Scaffolding For Executive Functioning

Over at Reason and Wonder, Michael Fenton is exploring the possibilities for using Alex Gendler video puzzles in the classroom. Michael’s wonderful take on these rich resources, reminded me of one of the main goals of this blog, to show how students with disabilities can access rich mathematics instruction.

As we began this school year, my goal was to model how our class valued perseverance and sense-making over answer-getting. I did this for a couple of my classes by using Gendler’s Zombie Bridge Problem video. The video is long and there are a lot of details to account for before you can come to a reasonable solution. This requires quite a bit of what is called executive functioning. Executive functioning includes (but is not limited to) the abilities to initiate a task, make a plan, prioritize information, organize information, think flexibly about strategies, and self-monitor (i.e. check your work). Sound familiar? My students tend to struggle with executive functioning skills and this is often where my scaffolding is targeted.

To help scaffold my student’s executive functioning while solving the Zombie Bridge Problem, I used EDpuzzle. EDpuzzle allows a teacher to modify an already existing youtube or uploaded video by cropping it, including voiceovers and adding questions. Here is how I used EDpuzzle to scaffold the Zombie Bridge Problem.

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 10.19.25 PM

First, I cropped the video to exclude the solution. As anyone familiar with 3-acts knows, the solution is vital, but should come after students have had time to explore first! So it was gone.

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Daily Math Routines

It all started when Dan Meyer tweeted this Which One Doesn’t Belong prompt…

The MathTwitterBlogosphere had a ball using logical and comical thinking to conceive of ways to not pick the muppet.  I said Daniel Craig didn’t belong because his hands were showing.  Then I decided to send a response…

But all the fun and games got me thinking about my own classes and how I could leverage this fun for my students.  Enter Mary Bourassa and her new #MTBoS site Which One Doesn’t Belong?  Inspired by the work of Christopher DanielsonSteve Wyborney, and Chris Hunter, Mary has created a wonderful new website meant to spark mathematical conversations and debates among students and teachers.  It joins a list of other #MTBoS inspired websites that provide prompts for beginning of class activities. Beginning of class activities are called many different things: do nows, openers, bellwork, warm-ups, but I like to refer to them as daily routines.

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#MTBoS Mod: Estimation 180 Edition

As I have become more involved in the MathTwitterBlogoSphere (#MTBoS) it has been a pleasure to share the really great material created by the MTBoS with other teachers in my school.  Our school has three sites.  There is a grammar school (elementary and middle), a high school and a post-high school which assists students in the transition from school to “the real world” in a more targeted, vocational way.  Earlier this year I was able to share sites like Estimation 180 and Would You Rather with teachers at all three sites.  One of the middle school teachers has integrated Estimation 180 and the work of Andrew Stadel into her classroom culture.  What follows is her reflection on this process in the form of an edition of the #MTBoS Modification Series.  You can also read the first edition that featured Mathalicious.

#MTBoS MOD: Estimation 180 Edition

Students in one math group have been using Estimation 180 as a starting point for further exploring the concept of estimation.  They know that to estimate means to make a guess based on known information.  When you are asked to estimate it is often within a context and you must use any relevant information (known or given) to guide you.  After several months of answering Mr. Stadel’s prompts on the Estimation 180 website, students created their own original estimation projects. They were encouraged to research a topic of interest and provide enough information through facts or visuals so that classmates could make a reasonable guess.

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To Calculator, or Not To Calculator, That is a Question

When it comes to planning lessons in special education, or general education for that matter, the goal is for all students to be able to access, understand, and be able to successfully apply the content to show evidence of full understanding. The application can take many forms: performance assessments, formative assessments, summative assessments, teacher observations, etc…

But how do you get to that final assessment piece? This post is about the planning process that goes into successful lessons for all students.  Let’s begin with Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL is a model for planning lessons and units that creates access to the content for all students.  Here is a cartoon that embodies the philosophy of UDL.


One major component of planning in special education math classes is prioritizing the mathematical goals and the needs of the students to access the mathematics in a lesson.  A Teaching Children Mathematics article from 2004 suggests the following steps for beginning to plan a successful math lesson for students with disabilities:

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If I Could Time Travel…

If I could time travel I would do one thing.  This post is about that one thing.


Time And Relative Dimension In Space

Since everyone knows that when you travel back in time you can’t change anything because of the butterfly effect, this limits my choices to instances where I could simply be an observer.  What would I want to observe?  Would it be a famous event like the Gettysburg Address or the “I Have a Dream” speech?  Would it be something small like when my parents met or my first day of school?  No.

I decided I would want to observe myself as a first year teacher.  The reason for this comes from the advancements in technology that are making classroom filming more accessible and convenient, including this little gem.

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