningful! Count pencils to build one to one correspondence, cut sandwiches in quarters to demonstrate fractions and build various sized towers with blocks to teach measurement. Manipulatives help children “see” math and build meaning. Don’t fret if you don’t have access to fancy manipulatives from a learning store–pebbles work just as well as counting bears and you can create fraction tiles from sheets of paper.

Many teachers are afraid to introduce manipulatives because they fear children will fidget and lose focus. You can avoid this problem by establishing clear rules and expectations for Math Investigation and adhering to pre-established behavior plans. Most teachers are surprised to see that the children spend more time on task once manipulatives are introduced because they are engaged!

Art–Are you sensing a pattern of interdisciplinary connections here? Whenever possible, incorporate art projects into your math lessons. Have children create self portraits when studying symmetry, create beaded bracelets to reinforce patterns and draw pictures to illustrate word problems. My students only truly grasped the concept of area after creating pictures from paper mosaic “tiles”. We are trying to turn our children into budding mathematicians and encouraging them to create something always helps!

Recreation–We’re talking about games here! After you introduce a concept, give the children time to practice by playing games as an alternative to workbook practice. Students will have a blast while also getting the practice that they need! A card game of WAR can reinforce greater than/less than, Around the World with flash cards can reinforce math facts and a simple game of dice can reinforce probability. Try to incorporate games into your classroom whenever possible to increase engagement and promote learning!

Technology–Technology is a great tool to increase student engagement regardless of where your classroom is or what it looks like. For some, this may mean interactive white boards while for others this means access to a disposable camera. As more and more students are gaining access to technology in their classrooms, it is important for teachers to use these resources strategically, whether it be one tablet for an entire class or a classroom set of laptops.

Virtual manipulatives can be used to demonstrate place value, spreadsheets can be used to organize and display data and cameras can be used to photograph angles in the community. Incorporating technology helps prepare our students for success outside the classroom and opens the door to a growing library of open education resources available online.

Stories— Make math relatable for your students by placing problems in context through word problems, real life applications or picture books. Become a storyteller and encourage your students to tell stories about math through writing or illustration. Math read alouds can help introduce a math topic, math journals can be used to reflect on learning, and imaginative play can reinforce math in our everyday lives. Set up a grocery store in your classroom and watch math learning come to life!

The goal of teaching SMARTS is to keep math instruction captivating, lively and relevant in your classroom. What tricks do you use to keep math engaging and fun for your students?

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Yemen and UK Sign Education Cooperation Agreement

On Wednesday, Jan. 22, Yemeni Minister of Education Abdul Razzak al-Ashwal and Paul Doubleday, director of the British Council in Yemen and Oman, signed an agreement to further develop teacher skills in Yemen. The agreement will provide training for more than 11,000 primary and secondary level English teachers in Yemen, as well as support extracurricular and summer term activities. Additionally, the agreement affirms a commitment to develop programs for talented and gifted students. Yemen opened its first school for gifted students in the 2013-14 school year.

A teacher works with a hearing impaired studentThe agreement comes at a crucial time for Yemeni teacher development. More than half of Yemeni teachers lack basic teaching qualifications—of some 200,000 teachers, about 129,000 lack a bachelor’s degree. A recent report by the Brookings Institution found that Yemeni teachers were failing on five of eight key benchmarks for quality and performance.

“The ministry is doing its best to improve teacher performance via professional development programs,” said al-Ashwal. The Yemeni minister noted the efforts made by both nations to reach their goal of better teacher development. While Yemen still has a long way to go to develop teachers and improve their educational system, this agreement and its provisions are a promising start. 

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More than Half of Yemeni Teachers Lack Basic Qualifications

Yemen’s Ministry of Education said earlier this month that over half of the country’s teachers lack necessary qualifications. Of an estimated 200,000 teachers, some 120,000 lack a bachelor’s degree. An additional 40,000 teachers—about 20 per cent—have degrees unrelated to education, according to deputy minister for education Dr. Abdulla Al-Hamedi. “The ministry is doing its best to improve teacher performance via professional development programs,” said the minister of education, Dr. Abdulrazaq Al-Ashwal. A 2013 report by the Brookings Institution had previously found Yemeni teachers failing five of eight benchmarks for teacher performance.

