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Ideas and Features For New Teachers 
and Veterans with Class

Volume 3, Issue 23

December 2007


Welcome back to our StarTeaching newsletter, 
Features for Teachers, packed full of tips, techniques, and ideas for educators of all students in all levels.   

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Understanding Mathematic Disability

By: Salima Moosa Sewani

Teachers are the leaders of every nation. The following is from an educational article published by Munir Moosa Sewani, and describes the unique voices of very unique individuals in his home country.  You'll find that these cases are similar to those found world wide and across America.  

Mathematics is one of the most interesting subjects during the academic year for some of the students. But in contrary to that, this fact can’t be denied that most of the students dislike mathematics. I, myself was one of such students during my school who disliked mathematics very much.     

In order to find the reasons behind these negative feelings towards mathematics, I researched at my Learning Center. After evaluating all of my students, the following were the main reasons which I found relevant and authentic:

  • I dislike mathematics because it is too boring to spend time in solving sums.
  • This subject is the most complicated one.
  • I hate this subject because I never understand the methods to solve sums.
  • I don’t know why mathematics was added in our curriculum. I hate it because I never found anything interesting in it.
  • Mathematic wastes my time and energy because my end results are always 'nil' in maths.
  • Teachers don’t know how to teach mathematics. They just use their own methods and formulae, which shoots up our mind.

According to the research, approximately 6% of school-age children have significant math deficiencies, and among students classified as learning disabled, arithmetic difficulties are as pervasive as reading problems. This does not mean that all reading disabilities are accompanied by arithmetic learning problems, but it does mean that math deficiencies are widespread and in need of equivalent attention and concern.

Parents and teachers should keep in mind that such students in their classes are not burdens for them. They also need your attention as well as the others do. If the child is not getting a concept, try to give them extra time to clear their concepts rather than failing them in an examination.

Recently, increased attention has focused on students who demonstrate challenges learning mathematics skills and concepts that are taught in school across the grade levels. Most of the parents, educators, and researchers are noticing that some students seem perplexed learning simple math skills that many take for granted. Disliking mathematics and problem learning the skills related to mathematics do not lie in a same plane.

If a person dislikes math, then a teacher can use different strategies to their level of interest, but if a person is continuously getting low grades in math, then this problem might indicate that he/she may have mathematic disability.

Fortunately, researchers are now paying their valuable attention to help students who struggle learning basic mathematics skills, mastering more advance mathematics (e.g., algebra), and solving math problems. Before learning any thing, we should know that what Math Disability is.

If a child has difficulty making sufficient school progress in mathematics similar to that of her peer group despite the implementation of effective teaching practices over time.


If a child is not able to learn basic skills and concepts of math according to his/her age level, then a child is termed as “Math Disabled.”

Brain scans can also explain math problems in a child. In order to find Math Disability, the new research used scans of brain activity in the intraparietal sulcus - the area known to be involved in processing number information.

The scientific name for Math Disability is Dyscalculia. It means “a severe or complete inability to calculate”. Remember that the terms learning disabilities in mathematics, Math Disability and Dyscalculia are same.

People with Dyscalculia may have better than average language skills and be good at sciences, the creative arts and even some aspects of mathematics. But they tend to have difficulty visualizing number sequences and the passage of time.

Teachers, tutors, psychologists, master trainers, etc., can use different observant skills and testing to find out whether a child has Math Disability or not.

When a child is identified as having a math disability, his difficulty may stem from problems in one or more of the following areas:


**Cognitive development

**Visual-spatial ability


Memory problem is one of the most common problems found among the school going children. Few of the students have a problem of memorizing things effectively, and they used to forget every thing in a short span of time. This problem may affect a child’s math performance in several ways.

A child might have memory problems that interfere with his ability to regain basic arithmetic facts quickly. In the upper grades, memory problems may influence a child’s ability to recall the steps needed to solve more difficult word problems and in solving algebraic equations, or to remember what specific symbols.

Cognitive Development

Students with a math disability may have trouble because of delays in cognitive development, which hinders learning and processing information. Such developmental problems may lead to the problem in understanding relationships between numbers, solving word problems, understanding number systems, etc.


