Appreciating Discovery in Mathematics

Most students are unsettled by my “discovery” based style of teaching, at first.  However, once they let go of the way they have always done math, they really enjoy it.  I feel that they retain more, as my focus is never on memorizing formulas and procedures that are always quickly forgotten.  Well, maybe they don’t always retain more, but they seem to understand more of what they do retain.  We do use some formulas in my class, they are just not our first “go to”.  Formulas are what my students develop, individually and then as a class.  We only use formulas after we have investigated them, and understand them.

At the end of the year it is wonderful to see how much they appreciate this and feel that they understand the math they are doing!  I received a couple of lovely thank you notes from my freshmen, and other students wrote comments on my end of year survey as well.

Thank you so much for giving us context in math so we fully understand where things come from. No math teachers have done that for me.

Keep making us discover patterns, it helps us to think more in-depth.

Understand the WHY!!! just because productive struggle isn’t always fun doesn’t mean it isn’t helpful! it makes understanding and remembering concepts easier.

Thanks for a great year and challenging me to grow in this class!

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Reality Bites

After teaching the same grades and the same subjects for the past four years I felt I was finally becoming a much better teacher.  I still had terrible teaching days.  And never did a day go by that I did not plan to make my lessons better for next year. 

But now I am new again.  New school, new subjects, new colleagues, new kids, new everything.  Subjects I’ve never taught.  And I feel pretty sucky again.  I am back at the beginning.  But it is worse now.  Because when I was sucky before, I didn’t realize how sucky I was.  But, after working so hard for the past four years to get better, and then actually having moments when I WAS better, I now know just how bad I am.  And it is killing me.  I am working non-stop to make it better.  But there are not enough hours in the day.  You don’t become better instantly just by knowing what it feels like and wanting it.  It takes time.  It takes time to truly know your subject and to curate your resources.  It takes time to develop an amazing lesson, much less an amazing curriculum.

I have to develop the lessons because I CANNOT with a straight face go in and teach this example for histograms.  I know it would make my life so much easier, but I CAN NOT DO IT.  I mean, I doubt any of my students even know what an MP3 player IS.  

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Also, middle school students give you their souls on day 1.  They are still little kids and they just trust you from the start.  But I quickly remembered that high school students do not.  You have to earn their trust.  You have to prove to them that you do care about them and that you will work hard for them.  Then they will trust you and work hard for you.  To earn their trust I work hard on my lessons for them.  I try to make it engaging so they will know that I care, I try to make it about them so they will be interested in the math.  So I do this instead, but it takes time. 

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Thankfully, I have a wonderful community of people that have been there before, and are willing to help me.  I don’t have to recreate the wheel.  (How did people even TEACH before blogs and Twitter?!?)  However, it still takes time finding all of these wheels and then tailoring them to my needs.  But I can’t even do this for every lesson for every day, and it’s killing me.  I need to sleep.  I need to be a Mom.  I hate being a perfectionist.  Reality Bites. 

Student Reflection and Goal Setting in Mathematics

Click here to submit your MS Sunday Funday post! #msSunFunIf you would like to add a post about student reflection and goal setting in mathematics, please click the link above.

Next week, we will blog about projects and project based learning in the mathematics class.  Please join us!

TMC – People Just Like Me!

I just spent five of the most amazing days of my life at “Twitter Math Camp 2012” or #TMC12.  I have been anxious to blog about it since I came home.  However, I have also been simply overwhelmed with all that it was.  I doubt that I can convey to any reader the enormity of this experience, or how much it has changed me and help me grow as a teacher.  I feel like the best way for interested teachers to get a true sense of what  #TMC12 really was about, is to read all of our posted experiences and quilt them together (links to other blogs at end).

When trying to explain this conference to my non-teaching friends, I tell them.  “Think about the best teachers that you ever had.  Put them all in one room.  Ask them to all tell you their best ideas and strategies.  Listen in awe.  Take tons of notes.  Learn from the best.”  This was a meeting of the most creative, innovative, and inspired educators that I have ever been privileged enough to know.  Everything said this week was important, and relevant, and will directly help me with my students this year.  In fact, I will be lucky if I can even try out a fourth of the things that I leaned about at Twitter Math Camp.  These teachers are doing amazing things in the classroom.

