Math Every Day Winners Showcase

Posted by Lisa Wise

Mar 4, 2015 10:00:00 AM

Today is the third installment in our “Math Every Day Winners Showcase.”  Today’s winning entry from Ms. Holcomb’s 3rd grade class at Timber Creek Elementary in Lewisville, not only illustrates how these dynamic students use math in their lives, but does so with a lively musical rendition of Rock Around the Clock! These students truly Rock!

Math Around The Clock

One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock math,
Five, six, seven o’clock eight o’clock math,
Nine, ten, eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock math
We use math around the clock all day.

Put your thinking caps on for some Science fun,
We’ll measure in metric when the clock strikes 1:00.

We use math to measure in Science each day.
We use math, math, math, as we learn and play.
We use math! We use math all night and day.

When the clock strikes two, three and four,
It’s time to go home, we’re out the door.

We use math to keep our schedule all day.
We use math, math, math, as we learn and play.
We use math! We use math all night and day.

When the chimes ring five, six and seven,
We stop for gas at Seven-Eleven.

We use math to count the money we pay
We use math, math, math, as we learn and play
We use math! We use math all night and day.

When it’s eight, nine, ten, eleven, too!
We check the weather and choose clothes for school.

We use math to check the temp each day
We use math, math, math, as we learn and play
We use math! We use math all night and day.

When the clock strikes twelve, and it’s time to sleep
We close our eyes and count those sheep

We use math to count things every day
We use math, math, math, as we learn and play
We use math! We use math all night and day.

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Topics: motivation, contest, math everyday

Math Every Day: Winner's Showcase

Posted by Lisa Wise

Mar 2, 2015 10:00:00 AM

Welcome to the second entry in our “Math Every Day Winners Showcase.”  Today we feature a winning classroom entry from Dan F. Long Middle School in Dallas.    Ms. Warmbrodt’s 7th grade integrated Math and Technology Lab compiled a single entry surrounding their participation in the Holiday Farmer’s Market. See how these 7th graders identified important math concepts in this school event:

Math is always a part of our everyday world at Long Middle School and on December 9th, math was even more evident at the Holiday Farmers Market hosted by our school.  National Junior Honor Society members and the Integrated Math and Technology Lab students coordinated the event and students chose roles such as market manager, cashier, bake salesperson, server, sous chef, and event photographer. The Market booths included a photo booth, cooking demonstrations, free fresh produce, tasting samples and more. Paradise Produce delivered hundreds of pounds of fresh produce to distribute free to students and their families and chefs from Carrollton and Coppell volunteered to provide cooking demonstrations using fresh produce. Parents tasted samples made by the chefs and received nutritional information and recipes. This farm to school event increased awareness of the nutritional benefits of eating fresh food straight from the farm and educated students and parents on how to use produce for making tasty economical meals.  Students learned how to operate a farmers market and how to use math to prepare for and run a successful real-life event.

For the Market, the students determined how much produce $300 would buy and they calculated how many families could receive a two pound bag of produce. The food was then distributed to each family the night of the event.

The volunteer chefs provided students with their recipes in advance and the students calculated the amount of ingredients needed by multiplying by the number of expected guests by a one serving recipe. And, in preparation for the Market, students determined how much food the chefs could cook, divided that number by the attendees and determined how many sample bowls and utensils to order.  Since the chefs asked for pumpkins to be pre-cooked, students had to determine the ratio of time it would take to bake a one-pound pumpkin and apply that ratio to a ten pound pumpkin.

The bake sale gave students an opportunity to practice selling items, taking in money and giving change.  With the money they raised, the students were able to purchase a class set of earphones

Parents and students watched the chefs cooking demonstrations and tasted samples of the fresh cooked produce.  Attendees also received nutritional information that included the number of calories per tablespoon and the amount of nutrients in the samples.  Students and parents learned that cooking healthy homemade meals at home is tastier and more economical than eating and buying fast food. 

The students worked alongside the chefs and learned how to prepare fresh produce, how to measure and mix ingredients and how to compile ingredients to make a tasty meal.  Students also learned how to gauge baking temperature and how tokeep ingredients at a healthy temperature.

