Additional Math Pages & Resources

Monday, September 30, 2013

Letting Students Fail

In 1964  John Holt wrote a book entitled "How Children Fail." About five years later, Dr. William Glasser wrote "Schools Without Failure." These books promoted the idea that students should be given the opportunity to succeed, that grades often got in the way of that success, and that some students got so used to failure they would simply give up rather than work hard to get a passing grade.

To get those children back on the path to success, we were encouraged to eliminate grades and emphasize that all students could be successful in school. These are all very well written books and have some excellent suggestions for improving school environments for children.

Unfortunately, some people took that idea to the extreme. Sports banquets no longer recognized the best and brightest athletes. Rather, all teammates received an award. Games were no longer about winning and losing but working as a team. Our competitive spirit was suppressed to the point of eliminating any winners or losers.

Here's an interesting article about the benefits of failure in the business world: Why We Should All Embrace the F-Word (Failure)

All too often, the word “failure” carries with it the threat of a career-ending catastrophe, so much so that uplifting euphemisms such as “opportunity” are thrown about in its wake. And in the classroom the word "failure" becomes taboo.

We want our students to have lots of opportunities to be successful. But we also want them to learn to pick themselves up and keep going when they fail. Perseverance and resilience are character traits we would like to instill in each student who enters our classroom. Many of the inventions we have today were the result of initial failures. The Post-It Note is a perfect example (so are potato chips and corn flakes—read more from MIT). When students are able to keep going after a setback or failure, they learn life lessons that prepare them for the future while helping them mature today.

This story from the Wall Street Journal explains first-hand how a tough music teacher who allowed his students to fail earned the respect of those students, many of whom went on to become successful in music as well as in many unrelated fields: Why Tough Teachers Get Results.

You don't have to be a tough teacher to see results with Excel Math. Our proven lessons teach students foundational math concepts. The unique spiraling system helps children build confidence in their math skills and retain the concepts they learn for the long term. Excel Math can even help students develop a love for math!

For over 35 years, these math lessons have been proven to develop higher-order thinking skills, build proficiency, and produce confidence in students of all ages and abilities. Excel Math was written to give teachers the tools they need to help students develop a strong foundation in math. Read more about Excel Math and its systematic spiraling process at

New to Excel Math? Preview elementary math lessons that really work for Kindergarten through Sixth Grade on our website:

Download sample lessons from our new Common Core Teacher Editions at

Do you consider yourself to be a tough teacher? Leave a comment by clicking on the word "comments" below.

Read more . . .

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

National Museum Day — Free Admission

This Saturday, September 28 over 1400 museums around the nation will celebrate National Museum Day along with the Smithsonian Museum. On that day participating museums will open their doors free of charge (parking and special event charges still apply). Encourage your students to visit a museum of their choice and then come prepared to share their experiences with the class the following week.

You can download your ticket and see the full list of museums participating on the Smithsonian's website:

Some venues will let you simply show your ticket on your smart phone. This special offer includes free visits to botanical gardens, art galleries and local cultural institutions as well as museums of natural history, photography, music, surfing, aerospace, children's museums and lots more. Each ticket is good for entry to one museum. If museums reach their capacity, they have the right to limit the number of guests until space becomes available.

With the exception of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, all Smithsonian Museums are free to the public daily. Read more:

Here in San Diego you can visit these museums and art galleries at no charge on Saturday:
  • Oceanside: California Surf Museum (regularly $5 adults; Free on Tuesdays)
  • Downtown San Diego: Marston House (regularly $10 adults)
  • Santee: Creation and Earth History Museum (regularly free)
  • Escondido: Escondido History Center (regularly free including walking tours)
    • San Diego Archaeological Center (suggested donation $2)
  • Carlsbad: Museum of Making Music (regularly $8 adults)
  • Balboa Park San Diego: Reuben H. Fleet Science Center (regularly $13 adults)
    • San Diego Automotive Museum (regularly $8.50 adults)
    • San Diego Air and Space Museum (regularly $18 adults)
    • San Diego Chinese Historical Museum (regularly $2)
    • San Diego History Center (regularly $8 adults; Free on Tuesdays)
. . . and more! Around the country the following organizations are just a few of the many participating:

  • Los Angeles: GRAMMY Museum (regularly $12.95)
  • Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (regularly $12)
  • San Francisco: de Young Fine Arts Museum (regularly $11)
  • Dallas: Dallas Holocaust Museum (regularly $8)
  • New York City: The Skyscraper Museum (regularly $5)
  • Atlanta: The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia (regularly $5)
The Museum Day Live! ticket is available to download at Visitors who present this ticket will gain free entrance for two at participating venues for one day only. One ticket is permitted per household, per email address. For more information about Museum Day Live! 2013 and a list of participating museums and cultural institutions, please visit

During the month of October, 40 San Diego museums are offering free admission to children with a paid adult. Download your coupon here (print one coupon for each museum you plan to visit).

What are some of your favorite museums? Leave a comment below to let us know which you enjoy personally and which make interesting field trip venues.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Shaping Up with Math

Help your students identify circles, triangles, rectangles, squares and more complex shapes with these fun activities.

Draw a circle, triangle, rectangle and square on the board (or whichever shapes you happen to be teaching).