Ensuring Every Girl a Right to an Education in YemenAmong the new programs instituted by the minister is an upcoming agreement with the British Council to train English teachers in Yemen. UNESCO also sponsors a program for teacher development in Yemen, supervised by the Ministry of Education. Some teachers, however, object to the training courses. “Some things the teachers have been taught are difficult to implement in the schools,” said Ayman Abdulghani, the principal of a school in Taiz.

While there has been some encouraging news out of Yemen—opening its first school for gifted students, for example—improvements to the educational system are necessary. The nationwide literacy rate stands at 64 per cent, with a literacy rate among women of only 49 per cent. Only half of girls finish primary school in Yemen. Improving teaching standards and recruiting more female teachers may help close the gap and improve Yemen’s substandard record on education.

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Teachers Afraid to Return to School in Northern Mali

Lancement de l’opération “Retour à l’école” à Tombouctou – Operation Back to School in TimbuktuAs schools in Mali reopened for classes in October, hopes were high for children in the northern region to restart their education. But fears and insecurity from the recent crisis linger, and many teachers say they are too afraid to resume teaching.

800,000 Malian children have missed out on education since conflict began in the north in 2012. But a tentative peace has reigned since January, and UNICEF’s efforts to reenroll 500,000 children and train 9,000 teachers has made a giant stride toward restarting education.

Still, the region remains troubled, and many teachers and students feel too afraid to return to class. The government has offered a $500 incentive for teachers to return to the region, but it hasn’t convinced everyone.

“Despite the measures taken by the government, many teachers have not yet resumed duty in Timbuktu,” explains Mody Abdoulaye Cissé, education director in Timbuktu.

Three quarters of schools in northern Mali were looted during the conflict, and the military at one time occupied 25% of them. Teaching materials remain scarce, and some school buildings were destroyed.

In the northeastern Kidal region, a separatist Tuareg rebel group remains in control, and schools have not reopened.

Teacher Sekou Sala Koné says that he has decided not to return to his post.

“Everybody knows that the conflict is not over,” he says. “The government is putting the lives of teachers and pupils in danger by opening schools under such conditions.”

Despite the lingering danger, the international community and educational experts are desperate for children to resume their education. As two years of schooling have been lost already, many worry that the longer schools are closed the harder it will be to get students to eventually return.

In some places teachers have been working double shifts to make up for their absent colleagues.

Oumar Touré, a teacher in Timbuktu, explains why he returned to his school: “It is the future of these poor children that we should consider,” he says. “They need us.”

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Pakistan’s Supreme Court Orders Investigation of “Ghost Schools”

Abandoned SchoolPakistan’s Supreme Court responded to the plague of “ghost schools” affecting the country by ordering district judges to survey schools and report on their status. Throughout the country, school buildings remain empty of students and instead serve as housing, barns or offices for police, paramilitary and other officials. Although students have no access to education in these areas, teachers still receive salaries from the government.

“The government has failed to provide any answer or details about the state of ghost and non-functional schools, while apparently funds and salaries were being disbursed as buildings remain abandoned or occupied by animals…There are animals kept in schools and the buildings have been turned into stables. This is what we are doing to our children when education is a constitutional right,” Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry said.

This recent state-wide investigation came in response to a petition from Rehmat Ullah of the Sindh Rural Development Society. The charity’s leader asked the Supreme Court to investigate “ghost schools” which plague largely affect rural areas like Sindh province, keeping large numbers of children out of school. Estimates predict that hundreds of thousands of government schools country-wide remain unused while approximately 25,000 “ghost teachers” continue to receive pay.

Iqual Gabol, a father of three children without access to education on the outskirts of Karachi, spoke out stating “not a single teacher has been appointed here since the school was built in 2005. There’s no electricity. The building is of no use. We’ve requested many times to the chief minister, the education minister, even the president to make it functional, but nothing has happened”

“Ghost schools” are symptomatic of the larger problem of Pakistan’s ongoing educational crisis. As a result of inadequate funding and widespread corruption, nearly one-half of the country’s primary school aged children and three-quarters of all girls remain out of school.

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Innovative Improvements Proposed for India’s Higher Education Institutions

Calcutta Coffee House -  5President Pranab Mukherjee called for an “elevated level of urgency” for academics to introduce innovative changes in India’s higher education system. Reflecting on India’s failure of universities to be positioned among the world’s top 200 list, Mukerjee said the country must be careful to create a “culture of excellence.”

