Differentiating the Environment for Middle School Math Students:
Helping students overcome math anxiety and find their own motivation to learn and succeed

The middle school math wiki page of #diffimooc focuses on finding resources to help teachers better meet the needs of their students. The aim of this page is to help teachers identify what types of learners they have in their classrooms and manage how they assess their students. A secondary goal of this page is to assist teachers in helping their students set and monitor their own goals and use online tools to self-assess.

Tools for Teachers
What kinds of learners do you have in your classroom?
Knowing your students is the best way to teach them. It is important to understand what ways your students learn best. It is also important for students to know how they learn best. The sooner a student can discover this, the sooner they are able to work to their strengths and communicate that information to their teachers.

In order to learn about your students, you may give a multiple intelligences survey. The Birmingham Grid for Learning is one survey you can give students. It is done online and only takes about 10 minutes for students to complete. There are easy to read definitions about what each of the learning styles are and the end analysis gives an easy-to-read color wheel with varying degrees based on level of intelligence.

How you use the results of the survey are up to you, but knowing the multiple intelligences strengths and challenges of your learners allows you to tailor lessons to their needs. Students with strong word sense benefit from studying vocabulary and using words in sentences. Kinesthetic learners do well with lessons where they are moving around or doing things with their hands other than writing. Regardless of your lesson topic, it is important to remember that not all students learn in the same way. As educators, it is our responsibility to adjust to the student, not for the student to change for us.

Results of BGL survey
To see the results of the BGL survey as given to one class, click here. The results are for 29 students from two 6th grade math classes in a middle school in the Anchorage School District. The lesson plan found at the link below was followed in order to help discuss different learning styles with the students. Students were shown how to access the survey and were given about 10 minutes to take the survey. A few students needed clarification on some word meanings. The students wrote their codes down and gave them to the teacher who input them on the websites results page. Students were given time to compare results with each other and with the group. Students also wrote the codes down to take home and share with their parents, as they had access to the link from their teacher's website. Some of the students even included their highest learning style on their edmodo site.

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This student used their favorite learning style on their Edmodo profile.

For an example of a lesson plan to use for the Birmingham Grid for Learning, click here.

Here is a link to a short survey you can give your students to find out more about their attitudes toward math: Math Attitudes Survey
This is a plan for using the Math Attitudes Survey as part of creating a positive math learning environment for your students:

Some links to other online surveys
learning styles
More on Learning Styles
Multiple Intelligences assessment

What technologies are available to track and manage assessments?

Formative assessment
Formative assessments allow you to determine what progress your students are making toward mastery of specific skills or concepts. You can use formative assessment tools to identify the areas where students need clarification, re-teaching, or more practice. The results of formative assessments should not be used to grade students; instead, you should use the results to guide you in planning the next steps in your instruction. Online tools for formative assessment can save you time, paper, and copying expenses. They can also make it easy for you to save student work and record progress. Your students may find online tools engaging, and they can use the tools themselves for their own goal setting and tracking.

Middle school students who have strong mastery of the basic multiplication facts can apply that knowledge to work with greater ease on several other math skills, including division, factoring, finding common denominators in fractions, and reducing fractions. Students who haven't developed fluent recall of the basic multiplication facts may struggle with these and other math skills, and they may become discouraged and frustrated. Here are some online tools to help you assess and track your students' mastery of the basic multiplication facts:

This is a math fact practice game found through Edmodo Discover:
Math Fact Practice!
Your students can choose the skill level, operation(s), and time duration to practice. They can print their results, including their average answer time, number of facts answered, and number skipped; you can save this information as part of your formative assessment.

Edmodo has a useful tool for creating quizzes for formative and summative assessment. This five minute tutorial shows you how to create a quiz using Edmodo:

Here is an example of a plan to use Edmodo quizzes for formative assessment:

Students can use this goal tracking worksheet in conjunction with the Edmodo quizzes:

(Please see the section below for more information and resources for student goal setting and tracking.)

