K-5 Curriculum Newsletter

November 2020


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Standard Algorithm vs Invented Strategies

Take a look at the social media page of any parent with a child in elementary school, and you will often find videos, memes, and complaints of how math is taught to students “these days.” Parents often lament about the “new math” being taught in today’s classrooms. However, these strategies are not new at all. These strategies, often called invented strategies, have been taught in classrooms for many years. The challenge for teachers today is how to get parents (and students) to understand why these invented strategies are vital to understanding mathematical procedures.

A standard algorithm is any math strategy in which one lines up the places and completes the problem starting on the right side with the ‘ones’ place and then continues on to the ‘tens’ place, etc., borrowing or carrying numbers from one place to another. Conversely, an invented strategy is any math strategy (other than the standard algorithm) that does not involve the use of physical materials or counting by ones. With repeated practice, students often gain a deeper understanding of the invented strategy and can complete a problem using mental calculations.

Mastering invented strategies is a key milestone as students become fluent in mathematical computations; they learn to focus more on the numbers through place value rather than seeing numbers as individual digits. Utilizing invented strategies fosters the concept that there are many methods for solving any given problem. Students are able to draw on their strengths to invent a strategy they can use over and over correctly to solve a problem rather than rely on the standard algorithm.

While teaching students to use invented strategies may seem time consuming, it is sure to pay off once the underlying concepts come to light. Students who use invented strategies use mental and computation estimation regularly, have a sense of confidence in their ability to learn math, and build their sense making and reasoning skills. Lastly, students who use invented strategies have deeper conceptual understanding of mathematical concepts which will help them tackle challenging word problems. Perhaps most importantly, once students learn to use invented strategies, they are less likely to need reteaching!

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Who Are Your Students as Readers?

Teachers are constantly gathering data on their students to determine their strengths and areas of instruction. However, we must learn who our students are as individuals before we are able to effectively teach them. In the classroom, building a relationship between the teacher and student can ignite a passion for learning in our students. When your students are heard and represented, the level of engagement increases. Learning about your students doesn’t just happen at the beginning of the year, but it is a year-long process. Incorporating systematic opportunities to continue to build relationships with your students is essential in today’s remote/hybrid classroom.

One way to enhance your reading instruction is to learn about who your students are as readers. This information you can use to determine small group topics, independent books you recommend for students, and activities completed in your classroom. Providing students an opportunity to reflect on their reading, makes students cognizant of their own goals and learning. Now students are given the opportunity to become a leader in their own learning. Model being reflective about your own reading where students learn about you as a reader. This work can occur anytime in an instructional unit including after a read aloud or an individual conversation with a student.

Here are some ways to learn about your students as readers:

  • Would You Rather Read ___? Present the students with two options of topics or books.This could be a whole class conversation or through an individual digital response. Make note of common themes and individual differences that stand out.

  • Where to Read- Choosing where to read is very important! As a whole class, make a list of different locations we can read independently at home. Ask students to pick the place that is best for them and have them explain why. Continue to have conversations with individual students about their specific reading spot.

  • Book Reviews- When students finish reading a book, ask them what they liked and what they did not like about the book. When students choose their next book, reference elements from their book reviews as reasons for selecting or not selecting a particular book.

  • Reading Goals- In individual conferences, share with them two or three ideas on what they could work on as a reader. Upper elementary students could also create their own goals through prompts like “What is easy/hard about reading?” Then check in on how the students are working towards their goals. Celebrate with them when they meet their goal!

Teaching Resilience

Resilience is essential to the healthy development of our students, especially during a pandemic. Students who develop resilience are better able to tackle challenges, persevere, and learn from failure. As educators, we are particularly responsible to support our students during stressful situations and guide them in seeing obstacles as a critical part of their success. Good student-teacher relationships strengthen resilience because students feel appreciated and understood by their teachers.

Listed below are a few ways to foster resilience:

Build supportive relationships with students:

  • Foster an environment where setbacks and disappointment are an expected part of learning.

  • Praise students for their hard work and perseverance- not just for grades.

Have discussions about resilience:

  • Have students reflect upon a famous person, literary character, or even a cartoon character who faced a dilemma, and then discuss how they overcame the challenge. What choices did he or she have to make? How were other people supportive? What was learned?

  • Have students write about a time in their life when they had to cope with a difficult situation and explain how they overcame the challenge and what they learned about themselves.

Help students learn from failures:

  • Give students an opportunity to “brag” about their mistakes

  • Ask students what they learned from their mistakes and what they will do differently next time.