Visual-spatial problems may interfere with a child’s ability to perform math problems correctly. This may include place value sums, trouble in interpreting maps, misaligning numerals in columns for calculation, etc.

A learning disability in mathematics can be identified in the area of mathematics calculation (arithmetic) and/or mathematics problem solving. A child with a learning disability in math calculations may often struggle learning the basic skills in early math instruction where the problem is rooted in memory or cognitive difficulties. A learning disability in solving math word problems taps into other types of skills or processes.

What Can Be Done?

Here are some of the tips, which I feel are good enough to deal with challenging students:

Provide a lot of real calculating to ensure understanding takes place before moving into the abstract concepts.

When working on problem solving or word problems, provide opportunities to use real life situations or items to assist with visualization.

Teachers can also use different activities and worksheets to explain math sums to the students sequentially. Practical demonstration might also help a child to learn many skills in a much higher capacity.

Teacher/ counselor behavior should be normal with such children.

Separate curriculum should be designed with fewer burdens for such students in a class.

Provide opportunities to use 'pictures, words or graphs' to help with understanding.

Relate all problems to a real-life situation as much as possible.

Appreciate such students and always motivate them to say yes to every work.

Use different computer games and activities as well, which might create an interest in a child to learn and participate actively.

Arithmetic weakness/math talent

Some learning disabled students have an excellent grasp of math concepts, but are inconsistent in calculating. They are reliably unreliable at paying attention to the operational sign, at borrowing or carrying appropriately, and at sequencing the steps in complex operations. These same students also may experience difficulty mastering basic number facts. 

Interestingly, some of the students with these difficulties may be remedial math students during the elementary years when computational accuracy is heavily stressed, but can go on to join honors classes in higher math where their conceptual prowess is called for. Clearly, these students should not be tracked into low level secondary math classes where they will only continue to demonstrate these careless errors and inconsistent computational skills while being denied access to higher-level math of which they are capable. Because there is much more to mathematics than right-answer reliable calculating, it is important to access the broad scope of math abilities and not judge intelligence or understanding by observing only weak lower level skills. Often a delicate balance must be struck in working with learning disabled math students which include: 

  • Acknowledging their computational weaknesses
  • Maintaining persistent effort at strengthening inconsistent skills;
  • Sharing a partnership with the student to develop self-monitoring systems and ingenious compensations; and at the same time, providing the full, enriched scope of math teaching
  • The written symbol system and concrete materials

Math learning difficulties are common, significant, and worthy of serious instructional attention in both regular and special education classes. Students may respond to repeated failure with withdrawal of effort, lowered self-esteem, and avoidance behaviors. In addition, significant math deficits can have serious consequences on the management of everyday life as well as on job prospects and promotion. Therefore, it is the duty of a teacher to deal with such challenge effectively through their skills and knowledge.

Salima Moosa Sewani has been in the field of teaching for 7 years. She is running her own Learning Center and also working with the Exceptional People. This is her first experience to share with the audience. She is a Master Trainer and has done many teaching certifications.

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Mastering Basic Skills software:


There are six modules designed to test the basic ability of an individual in terms of Memory & Concentration. Needless to say this is the most important basic skill for not just to survive but also to thrive in this competitive environment. Each of the six modules tests the six variants of Memory & Concentration in an individual, namely: 1. Picture recognition
2. Paired Associate Learning
3. Immediate Recall
4. Serial processing
5. Parallel processing
6. Recognition and Recall
Each of these modules runs at three different levels, from easy to difficult.

At each level, the individual's performance is depicted as Scores Obtained.

A feedback has been built into the software for all these 18 levels depending on the marks one scores during the test. 

Each individual can assess his/her performance any time by clicking on "history", which gives complete details of date and time of taking the tests, marks scored each time and even time taken to do the test. This builds the confidence level and encourages more participation to eventually culminate in improvement and enhancement of memory and concentration.

Essentially, this software is a SELF AWARENESS tool that surely motivates the individual to realize one's capability and seek or be receptive for improvement. Also, if repeatedly done over a period of time works as Training tool to enhance their capability.
This software package is specifically designed to help young children to learn basic skills that will help them in school.  Continued follow-up will give these young learners success as they mature.  