Use the Shape Cube pattern below to create a cube (you can print the pattern onto 11 x 17-inch paper so you have a large cube that the entire class can easily see). Feel free to add more complex shapes as your students are ready for them.

Ask students to describe the figures on the board in terms of straight and curved lines, whether they are open or closed, the number of sides and if there are “square” vertices or corners.

If the students are not familiar with these terms, point out what you mean on one of the figures on your Cube and ask them how they would describe that characteristic.

Excel Math Shape Cube
Click here to download the PDF file.
Give each student a Shape Cube pattern, scissors and tape or glue. Click here to download the PDF file. Let each student cut out and tape each pattern to form a cube. (Have them cut the outer green shape and fold the tabs on the broken lines. Provide tape for cutting mistakes. Talk about the attributes of the shapes as the children work. Help them find the vertices (corners), sides, angles, curves, straight edges and colors of the various shapes. Provide a definition of each shape. A Maths Dictionary for Kids by Jenny Eather is a colorful, interactive dictionary with kid-friendly definitions. You can also find grade level Excel Math Glossaries and links to Vocabulary Word Cards on our website:

Now group students into pairs. One student per pair rolls the Shapes Cube and describes one attribute of a shape on the sides or top of the cube. The other student tries to guess which shape has been chosen.

If the student guesses incorrectly, he can ask questions that can be answered with a yes or a no to find the correct shape. The questions must relate to characteristics of the shape. For example the student cannot ask, “Is it a rectangle?” but rather, “Does it have 3 vertices?” If you are also teaching your students colors, let them ask a question about the color of the shape as well as the other attributes. When the student thinks he knows the shape, he should turn the cube so the shape is on top. If he is wrong, the other player turns the shape back to its previous position and play continues. When the shape is guessed correctly, the guessing player now rolls the cube and chooses a shape to describe.

Older students can also describe the shapes as polygons, parallelograms, etc. You can add shapes to the cube (pentagon, hexagon, cube, cone, etc.) by gluing various shapes onto the cube pattern before copying it for each student. Or let each student color various shapes and glue them onto their cube to make it unique.

Next have both students roll their cubes at your signal. Give them each a pencil and paper. The students look at the shape facing up. They write down as many similar attributes (or differences between the shapes) as they can before you call "time." You can allow 30 seconds to one minute, depending on your students and the level of difficulty of the shapes. Let a few students read their attributes aloud while the class guesses which shapes are being described.

Draw some shapes on the board and let your students take turns putting a “C” on circles, a “T” on triangles and an “R” on rectangles, etc. Then name a shape and let your students draw it. They can use various art forms to create shapes as you name them. (Yarn, foil or modeling clay with a stylus, sand with a stick, fingerpaint, etc.

Ask students to “explain their thinking” as they work. Asking students to describe their work will help you to determine the students’ depth of understanding and will give you a chance to clear up any misconceptions.

Adapt your lesson to the needs of your class. If your students are having difficulty with a concept, take time to practice that concept or reteach it the next day before moving on to the next lesson.

As you anticipate opportunities to reteach, you will be better equipped to address the specific learning needs of your students. Encourage your students to ask for help so you can clear up any misconceptions as soon as they occur.

Because Excel Math Lessons have a unique spiraling system that has students review previously taught concepts during Guided Practice, you do not need to look for total mastery for the whole class before moving on to other concepts. Learn more . . .

Read more . . .

Monday, September 9, 2013

Celebrating Odd Day in the Classroom

Odd Day is a day that singles out those wonderful, wacky odd numbers. It occurs when three consecutive odd numbers make up a date. This is something that happens only six times a century. The last two Odd Days were 5/7/09 and 7/9/11.

This year day Odd Day falls on 9/11/13, and the next one will occur two years from now on 11/13/15.

Odd Swamp Couple
Click to enlarge

Enjoy Odd Day by encouraging your students to be odd: wear odd clothing such as mismatched socks, create a wacky hairstyle, count off by 2s or 3s in odd numbers, run an odd number of laps, count out coins to total an odd dollar or cents amount, make an odd number of cookies for your class, do an odd number of jumping jacks, learn the odd math fact families, read about Junie B. Jones, Encyclopedia Brown, Percy Jackson or Amelia Bedelia (or A Wrinkle in Time, a Magic Treehouse book), etc.

Here's a photo of an odd couple you can use as a discussion starter. Click on the poster for a larger view.

Then have your class figure out when the next few Odd Days will occur (1/3/2105, 3/5/2107, 5/7/2109 and 7/9/2111).  Read more about odd day at

You may want to have your students find some pictures of odd events, places, outfits, foods, or facial expressions to share with the class. Here's an odd-shaped stone building:

Excel Math lessons teach students how to recognize odd and even numbers, learn foundational math concepts, and retain those concepts for the long term. Excel Math can even help students develop a love for math. 

For over 35 years, these math lessons have been proven to develop higher-order thinking skills, build proficiency, and produce confidence in students of all ages and abilities. Excel Math was written to give teachers the tools they need to help students develop a strong foundation in math. Read more about Excel Math and its systematic spiraling process at

New to Excel Math? Preview elementary math lessons that really work for Kindergarten through Sixth Grade on our website:

Download sample lessons from our new Common Core Teacher Editions at

How will you celebrate odd day with your students? Leave a comment by clicking on the word "comments" below.

Read more . . .