India’s higher education curriculum cannot be conveyed in a “routine fashion any longer,” said Mukerjee. The President’s proposed renovations will increase coordination within the country’s academic departments and foster greater connections with international universities for student and teacher exchange programs.

Improvements will be substantially increased in coordination with the country’s Five Year Plan, but the President also added that “there needs to be an urgency to bring about innovative changes in the higher education sector of the country.” According to Mukerjee, “our academic syllabus is not up to the highest standards as recognized by world universities. We are not emphasizing on ranking ourselves. We have to be careful.”

The President further suggested enhanced focus in research activities, saying “universities need to develop in their students a scientific temper and a curriculum that will encourage the growth or research and innovation.”

Over 80 years has passed since an Indian university produced a Nobel Prize winner, and the few Indian graduates who received the Nobel Prize did so while working in United States universities. “We in India have the best teachers, students and the talent but we are not coordinated well. If we can make the right call at the right time, we will get the necessary response,” said the President.

Additional changes will also be made to India’s judicial system to increase accessibility of justice for the country’s more “vulnerable sections of society.” Increased emphasis on improving legal education of lawyers, judges, judicial officers, bureaucrats and academics will be included in the reforms. 

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Teacher’s Day Protests Crowd Brazilian Streets

Fotos produzidas pelo SenadoThousands of Brazilian citizens marched the streets of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janerio, demanding respect for teachers’s rights, free university education and improved conditions in state run schools. The demonstration was a part of a series of mass protests propelled by the country’s low wages, growing inflation, and inability of local and national governments to provide adequate health and education services.

The most recent protests on October 15th marked National Teacher’s Day. During the evening, approximately 2,000 people marched in Sao Paulo to remove Gov. Geraldo Alckman from office. Masked members from activist group Black Bloc joined the demonstrators and incited a violent backlash from local police authorities who used tear gas bombs and pepper spray.

Lucia Dores, 50 year old teacher in Sao Paulo said, “I’m fed up with corrupt politicians. I could write a book about all the things they’ve done.” Dores was also present at the protests and said “the police were throwing tear gas bombs for no reason. They just didn’t want people to keep moving forward. We had nowhere to run, nowhere to go. That’s why people went inside Tok & Stok . Someone saved me by giving me vinegar to get rid of the tear gas effects and then I ran out of there.”

In Rio de Janerio, about 4,000 protestors gathered in the city center in support of teachers who have been on strike for two months, requesting improved working conditions and a 37% pay increase. Similar to Sao Paulo, demonstrators and Black Bloc activists were met with police enforced tear gas and percussion grenades.

Student Karoline Santana explained “my school is abandoned, the principal does nothing and doesn’t want to do anything. Teachers have even lost faith, and those who arrive full of hope see quickly that the job of teaching doesn’t exist anymore. Even the older teachers demotivate the new ones.”

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Dominican Republic Invests in Climate Education

Dominican Republic

Many teachers in the Dominican Republic  are taking the initiative to enroll in courses in climate change, all in an effort to educate their students. The Dominican Council on Climate Change has launched privately funded climate diploma courses that teachers and government officials can enroll in. In addition to this, they have launched another education initiative to train 200 teachers in climate change. The Dominican Republic’s Minister of Education is now considering making climate change a part of DR’s school curriculum.

The DR is a nation greatly threatened by climate change. According to a study conducted by the Dominican Institute for Integral Development (IDDI) this summer,  the Caribbean country is the seventh most vulnerable country in the world. However, most Dominicans are not aware of these dire conditions. IDDI’s Evaydée Pérez says, “One of the most acute challenges we face in our country today is the low level of knowledge about almost any kind of topic linked to climate change and its consequences.” Indhira De Jesus, from The Nature Conservatory, a sponsor of the climate education program, says, “ We have big deficits in the field of climate education. Only 5.9% of people in the region have access to reliable information on climate change and its consequences.” Moises Alvarez, the National Coordinator of UN CC:Learn, a climate education initiative sponsored by the UN, says, “In the long run, no strategy against climate change can work if the public is not sufficiently educated or informed.” Many Dominican leaders of climate change education believe that local decision-makers and government officials need to know more about climate change and its consequences in order to tackle the problems this Caribbean nation is faced with.