Summative assessment
Summative assessment evaluates student achievement at the end of a unit of study, semester, or school year. Grades, report cards, and standardized test scores provide summative information about student progress. Many schools use digital technology for summative assessment. For example, PowerSchool is a program the allows teachers to enter grades online; students and parents can log in from anywhere with internet access to see grades, attendance records, and more. The MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) computerized adaptive assessments may be given to students in several subject areas at intervals throughout the school year. Students take the MAP tests online, and for each student, the test questions vary in degree of difficulty based on the student's correct and incorrect responses. The MAP tests provide summative data, giving scores that schools can report, but they also provide detailed formative data that ideally teachers can use to plan and differentiate instruction. One drawback of these tools is that they are expensive and require districtwide investment.
MAP computerized adaptive assessment

There are a wide range of digital resources available to teachers that are free or very inexpensive that can be used for traditional and innovative summative assessment. One form of authentic assessment that lends itself well to digital technology is portfolio assessment. A well-designed portfolio can demonstrate growth and achievement in a way that reflects the individual student's learning style preferences, unique goals, and self-assessment and reflection. Here is a plan that shares some ideas for creating digital portfolios:

Tools for Students
Technology tools for setting and tracking goals
Having students use technology tools is often a good strategy to increase engagement, ownership, as well as academic performance. When students set goals and track them it puts more responsibility on the student, and the student is forced to reflect on his or her progress. Self confidence may also improve as students reach their realistic goals; this is a big step in helping students overcome anxiety in math. Increased pride and satisfaction in their work is another possible outcome that students may feel from goal setting and tracking their goals. When students see their multiplication and division skills improving hopefully they will have less anxiety when solving more complicated math problems.

Many technology tools are available to assist students and teachers in the goal setting process: a few are listed below. Most of these online goal setting tools are free and user friendly. Using the online resources such as Evernote will give students the ability to share their goals as well as update them from anywhere they have access to the internet.

The attached goal tracking sheet and lesson plan are designed to help students increase their multiplication and division skills by making goals and tracking them, as well as developing study strategies based on their learning strengths. The same approach could be taken with many different math concepts as well as skills from other subjects. For example a goal setting worksheet could be developed to understand equivalent fractions or irrational numbers. Remember to be consistent in having a routine to have students set goals and track them.

The goal setting and tracking worksheet can be downloaded into Google Docs, Evernote, Dropbox, or a cloud tool of your choice and shared with your students. If your students have consistent internet access they can modify the goal sheet and then you can view it in a shared folder.

Tools for Setting and Tracking Goals:
Top Ten Online Goal Setting and Tracking Tools
Portfolios and goal setting using Evernote
How to track student progress using Evernote

Research and articles to support using technology for setting and tracking goals:
Making Kids Work on Goals (Not Just in Soccer)
Article about Anxiety and Math Goal Setting

How to help students self-assess learning

An important part of the learning process is self-assessing and self-reflecting. Much like when a scientist forms a hypothesis or a reader makes a prediction, when the outcome is determined, the scientist or reader notes whether they were correct or not. The brain actually releases small amounts of dopamine if this occurs and the person feels good about themselves, increasing their self-efficacy, or belief in themselves that they can succeed at a task. Self-assessing helps students understand what they are being assessed on, and this becomes more and more valuable as students get older. In some classrooms, teachers create a rubric with the help of students to self-assess on a regular basis. This can be a very valuable tool for helping students understand where their strengths and weaknesses are.

One possible way to have students self-assess is to use a Google form that you create. You can tailor it to your specific class or lesson. The address for the form can be linked to from any website and the creator of the form has access to the results of the form in a spreadsheet format in their Google Drive account. The following form is used for a middle school math projects class that focuses on robotics. Students must complete challenges with their robots and upon completion of the challenge or when the time frame expires, students fill out the form and submit it. The instructor can then get feedback on how students think they are doing.

Click here for an example of a google form used for self-assessment. And below is where the results would show up in your Google Drive.

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Example of how the results of the google form will appear.

For a sample lesson plan for using a google form at the end of a lesson, click here.