Thursday, August 4, 2022

5 Ways to Build Mathematical Representations with Virtual Manipulatives

5 Mathematical Representations of physical, visual, symbolic, contextual, and verbal,  (NCTM, 2014) highlights the importance of strengthening students' ability to move between and among representations. Virtual manipulatives have the power to support students in seeing these connections and strengthening their flexibility between different representations.    Research across the grade span shows the use of virtual manipulatives across math concepts including geometry, algebra, fractions, and integers not only leads to greater time on task, but gain in academic achievement and conceptual understanding (Bolyard & Moyer-Packenham, 2012; Jones, Uribe-Fiorez, & Wilkens, 2011) 

Let’s take a look at 5 Ways to build Mathematical Representations with Virtual Manipulatives 

  1. Encourage Exploration with Virtual Manipulatives.  Our class would spend hours making fraction kits and too often those kits would only last a brief time.  While physically constructing manipulatives provides a sense of ownership and an opportunity for rich discussion, virtual manipulatives provide an efficient way for students to make sense of a math concept and attend to precision in their representation.  Using the Math Learning Center Fraction App students who may struggle to cut and physically distribute paper fractions, can easily create, and color. label and compare virtual fractions.  Students' representations can be shared visually to showcase a variety of representations using tools like Padlet or Google Slides. Encourage students to use virtual manipulatives when solving a rich CGI (Cognitively Guided Instruction) math problem or creating their own problem to share with the class. Display students' representation while they explain their thinking as a way to create a visual cue for recall.  

How to use Math Learning Center Fraction App:

How to use Pattern Blocks for dividing fractions:

  1. Build a virtual manipulative toolbox with Google Slides.  Students will need access to virtual manipulatives at their digital fingertips.  Using multiple forms of representations allows students to make sense of concepts and be flexible in mathematics.  Providing a virtual toolbox for students to use allows students to decide which virtual manipulatives to use to make sense of the problem and encourages students to extend their thinking with other representations.  As teachers, by focusing our attention on the task, students can have the authority to make a choice of which virtual manipulative works best.  Consider a problem such as 36 + 25 students can use base ten blocks, unifex cubes, an abacus, or counters to model their thinking and justify their reasoning.  Having students talk about and display their representation allows other students to see strategies that may be more efficient as well as connect visual representations with symbolic form.  You can make a copy of my Virtual Manipulative Toolbox to share with your students.  

Google Slide Manipulative Deck:

  1. Use Virtual Manipulatives Across Math Domains.  Whether physical or digital in order for manipulatives to be effective they must be used consistently over time (Sowell, 1989). Repeated exposure to the same manipulatives across math domains and concepts helps students activate prior knowledge, identify patterns, make the connection and see relationships across math domains.  In addition, this repeated exposure helps students understand the symbolic relationship and can lead to “concreteness fading” where students who receive consistent and effective use of manipulatives are more likely to transfer problems correctly as compared to children who do not receive instruction with only symbolic equations (Fyfe & McNeil, 2009). Thus it is important for teachers to not only use manipulatives consistently but build on manipulative use across grade spans.  Knowing that a kinder teacher used an abacus to teach counting, the first-grade teacher can extend using this tool into adding and subtraction, and the third-grade teacher can build on this skill by using an abacus to teach multiplication and division.  Teachers should plan strategically with their colleagues on using virtual manipulatives across grade spans.  The more experiences students have with the same manipulatives the greater they can extend their thinking with that tool.   

Check out my video on how to use an abacus across early math concepts:


  1. Be explicit in Making Math Connections.  As teachers, we often need to explicitly tell the relationship between the manipulatives and the math concept.  In fact, research has found that explicit statements about how the manipulative represents the concept or procedure direct children’s attention and allows students to focus on mathematics rather than trying to understand the relationship (Kirschner, Sweller & Clark, 2006). Repetition and practice of the skill are necessary for fluency to happen and certainly when students are allowed to construct understanding with digital tools mistakes are visible and reasoning can happen.  Too often in math students only see the product represented in symbolic form.  With virtual manipulatives, students can be guided visually throughout the process and see their product, while self-correcting where needed.  