How was I lucky enough to be part of this?  I am an impassioned educator who loves to talk about teaching math, all the time.  Just ask my family, I drive them crazy.  Thankfully, I found a bevy of great folks on Twitter to talk about teaching math, 24/7.  Since I found them a couple of years ago, we have talked practically non-stop about teaching math, planned lessons together, given each other great ideas, participated in book studies, and generally just supported each other through the thick and thin of teaching.  I love to talk to them because they love to teach as much, if not more, than I do.  They are always working, planning, wondering, and thinking up new ideas for their students and their classrooms.  They are all brilliant, and fun to talk to as well!  So much fun in fact, that we all started talking about getting together, to meet, in real life.  It started out almost like a joke, and I pushed hard for a cruise.  I even made a wiki page for the cruise!  But, time passed and we went back to our crazy, hectic, teacher lives.  At least until two amazing teachers, Lisa and Shelli, actually decided to do something about it.  Thus, #TMC12 was born.

I have been to multiple conferences in my many years of teaching.  This was by far the best PD (professional development) that I have ever attended.  What made #TMC12 so much different, so much better?  The key was that this was a teacher’s conference, by us, for us.  We knew what we needed.  We cut straight to the point in our presentations.  There was no wasted time.  I appreciated that and really felt like these amazing teachers are my people.  They understand me and knew what I needed.  They don’t think I am weird for wanting to talk about teaching all the time.  They can’t wait to discuss a great idea as well.  And we never stopped talking about teaching.  We talked about it over breakfast, all day long, at lunch, dinner, and even when we were hanging out at night.  And we had so much fun at night!  After a whole day of cramming our brains full or math and teaching ideas, we loved hanging out together even more at night.  But we never tired of talking about teaching!  We could be in the middle of a song, have an idea, and stop singing to talk about it immediately.  One verse later, we would jump right back in to singing (or dancing) again.  We even talked about education up until the very last minute, when we waited, together, for our departing flights in the airport.  Education was our undercurrent.

I learned more in these 5 days that I have in a year of reading blogs.  At the end of each session, poor Lisa had to cut us off.  We were so excited about each presenters ideas that we would have talked for hours.  My educational highlights for the week included:

  • Talking about how students learn, developing new lesson ideas, and learning new ways to present slope with the Math 1 folks.
  • Learning about many more uses for whiteboards. (Mistake camp).
  • Daily Favorite Things sessions (which will continue through the year via blogs – YEAH!)
  • Developing ideas for how video can be used to improve the classroom instead of just  “flipping” it.
  • Collaborating post-session with multiple teachers about the best way to represent integer subtraction.
  • Many side conversations about homework
  • Giving ownership back to the students including numerous ways to get students talking about math and working together in math class.
  • Interactive Notebook Nirvana
  • Meeting people (not related to me), that had actually read my blog.
  • Discovering (in the airport) that even teachers I greatly admire wonder if they are good teachers.  It made me feel so much better about my teaching and my failures.
  • Technology, technology, technology.  I may never even have a chance to try all of the amazing new websites that I learned about!  I wish I had taken better notes (thanks Rachel).
  • Math club collaboration
  • Marshmallow guns shoot much harder (and farther) than you think.
  • Having FUN in presentations with the presenters (even if it was off topic or off color sometimes) 
  • Jinx Tweets!  When people would think about the same thing, at the same time, and tweet it.  It was unreal how much this happened.  Our brains work alike.

My personal highlights:

  • Bonding with people immediately even though I was so nervous about going and talking to people I had never met IRL.
  • Finally meeting everyone that I had been tweeting for years with and discovering that they were all exactly like their tweets!
  • Just that feeling that you have when you are surrounded by people that totally get you, and still like you, for who you REALLY are.  
  • Doing “The Squirm” with my math class song mentor, Sean.  He even offered to write me a song for my class (love).  
  • Finding several other teachers that wear their purse cross body, on the right side.
  • Making stupid jokes that people laughed at bc they have my same weird sense of humor.
  • Feeling comfortable being as loud as I wanted to be.  (Thank you all for putting up with me).
  • Having an enormous group of people who also sing at random just because they hear two words that makes them think of a song. (Actually, having tons of people who would just sing with me, at random, whenever I started singing.  I didn’t even have to ASK!)
  • Going around in a giant group – EVERYWHERE.  
  • Square dancing on the sidewalk in the middle of lunch just because we thought of it.
  • Teaching a movie theater full of people to dance before a movie – and everyone did since my friends were all into it.
  • A whole world of people that are as obsessed with office supply stores as I am!  
  • Dressing up like Sam 
  • Getting less sleep than I did in college because I never wanted to stop talking to these amazing people about math and teaching!
  • Generally just being around people that are CRAZY fun, more crazy fun than I ever thought people could be.
  • TWEET ME MAYBE! (thanks for the extra credit Sean)

Things Most Frequently Heard at #TMC12

My only regret was that even though I stretched every day to the limit, I did not have enough time to talk in depth with all of the people that I wanted to talk to.  Everywhere I looked fascinating conversations were happening all around me.  It was almost impossible not to get completely immersed and remember to move around.  I’ll definitely be coming back to #TMC13 to pick up where I left off.

I felt like I was with people that “got me”.  And I loved that many of the Twitter Math Campers even thought the way that I did.   In fact, if I said (rather sang) this blog post title out loud (TMC – People Just LIke Me!), I now know a few people, IN REAL LIFE, who would sing, “You’re down with OPP, Ya you know me!” in their heads, if not OUT LOUD, with me.  They are smart, fun, quirky, real, and down to earth people who truly care about other people and are willing to sacrifice fame and fortune to change the world.  They care about education, they are serious about their jobs, and they love their students.  They are an amazing group of math teachers.

If you are a math teacher out there who wants MORE, then I implore you to explore Twitter and start reading blogs. We will help (Twitter/Blog newbie website coming soon)!  In fact, if you don’t tweet, you should definitely read the words to this song that Sean, Rachel, Sam, Dave, and Bowman wrote at #TMC12.  It should resonate with you.  We want to help you!  So, “Tweet Me Maybe” at @jreulbach!

Tweet Me Maybe

by Rachel Kernodle, Sean Sweeney, Sam Shah, David Peterson and Bowman Dickson

I sat alone in my class,
Hoping my students would pass,
Prepping was kicking my ass
But help was on the way

I started searching the net,
To find a way to connect
Found teachers I’d never met
and I was on my way

Dan’s blog was poppin’,
G-Reader, feed not stoppin’
Each day, I would drop-in
Guess it’s time for hop in!

Hey, I just found you, And this is crazy,
But here’s my ID, So tweet me, maybe?

It’s hard to reach out, Please don’t flame me,
But here’s my ID, So tweet me, maybe?

Hey, I just found you, And this is crazy
But here’s my ID, So tweet me, maybe?

It’s hard to reach out, Please don’t flame me,
But here’s my ID, So tweet me, maybe?

Oh holy crap can it be,
Nowak responded to me,
Blogging math celebrity,
She’s twitter royalty

I beg, and borrow and steal
No reinventing the wheel,
What are these urges I feel?
Nerdy math sex appeal

Hal-lo-ween was awesome
Dull worksheets, I could toss ‘em
My, i-deas could blossom

Now it’s time for Math Camp, baby!

Hey, I just met you, all in person.
Twitter Math Camp, this was the first one

It’s hard to teach right, in i-so-laaaaaation,
So here’s some PD, just like va-ca-tion

Hey, I just met you, all in person.
Twitter Math Camp, this was the first one
It’s hard to teach right, in i-so-laaaaaaation,
So here’s some PD, just like va-ca-tion

Before I came onto your sites,
I must’ve taught so bad,
I must’ve taught so bad,
I must’ve taught so so bad

Before I came onto your sites
I must’ve taught so bad
and you should know that
It was so, so sad

I loved free pizza, and the brew-ry.
You know my ID, So tweet me, maybe?