SLIFES/SIFES are students who come from their native countries with an interruption in their formal education. As the ELL population continues to grow across the US in US Schools, researchers and school districts are looking for new ways to help identify and teach students who come from countries where they may have experienced an interruption in their formal schooling for a number of reasons. These reasons may include but are not limited to civil unrest, poverty, natural disasters, and/or persecution.

As part of being culturally responsive educators, it is crucial to get to know your students’ educational backgrounds. More often than not, this is done through informal interviews with the students and/or family members. When getting to know your students and their past educational backgrounds, you are trying to piece together an educational timeline that will essentially help you fill in the gaps for formal schooling.

Many times, SIFE students will present themselves as students with learning disabilities. It is very important to try and distinguish between the two. This is why it is important to give an ELL student time to acclimate to the culture and the school setting so that he/she will be able to show what they truly know academically.

Increasing Digital Engagement

As we get into the holiday seasons and the weather changes, there is usually a new recharge that is needed to keep students engaged. This can be more of a challenge in a hybrid/remote setting. Whether it is asking students to turn on their web cameras or participate in a virtual activity, the challenge of keeping students engaged is the same.

While get-to-know-you activities are normally used for the first weeks of school, they shouldn’t stop there. Continuing to know what is going on in their daily lives and celebrating your students’ experiences and uniqueness can reinforce or boost connections that keep them engaged and performing better in school.

Below are a range of strategies to assist in increasing digital engagement:

  • Student Inventories

Student inventories can help educators distinguish particulars and facts about students that can be used to plan future activities. Earlier in the year, you may have asked your students to name their favorite musicians, sports, games, or food. Now you can go deeper with questions about their culture, memories, family, etc. You can use this in google forms and share the data, you can use a prompted question via Pear Deck and share the answers, and you can also ask a student to create a google slide and present. Activities like this can transition to the next bullet.

  • Student Reflection and Share

Give students an opportunity to complete a writing prompt to answer a variety of questions that can answer: Who are they? What are their hopes and dreams? What are some things that bother them in general or in society? What can they do about it? What are they planning to do after high school? The list goes on! An activity like this can be used in World Language allowing the students to write and speak in the target language. This can also be used in a Health lesson, where a student is completing a personality or personal goal setting assignment, for example. Students can share this information via screencastify, google meet, or even EdPuzzle.

  • Icebreakers are not just for the start of the year

There are many things that we can continue to learn about our students as the year progresses. There were some fun activities you used to engage your students to start the school year. Once your procedures and routines were set, you may have felt that it was time to jump into the content and you never looked back. There is no reason you cannot combine the two and involve the format of one of your icebreaker activities from a Jam Board or Pear Deck activity and match it with a current lesson. New lessons can also have a type of gamification or friendly competition to motivate student engagement.

Dear Data Guy

Explaining Data to Parents/Students

I am often asked to explain charts and graphs in a simple way. The term we use nowadays is called Storytelling with Data. As practitioners in the classroom, I would like you to rethink the way you interact with data when working with students and parents. Here are a couple of tips:

  1. Whenever possible, have students create a graph of his/her performance.

  2. Have the student explain to you how they feel about the data.

  3. When presenting data to the parent(s)/guardian, show the parents a companion/correlation chart so the parent(s)/guardian has a reference point.

  4. Use the rule of two. For every two positive data points, show one data point to work on.

  5. Explain the data in a way that shows a growth mindset. For example, your son/daughter is just not getting algebra right now but with the way he/she is growing, we expect your child to get it by the end of the year.

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Notes from Mr. Scotto

Now that we have "officially" started observations for the 20/21 SY, the Office of Curriculum & Instruction will be offering (voluntary) after-school workshops to help staff review the components within each domain with a focus on hybrid/remote instruction. Look for dates/times in our Fall/Winter PD Catalogue.

In addition, please take some time to review the interim pre-conference and post-conference forms. These documents have been created to "guide the conversations" between teacher and administrator.

Best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving!

HTSD Curriculum Department

Anthony Scotto, Director of Curriculum and Instruction

Supervisors of K-5 Staff

Alejandro Batlle, Health/PE and World Language

Kevin Bobetich, Testing/Assessment

Sandra Jacome, ESL K-12, Title I Pre-K, ESSA Title Grants, & Family Engagement

Danielle Tan, Art and Music

Laura Leidy-Stauffer, K-5 ELA and Social Studies

Katie Mallon, K-5 Math and Science