I am in my second year of being a Math Coach K-5 working in 23 classrooms, but before this position I was a grade 5 teacher in a self-contained classroom for 13 years. While I loved teaching all subjects, Math was always my favorite part of the day. As the years went on, I found it increasingly difficult and frustrating teaching Math because the ability spectrum among the students in my classroom was so huge and just seemed to get wider and wider. I felt that my whole-group lessons were really only meeting the needs of 1/3 of my class. After a lesson, 1/3 were still lost and 1/3 had already known what I taught and were bored.
I am eternally grateful for two things I learned about that literally transformed my classroom: Guided Math and the math app Front Row.
I had the life-changing opportunity to attend a session at a workshop led by Dr. Nicki Newton. She is an absolute wealth of knowledge of teaching math. (go on to Youtube and search for Dr. Nicki – you will find so many fabulous videos explaining guided math as well as focus priorities for elementary grades as well as fluency activities for elementary gradelevels). Her first passion was literacy but then found herself absorbed in math education. She brilliantly applied her knowledge of literacy education to math! Guided Reading had been done for years in literacy but she was the first person I came across (I’m sure there are others out there -I just wasn’t aware of them) that applied it to Math instruction. (She is also coming out with a book this summer on Math Running Records which has transformed my life – again!) Dr. Nicki introduced me to the idea of math workstations and differentiating my instruction within a Guided Math time with my students. It truly transformed my classroom!! Here are her two books she has written on the topic:
At the beginning of my journey with this format for math instruction, students rotated through three workstations during my hour of math. They spent part of the time with me learning the topic of the day tiered to their ability level, part of the time doing independent work, and then part of the time on a phenomenal math app called Front Row.I felt like I was able to meet the needs of each of my students (from the struggling ones to the advanced ones) in a way I was never able to before!
Now that I am in a position of Math Coach, I am able to focus on helping other teachers implement this format for math time. Classrooms typically have 3 or 4 stations depending on the age of the students. One station is usually math fact fluency (NOT focusing on speed but on strategies which is an entire blog post on its own!) through playing games, a technology station (mostly Front Row (see below) but also Greg Tang apps or other IXL), an independent station practicing a skill that has already been taught, and a teacher station geared to what the students need. It is so exciting to watch in action!!
Front Row – the nirvana of math apps!
I had already been implementing this structure of teaching for a little while when I saw a post on Facebook by Scholastic that there was a new free K-8 math app called Front Row. When I looked into it I was so thrilled to see that within the app they had created features that had been taking me hours of time to do by hand!
Here are just a few of the powerful features:
- setting up the classroom was so easy – I just went to http://www.frontrowed.com and created a class…then I just needed to type in my students’ names…that’s it!
- completely individualized for each student – students just take a benchmark test for each domain starting at kindergarten level questions and the program decides which skill they need to begin working on
- when the students are working on a question, there are a bunch of virtual manipulatives at their fingertips to use to help them figure out the answer
- there is button on the side for students to watch a video that teaches them the skill
- if students get a question wrong, the program will suggest other students in the classroom that can help them since it knows which level all students are working on (this was one of the most magical moments for me – watching students help other students)
- the teacher features were amazing –
- at a click of a button I would get groupings of same-ability or mixed-ability…for the same-ability the program showed exactly which skill they all needed to work on
- report cards for each student
- homework sheets individualized for the skills each student needed – yet I only had to press “print”
And that was two years ago…Front Row has only become more powerful! Here are some added features now:
- addition of a whole Reading component
- library of Inquiry Based Lessons
- Math fact fluency (that is NOT based on speed!!!! yea!)
- question styling that includes multiple answers, dragging many answers to an appropriate column such as less than one, equal to one or more than one….truly getting to the heart of a students’ conceptual understanding rather than just multiple choice.
One of the best parts is that all of the above features are completely free! There is a school edition that costs money (a couple of schools in our district have chosen to pay for this since we are finding it to be so powerful) but all of the features above are in the free version.
Now that I’m teaching preservice teachers, I have also included this as part of my assignements for our class. That way, I can be assured that my college students have any gaps in their knowledge of foundational skills filled in. They have the entire semester to complete domains that cover the content of my course. That way it is at their own pace and there are teaching videos right there for them. As the teacher, I can keep tabs on them and help them when needed as well. So powerful!!!
Disclaimer: I do not benefit financially from Front Row. One of the founders of the app, Sidharth Kakkar, was so kind and genuinely interested in getting feedback from teachers two years ago that I felt very comfortable emailing him with any questions or concerns we were having. We developed a wonderful rapport. Over time, he asked me if I would mind being interviewed by journalists covering this growing company about my thoughts on Front Row…including an interview for an article by CNN! As the company has grown, they have developed an Ambassador program made up of teachers who love Front Row. I’m so honored to be one of them. As a special treat and privilege, I will be presenting on their behalf at a Share Fair Nation conference in South Carolina next month. So incredibly thankful for the opportunity to share my enthusiasm for this amazing app!