At the Market, participants enjoyed making their own caramel corn and applesauce.  The students calculated the ratio of apples to water to make a small cup of applesauce for each participant.  They also calculated the ratio of corn kernels to marshmallows needed for each participant to make a popcorn ball.

The Holiday Farmers Market centered on service in our community and engaged students in mathematical concepts.  Students learned the importance of counting money accurately and how to give change.  They applied ratios to recipes and they understood how to increase and decrease recipes based on the number of people being served.  The students, parents and teachers saw the chefs create dishes with their recipes and learned that the price per unit of fresh produce is healthier and more economical than the price of eating out.  Math was a big part of the market as the students divided hundreds of pounds of produce amongst the participants, calculated the number of servings needed and adjusted recipes accordingly.  The event provided hands-on activities where students used their mathematical background knowledge in a real-life situation.

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Topics: motivation, contest, math everyday

Math Every Day: Winner's Showcase

Posted by Lisa Wise

Feb 27, 2015 2:28:00 PM

Congratulations to the winners of our national “Math Every Day” challenge.  The contest, which ran throughout the month of January, challenged students across the country to provide examples of “how math is all around you.”  Throughout the month, we posted examples of math in art, technology, food, nature, sports and fashion to provide inspiration. Then we asked TTM students to tell us how they encounter math every day and why that’s important. 

Not only were we blown away by the sheer quantity of submission we received - nearly 1,000! –but we were equally impressed by the creativity, insight and originality of the TTM students, who range fro 3rd to 8th grade.  The winning submissions incorporate a broad range of math concepts including metric conversion, spatial positioning, linear equations, variability, symmetry and more.

In the coming weeks, we will be shining the light on some of the winning student entries in this blog series, which we hope will serve as an inspiration to other TTM users as well as students and teachers around the country.

Here is the first winning entry to be spotlighted in our “Math Every Day” Winners Showcase:

“A world of math”

By Donia, 3rd Grade
an Sciff Elementary School, Fort Bend ISD, TX.

Ring! RING! 7:00 already! I’m going to be late for school! Also it’s going to be 30 degrees outside! Math is everything. You can’t name something that’s not math, fashion, nature, music, technology, art and more.

My mom is a nurse and she needs to go to work at 6:00 and if she never knew when its 6 she will be late and she’ll get fired. My mom is a great cook too and her cake will be a disaster if she doesn’t measure and cook properly. My mom needs to know how many cups of flour and how many eggs she needs to bake our cake. Not only that but also she needs to know how much temperature and time she has to warm up the oven.

I wouldn’t be able to wear an eye-catching dress if I never knew my size. I’d look like Rapunzel with a long dress instead of long hair or I’d be stuck on a small dress for a long time until I find a way to get out of that cloth so only math can tell my size.  Also I have to play the piano in a melodious way. If I don’t know the correct timing for each note it would sound as if I was playing random keys. I’m an artist too. I won’t be able to draw proper shapes and sizes if I never knew what they were. I would have drawn a picture that was too ugly to see if I never knew my friend math.

Also I need to know what the temperature is so I could wear the right clothes because if I wore the wrong clothes I would freeze to an ice cube or melt as ice cream. I live in a lovely house, which is made by engineers. How did they make my house so beautiful? Well, these engineers measured and used the correct shapes like how I do my art! If they never knew I’d live in a bird house. Robots are doing surgery today only with the help of math in technology.

I have to set up my alarm clock to get up in the morning before I go to bed.

So from the time I wake up till I go to bed, I have to encounter math all day and so do everyone. I love math. Thanks math!!!!!

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Topics: motivation, contest, math everyday

It’s not just about the technology. It’s all about the technology.

Posted by Lisa Erdner

Jan 29, 2015 4:10:28 PM

By Paula Maylahn

In the 21st Century, addressing personalization requires a discussion about technology. While technology isn’t needed for personalized instruction, it is needed to bring personalization to scale. It is impossible for one teacher to provide personalized instruction to every student in her class at the same moment and in the right way to optimize each student’s learning experience. However, with the assistance of the right educational technology she can. Technology helps make the impossible possible.

