As the graphic below shows, when planning for math, we need accuracy and precision!

Let’s look at a real-world example of precision. March Madness is just around the corner. If teams want to make it to the finals, they must focus on precision. . The teams who want to win focus a lot of their time on the precision of their parabolas.

Planning for the perfect free throw

Parabolas, the elegant arched trajectory naturally formed by any projectile, determine the outcome of many ballistic sports. Parabolas have been studied extensively since people started throwing stuff at each other, but they reach their apex in basketball, where the field goals and free throws demand precision control of parabolas.

The Science of Parabolas

“But, it can’t be just any parabola. Success favors a fairly high arch. The ball must pass through the hoop with a little room to spare, and that limits the possibilities. The hoop is 18 inches in diameter, and the men’s ball is about 9.5 inches wide (women’s about 9.2). So if the men’s ball were thrown straight down from above — that is, at an angle of 90 degrees to the horizontal hoop rim, as in the classic Michael Jordan airborne dunk — there would be 4.25 inches of free space all around, a comfy margin.

But as the angle decreases and approaches the horizontal, the free space for a “nothing but net” shot gets much smaller. At 55 degrees, it’s about 2.5 inches. At 45 degrees, it’s down to 1.5 inches. And at 30 degrees, it’s basically impossible to get the ball straight into the basket, even with a full scholarship and more tattoos than a Hell’s Angels convention.” -Washington Post Article, Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Why am I thinking about precision, parabolas, and planning in January?

It’s simple. This time of year is when schools begin to look ahead and plan for state tests and end-of-course exams. With just few more months before these assessments, teachers must use precision in their instructional practice. I’m also thinking about precision because I’ll be out working with schools as we plan how to bring results and there’s a way to effectively plan.

How do you know that it works? Here’s just one example. A few years ago, I worked with an Algebra I team to develop a precise plan for preparing their students to not just pass the exam, but to do so with much higher scores. There were 14 weeks remaining. We spent over three hours just determining which concepts were most important for the students to master before the test.

The teachers fully implemented the plan with amazing results. The school shot to #1 in their district in math and #10 in state. While seeing gains with all students, their lowest quartile had over 92% passing.

This method of planning with precision has been repeated hundreds of times since then and it works every time. Here’s how we planned.

Steps to Planning with Precision

Determine how many weeks and/or blocks of instruction remain before the final assessment.

Review all the concepts that will be tested and determine the most difficult concepts from the list.

List each of the most difficult concepts one at a time.

Precision Planning for 3rd Grade

After listing each concept, determine why it is difficult. Be very specific about why the concepts are difficult for students to learn and/or teachers to teach.

Precision Planning for Algebra I

Schedule these concepts to be taught in a teacher-guided, small-group setting to approximately ¼ of the class at a time while the rest of the class is working in pairs, teams, or independently. [In the Tabor Rotation Framework this is group is called Teacher Time and occurs each week at the elementary level and each unit at the secondary level.]

Use the “whys” to guide your instruction, in these small groups, with precision. If time allows, “sprinkle” prerequisite skills, that might be missing, ahead of time.

Use as much hands-on and engaging instruction as possible when instructing these concepts.

Research how the concept is assessed on the state test and use this type of questioning with your small group of students.

Bridge from the activities and instruction used in the small group to the way it will be asked on the state test by using Exit Tickets, Exit Questions, Passports, and short quizzes.

If your precision is working, then celebrate and keep going!

As teachers in today’s schools, planning with precision can bring about much greater results—even if it impacts just one person—you!

“My students knew how to solve the problem! They were just stuck on the math vocabulary words they didn’t know!”

“I never thought of using a math vocabulary game. I just introduce the words before the lesson and have them copy it in their notebooks.”

“My students like math vocabulary games, but sometimes the games are just boring and they don’t want to play them.”

Ever heard any of these statements? We heard them during Tabor Rotation Math Training Sessions this fall. There are several activities already on the FREE MATH MATERIALS page of this website (The games are free to Tabor Team members and membership is free, too.) There’s Algebra Vocabulary and Geometry Vocabulary. They have icons to help students visualize the math term. The Circle Geometry Game uses anglegs and plates so students can “make the term” while learning the term.