Ci-ty Muse-um, or the Card’s game,
So tweet me sometime, I won’t be too lame

So, thank you Shelli, thank you Li-sa.
Don’t want to go home – so glad to meet ya

Now that it’s coming to an end
we’ll miss you so bad
we’ll miss you so bad
we’ll miss you so, so bad

Before you came into our lives
We must’ve taught so bad
And you should know that.

So tweet me, maybe?

Other Blog Posts About TMC12 – These are the blogs that have been written as of today.  If you have written a blog about TMC12, please put the link in the comments so I won’t miss you!

Wake Forest Master Teacher Fellows

Today I spoke to the brand new education graduate students at Wake Forest University. These are individuals who received undergraduate degrees in other disciplines; math, science, english, history, and foreign language. Wake Forest offers a one year graduate program where you can earn your masters degree and teaching license. I went through it after doing a year of graduate mathematics and I loved it! It suited me better than straight mathematics and turned me on to this career that I am so passion about!

I was so excited to meet them but did not know what I wanted to share with them. There really is so much to tell young, excited, upcoming teachers! Dr. McCoy, my former teacher, mentor, and head of the program knows me well and (tried) to help me keep it brief. It was hard – I love to talk and haven’t taught in two weeks! They were a fabulous audience and laughed a lot at the end (mostly at me). I wish I could have stayed longer, shared more, and of course talked more! But mostly I wish I could have had time to answer their questions. I remember being just where they are and all of the questions I had! I just don’t remember now what those questions were.

What I told them:

Creativity is very important – you need to be creative as their teacher AND you need to have the students create. Students take ownership when they create. This helps them become invested in what they are learning!

Use technology – I talked about wiki pages and google docs.

Don’t be afraid to be different – as new students they are the ones with the fresh ideas. Older teachers may think their ideas are crazy but don’t let that stop them!

Use blogs and twitter – Reach out and find other passionate teachers online! There is so much out there! These teachers are supportive and LOVE to share their stuff! You can find me at @jreulbach on Twitter.

Sing songs! Everyone in advertising wants a catchy jingle for a reason! It works! Find ways to get the important things you really them to remember into their heads – FOREVER!

I shared the geometry books that my students made. I have learned more from this project than anything I did all year.

Don’t forget that the person doing the most work in a classroom is usually the one doing all of the learning. That person should not be you.

Good luck class of 2011-2012! I could tell what a dynamic group you were just by being in the room with you! I wish I could help you more! Feel free to ask me questions anytime!

Welcome to a life changing career!

This Is How I Roll

Yes, I am a “mobile” teacher, roving the campus on a cart.  Even though I am usually in one of two classroom, I can go between four classrooms and the Lodge!  Here are pictures of my mobile (rolling) office.  THIS is how I “roll”!

I used half of a shoe organizer on the end for extra supplies.

I ❤ my Cart!

2010 in Review – Half Way Through My “First Year”

I haven’t posted as much as I would like to lately.  The demands of teaching and raising a family are keeping me quite a bit busier than I anticipated!  Many days I start the blog in my head right after great day of teaching.  But, rarely have I had the time to write it all down.  I planned on doing more over the break – but what I found is that I really, really needed time just to recharge – and not work for a couple of weeks!  I even read three books just for pleasure!

My “first year” is half over now.  I would love to write more, but I have a feeling that my focus is going to continue to be on trying to create engaging lessons.  My goal is to make math not only understandable for my students, but real for them so that it comes naturally.  This takes a lot of work and more than a little creativity on most days.  As all things in life, sometimes I fail miserably, and sometimes I have great success.  Happy New Year!

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I love this summary!

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 6,200 times in 2010. That’s about 15 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 40 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 33 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 14mb. That’s about 3 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was November 18th with 231 views. The most popular post that day was My Sixth Grade Class Sings the Fraction Song.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were twitter.com, msmathwiki.pbworks.com, Google Reader, mathteachermambo.blogspot.com, and mathreuls.pbworks.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for teaching math vocabulary, index card method, fraction song, solving for y, and fraction songs.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

My Sixth Grade Class Sings the Fraction Song November 2010
7 comments

2

How to Study: Index Card Method – Linking it to Standards Based Learning May 2010
8 comments

3

Dispelling the Great Math Myth: Effort Trumps Ability in Mathematics Achievement July 2010
6 comments

4

Index Card Flip Charts September 2010
4 comments

5

Walking the Walk: Teaching Math Vocabulary October 2010
5 comments and 1 Like on WordPress.com,

I Just Wish I Had More TIME…

This is my first year teaching middle school.  I have two preps, 6th grade math and Pre-algebra.  The material is so much easier than anything I have ever taught in high school before.  So, why am I working so hard?