6th grade Student Video Adding Integers with Digital Counters:



  1. Show what you Know with Virtual Manipulatives.  What appears on a test might not always represent what students understand and can do independently.  Providing students with an opportunity to explain their thinking is paramount in the process of learning and highlights the 5 Math Representations.  When students create products of learning with digital tools they can construct their understanding visually.  This will allow you to pinpoint student's misconceptions and provide just-in-time support. But more often than not, I have found this process has led to students’ self-correcting and deepening their understanding.  To build upon this process, you can have students record themselves explaining their representation using a tool such as Screencastify, Loom, or Flip Grid.  Student explanations are best supported with visual models, but visual models might not always transfer exactly how students would like them to be.  For example, I had a student with Dysgraphia who was unable to illustrate a net, however with  Virtual graph paper ( the student was able to attend to precision and demonstrate with confidence his understanding.

Teacher-created scaffolds for digital products lay the foundation for student success and can remove barriers to learning.  Take for example a student with ADD who has a hard time recalling the steps to solve two-digit multiplication with the area model.  With a digital template, the student can move step-by-step with support, while working independently.

Jamboard for reuse:

Whether you are teaching online, onsite or hybrid, virtual manipulatives are robust tools that can provide students with a pathway to make meaning out of abstract concepts. This is critical for all learners across the K-12 grade span as visual representations can cue students to make connections to previously learned concepts and lower the language barrier that teachers may not consider when it comes to teaching and learning math.  Virtual math manipulatives are defined as an “interactive web-based visual representation of a dynamic object that presents opportunities for constructing mathematical knowledge (Moyer, et al., 2002, p.373).  These web-based tools might not be how you experienced learning mathematics, but they certainly will pave the way for students who are entering a technology-rich workforce where digital skills are in high demand.  

Virtual manipulatives hold much promise for supporting students in developing  mathematical skills and conceptual understandings, and they certainly align with what students are doing outside the classroom and how they engage with friends in digital worlds such as Mindcraft and Roblox.  As teachers we know that capturing our students attention is paramount to learning and that our students are already coming into the classroom using digital tools to create, explore and have fun.  Why not extend your teaching of math concepts with virtual manipulatives, and let students show you what they know with virtual representations?


Bolyard, J., & Moyer-Packenham, P. (2012). Making sense of integer arithmetic: The effect of using virtual manipulatives on students’ representational fluency. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 31(2), 93-113.

Dickenson, Patricia (September 10, 2021) Virtual Math Manipulatives. Google Slides

Dickenson, Patricia (ND) Area Model Multiplcation. Google Jamboard.

Fyfe, E. R., & McNeil, N. M. (2009). Benefits of “concreteness fading” for children with low knowledge of mathematical equivalence. Poster presented at the Cognitive Development Society, San Antonio, TX.

Huinker, D., McLeod, K., Hertzog, H., Gold, N. O. R. J., Zeitlin, J., & McCrory, R. Mathematics for Elementary School Teaching: What Is It and How Do Teachers Learn It?.

Jones, B. D., Uribe-Florez, L. J., & Wilkins, J. L. M. (2011). Motivating mathematics students with manipulatives: Using self-determination theory to intrinsically motivate students. Yearbook (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics), 73, 215-227.

Kirschner, P., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why unguided learning does not work: An analysis of the failure of discovery learning, problem-based learning, experiential learning and inquiry-based learning. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75-86.

Math Apps. The Math Learning Center (2005-2022). 

Moyer, P. S., Bolyard, J. J., & Spikell, M. A. (2002). What are virtual manipulatives? Teaching Children Mathematics, 8(6), 372–377.