But, we have to admit that playing these a couple of times might become a little tedious. Remember…

…it takes 7 exposures, in a meaningful setting, for a word to go into long-term memory. Not only that, but if you want your students to retain the word, they must intermittently use it and have fun with it.

One teacher requested a game for fraction vocabulary at the 5^{th} grade level. My assistant is into alliteration and immediately thought,

FRACTIONS—FRENCH FRIES! FRENCH FRIES ARE FUN and something every student experiences, so there’s a “hook” for engaging them. We’ll put all the downloadable materials on the website and make it FREE Vocabulary French Fries!

That’s the origin of the game Vocabulary French Fries. (Keep reading middle school and high school teachers! There are versions of this game at all three levels!)

Here’s how you play Vocabulary French Fries

4-6 Players work in pairs. Every pair gets a french fry container. The ones from McDonald’s fold flat.

The first thing the students do is read over the ANSWER KEY with their partner. Hmmm…isn’t this cheating? Nope! Remember the 7 times of meaningful exposure? Every time they read the word and the definition it’s another exposure to the term. In fact, I recommend that every pair always have the ANSWER KEY so they can double check. When the students know the terms, then you can have the Leader hold the ANSWER KEY till the end of the game for a challenge.

The term “FRENCH FRIES” are placed face down in an arra. The definition “KETCHUP PACKETS” are placed face down in an array next to the fry array.

One member of the 1^{st} pair to play turns over a FRENCH FRY. The 2^{nd} member of the pair turns over a KETCHUP PACKET. They determine if it is a match. If it is, they put the match in their french fry container.

If not, they leave both cards face up so that all students have to reread all of the cards to see if they happen to get a match the next time a card is turned. Again, more exposures to the terms and definitions. Play continues until all matches have been made.

To make it more challenging and fun, have teams or pairs race to see who can find all the matches first. Use a timer to see who is fastest. Use the point sheet to give points. Play with one group of your students—they love to beat that team and will work even harder to find the matches and learn the words.

Speaking of french fries…sure wish I had a container of my favorite. I’ll just need to jump on a plane, take Route 50 from BWI to Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and head to the south end of the Ocean City Boardwalk. For less than $10 I can have my fill of the best tasting fries I’ve ever eaten. Anybody up for a plane ride to get some Thrasher’s Fries?

I don’t remember Algebra being fun in school. I don’t remember any hands-on experiences for anything in Algebra–including expressions. So, when I began teaching Algebra I was determined to make it concrete-to-pictorial-to-abstract and, above all else, it was going to be FUN!

One of the ways I do this is by incorporating roaches, flies, and ladybugs into my Algebra guided math lessons and into my Tabor Rotation math stations. One of the Manipulative Station Activities is Excellent Expressions.

This activity uses cards to determine an algebraic expression, but makes creating and simiplifying the expressions a lot more interesting because the manipulatives are BUGS.

The sets of ladybugs should have 6 of a light color and 6 of a darker color. A small bag of two-color counters will represent the constants that may be pulled. I made the negative roaches and flies by painting a red stripe down their back.

Everyone lays out their picnic table/work mat and their piles of negative and positive insects. Two sets of partners each pull two term cards and place them in the center. All pairs race to see who can be first to create the expression using insects.

After creating the insect expression, students record the terms pulled, the expression created, and they combine like terms to simplify the expression.

Students record how they used the positive and negative insects to concretely experience the additive inverse property used in simplifying their expression. There’s also a place to write an equivalent expression using distributive or associative properties.

Differentiating the Understanding of Expressions

If you’re looking for an activity that differentiates instruction and engages students, Excellent Expressions is perfect! Students are using manipulatives to concretely experience creating and simplifying expressions. The students are creating their own paper and pencil tasks by pulling the cards and recording the expressions. The understanding of expressions is moving from the concrete(insects) to the pictorial(drawing on the recording sheet) to the abstract(writing the simplified expression and then finding an equivalent expression if possible).

Excellent Expressions Video & FREE Game Download

A How to Play Excellent Expressions video is on the GlennaTabor YouTube Channel. Download Excellent Expressions, Insects and use it in your Tabor Rotation Math Stations, your guided math station, or with your entire class. Every secondary student who’s used the insects has loved learning algebra! The response of your class will be priceless! (There are more FREE activities in the FREE materials section of my website. Just join the Tabor Team–it’s FREE, too!)

