Online Math Resources

I’ve always felt like it was hard to find good math resources online.  Sure, if you want a worksheet, your options are nearly limitless, but when you want a worthwhile, free, standards-based supplement for your curriculum, it’s sometimes hard to find.  I’d like to add a disclaimer before I go on. In the 2019-2020 school year, every SUSD student should receive rigorous tier one instruction that maintains the integrity of our newly adopted curriculum.  Since most of us are new to this material, I believe we should do our best to use what is provided by the publisher. All of the websites I’m including in this post should be considered a teacher resource.  For example, Khan Academy can be used by adults to deepen their understanding. It should not replace instruction.

Recently, someone shared an article with me that I found to be very helpful. In this link are over 60 websites for teaching and learning math.  I’d like to share the ones that are free for teachers and (in my opinion) will be most useful for Stockton Unified School District staff.  I’m also throwing in a few that are not on the list.

My long-time favorite has to be Khan Academy.  With video tutorial content that can be assigned by the teacher to individuals or the entire class that are standards-aligned, this resource works great for a flipped classroom, as an intervention, or for acceleration. Students can access all content (not just what is assigned) at any time, using almost any device. There is even a version for preschoolers now called Khan Academy Kids. Math content goes all the way up through college level courses and can be customized to follow grade level standards or align to PSAT and SAT needs.  Another website that offers something similar is Freckle.  It has a diagnostic and customizes practice to meet student needs.  A third option is Moby Max.  This website has a paid version that provides more features.  Even more sites that deliver something of this type include Math Help and Splash Math.

In the past, I’ve seen how the Chromebooks can become babysitters while kids play on websites like Cool Math Games, Fun Brain, Sheppard Software or Math Game Time. If I’m being honest, even Prodigy Game is more game than it is learning.  That’s not to say that these don’t have a place in the classroom at all.  In my opinion, they should be relegated to rainy day recess activities because they are games.  Another option would be to tell students to play these games for homework. If we assign specific practice that students actually need, they’d get more out of these programs and they’d probably be more likely to do their homework if it involved playing a game instead of completing a worksheet. One website that goes a little bit further than just providing games is Math Playground. In addition to having games, it also has logic puzzles, instructional videos, and a “Story Math” section that models word problems with step-by-step solutions.

If you’re interested in playing math-themed music videos for your students, Flocabulary and Numberock have free songs that kids enjoy.  If you want a neat site for online fluency practice, Xtramath might be what you are looking for.  Many of the websites I’ve listed provide a variety of resources in addition to the pieces I’ve mentioned and I encourage you to click on the links and explore the features to see what might be beneficial.  The next few links provide what I think are great activities to get your students thinking about math in new and different ways. At  Which One Doesn’t Belong, classes can get into some amazing math dialogue about which one doesn’t belong.  KenKen puzzles are what I would call the next level of Sudoku, and require students to use number sense and mathematical operations to solve a puzzle. It doesn’t have the strongest math problems, but Free rice does give students the chance to fight hunger while they practice math facts because it donates rice with every correct answer.

This section is dedicated to middle and high school math teachers.  I haven’t recently met a single subject math teacher who didn’t already know about Desmos, but if you’re new to the profession, or you somehow missed it, Desmos provides a free online graphing calculator with many features.  In addition, at Teacher Desmos you can find a myriad of activities to use with students.  You’ll want to get comfortable with Desmos if you’re teaching high school math in SUSD next year because it is embedded in many of the Pearson enVision lessons.  A different website that also has a graphing calculator is Geogebra. This site also has 3-D math features and worksheets.  A third reference for high school teachers is Shodor.  This site provides interactive activities for students in grades 3 through undergraduate level.

More resources for teachers can be found at Illuminations.  This is the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics page, and it contains lesson plans, games, activities, and brain teasers from a very reputable source.  The same organization has another site, Figure This, with games, family practice, and challenges in English and Spanish for the middle grades.  Another source for middle grades is PBS Learning Media.  Here, you can find culturally relevant video logs that are added to regularly.  The website Greg Tang Math is helpful because it offers a variety of resources for both student and teacher learning.  Like many other pages, it has games, worksheets, and student lessons, but unlike others, it also provides teacher professional development and center activities (be aware that some are not free).