The most effective 1:1 technology identifies the misconception that drives a student to select a wrong answer. It’s not sufficient to provide a green check for correct answers and a red X for incorrect answers in an online quiz. Effective 1:1 technology provides meaningful feedback that points out strengths as well as constructive guidance for improvement. Research shows that students benefit from an adaptive learning experience and value timely responses to questions. And for the struggling student, where stakes are especially high, corrective feedback that is differentiated and mathematically focused also plays a pivotal role in achievement. For students failing to meet the minimum baseline for math proficiency, 1:1 support students should not be optional.

Effective 1:1 technology not only delivers a meaningful personalized learning experience, but also motivates students and helps them become aware and proactive about filling in gaps on their own. Classroom teachers and researchers have long noted that when students buy into their learning objectives, they display more effort and perseverance, and greater engagement in their schooling.

Technology that delivers effective 1:1 differentiated instruction approximates what a teacher does during one-on-one time with her student. Though nothing can replace the power an effective teacher, effective technology can simulate that productive experience for students.
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Combat the Summer Slide

Posted by Buzz

Jul 10, 2014 3:21:00 PM

Check this out:
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Topics: Summer School

8 Ways to Assess Learning On-the-Spot

Posted by Miranda Cipkowski

Apr 29, 2014 9:52:45 AM



Most teachers have asked themselves, “Do my students get this?” Here are some sure fire ways to make sure they do--- not just the one with his hand raised. As we all know, the student afraid to ask the question is the one who needs enrichment/remediation the most. The following are some great ways to informally assess learning.

                In this thoughtful Educational Leadership article, Dylan Wiliam (University of London) describes the initiate-respond-evaluate cycle: the teacher asks a question, calls on a student with a raised hand, says whether the answer is right or wrong, and moves on. The teacher’s intent is to check for understanding, but there are several problems:

-    Student participation is voluntary, which leads to the “Matthew Effect” (the rich get richer, the poor get poorer).

-    Calling on one or two students doesn’t give the teacher an adequate sampling of the whole class’s understanding.

-    Low-level, off-the-cuff questions can mislead the teacher into thinking students understand when they don’t.

“Trying to manage the learning that is happening in 30 different minds at the same time will always be extraordinarily challenging,” says Wiliam, but he believes there are ways to do better:

  1. Cold-calling – The teacher tells students to raise their hands only to ask questions, not to answer them, and calls on students at random (using an electronic randomizer or popsicle sticks). This simple shift can have a major impact on teaching and learning, says Wiliam – but it often meets resistance from students: eager beavers aren’t able to show off their knowledge, and non-participators have to pay attention. Nevertheless, a no-hands-up policy equalizes class participation, increases engagement, and gives the teacher a more accurate idea of the class’s understanding.
  2. Posing the question first – Wiliam recommends asking a question first, pausing to get everyone thinking, and then calling on a student.
  3. Using statements rather than questions – For example, rather than asking, “Which country was most to blame for the outbreak of World War I?” the teacher says, “Russia was most to blame for the outbreak of World War I” and invites students to agree or disagree, with evidence.
  4. Planning better questions – Teachers should put more time into formulating questions, says Wiliam, “because we cannot peer into students’ brains to see what is going on” and “you can’t give good feedback until you find out what’s going wrong in the first place.” For example, asking students to simplify the fraction 16/64 can produce a correct answer (1/4) for the wrong reasons (the student “cancelled” the sixes).
  5. Pushing the envelope – “If the students are answering every one of the teacher’s questions correctly,” says Wiliam, “the teacher is surely wasting the students’ time. If the questions are not causing students to struggle and think, they are probably not worth asking.” He is fond of saying to his students, “Mistakes are evidence that the questions I asked are tough enough to make you smarter.” Research indicates that long-term learning improves when students make mistakes and correct their answers.
  6. Asking multi-level questions – This allows students at different achievement levels to participate. For example, the teacher might write two math problems on the board and ask, “Which of these two questions is harder and why?”
  7. Using all-class response systems at least every 20-30 minutes – Wiliam favors low-tech methods – dry-erase boards, ABCD cards, and students holding up fingers – and recommends multiple-choice questions to simplify analysis. “The powerful thing about all these approaches is that the teacher can quickly scan the students’ responses and make an immediate decision about what to do next,” he says.
  8. Using exit tickets – This can help the teacher decide where to begin the next lesson. If students write their names on the back of their answers, it can also allow the teacher to group students by misconceptions or creating mixed-answer groups for peer instruction.