The STEM/Real-World Connection of Expressions

Have you ever heard someone say, “When am I ever going to use Algebra in the real world?” Well, since the students created expressions using insects, let’s make the science and technology connection to what they created. Give the students the facts about ants and roaches. Then ask your students to determine which of expressions they created, playing Excellent Expressions, represents the most weight that could be carried.

If you want a good STEM connection to algebraic expressions created with roaches, take a look at the studies being conducted at Texas A & M with roaches that carry backpacks.

Yes, mechanical engineers and entomologists are working together to outfit 2-inch long cockroaches with tiny backpacks. Why? Roaches can have cam can move through buildings destroyed in an earthquake to help find survivors.The NPR article, “What Cockroaches with Backpacks Can Do-Ah-mazing,” is a good read and the videos of cockroaches with backpacks is worth the click.

More Useful Links and Tools

If your students need more practice with integers, the 24 Game Integer Version is an excellent tool. My students had to learn the integer rules to become faster at finding the ways to make a positive or negative 24.

George Alland’s article, “Algebra Teaching Tips,” in EducationWorld has some concrete ways to help students learn how to combine like terms in expressions.

HowtoLearn.com features a really helpful article on “Best Algebra Help Tips.” This article shares ideas for understanding expressions and many more algebraic concepts.

Keep a bag of “insects” handy. I travel with a bag of algebra manipulatives (including plastic roaches) in my carry-on bag. That way, when someone next to me on an airplane says, “I never really understood algebra,” I can whip out my roaches and begin to help them concretely understand why algebra is important.

The last time I shared with someone next to me it was an air marshal. We both survived the flight and he thought the roaches were awesome (and just a little creepy).

Integer: a number with no fractional part; includes the counting numbers {1, 2, 3, …}, zero {0}, and the negative of the counting numbers {-1, -2, -3, …}

The term integer is not typically used in a secondary student’s everyday life. There’s no shortened version for texting it. Why? Let’s face it, secondary students use integers in math and science and then forget about them. Or, so they think. They actually use integers all the time and will need working knowledge of them for the rest of their life!
I like the real-world examples on VirtualNerd.Com. I’d recommend their video, too. It gives a simple, but effective explanation of integers.

30º drop in temperature -30

$450 deposit into an account +450

A weight loss of 5 kilograms -5

As students study integers, we can make them aware of integer termsthey use every day.

After rolling, all pairs of students represent what was rolled using 2-color counters. I recommend that students use a felt mat to define their space and muffle the noise.

All the pairs record the steps they used to combine the integers and determine the number of spaces they may move. As you can see on the Integer Cram Recording Sheet below. This activity personalizes the math instruction by giving the students a chance to create their own problems to solve.

The pair that rolled moves their game piece the combined total number of spaces–if they can explain how they arrived at their answer and everyone agrees. This encourages the math conversation and discourse–which leads to a deeper understanding since their thinking was verbalized.

This engaging, interactive activity/game takes the understanding of integers from concrete(2-color counters) to pictorial(drawing the counters and the dice on the recording sheet) to abstract(writing the number sentence used to combine the integers rolled). You can place it in a math station (used in Phase 2 of the Tabor Rotation Framework), use it in guided math, or play the game with your entire class divided into teams.

A “How to Play Integer Cram” video is on my YouTube Channel. (There are just a few videos now, but be sure and subscribe to my channel. We’re working every week to add a video for each of the FREE activities in my FREE RESOURCES section of my website at both the elementary and secondary level.)

After sharing the Tabor Rotation Framework at the 2016 SCCTM Conference, I wanted to encourage the passionate educators in South Carolina as they continue on their journey of highly effective and personalized instruction using Tabor Rotation.

Here are 4Tabor Tools you can download and use immediately.

Team Roles: Positive interdependence is a vital part of any group working effectively together. All members of the team need to feel that they are contributing to the success of the team by having a specific role on the team. This team-role-description sheet has a examples and descriptions of possible roles. These tabor-rotation-team-roles are leader, co-leader, timekeeper, materials manager, and reporter. Some teachers and schools have two Materials Managers, a Positive Generator, or a Whisper Monitor.