NCTM 2014 Executive summary principles and standards for school mathematics Natl. Counc. Teach. Math. 1–6

Sowell, E. J. (1989). Effects of manipulative materials in mathematics instruction. Journal for research in mathematics education, 20(5), 498-505.

Teacher Prep Tech (2021, Sept. 12). Virtual Manipulatives: Teachers K-8 Blended Learning [Video]. Youtube.

Teacher Prep Tech (2021, March 18). Dividing Fractions Using Pattern Blocks: Math Models with Virtual Manipulatives [Video]. Youtube.

Teacher Prep Tech (2021, March 18). How to use Virtual Manipulatives for Modeling: Addition Subtraction, Multiplication and Division [Video]. Youtube.

Teacher Prep Tech (2021, January 26). How to Add and Subtract Integers With Counters Using Google Jamboard Math For Kids By Kids

[Video]. Youtube.

Teacher Prep Tech (2021, January 6). How to Use Google Jamboard for Math Area Model 2 Digit Multiplication for Kids by Kids [Video]. Youtube

Virtual Online Graph Paper (2022). 

Monday, December 6, 2021

Using Technology to Harness Math in the Real-World

Throughout the Common Core Mathematics State Standards, students should be making sense of mathematics in the real world.  In fact, the word ‘“real-world” appears across the math domains from “solve real-world problems involving multiplication of fractions and mixed numbers, e.g., by using visual fraction models or equations to represent the problem (5.NF.B.6) to “solve real-life and mathematical problems using numerical and algebraic expressions and equations (7.EE.B.4)”.   Real-world connections are rooted in the experiences we’ve had whether shopping at a store and calculating the discount price, to planning a road trip and determining the time, distance, and cost given a budget.  Experiences make us mathematize in ways a traditional textbook problem does not.  Moreover, doing the math is driven by our needs and interests, and that is what makes the utility of math something of value. 

This approach to teaching and learning math can be as simple as using a Data Talk (see below) at the onset of instruction to engage your students in math discourse or creating a real world problem for your students to grapple with over a series of days or weeks!

Think about how engaged you were when planning a holiday party and having to scale up or down a recipe online or applying for a loan and determining the monthly cost given your interest rate.  Of course, in these situations attending to precision really matters. Seldomly do we need to be reminded to “check your answer” when math is personal. Creating that kind of interest, excitement, and perseverance in the classroom, will take more than just presenting our students with problems involving a real-world situations, or asking “ Would You Rather” questions.  As teachers, we need to provide our students with an opportunity to put themselves into the experience (aka immersive math).

Here is a video clip of me working with a group of sixth graders introducing the project of building a house.

Build a house project on Google Slides for Reuse:

What kids lack in context we can provide with digital projects.  Digital projects allow us the teacher, to build an experience that will drive our students’ passion for doing math.  Students can share their interests, passion, and creativity in a real-world digital project.  For example, building on my second-grade students’ love of the Roblox game, Adopt Me, and their passion for animals,  I crafted a second-grade digital project in which students pick a pet to adopt, shop for items, and create their own animal.  This became an immersive experience similar to a video game, while students were adding and subtracting money, building three-digit numbers with base-ten blocks, and ordering and comparing costs of pets on a number line.

To further students' confidence in this skill have your students create short videos explaining their thinking and how they solve the problem. Check out this video of a student engaged in a digital math project where she reads, writes, and compares three-digit numbers

Digital projects work across grade spans and allow students to see connections across math domains and other subjects. They can give our students an opportunity to use the academic language of a concept and have students explain their thinking through video, or text as shown in the above video. 

But best of all with digital projects we can hyperlink to awesome tools that allow our students to really connect math concepts to the real world.  For example in the “Plan A Holiday Party” I created for my sixth graders, they were selecting recipes from the site “All Recipes” for their holiday meal and had to scale up or down the recipe given the number of people they invited. 

