Success Story: Ms. McCormack

Ms. McCormack is using Vocabulary.com to boost her students’ reasoning abilities, language skills and perseverance. We visited her classroom and sat down afterward to talk shop.
Subject:Math
Grade Taught:8th
Years Teaching:24
Using Vocabulary.com for:3 years
  • Vocabulary.com: Your colleague Ms. Hyde, an English teacher, introduced your team to Vocabulary.com. How did you first start using it in your math class?
    McCormack: I actually got an account as a student at first, and I would use it in my first mod (class) of the day and compete against my students. That was the first couple of years.
  • I wasn’t really sure what I’d find on Vocabulary.com but I was surprised — look how many of these words are here!
    V: Today you’re assigning lists that are integrated with your curriculum. How did you get to that point?
    M: Last year Ms. Hyde took an article from a school-wide literacy task and put it in Vocabulary.com so the kids did the list before we read the article. Once I saw that I was like, oh now I can now do this for myself. So then I did a little search on what you have for math, and I when I saw it I was like oh, these kids need to know those words. Then I wanted to do a polynomials list and I wasn’t really sure what I’d find on Vocabulary.com but I was surprised — look how many of these words are here! I didn’t expect that. So now I try and do that with each unit. And sometimes it’s not even so much about math terms, it’s all the test direction terms like represent, identify. So I did a list of those which would help any content area.
  • V: As a math teacher, why do you want your students to know vocabulary?
    M: We always joke in class that if you broke your arm and went to the doctor and he said, “You broke your thing!” you’d be like, “I’m outta here!” And it math sometimes the kids will say, “You know that thing, the decimal thing, the whatchamacallit.” I tell them that it doesn’t sound intelligent even though they are intelligent — because they're not using the proper vocabulary.
  • ...this is a better way. The kids enjoy this more. They like this.
    V: Describe how the your approach to vocabulary has changed.
    M: We’ve done different methods over the years. We used to do a vocabulary test. We had a list of different math words that we used to post around the building, just trying different strategies. So we always tried to emphasize vocabulary, but then Ms. Hyde did the pilot with Vocabulary.com. and now this is a better way. The kids enjoy this more. They like this. And I think I enjoy it more.
  • V: How have you seen your students’ vocabulary improvement transfer to the math work?
    M: We’re doing a lot more writing in the classroom. Sometimes we get bogged down in the skills and miss the application, and we’re working on that. We’re piloting some new benchmarks online, so I actually got to see what the kids were typing. I remember reading a response and thinking, okay, this child got this wrong, but they still used the proper vocabulary. Explaining their thinking got them partial credit.
  • I remember reading a response and thinking, okay, this child got this wrong, but they still used the proper vocabulary.
    V: And we noticed you have this great word wall.
    M: They’ve practice and learned all these words, and then I post them on the word wall. That way they can look and it helps them remember that word to choose. It doesn’t tell them what it means, but it triggers their memory. It’s some scaffolding for them.
  • V: You start your class with these really fun warm-ups that use language and logic. Tell us more!
    M: I do these every day, and on Fridays especially it’s more about getting them to think differently. It is math and it is logic but there’s a lot more words and it’s really about interpreting. They get stuck with them a lot but they like them.”
  • V: What do you see as kids wrestle with these gnarly problems? What’s the connection to cultivating perseverance?
    M: It’s about applying problem solving strategies. They try and stick with things a little bit more. Some of these are hard. With the standards of mathematical practice, that’s the first one — persevere! I always tell them, just like you’re not (hopefully!) at lunch putting the whole sandwich in your mouth, problem solving is a bite at a time. This is a fun way to help them learn to stick with it.