Exit Questions: Exit Questions are one way in which teachers may hold students accountable for the information they have learned. Exit questions help students summarize the activity or game. A teacher may also use them for formative assessment and as a tool to assist in Clipboard Cruising. Student responses to exit questions can also provide additional information when the teacher is forming Readiness Groups. A simple-passport can also assess the level of student understanding of a concept and the effectiveness of a station activity.

Clipboard Cruising and On-Going Assessment: Clipboard Cruising is an essential component of Tabor Rotation because it encourages teachers to be constant observers. Clipboard Cruising is noting certain behaviors or understandings on a clipboard, or on the tabor-rotation-clipboard-cruising sheet. Cruising occurs as one moves throughout a class period or day, instructs in whole group, and works with students in Teacher Time and in Teacher-Guided Readiness Groups. It is important that the teacher be continually monitoring the progress of each student so they can make an informed plan for moving the students a little bit further than they were the day before.

My hope is that, like so many other educators I’ve helped over the years, you take this framework, incorporate the unique standards and requirements of your state or district, and create a simple-to-follow plan of true differentiated instruction which moves every student ahead, every day.

Your children, my children, and our students deserve nothing less!

How do you get students to pay attention for longer than two minutes?

All of these questions have been asked repeatedly by those who work with any level and any subject. I am frequently asked these questions in training and debriefing sessions since I specialize in small-group instruction in the classroom.

After modeling with a class I’ve just met right before the modeling lesson began, I’m often asked this question,

“How did you “get” control of the classroom so quickly?”

One of the key things I do is establish some type of specific routine that takes a total physical response to complete. I have used it for several decades now, with elementary, middle, junior, and high schools and had 100% success.

It’s called Attention Levels. I get a chair and a desk of my own in the classroom and I model the way each level looks, then I ask the students to model it back for me. After modeling each level, I hold up 1-4 fingers at a time and ask them to model the Attention Level that matches the number.

While I’m modeling the Attention Levels I share some personal story with the students. It’s usually funny and makes them laugh. This is my way of making myself “vulnerable” to the class by being willing to share something personal with them.

I give specific positive verbal praise of their appropriate levels. This public acknowledgement of appropriate behavior goes a long way and contributes to the positive peer pressure that is now surrounding each student. It’s also a way to MODEL-PRACTICE-REWARD to ensure that good habits are formed.

Within 5 minutes, the class is now a community of learners with me facilitating the learning.

After a recent request from some secondary schools, I asked amazing graphic designer, Jessica Henon Vaughn, to add illustrations for the Attention Level descriptions. Download your FREE Poster-Ready Copy of attention-levels-for-learning and begin using it today. It WORKS!

The last two Tabor Rotation training sessions for the 2015-16 school year were full of excitement, enthusiasm, and receptivity. The days were amazingly positive, but what happened after the training was even more impressive. With just a few weeks left in the school year, participants went back to their classrooms and immediately began to use the strategies they learned. Here is what happened in one classroom…

…Recently, my team and I had the privilege of attending Glenna Tabor’s Math Training Seminar. From the moment we walked in, it had a completely different feel from any other professional development opportunity we’ve ever had. Glenna greeted each of us with a warm smile and she showed genuine joy in what she was about to share with us. Her delivery was focused, hands-on, and entertaining! Throughout the day, Glenna shared the ideas behind how her framework was developed, as well as data to prove that it works! Her belief in the system is contagious and I left that day ready to dive right in!

Not only did we get to enjoy a full-day of training, but we were also lucky enough to have Glenna come to our school that Monday to model Tabor Rotation in an actual classroom. This is the piece of the puzzle that so many trainings lack…the “show me” piece. It was great to see how the tips and strategies could be so easily implemented! And the students were engaged from the moment she began until the lesson was complete. I was convinced! Tabor Rotations were going to happen in my classroom. Now, this was all happening with only 8 days left in the school year! That is how easy it was to get started.