In the digital project “Plan a Camping Trip” students not only were tasked with exploring a campsite in California but, calculating the mileage for their trip by looking up the gas mileage for a car they selected.   When given this situation, the mathematizing started to happen from students comparing the poor gas mileage between a Lambrogini versus a Hummer to determining the electrical charge they would need if they decided to drive a Tesla instead.  The beauty of mathematics appeared when students were allowed to be creative and explore possibilities which is what makes a good math project.

 Students can efficiently model with mathematics using digital tools and connect big ideas in math across important concepts.  In fact, the 2022 California Framework will require teaching “big ideas” as a way to support students in seeing how concepts are connected and deeply exploring fundamental ideas.  As teaching math continues to evolve towards are more student-centered and less teacher-directed approach, digital projects provide you with an opportunity to approach instruction with an emphasis on connections and ideas.  Projects give your students the time to link multiple practice and content standards in a comprehensive way with real-world connections.  Want to see my thinking process and “must-haves” for Digital projects check out this video in which I walk you through what I consider before creating a digital project and what are must-haves for project success.  

How to create a digital math project:


Technology holds much promise for the future of math and certainly will prepare students for college and career readiness.  Collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication are part of students' experience in working on a digital project.  The 4 C’s are 21st Century skills that have been in education for quite some time, as a staple for the future workforce.   As teachers however we are challenged to bring in the fifth C of compassion in our work with students as well. With compassion everything is possible and we can reimagine our world and our children’s future.  

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Creating a Unit Plan from Process to Product

Creating a unit plan can feel like a daunting task, however, this process can provide you with an opportunity to consider your students and how they can develop mastery of content standards.  While district-level curriculum often provides you with a scope and sequence of what to teach, by developing a unit plan you will have an opportunity to consider not just what you will teach, but who you will teach, and what you can do to reach all learners.

Step 1: Consider Your Learners

At the heart of good instruction is what you know about your learners and what you will do to build their strengths.  Having an understanding of your learners' assets (strengths), interests, and needs can help you anchor instruction.  As you begin your unit plan it is important to consider their prior knowledge and abilities, as well as soft skills such as self-regulation, organization, and language needs. 

For example, with a unit plan on ratios, you can create tasks that include students' interest such as the game Roblox, and how your plan can reinforce prerequisite skills by including a game on equivalent fractions.  You can also consider students' assets such as their ability to persevere with complex problems as well as developmental needs such as working in small groups.  This initial step will help you in considering what scaffolds you might include such as graphic organizers, student groupings, and technology as well as additional resources that build upon students' interests and assets.

As a rule of thumb ask yourself "Who Am I Designing Instruction For? and "What will my students need to be successful?" 

Step 2: Select Standards

Content is king, and by beginning with the end in mind you can identify the skills you will explicitly teach and the sequence to arrange instruction.  This process allows you to zoom in and out of teaching to pinpoint student misconceptions, areas of struggle, and opportunities for differentiation.  Through the unpacking of standards, you can consider what initial skills can support students in working in their "zone of proximal development" and how you might extend students' thinking to promote transfer and real-world application.   Check out Achieve the Core to backward map content standards.  

When unpacking your content standards, consider misconceptions students might have, in addition to what prerequisite skills they will need to engage in activities.  Language can also be a barrier to learning so it is critical to identify the academic language that can prevent students from acquiring the content knowledge and skills.  In the next step as you plan activities identifying the language demand will support you in removing barriers and providing language support that is context embedded and connected to skills.

You should also consider "Big Questions" to anchor student learning so you don't hear "Why are we learning about the industrial revolution" and "when will I ever use combining like terms".  These questions will come up, so either be prepared to make your case, or craft really engaging activities that focus on why students are learning these big ideas!   

As a rule of thumb ask yourself "What knowledge and skills am I teaching"? and "How can I ensure my students develop deep understanding to make real-world connections?" 

Step 3: Planning Activities 

There is nothing more encouraging than a hook to get your students on task.  Whether it is the novelty of seeing a popular meme as they consider idioms in the real world or watching the opening clip of a novella before engaging in a class conversation about verb conjugation in Spanish.  The hook is where it's at, and the first five minutes can make or break the rest of your lesson.