“The Right Questions, the Right Way” by Dylan Wiliam in Educational Leadership, March 2014 (Vol. 71, #6, p. 16-19),; Wiliam can be reached at


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How Can We Measure a School's Success?

Posted by Miranda Cipkowski

Apr 21, 2014 11:17:38 AM


 What is success? How do we know when we’ve achieved it? When speaking of success in terms of education there must be several “yard sticks” in play in order to get a fair and  accurate reading on the pulse of our schools locally, statewide, and nationally.

“Ranking schools is a hollow, misleading exercise that can do more damage than good,” say John Gulla (Edward Ford Foundation) and Olaf Jorgenson (Almaden Country School, CA) in this article in Independent School. But they agree that educators can’t “reflexively dismiss all efforts to apply some elements of quantitative analysis to our work.” They list nine measures of school effectiveness – three traditional and six more recent. Selecting judiciously which of these to use, say Gulla and Jorgenson, might give a good sense of a school’s quality:

            • Parent satisfaction – This includes the level of parent demand, a low rate of attrition, and positive ratings on a well-constructed parent survey. As important as giving a survey is how well the results are used. “If a measurement matters at all,” says information expert Douglas Hubbard, “it is because it must have some conceivable effect on decisions and behavior. If we can’t identify a decision that could be affected by a proposed measurement and how it could change those decisions, then the measurement simply has no value.”

            • Standardized testing – Standardized multiple-choice tests can be seen as measuring (in the words of John Austin of King’s Academy in Jordan) “the educational equivalent of factory work” – better suited to the Industrial Age that faded decades ago. Far more valuable, say Gulla and Jorgenson, are SAT II, AP, and IB tests with their open-ended and creative-response questions. The key data to watch for are trends over time and the value a school adds to students’ entering achievement levels.

            • Accreditation – A thorough audit can provide valuable insights on a school’s effectiveness as measured against its mission and aspirations, in the context of its resources and capacities. But a lot depends on the quality of the visiting team and the school’s self-study.

            • Value-added assessment – The College and Work Readiness Assessment (CWRA+) is designed to measure how much a school contributes to a student’s 21st-century skills from freshman to senior year – critical thinking, analytic reasoning, problem solving, and ability to communicate in writing. This assessment is a “compelling alternative” to the limited range of the SAT I, say Gulla and Jorgenson.

            • Student surveys – Well-crafted questionnaires can quantify students’ level of engagement, providing important insights on how students feel about their school’s purpose, relevance, rigor, and challenge, as well as relationships, support, and connectedness. The High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE – see following article) can provide information that is “[p]otentially far more institutionally useful than data from standardized achievement testing,” say Gulla and Jorgenson.

            • Benchmarking – The key factor in a meaningful analysis of schools is comparing apples to apples and not rank-ordering, say the authors. “Healthy benchmarking collectives… are characterized by member school commitment to collegiality and use of data to benefit the greater good,” they say.

            • Data dashboards – These corporate-inspired tools for displaying a school’s “vital signs” in a user-friendly format can include enrollment and re-enrollment data, budget information, student and staff attendance, course selections, test results, college placements, post-graduate achievement, and more. “Still, much of what we do in schools cannot be easily measured and is not always subject to quantitative analysis,” say Bulla and Jorgenson. “Variables including curiosity, resilience, self-control, and determination – what we sometimes refer to as personality traits or simply ‘character’ – are even more critical than measures of IQ or academic achievement in determining how and why children succeed.”

            • Longitudinal alumni surveys – “Great schools are measured not by the accomplishments of their students, but by the lives led by their alumni,” said Michael Chun, past president of Kamehameha School in Hawaii. John Austin agrees: “Are they active and involved in their communities? Have they put their own educations to work in the service of others? Are they doing what Howard Gardner and his team at Harvard call ‘good work’ – work that is excellent in quality, socially responsible, and meaningful to its practitioners?” Insights on questions like these can be gleaned by periodically surveying graduates and asking them for critical reflections on the school and how well it prepared them – or didn’t prepare them – for occupations, relationships, collaboration, leadership, self-advocacy, and coping.

            • A senior survey – Harvard professor Richard Light is developing an interview protocol for graduating seniors designed to elicit information about both student life and the academic program.