Finally, one last resource that I have found to be helpful over the years, is Natural Library of Virtual Manipulatives.  Here, you will find virtual manipulatives for just about every math concept from pre-K through twelfth grade.  The site is clearly organized by math strand and by grade. Unfortunately, there may be issues with Java, depending on which device you are using to access the website.  However, if you are able to use these virtual manipulatives with students, they can be very powerful and are a free alternative to purchasing physical manipulatives for your class.  If you’ve read this far, I hope you came across at least one resource that will support student learning.

Thoughts From a New Coach

Those who get the best results are the ones who ask the most questions and aren’t afraid to try new things.

In my first year as an instructional coach, I’ve found myself reflecting on my own teaching.  After 15 years in the classroom, it was a scary move to attempt something new. If you had asked me what I thought about this new role earlier in the year, I may not have had such a positive response.  I missed working with “my own” students and I missed the comfort and predictability of my role as a teacher. In the past two months, the Instructional Coaches have been required to attend a substantial amount of training.  The teachers are not unwarranted in their concerns and comments of “I haven’t seen you in so long” or “do you still work here?”

While it bothered me that I was unable to support the teachers I work with as much as I would have liked to, this heavy dose of information rekindled my love of learning.  While sitting through each presentation, I caught myself thinking “I wish I had known that when I was in the classroom” or “that would have helped so much.” There were quite a few moments where we learned the research behind one strategy or another that reinforced some procedure that I had always felt in my gut to be best for students.

Long story short, I wish I could go back and be the coach that I never had.  Of course, I learned to do some things well, but I know so much more now that could make me a better teacher, I almost feel guilty for not providing my students with more than I was able to give them at the time.  I always worked very hard as a teacher, but all I could do for my students was the best I knew how to do.

The harsh reality is that we (as teachers) aren’t getting the job done.  According to the California School Dashboard Website, only 21.2% of our students were College/Career Ready in 2018. (Source: https://www.caschooldashboard.org/reports/39686760000000/2018)

I don’t want to give the wrong impression here.  Teachers are working very hard. Many have more on their plate than ever before and they are doing the absolute best they know how in order to serve their students.  No good teacher, however, will ever tell you that they have no room to improve. I personally believe that 21.2% is not good enough. What we are doing is not working.  My suggestion is to try something new.

So where does technology fit into all of this?  The State of California actually has Standards for Career Ready Practice.  (Source: https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/ct/sf/documents/ctescrpflyer.pdf)  The fourth of those standards is

Apply technology to enhance productivity.  Career-ready individuals find and maximize the productive value of existing and new technology to accomplish workplace tasks and solve workplace problems. They are flexible and adaptive in acquiring and using new technology. They understand the inherent risks—personal and organizational—of technology applications, and they take actions to prevent or mitigate these risks.

My big takeaway from this standard is that students need to be fluent with the acquisition of new technology skills.  This fluency can only be perfected through exposure and instruction and it needs to begin as early as possible. Just as students learning a new language benefit from being immersed, so do our students who are developing their technological knowledge.

Many teachers are not digital natives.  This is not an excuse that we can accept to justify our lack of instruction with technology.  Our students depend on us to teach and guide them to digital fluency. When I started teaching, I was not an expert at anything.  I’d argue that I’m still not an expert at anything, but my skills are much better developed. I tried new things and I improved. I was fortunate to have others (both adults and students) who helped me improve.  I was able to ask questions and search for answers.

My observations as a new Instructional Coach have shown me that the teachers who are asking the most questions and trying new things are making the most growth (both as professionals and as measured through assessment of students).  Both veteran and brand new teachers are doing amazing things with students that are helping to prepare them for their futures because they aren’t afraid to admit that they don’t know everything and they are willing to ask for help.

Those who’ve worked in Stockton Unified long enough have seen many failures in the past.  If you’ve been considering a new approach, thinking about implementing more technology in your classroom, making drastic changes to the way things are done, or even trying to carry out some small modification to your previous way of doing things that will incorporate technology, I’d like to quote Mark Hall from a recent conversation we had:

“What’s the worst that could happen?”