Three versions of the software exist: Individual Software on either CD or Online,   Family Version Software, and an Institutional Software package.

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Are the Students Truly Understanding It?
Are We?  Part 3

By Mark Benn
Middle School Teacher

Mark's latest articles are about changing our classrooms and teaching styles to reflect the latest changes in technology.  

This is part three of a three part look at what teaching is all about.

In this third part I will be focusing on formative and summative assessment and some of the tools available to help you get to know where each of your students is at any given time. Quoting from the first article: "What is this formative and summative assessment about? Giving final tests have been around forever (summative assessment). Asking questions of the students isn’t new either (formative assessment). But what have you done with the answers the students gave? Did they help in guiding where you were going with the material? Did it help you assess the success of your teaching strategies?"

Let's first start with questioning strategies. When a teacher asks a class a question, does it engage everyone? I would say it engages only those who know the answer or are interested in the question. What about the rest of the class? What about the shy ones, or those who don't or aren't sure of the answer? Our job is to engage all the students, or at least most of them. During most question and answer sessions you'll find many students checking out. Also, in asking the question, you ask one student for their answer. This only tells you that one student understands. What do you know about the rest of the class?

Formative assessment is a very important tool for the teacher. It should be done frequently (meaning daily) to help you assess where the students are in their learning and whether you, as a teacher, needs to make an adjustment in your approach. But it is very important that formative assessment is done correctly. All students should be engaged in the assessment. The assessment should be designed to give you instant feedback as to where each individual is. Realize right away that this is not for a grade. It's to give you feedback to where everyone is so that you can respond to it..

One easy way to do this is to use small white boards. When you ask a question each student writes down their answer on the board, and when given a cue, they show their boards to you. The reason for the cue is so the students don't just copy someone else's answer because that person had gotten it done early. If you don't have boards, or can't afford them, use blank white paper. This works great in giving you instant feedback and the students enjoy it because they find out right away whether they are  understanding it and everyone is involved. The drawback to this method is that you don't have a good record of what each individual student understands. You could keep a tally with a class list to highlight students that need extra help as you scan their answers.

You may be thinking: Why go through all this hassle? Let me ask you this: Are we there for the learning, or just to present the curriculum? That is what all teachers need to decide.

Another way to assess students in a formative way is by using a Student Response System. There are several systems available. The system I use is available through einstruction. They are located at www.einstruction.com. Quoting from their website:

"You can engage every child in class material by creating an interactive learning environment in your classroom. Students who normally remain silent in class can now answer every question without fear of embarrassment. And since you see instant feedback from the entire class, you know whether to move on or continue teaching a concept.  CPS also streamlines administrative tasks. Now you can spend less time grading and more time teaching."

The system uses a projector, computer with CPS software, response pad, and receiver. Your questions are displayed on the screen and every student then responds by using the response pads to input their answer. Depending on the type of system you use, the questions can be of varied types from multiple choice to short answer. The system then keeps track of the students' responses so you can see how each individual student responds.

This also gives the students immediate feedback on whether they are understanding the lesson and engages every student. It also allows you, due to the instant feedback, to adjust your teaching to help them achieve greater understanding immediately.

Hopefully, I've peaked your interest. What you'll begin to see is better understanding and higher results in your summative tests. You'll also see more students engaged and becoming a part of their learning. I've had students say to me, "I'd take a test any day if I could use these", referring to the response systems. Have I seen an improvement? Yes, because I have a much better idea of where my students are at and can make the immediate adjustments to help those who are struggling.


Mark Benn earned his B.S. from Western Michigan University and his Elementary Certification from Northern Michigan University.  He is a 20 year teaching veteran of 5th and 6th grade students at Inland Lakes Middle School in Indian River, MI.  He is currently working on Masters of Integration of Technology from Walden University. 

Prior to teaching, Mark spent 11 years as Department Manager for Sears, Roebuck and Co. dealing with emerging technologies.  He has been married to his wife Bonnietta for 32 years with one daughter and two sons.  In the summers, Mark works for Mackinac State Historic Parks in the as a historical interpreter.