Activities are where the learning happens and whether that takes place through investigating a phenomenon (science) delving into a Number talk in Math, or discovering the events that led to the American Revolution, it's important to let the students do the talking as this is how sense-making occurs.  As part of planning activities, teachers should consider what open-ended questions they might ask, to create a platform for student talk.  Questions that generate a "yes" or "no" response or ask students to give a thumbs up or thumbs down reveal very little about what the students know and understand, nor do they provide students with an opportunity to elaborate on what they are learning.  Elaboration is critical if we want students to move what they are learning from their working memory to long-term storage.  

You should also consider the instructional groupings you will consider for activities this might include whole group, small group, partner work, or triads.  Homogenous groupings can be effective if students are working at the same level for a reading passage, whereas heterogeneous groupings can be advantageous for a project or task which includes multiple intelligences.   Whether or not students participate can be contingent on the kinds of engagement strategies you employ to keep students on task and wanting to participate.  Not every lesson needs to include a quiz or an exit ticket but as you plan your unit you should consider how you will measure student learning.  Assessment strategies inform our instruction and provide us with a way to make just-in-time adjustments.

As a rule of thumb ask yourself "What kinds of activities would my students want to engage in and how can I measure their learning?" 

After you crafted activities you should consider what accommodations and modifications should be provided to support all learners.  This can include language scaffolds such as sentence stems for English language learners as well as assistive technology for students with learning exceptionalities.  This UDL checklist is a wonderful tool to identify supports for your learners.  

As a rule of thumb ask your learners "what are your preferred ways to learn?"

If you want to be an effective teacher then you need to take time to plan.  Planning not only sets the goal for the day, but it gives you the confidence and the skills to be effective.  Students' learning can be measured and time on task is increased with an effective plan.  "A good lesson plan is a living document. It is not set in stone, but rather it is a guide that keeps you--the classroom practitioner--engaged and thinking about what you are teaching." Otis Kriegel

Get your digital planner here

Sunday, September 13, 2020

6 Fun Ways to Go Digital with Number Talks

One of the cornerstones of a solid elementary math block are activities that support students in developing numerical literacy. Developing numerical literacy in the elementary classroom will support students in being confident problem solvers, and engage in mathematical discussions at a higher level.  Number talks are one such activity that builds students numerical literacy and are taking place in classrooms on a daily basis.  

If you are not familiar with number talks here is the gist of it.  The goal of a number talk is to give your students an opportunity to use mental math strategies to solve a problem.  That's right no paper, whiteboards or pens, just solve the problem in your head.  

The conversation that occurs after the number talk is teacher facilitated with students sharing answers and their strategy.  This process supports students learning from each other and teachers assessing students thinking and what strategies they use naturally.

       Teacher says: How can you solve this problem by doing it in your head? Give me a thumbs up when you have a solution!

One thing I love about a Number Talk is students are provided with a problem that can be solved in a variety of ways.  This allows students to be flexible in their thinking and develop a variety of strategies that will support them when they are faced with cognitively demanding math tasks.   

       Get these slides here

One thing that is a struggle with this process is number talks can be incredibly time-consuming if you are in a class with 30 plus students who all want to share how they found their answer.   As a teacher, I want to honor all of my students' voices and give them an opportunity to express what they know, but logistically this is not always possible.   

This is where technology can come in to support you in making number talks accessible to all students and useful as a formative assessment tool to see where all your students are at and give them a chance to share their thinking.  

Here are 6 Fun Ways To Go Digital with Number Talks: 

1. Google Slides: During a synchronous meeting with your students share this slide deck in edit mode for students to record their solution to a number talk problem.  Students can drag the icon to indicate they would like to explain their thinking or to show agreement with another student's explanation.