            • The Mission Skills Assessment – This assessment is designed to measure middle-school students’ curiosity, teamwork, resilience, ethics, and time management. Comparing data with other schools might provide valuable insights on the most effective practices in developing these vital life skills.

            This is an exhaustive – and exhausting – list of possible measures of school effectiveness, conclude Gulla and Jorgenson. The trick is to select the measures that most accurately and efficiently measure what a school wants to do. “As school leaders, we must be courageous, resisting the significant pressures to commodify education as a neatly defined, measured set of metrics and program outcomes,” they say. “At the same time, we do our students and ourselves no favors if we reject all efforts to measure the value we know we deliver.”


“Measuring Our Success: How to Gauge the ‘Value Added’ by an Independent School Education” by John Gulla and Olaf Jorgenson in Independent School, Spring 2014 (Vol. 73, #3, p. 28-36),

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How to Cultivate "Grit"

Posted by Miranda Cipkowski

Feb 28, 2014 10:35:07 AM


Ask anyone who knows me well, and those folks will tell you: Miranda has the fortitude of an ox.

I have a tenacity that simply will not allow me to give up. When I was a little girl, I ran around my grandmother’s house to the point of exhaustion, I held my breath underwater longer than any of my cousins dared, I walk on the treadmill at full incline, because even though it’s tough, it’s what I must do to save the ankle I broke severely in college from atrophy. I refuse to allow fear to hinder my attempt to be my best self. That being said, I am also an extremist. The attribute that has served in so many ways in my life can also be considered my Achilles heel. I am too hard on myself much of the time. I drive my husband crazy, I drive the editor at the newspaper crazy, and I drive my boss crazy with my onslaught of questions that really amount to this: “Is my work good enough?” Translation: “Am I good enough?”, or even more simply, “Am I enough? I think the key to harnessing and positively utilizing this wonderful quality, is the ability to strike a healthy balance between throwing in the towel almost immediately and constantly feeling like there is something to be proven. Below are some suggestions to finding the balance and bringing out the best in your students.

In this article in AMLE Magazine, consultant/writer Rick Wormeli says that in some domains, today’s students are incredibly tenacious: “If the story is good, they read 700-page books. They play online games, working their way through 12 levels of difficulty for six hours or more. They stay well into the evening hours to practice for theater productions and sports tournaments, and they work diligently for weeks on video projects to support favored causes.” But in other arenas, not so much. They abandon a website if it doesn’t download in two seconds. They think they know world events by skimming headlines and listening to short sound bites. They tune out if a text message is too long. And long reading assignments are anathema. So how do we build stick-to-it-iveness in classrooms? Here are Wormeli’s suggestions:

                • Cultivate trust. “Students will take risks and push themselves harder if they can trust the adult in charge won’t humiliate them,” he says. Don’t use sarcasm and “gotcha” language. Some positive examples: “Can you help me find the supportive details in this paragraph?” “The first part of your response provides the insight we needed. Tell me more about that second part.”

                • Make connections. When a student is deciding whether to watch a movie with a friend or finish a project that’s due tomorrow, the deciding factor will be whether the student wants to avoid disappointing the teacher.

                • Be happy. Students are drawn “to the bright oasis of the teacher who keeps cynicism and indifference at bay,” says Wormeli.

                • Provide descriptive feedback. Focus on the decisions students made while doing their work, he suggests: “Judgments and labels shut down the reflective, growth-mindset process.” Some templates: I noticed you decided to ______. As a result, you were able to ________.

                • Show growth. Use pre-assessments to set a baseline and create a growth-over-time dynamic, says Wormeli: “When students see that they were once struggling and then worked hard and eventually achieved success, they are more likely to endure the next challenge; they have personal proof that they can go from nothing to full success if they put in the time and energy necessary.”

                • Provide constructive responses to relearning and reassessing. An unchangeable ‘F’ grade teaches very little. Better for a student to go through the steps of a failed project a second time and get it right.

                • Provide meaningful work. Students respond to real-life connections. “Meaning-making is the root of perseverance,” says Wormeli.

                • Clearly articulate the goals. “At any given moment, every student in our classes should be able to tell us both the learning goal/objective and where he is in relation to it,” he says. “If the goal is vague, we’re more likely to put it off and we give it less energy in its completion.”