StarTeaching Featured Writer

Mark Benn is a leading expert in using technology in the classroom.  
You can feel free to contact him on email at mbenn@inlandlakes.org or at his blogsite:  http://www.furtrader.blogspot.com/ 


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The Dogman, a creature of MythMichigan, is an excellent example of modern-day folklore to study in your classes.   


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New Teachers' Niche: 
A Place for New Teachers, Student Teachers, and Interns

Journal Writing (part 1)

This is the first in a series on developing Journal Writing in your classroom, a writing technique that is applicable to any grade and any subject area.

We use the journal writing style for several applications in class.  The number one goal of mine is to provide students with a place to record their thoughts and to reflect on their lives. I also advocate writing activities that can (and should) be done on a daily basis. I really believe students need to write a lot and often; they become better writers with a lot of practice. You can't expect students to be good at writing if they only write a few times each month or marking period. But I also don't believe students need to formally write essays each time either. Journaling is one way to break up the monotony of the formal style.

Creating journals is a very easy and fun activity that gives the students ownership of the journal. Pass out ten or so pieces of regular lined paper to each student. I always keep a basket of lined paper at the front and back of my room anyway, so students can add pages to their journal at any time they need. Then pass out colored construction paper for the front and back covers. Each student receives three fasteners to hold it all together. A suggestion is to NOT punch holes in the covers, as the fastener heads sometimes slip through, and the journals can fall apart. I allow the students to decorate their covers with anything, as long as it's tasteful and appropriate for school.

Students must be given the freedom of choosing their own topics if they wish. However, I always provide a topic for the students to use if they are unable to generate their own ideas. Students are allowed to use my topic, or to change any part of it. I'll share a few of my classroom journal topics in the follow up to this article. Any idea can be changed into a journal topic - I usually add a few guiding questions for students to consider when making their responses.

Some students also enjoy writing on the same topic for more than one writing session. I even have some students who are writing stories, and complete chapters or stanzas during class time. They may take a break once in a while and write on a different topic, but they usually end up back at their story.

Students are not allowed to stop and think for more than a few seconds - this is a writing activity, not a stopping and thinking activity.  And their grade is based on the amount they write, not the amount they think.

So what are the rules for a journal write? Basically you get to decide! Just keep them consistent and students will know what you expect within the first few writes. In my class, students are allowed to choose the genre, such as poetry, drama, or prose. They are encouraged to try out different styles.

Since the journaling is actually a form of active brainstorming, I don't worry about complete sentences, spelling, or mistakes in grammar or mechanics. These are the guidelines we use, but you can feel free to adjust them to suit your class and needs.

In the follow up article, I will explain the easy grading system that is set up to MINIMIZE the amount of teacher work. This stress-free system allows your students to write more and write often, without the massive paper stack for you to grade at home. I'll also provide some of my sample topics to get you started.

Interested in FREE writing activities you can print out and use immediately in your classroom? Simply click the following link to our writing page: http://www.starteaching.com/writing.htm

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"The Merchant and His Wives"
Author Unknown

Themes on Life

This story has such a powerful message...

Once upon a time there was a rich merchant who had four wives. He loved the fourth wife the most and adorned her with rich robes and treated her to delicacies. He took great care of her and gave her nothing but the best.

He also loved the third wife very much. He was very proud of her and always wanted to show her off to his friends. However, the merchant is always in great fear that she might run away with some other man.

He also, loved his second wife. She is a very considerate person, always patient and in fact is the merchant's confidante. Whenever the merchant faced some problems, he always turned to his second wife and she would always help him out and tide him through difficult times.

Now, the merchant's first wife is a very loyal partner and has made great contributions in maintaining his wealth and business as well as taking care of the household. However, the merchant did not love the first wife and although she loved him deeply, he hardly took notice of her.

One day, the merchant fell ill. Before long, he knew that he was going to die soon. He thought of his luxurious life and told himself, "Now I have four wives with me. But when I die, I'll be alone. How lonely I'll be!" Thus, he asked the fourth wife, "I loved you most, endowed you with the finest clothing and showered great care over you. Now that I'm dying, will you follow me and keep me company?"