It is because when you switch subject areas or grade, it is like starting all over again.  The workload is like being a first-year teacher all over again!  Thank goodness I am NOT a first year teacher and do not have the stress of figuring out how to manage a classroom.  Whew.

As a teacher, when you change subjects or grade areas it is a mountain of work.  You have no lessons on file for every day of the 180 day school year.  You have no activities, no tests, not a thing.  Yes, we are usually left files from former teachers, and of course we have a book.  But, that isn’t really that helpful.  Even if you get a million ideas from the book, past teachers, the internet and Twitter Tweeps, that still isn’t teaching.  And, there is so much more work to be done.

Teaching is planning at least three different activities for each different subject that you have, every day.  For example, today in 7th grade we:

1)  Did a warm-up

2)  Taught a lesson

3)  Did an activity pertaining to the lesson

Tomorrow I will:

1) Give a quiz (that I had to make, and then copy)

2) Teach a short lesson

3) Teach them how to play a game that I created (and wrote the instructions for in a Word document, and then made copies of).

4)  Plan a short lesson for several students that need extra help instead of playing the game.

5)  Send them home with a worksheet that I (thankfully) found, but still have to make the answer key for and them make the copies.

And that is just in one class.  I still have 6th grade to do all of the same things for, everyday.  Please don’t get me wrong.  I am not complaining.  In fact, I LOVE what I do!  I love creating fun games and coming up with great activities that the students will not only (hopefully) love, but will learn a lot from as well.  When all of this work is done I am so happy.  Because when I am in the classroom and I see the results I know it is all worth it.  I love teaching math.

I just wish I had more time.  And, I can’t wait until NEXT year when I have the time to make it all so much better!

Teaching as a Parent

Just like Clark Kent in Superman, I take off my glasses to change my persona.  Except I’m not a superhero, I’m a Mom.  When I take off my reading glasses, I switch from teacher-mode to mommy-mode.  Just like Clark, it is not that easy to separate it all that cleanly.  Most days, I am teacher and mommy to both my children and my students.  And, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I taught for several years before I had children, I left for 8 years, and now I am finally back and doing what I love.  But now I am older, and have an entire family at home.  This does not come without a few minor complications.  Teaching when you have children has it’s ups and downs.  I have found that doing both has made my life so much richer.  I am a much happier Mom when I get to teach.  And, I am a much better teacher now that I am a Mom.

Reasons why I am a better teacher now that I am a Mom:

  • EVERY student is somebody’s child.  They all have family at home that love them dearly and want the best for them.  They all have people who are proud of their accomplishments (or hurt when they mess up).  A dear “mommy” teacher friend told me this before I had kids.  I listened, but now I really understand.
  • Class discipline?  Get serious.  Nothing can touch 3 children under four screaming – alot.  Nothing that happens in the classroom can really “ruffle my feathers” after surviving the antics of three little BOYS under one roof – for several years.  (And, this is coming from someone who taught in the inner city the first few years of teaching.)
  • I don’t take it personally.  Living with small children has really taught me that kids usually don’t mean the bad things they say and do, they are just angry or hurt.  Kids can have crazy tempers that they just let fly because they haven’t learned to control that yet.  Plus, they get over it quickly.
  • It is usually not about YOU, it is about THEM – too little sleep? bad fight with the sibling?  not enough breakfast?  Your brother just poked you in the eye?  Yes – you are upset now, but it isn’t about ME, it is about something else.  And, it will be forgotten in five minutes.
  • I don’t care if I’m cool now.  I’m older, I have kids.  I’m over it.  It is so much easier this way.  Don’t know how (or when) this happened to me but I’m so glad it did.  I guess I just grew up!
  • Organization – This is do or die when you have kids.  You must organize or you drown in a complete time suck cycle.
  • Almost everything can be made better with food or rest.  If it can’t then…
  • ABOVE ALL you have to make time to listen to kids.  Almost everything that is left over can be made better by just letting them talk to you and telling you what is wrong.  You don’t even have to solve it.  You don’t have to even talk, you just have to listen.  Then, once again, don’t try to solve it.  Just tell them that you are sorry.  It lets them know you care.