                • Provide multiple tools and models. If students believe they have the building blocks, they’re more likely to commit their effort.

                • Make sure students experience success. “Nothing motivates students to stick with something like success,” says Wormeli. “We all enjoy complex, demanding challenges if we have the tools to achieve them and proof of success.”


“Perseverance and Grit” by Rick Wormeli in AMLE Magazine, January 2014 (Vol. 1, #5, p. 41-43),; Wormeli can be reached at

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A Detention Problem

Posted by Miranda Cipkowski

Feb 11, 2014 3:09:36 PM


There have been days, and literally weeks, that I have been perched at my desk overlooking my vacant classroom hoping to grasp the answer of an age old problem.  How do I get students to complete assignments more readily?

I felt as if I tried everything: limited free time, tangible reward, notes and phone calls home (for a multitude of reasons my communications nearly always went unanswered) just to name a few. The students with incomplete assignments were the same names on my list over and over again. Read below to see how a group of New York City middle school teachers dealt with this frustrating and unproductive issue. I may implement something like this on my hallway.

"In this thoughtful Educational Leadership article, ELA teacher Ariel Sacks describes how she and her colleagues in a New York City middle school dealt with the unintended consequences of a top-down policy. The school decided that students who missed two homework assignments in a single week would be required to attend after-school detention on Wednesday. Teachers were asked to notify parents, get confirmation, put detention students on a list, and tell them to report to the designated classroom on Wednesday afternoons.

                But what seemed like a plausible plan ended up creating extra work for teachers and fostering noncompliance. After teachers notified parents, usually on Friday afternoon, there were lots of questions about homework assignments, protestations that their children had really done the work, promise to do a better job supervising their kids, and requests that a student be granted an extension or serve detention on a different day. “The process was overwhelming,” says Sacks, “and correspondences easily dragged from Friday, across the weekend, all the way through the Wednesday of the actual detention.”

In addition, there was no guarantee that students would do their missed assignments during detention, and if they were confused about the work, help wasn’t available. The result: a lot of unproductive teacher time, some teachers circumventing the policy (which raised equity concerns), and the same students attending homework detention week after week. Often these students weren’t completing regular class work and were failing one or more subjects. Their underlying academic problems were clearly not being addressed.

A change in the school’s schedule gave Sacks and her eighth-grade team an idea. The new schedule created a block at the end of each day when teachers had “office hours” for students who needed help. Sacks’ team noticed that the students who showed up weren’t always the ones who most needed help, so they started encouraging students who weren’t completing assignments to come during office hours. This created problems when struggling students were asked to be in several teachers’ classrooms at the same time, but the team solved that by all sitting in one classroom for office hours.

Then it hit them: why not make office hours mandatory for struggling students and substitute it for the school’s Wednesday detention? Any eighth grader could come for help, but office hours would be mandatory for the 12 students (out of 107) who weren’t completing assignments. The principal quickly approved the idea, parents and others were notified, and four days a week (Thursdays were teacher-meeting days), office hours became a regular routine for students who most needed help. The after-school office hours “became a positive space,” says Sacks, “where students helped one another as much as we helped them.” Some students didn’t show up, but teachers were able to follow up with them.

The result? Almost all the students who came to office hours passed their classes, some students improved their homework habits and “graduated” from the program, and seventh-grade teachers heard about the system and decided to adopt it for their students. “Teachers no longer spend hours chasing after students and their families over homework detention – or feeling guilty for not doing so,” says Sacks. “More students get the help they need, even if that help is nothing more than a time and place to do their homework.”

The moral of this story, she concludes, is that teachers can come up with effective “bottom-up” solutions to problems if they have administrators who trust them (the teachers and the ideas), empower teams to think issues through and get them vetted by colleagues, and support implementation."

“The Problem-Solving Power of Teachers” by Ariel Sacks in Educational Leadership, October 2013 (Vol. 71, #2, p. 18-22),; Sacks is at

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Are You Tough Enough?

Posted by Miranda Cipkowski

Feb 5, 2014 12:10:27 PM


When I was in school, I was smart, and I knew it. My teachers knew it. I dare say these words to follow up with this: My algebra teacher didn’t care how smart I was; he cared how hard I worked.