"No way!" replied the fourth wife and she walked away without another word.

The answer cut like a sharp knife right into the merchant's heart.

The sad merchant then asked the third wife, "I have loved you so much for all my life. Now that I'm dying, will you follow me and keep me company?"

"No!" replied the third wife. "Life is so good over here! I'm going to remarry when you die!" The merchant's heart sank and turned cold.

He then asked the second wife, "I always turned to you for help and you've always helped me out. Now I need your help again. When I die, will you follow me and keep me company?"

"I'm sorry, I can't help you out this time!" replied the second wife. "At the very most, I can only send you to your grave." The answer came like a bolt of thunder and the merchant was devastated.

Then a voice called out: "I'll leave with you. I'll follow you no matter where you go. "The merchant looked up and there was his first wife.

She was so skinny, almost like she suffered from malnutrition. Greatly grieved, the merchant said, "I should have taken much better care of you while I could have!"

Actually, we all have four wives in our lives.... The fourth wife is our body. No matter how much time and effort we lavish in making it look good, it'll leave us when we die.

Our third wife? Our possessions, status and wealth. When we die, they all go to others.

The second wife is our family and friends. No matter how close they had been there for us when we're alive, the furthest they can stay by us is up to the grave.

The first wife is in fact our soul, often neglected in our pursuit of material wealth and sensual pleasure. Guess what? It is actually the only thing that follows us wherever we go. Perhaps it's a good idea to cultivate and strengthen it NOW rather than to wait until we're on our death bed to lament.

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In This Week's Issue 
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Understanding Mathematic Disability

Tech Corner: 
Are the Students Truly Understanding It?
Are We? Part 3

New Teacher's Niche:
Journal Writing (part 1)

Themes on Life:  
"The Merchant and His Wives"

10 Days of Writing Prompts

10 Days of Math Problems

Holiday Book Sale for Teachers

Book of the Month Club


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10 Days Of


Why do we celebrate the holidays?


Describe FIVE ways that you can be more festive this time of year. 


How has technology and communication improved our ability to celebrate the holidays?


What are FIVE reasons to be with your family during the holiday season?


Write down FIVE questions you still have about something we learned in class this week. 


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What does it truly mean to give a gift to someone?


Describe FIVE gifts you could give someone to tell them exactly how you feel about them.


Why is gift giving important for our society?


Describe THREE things you learned well this week in class, then describe THREE things you still have questions about. 


10 days of writing prompts


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Teaching Makes A Difference

by Carol Cummings



Coming Soon:

Preparing for Student Teaching

Technology & Teaching: Seamless Integration into Curriculum

Getting Ready for Next Year

Setting Up Your Classroom


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10 Days of 
Math Problems
by Mary Ann Graziani

Day 1

Tell whether each number is closer to 0, 1/2, or 1

.09          1.30          .471

.099        .898         .519

Day 2

Place decimal points in the following numbers so the answer is correct:

102   +   19   =  1.21

34  +  4   +  417  = 7.97

Day 3

There are 16 ounces in 1 pound.  Use this to figure the following problems:

How many pounds are in 128 ounces?

How many ounces are in .250 pound?

How many pounds are in 18 ounces?

Day 4

Find the AREA of the square if each side is:

sides are 14" long

sides are 2.5" long

sides are 3.17" long

Day 5

Find the AREA of the rectangle with the following measurments:

length = 5, width = 8

length = 1.2, width = 5.6

length = 11.1, width = 6

Day 6

Find the % Savings for:

A coupon for $1.25 off of a retail priced item of $5.00

A coupon for $.99 off of a retail priced item of $2.75

Day 7 Find the % Savings for:

Sale price is $4.99, normal retail price is $6.99

Sale price is $999.99, normal retail price is $1699.99

Day 8 How old will you be in 28 years? What will the year be?
Day 9 How old will you be in 43 years?  What will the year be?
Day 10

Find a 5% sales tax on a meal of $7.99

Then find the 15% tip on the same meal of $7.99




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