    Dispelling the Great Math Myth: Effort Trumps Ability in Mathematics Achievement

    It’s the mystery of the century.  How has an entire nation of children come to believe that people are either good at math, or they are not?  Full of rock stars, superstars, and super athletes, we are a nation of have’s and have nots.  Being spectacular is something you are born with, or it’s because whom you are born to.  Our culture feeds this belief.  As math educators, it is our duty to dispel this myth.  We need to convince our students that effort matters more than ability in mathematics achievement.

    Why is this important?  Because if students do not believe that they have the “math gene” then what is their motivation to even try?  No one wants to work hard at something and then fail.  Why take that chance?  Why even waste the effort?  We need to convince students that there IS NO MATH GENE, that everyone can be successful at mathematics.

    In middle school I did not have a positive mathematics experience.  I went to high school not liking math and even thinking that I was “bad” at math.  An amazing teacher turned this all around for me and changed the course of my life.  (My story is here.)

    This amazing teacher proved to me that everyone can not only learn mathematics, but also be very successful at it.  Her secret?  All you have to do is keep trying until you get it.  Students never believe me at first, but data is on my side.  Research has repeated proven that contrary to what everybody thinks, achievement in mathematics is determined more by your effort than your ability.  Let me repeat that, loudly

    EFFORT MATTERS MORE THAN ABILITY IN MATHEMATICS!!!

    This does not say that some people are not naturally gifted in mathematics, because, as in all other aspects of life, we know that individuals are gifted in many different disciplines.  However, what this means to me is that everyone can be wildly successful in mathematics, if they are willing to put in the effort.  Do you think you aren’t that great at math?  Well then, your problem is solved.  Because now you know that all you have to do is just keep trying and you will have success.  Not only am I a living example of this, but I have taught many students in my years of teaching that have lived up to this research as well.  I used to hate math, but now I love math, and I love teaching math.

    Dispelling the Great Math Myth – A 4-Step Program:

    Many students won’t buy this.  But, even if you only can reach a few it is worth the time.  Even if they don’t believe you now, it will stick in their minds.  Maybe they’ll believe you later.  To change a student’s motivation to do math you need to change their attitude.  Many students don’t give effort in mathematics because they believe are going to fail before they even begin. Change their math.

    1)   Sell It – Tell them that effort matters more than ability in math achievement.  You need to make this real to get them on board.  Tell them about your struggles in math.  If you didn’t have any, feel free to tell them about mine.  Show them the research.

    2)   Face Their Fear – Focus on small topics that they have had trouble with in the past.  Do something different.  Do an investigation, make index cards, play a game.  Show them that math is accessible.  I love Dan’s post regarding this.

    3)   Back It Up – with assessments.  Small quizzes work wonders here.  Make index cards in class for them to study.  One good grade at a crucial time in a math student’s year can make an amazing difference in effort.  Two good grades might even convince them that it was effort, and not just luck.  On an ongoing basis, I think this is where Standards Based Grading really shines.

    4)   Did I Say SELL IT?! – Yes, this again, and again, and again.  Think salespeople here.  The “Three Times Rule” is king in advertising (frequency = 3).  Everyone in the advertising industry believes that in order for a message to “stick” with a potential customer, they must hear it at least THREE times.  Good salespeople never let up, they keep coming at you.  They keep calling you, and they repeat their message as much as it takes, until they get a sale.

    Don’t expect instant success, don’t quit because you think it isn’t working.  One year I had a student that just wouldn’t buy it.  A year later I ran into her and she said, “Hey Mrs. Reulbach!  You were RIGHT!  It turns out that I CAN be good at math!”   That is why I do this.  I am passing the torch.

    Here is some of the research.  Please feel free to send me links of research you are aware of and I will post it here (and on the Math Teacher’s Wiki).

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