Many teachers have enrolled in these classes and have found them very beneficial. Yndira Rodriquez, who has spent 192 hours in the past few months—including weekends and free time—to learn about climate change, believes that her new knowledge will help her students. She says, “I’ve learned so much—everything from cartography to the various effects of climate change on our environment to pedagogical concepts on how to teach what I’ve learned here.” She continues in saying that this knowledge will help to change the future education system; she plans to set up a “green school” where children and adolescents can learn about the environment and how to protect it best. She continues, “If we start when they’re young, they can bring that message home with them and in turn educate others—and that would be a completely sustainable campaign.”

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Jamaica’s Education Minister Currently Revising Foreign Language Curriculum

It's just a beautiful day.Jamaica’s Education Minister Honourable Reverend Ronald Thwaites is currently working to improve the country’s foreign language curriculum. Thwaites explained that the “new assessments will be based on new attainment targets, which will involve speaking, reading, writing and listening with understanding. We will soon be able to dream in Spanish and the other languages as well.”

According to Thwaits, Jamaican students who learn a second language will have access to a multitude of scholarship and employment opportunities offered both locally and internationally. The improved curriculum will also allow Jamaican students to connect with others outside their own culture.

Thwaites explained “our challenge is to break out of the arrogance of English. We believe that everyone must speak our language, without recognizing that out own opportunity, personally and nationally, is to be as flexible as possible in the development of a knowledge economy, which no longer has just French and Spanish roots, but also must include European and Asian languages.”

The appeal was also addressed to Jamaican teachers, encouraging them to involve their students in foreign languages to expand their perception of the world. Foreign leaders and educators were also welcomed to visit the country’s schools to inform students of the foreign language traditions and cultures of these countries.

Teachers, we must begin to educate our people to seek these broader horizons that are available. There is a need to equip ourselves of as many foreign languages as possible, as this will help us to gain employment within the Caribbean and beyond its shores,” Thwaites emphasized.

A reading program project designed to support reading skills for primary school students will also be expanded with new reading techniques and performance standards. 

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Thailand’s Educational Breakdown


As Thailand introduces their “One Tablet Per Child” initiative to bring tablet computers to each of their 9 million Thai schoolchildren, many wonder if this will manifest as merely a political gimmick or become a truly effective tool to combat Thailand’s growing education problems.

In the past week, the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Thailand’s educational system last out of the eight countries assessed from the Association for Southeast Nations (ASEAN). This is while Thailand’s budget for education comprises 20% of the national budget and salaries for teachers comprises of another 9%–among the highest proportions in the region and the world.

While Thailand has made true advances in providing universal education and bridging the gender gap, it has not solved its endemic problems of political corruption, poorly trained teachers, and teacher safety.

As a constitutional monarchy, Thailand is ruled by both a king and its parliament: however, the parliament is prone to upheaval and position shifting. New and opposing political factions are voted in every few years, making it difficult to maintain stability in the government and in supporting ministries and initiatives.

The current minister of Education, Chaturon Chaisang, is the fourth education minister in the Yingluck Shinawatra parliament,  which has been in power since 2011.  In response to the WEF rankings, Chaisang admits he is “very concerned” and believes the Thai education system has lacked any consistent development in the last 15 years.

In concert with the shifting political landscape, the “authoritarian and militaristic culture” in which Thai students are taught is also detrimental to their learning. Chaisang acknowledges that any future reform should concentrate more on teaching than on structural problems. He said, “Our teaching method is wrong. Our curriculum is outdated…university graduates, despite having studied English for 12-16 years, can’t speak it at all.” In the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international study to evaluate education systems, Thailand ranked in the world’s bottom 25%.

Additionally, many teachers are leaving the profession due to an increase of attacks on educational representatives. Since 2004, Malay Muslim separatist groups in the southern provinces of Thailand have conducted periodic attacks on teachers, who are seen as representatives of the Thai government. According to Human Rights Watch, 160 teachers and education personnel have been killed by these groups. The most recent attack took place on July 24th and killed two teachers in a roadside bomb.  Due to these attacks, many schools have been closed for weeks, causing students to fall behind.

Confronted with these problems, Chaisang has initiated a series of brainstorming sessions—beginning with his own ministry and then extending into the private sector. His goal is to collect a spectrum of ideas to recreate the education system. Various academic and non-profit organizations are recommending proposals that suggest creating a more neutral educational ministry that can stand independently from political influence, reassessing teacher education and qualifications, and revolutionizing and standardizing fundamental training of teachers.

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