The next day, I organized my students into teams, explained how the rotations would work, and we were on our way! With the games Glenna had taught us, as well as the management strategies she used, it was an easy transition from my previous method of small group/center instruction. And my kids absolutely loved it!

They got to work in teams, with partners, in heterogeneous groups, and readiness groups. I was able to complete one full week of rotations before the school year ended and I cannot wait to fully implement Tabor Rotations next year! Will it take some work and preparation over the summer? Yes. But Glenna gave us everything we needed to get us on our way. Planning guides, templates, data collection tools, everything.

If you are looking for a way to better engage your students, as well as increase student growth and achievement, I highly recommend investing in Tabor Rotation training! – J. Waller, Teacher, Fulton County Schools

After implementing the Tabor Rotation Framework, transformation was immediate and quite powerful. Here is what one administrator observed…

…We just completed another round of training and I am sitting in a Kinder class excited beyond words. Next year we will be fully implementing Tabor Rotation in every grade level and I know this will make a huge difference for our students. The difference extends far beyond math. I expect we will take the [Tabor Team] roles we learn into our Project Based Learning and reading centers as well. I am very excited about the possibilities this has for our work.

I love the roles students are taking on, the manipulatives that I am seeing in stations, the conversations, and the independence in so many students who started the year speaking no English. For all of this, I thank you for what you have brought to the teaching profession, to me, my school and my students.- A. Holcombe, Administrator, Fulton County Schools

I’m so proud of all of the educators I have worked with this school year and the astounding results they have seen. Can’t wait till the next round of Tabor Rotation Institutes–all of Duncanville ISD schools in July and a room full of open-minded, dedicated educators in Houston, August 6! There’s room for you in August…

In a recent conversation, dynamic math instructional coach, Chrystena Talamantez, shared the overwhelmingly positive response her teachers had to additional support in guided, small-group work with students at the Teacher Time Station. Since having this station was the primary reason why I created the Tabor Rotation Framework, I asked Chrystena to share her personal testimony to the extreme value of Teacher-Guided Math Instruction/Teacher Time.

“Time and time again, when asked which part of Tabor Rotations is their favorite, students say, “Teacher Time!” Teacher Time is the math station at which the teacher works with ¼ of her class on the most difficult concepts of the unit of study. Rotation to Four Stations is one of the Essential Elements of Tabor Rotation Framework and it is one of the most valuable opportunities a teacher has to instruct his students.

In a recent PLC, a 2^{nd} grade teacher on my campus said the recent professional development where Teacher Time was modeled was “life changing”. With so much to teach, teachers see the benefit of Teacher Time as it incorporates so many important mathematical concepts into one lesson. After attending the Master Tabor Leader Institute with Glenna Tabor and watching her demonstrate Teacher Time, I knew if there was one area to focus on fine- tuning on my campus, Teacher Time was it! It was clear the impact it could have on students would be extremely powerful!

Here’s why Teacher Time is so powerful:

Follows the problem-solving process in learning mathematical concepts.

Moves through the CRA progression in order to build conceptual understanding, representational understanding, and abstract understanding.

Makes the math come alive for kids.

Utilizes questions in a state-tested format such as STAAR.

Provides an opportunity to teach the hardest concepts to one small heterogeneous group at a time.

Allows for immediate support as needed so all students master the concept.

Students are able to learn from one another.

Builds critical thinking through the use of cognitively-guided instruction.

Helps build relationships with your students.

It makes learning fun!

Many times our students may seem to do well in class, but then on a District Curriculum Assessment or the yearly state test [in Texas it’s called STAAR], they don’t master the concept. Teacher Time’s use of state test type questions provides the opportunity to practice concepts at the level of thinking and rigor that is necessary for mastery of the standards and in turn, the yearly state test. Let’s continue our work to help students truly master the art of problem solving and realizing that math is not just memorizing facts and formulas! As teachers, it can give us the time and the tools to help all of our kids succeed. Teacher time may just be “life changing” for your students and for you!”

“You are only as good as your coach thinks you are.” –Brian Williams

The teachers and students at Farrell Elementary in Arlington ISD must be AMAZING, INTELLIGENT, and DYNAMIC, because Ms. Talamantez knows you are and is making sure you know it, too! Thank you, Chrystena, for inspiring all of us!