2. Google Voice:
For asynchronous collaboration post an image and/or your question in a Google Doc.  Students can work with a partner or independently to share their strategy. All you need to do is create a Google Doc and Share with your students.  Then have your students go to the Tools Menu in the Document and click Voice Typing

                                       click here to get this document

If you want to see how quick and easy this process is just check out my 8 year old son demonstrate how to use Google Voice Typing.

3. Padlet: Post your question on a padlet board.  Students can access the board with a URL and automatically post their response by sharing a picture, text or video.  Try this out by responding to my number talk wall below with your response.  If you have fun doing it imagine what you kids will say! 
Made with Padlet

4. Google Drawing: teachers can illustrate student responses using Google Drawing either on their IPAD or computer.  The Scribble tool is a quick way to make illustrations and the student can also illustrate their response using this web based tool .  Google Drawing can also be used inside Google Document and it even features math symbols as images.  
                          Click here to view in Google Drawing

5. Flip Grid: Create a video word problem with a student response system that records students thinking in an instant.  This process can ensure that students voices are heard and recorded. You can also leave feedback for your students with this process.  The videos below were created shared on Youtube

6. Shadow Puppet: This tool can be used by you to make video number talks or by the student to share their response. Students can illustrate their work with paper and pencil then take a picture with an ipad or iphone.  Then they can audio narrate their response.  This can be a center activity that students complete and provide feedback and comments to their peers.   This is an app and not accessible on a computer 

If you are an elementary teacher looking to improve your students number sense than number talks are a must.  This process instinctively allows me to see where my kids are at, who has grasped the concept and who needs some extra nudging and support.  With number talks the nudging and support does not necessarily come from me it can be found in how their peers respond and with web tools I have the power to capture their answers.  

Want a book that can put it all together for you with over 100 digital resources and tools then check out my book on Amazon

Check out these digital number talk images I have collected and be sure to share yours with me. 

How much for one (unit rate)? How much for 13?

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Saturday, February 22, 2020

Reach & Teach all Learners with Technology Infused Math Instruction

This week I had the opportunity to present and engage fellow educators at the California Association of Resource and Special Educators (CARS) conference in Irvine California.  The focus of the presentation was "how to infuse technology into your practice to support all students in developing both conceptual understanding and procedural fluency in mathematics".   We also discussed how using technology can create an optimal learning environment for students especially those with learning differences.  An emphasis on how technology can be used in 5 key pedagogical practices: Project-based Learning, Problem-Based Learning, Daily Routines, Open-Ended Tasks, and Math Centers was discussed and explored with examples across the K-8 grade span.  Many of these big ideas are discussed in my book "Teaching Outside the Box: Technology Infused Math Instruction"    

The second presentation was focused on skills developed in grades 4-8. Highlighting the Big 5 and building upon developing students confidence and efficacy in math with oral presentations, justifying their answers, and collaborative problem solving.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Evolving History Classroom: from Who and What to How

By Guest Blogger: Dino Mangano

History. It’s the class we love to teach, and the class many of our students dread attending. We history teachers have immersed ourselves in the content for years. We can’t get enough of conversations about cultural revolutions, ancient civilizations, and dynamic world leaders. Our students however, care little for these things, and definitely don’t see the need to memorize the dates of Civil War battles, or to explain the effects the Mongol Empire had on world trade (oh, I could talk Mongols for hours!)

And so, for generations, history class has become the period of the day where many of our students write notes to friends, or sneak in a quick nap.

Enter Common Core
In the last few years, there has been a major shift in focus in all Social Studies classes. Yes our content standards are still there, and are still important, but gone are the days of memorizing dates and names for a standardized test.
Now, the focus is on literacy in the history classroom. Reading, writing, deep thinking, defending claims with evidence, are the new priorities. And while this is infinitely more interesting for the average teenager (what teen doesn’t love a good debate? Ask anybody who’s raised one), the looming question for teachers is…. 

How do we do this?