Needless to say, Mr. Owen wasn’t popular with his students at the time. He was strict, and his classroom retained an “all business all the time” atmosphere. There was always lots of homework, and praise was only doled out for a job well done, not necessarily for high marks. Reread that last sentence. The former doesn’t always guarantee the later, and vice versa.

Mr. Owen taught me several higher math classes as well as many life lessons. When my work ethic began to dwindle because of a budding romance, and then later due to the depression over the bad break up that followed, this man, who I considered a tyrant at the time, required me to report to his class during lunch and finish an assignment. As I threw myself into my desk, Mr. Owen said something that has stuck with me: “Sometimes when we think we can’t go on, that is precisely when we have to work the hardest to forge ahead.” You were right Charles Owen, wherever you are.

In this thoughtful Wall Street Journal article, Joanne Lipman remembers Mr. Kupchynsky, her tough-to-the-point-of-abusive orchestra teacher at East Brunswick High School in the 1960s. Mr. K, as students knew him, would call students “idiots” if they messed up and shout “Who eez deaf in first violins!?” if someone played out of tune. “He made us rehearse until our fingers almost bled,” she says.

                But when Kupchynsky died a few years ago, there was an outpouring of love and respect from hundreds of former students who had gone on to success in a variety of fields. “Research tells us that there is a positive correlation between music education and academic achievement,” says Lipman. “But that alone didn’t explain the belated surge of gratitude for a teacher who basically tortured us through adolescence.”

Lipman’s question: “What did Mr. K do right? What can we learn from a teacher whose methods fly in the face of everything we think we know about education today, but who was undeniably effective?” Stressing that she doesn’t support abuse (“I’d be the first to complain if a teacher called my kids names”), she lists the following:

  • A little pain is good for you. The much-quoted study by psychologist Anders Ericsson showing that 10,000 hours of practice is needed to attain true expertise also found that the path to proficiency requires “constructive, even painful, feedback.” High-performing violinists, surgeons, computer programmers, and chess masters “deliberately picked unsentimental coaches who would challenge them and drive them to higher levels of performance.” [See Marshall Memo 192 #3 for a related article.]
  • Memorization pays off. Fluency in basic math facts is the foundation of higher achievement, but many American students aren’t learning their times tables and basic math facts. Lipman says one reason Asian students do so much better in math is the hours of drill in their schools.
  • Failure is part of the learning process. In a 2012 study, French sixth graders were given extremely challenging anagram problems. One group was told that failure and persistence were a normal part of the learning process, and this group consistently outperformed their peers on subsequent assignments. Lipman says American parents and educators worry too much about failure being psychologically damaging and haven’t given children the right messages about failure being intrinsic to the learning process.
  • Strictness works. A study of Los Angeles teachers whose students did exceptionally well found that they combined strictness with high expectations. Their core belief was, “Every student in my room is underperforming based on their potential, and it’s my job to do something about it – and I can do something about it.” A fourth grader summed it up: “When I was in first grade and second grade and third grade, when I cried my teacher coddled me. When I go to Mrs. T’s room, she told me to suck it up and get to work. I think she’s right. I need to work harder.”
  • Creativity is not spontaneous combustion. “Most creative geniuses work ferociously hard and, through a series of incremental steps, achieve things that appear (to the outside world) like epiphanies and breakthroughs,” says Lipman. Creativity is built on a foundation of hard work on the basics.
  • Grit is more important than talent. Angela Duckworth’s study of 2,800 high achievers found that the best predictor of success is passion and perseverance for long-term goals, not innate talent. Another key element of grit is students’ belief that they have the ability to change and improve, and this can be inculcated by teachers who share that belief.
  • Praise must be strategic. As Stanford professor Carol Dweck has found, complimenting students for being “smart” has negative consequences, whereas praising a student for being a “hard worker” leads to greater effort and success.
  • Moderate stress makes you stronger. Researchers have found that being exposed to challenges – including “a hardass kind of teacher” – builds resilience and confidence. What’s going on here? Lipman believes it’s that students are picking up an underlying faith in their ability to do better. Thinking back to Mr. K’s super-tough approach to his orchestra, she says, “There is something to be said about a teacher who is demanding and tough not because he thinks students will never learn but because he is so absolutely certain that they will.”


“Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results” by Joanne Lipman in The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 27, 2013,


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