The Answer : Mindset Shift

History teachers must completely change the way they think of their classroom, and the purpose it serves. We can no longer think of ourselves as the keepers of secret historical knowledge, that we must pour into our students, (enter the age of “Just ask Siri” or “I’ll Google It”). Our classrooms must become a place where students learn the skills and thought process needed to become critical thinking citizens themselves. (That old ‘teach a man to fish’ analogy).

This takes a drastic change in how we think about planning and designing learning experiences for our students.  We can no longer rely on the “read section 3 and answer questions 1-5 by the end of the hour” routine. In fact, I begin each year by making a pledge to my students “I vow, you will never have to answer the questions in the textbook.” This usually earns me a standing ovation… until they hear how many essays they’ll be writing.

When planning my daily/weekly/unit lessons, my focus shifts from the content standards to the Common Core Literacy Standards. It’s these standards that I use to plot the path of my course over the year, create major assessments, and most importantly the standards whose data I track. Content standards become a backdrop. They
become one of the tools we use to teach rigorous reading and writing, not the main focus of the lesson itself.

       Right now, there are history teachers reading this who are screaming “Blasphemy!” and wanting to splash holy water on me. I’ve worked with those teachers, and had those conversations. “But Dino, I created this 47 slide PowerPoint about the War of 1812. It’s beautiful. I’ve been using it for a decade I’m not about to scrap it.”

The key sticking point for this teacher was the focus of his lesson. He wanted his kids to KNOW as many facts about the War of 1812. And that is “sort of” important in a history class. What is more important than regurgitating facts they will likely forget, is ’ being able to explain the causes and effects of the war , while using evidence found in complex primary sources in a well written essay. It’s not WHAT they’re learning, it’s HOW they’re learning.

So, when planning, don’t begin with the textbook! Begin with your learners.  What are their strengths, interests and what do they like to do?  Be sure you are including this key factor when designing instruction.  Some students might prefer to write a poem about a particular topic, while other students choose a poster or a podcast.  When you give your students' choice, then they find their voice and engagement comes from within intrinsic and not from a daily raffle or treasure box. 


Now let's be clear I am not saying you should scrap your history curriculum all together.  What I am recommending is you begin with a topic and find multiple primary sources about the topic, and have the students use collaborative routines to analyze the documents. They can now use that shared information to hold a debate, write an essay, create a mini-lesson they can teach, etc (choice)

These interactive, rigorous, collaborative strategies will not only make the lesson more engaging, but they’ll incorporate the Literacy Standards seamlessly, and benefit ALL your students, especially ELL and SPED students. And perhaps the English teachers will love you!

There’s nothing better than a well crafted text set to allow students to grapple with rigor primary source
reading, and at the same time engage with each other. The first few times I’ll assign a set of primary text for a topic, and teach the students how a proficient reader gets through the challenges of reading tough texts (mostly through the modeling process). Once the students become comfortable with text sets, their value in learning, and how to tackle them, I ask them to create their own text sets on a historical topic. While history standards/topics are being addressed in each step, the method in which we do so (text sets, creation of text sets, engagement routines such as games, think/pair/share, etc) allow the students experience rigorous reading/thinking far more than a textbook would allow.  So don't be afraid to let your students' own their learning, teach one another, and have fun while learning. 

As I’ve evolved from a traditional ‘sage on the stage’ social studies teacher, I can humbly say that I've learned from some incredible educators who’ve helped be become the kind of teacher I’ve always wanted to be, and create a classroom (I hope) most of my students enjoy learning and growing in.                                 

Dino has been an educator for 20 years, both in Michigan and California. He currently teaches high school social studies in Chawanakee USD, as well as serves as an adjunct professor in the Teacher Prep Program as UCMerced. One of his true passions is supporting new teachers and helping them grow.

Dino’s Coaching Website:

Dino’s Book (on Amazon, eBook and paperback): “New Teacher Survival Guide: 2nd Edition” by Dino Mangano


Instagram: @mangano.instructional.coaching
Facebook: ManganoCoaching

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