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Apr 1, 2020

Today we are speaking with Randy Ewart, also known as the CT Sped Math Dude (, and he is going to tell us what we need to know about math and special education. Randy is a veteran math teacher whose son’s diagnosis of Autism helped shape his path into special education. Today, Randy works with students of all ages with disabilities of all kinds. He conducts assessments, provides instruction, and consults for both parents and school districts. Randy’s unique understanding of math and special education are what make his creative teaching style so successful for students. In fact, even now, during the COVID-19 closures, he has developed ways to continue to provide services to his students without interruption. When special education and math cross paths, that’s when you call the CTSpedMathDude!

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TRANSCRIPT (not proofread)

math, student, work, parents, reading, objective, people, money, talk, special ed teacher, algebra, college, special ed, word, problem, math teacher, google classroom, understand, disability, count

Randy Ewart, Meredith Masony, Dana Jonson


Dana Jonson  00:03

Hello, and welcome to need to know a Dana Jonson. I'm your host, Dana Jonson. And I'm here to give you the information you need to know to best advocate for your child. I'm a special education attorney in private practice, a former special education teacher and administrator, a current mom to four children with IPS. And I myself have ADHD and dyslexia. So I have approached the world of disability and special education from many angles. And I'll provide straightforward information about your rights and your school's obligations, as well as tips and tricks for working with your school district. My goal is to empower you through your journey. So if there's anything you want to hear or comment on, you can find me and this podcast at special ED dot life. You can also find me on Instagram at special ED dot life. Or you can email me, Dana at special ED dot life.



Now the first thing you need to know is that sometimes I have a bit of a potty mouth. So if your environment isn't ready for that, feel free to pop in your earbuds. Okay, let's get started. Today, we're talking with Randy York. He's our Connecticut sped math dude, according to his website, and Randy is a math teacher veteran, he has been teaching for over 25 years, also got his master's in special education along the way, and now works with students in a variety of ways. And we're gonna get into all of that. So, Randy, why don't you tell us a little bit about how you ended up in special ed, because you're a math teacher first, right?


Randy Ewart  01:39

That's right. So I went to college to be a high school math teacher and was a high school math teacher for for several years. And then in 2008, my son was diagnosed with autism. And that kind of shifted my focus. And yeah, and then I went on to get a master's in special ed with a certificate in autism, and kind of a unique situation occurred, one of my professors asked me to help create a math intervention course. And that got me going into math for kids with special needs. And that blossom to where that's my main focus now is helping kids with special needs do math,



that's great, because what I find as the biggest issue is math well, and science and history too. But those are areas that many disabilities impact, but they're not necessarily addressed to the IEP. So one of the things I wanted to talk about first, I have lots of questions for you, because you got lots of good information. But I want to talk about assessments, because I think that's kind of where everything starts, right? So when we have assessments, and I have a student who, you know, isn't doing well, in math, it's very rare. If every student is not doing well, in reading, it's very obvious, we say, oh, let's get a reading specialist. And let's get her in. Now, I say her could be a hemp, but we don't say that when it gets struggling with math necessarily, you know, so where's that disconnect?


Randy Ewart  03:07

Well, it's, it's just that math is for lack of better way of saying it more convoluted. A lot of people don't understand or know math didn't do well in math proudly admit that they did not do well. In math. No one says that about reading, no one says, Well, I'm not good at reading or I can't read. But they'll say I can't do math. So that's one thing. The other is that reading is very linear. So you have to decode the simple words, the more complex words, the phrases, the sentences, and so you can follow that path where math goes into is more of a web. And so it's it's a challenging topic for people to understand. And it's a challenging topic to teach because you can go different directions. So that's why there's not too many of me out there. But there's plenty of people who are reading specialists,



when I put on my listserv and said blue people like for math evaluations, which I've been managing this listserv for about 10 years. I'm not sure I've ever seen anybody ask, interestingly, but, you know, I said, Gudrun, somebody pointed me to you. And that's when I met you and wanted to talk to you about it. And I was really riveted by everything that you're doing, because there is such a need for it. But I don't I don't see that. You know, I think as as you said it, you don't hear someone say I'm not good at reading just like you said, I'm not good at reading and throws their hands in the air and moves on with their life. It just, you know, someone's bad at reading, we have to jump in there and get something done. But with math, I feel like it goes in a different direction. So I know you do do assessments. So if somebody called you and said, I know there's a problem. I don't know what it is, you will assess the math area. So what's your process for assessing a math student?


Randy Ewart  04:48

Everything's dependent on the individual family and student needs? And I focus on that so it's like what would you need from me? I can help with a full fledged in pennant educational evaluation focusing on math, very formal report. I can do informal reports, I do consultation, direct services with a student, indirect by maybe being a case manager and overseeing some programming. I do whatever the family the student needs. And so the parents come to me and ask for help. That's the first thing I asked is like, well, what what exactly are we looking to do here? Because I will do whatever you need. I'll craft program and a support system that will meet your needs and your students need. You just have to tell me what it is. And that's where


Dana Jonson  05:35

you want to interrupt you. I'm sorry. and clarify for anybody listening is you do get hired by districts to write I mean, you you go into districts, you also work with families privately. I just want to point that out, since we're talking about families that didn't want anyone to think that you don't work with schools, because I know that you do.


Randy Ewart  05:50

Oh, yeah. Okay, so Yeah, good point. That's right. So districts will hire me to be a consultant, I consult for parents as well, families as well, sometimes the districts will have me working directly with a student, one student that I helped now a district has hired me to be the sole provider of math instruction for that student. So I do if it's math



involved, the closings or is that just so that


Randy Ewart  06:14

was that's been ongoing for a while, it's just a unique situation, a student with multiple disabilities, and twice exceptional student who's got some remarkable ability just needed someone to turn the key, the proper key to unlock it. And we're able to do that I help people, but and families who with special needs, who need help with math, and that's really summarizes what I do. Okay,



got it. So what is a full evaluation look like if I came to you, and I said, Alright, my daughter needs to be evaluated. I don't know what the issue is. But we need to find out what where she's struggling, I just know that she needs to be evaluated. That's all I know. Where do you start?


Randy Ewart  06:54

Yeah, like, you know, the math is not working. But you don't know. Because, again, it's a big web and confusing the,



for you thinking of my daughter, specifically, who happens to have a specific learning disability and math. But you know, it's again, people say, well, it doesn't have to be your strength.


Randy Ewart  07:09

So my process is I established what the needs are. So like, there's one that I'm currently working on where the parents want me to assess the student's ability, and then also strategies that would work for that particular student. Sometimes people want me to evaluate the programming that they're provided, some people want me to evaluate and look at a path forward as far as long term or help the student get ready for college. And so my process is to find out what it is we're trying to achieve. And then I gather information. And I get the information from three categories of sources. One is I interview or survey parents and caregivers, members of the team. Second, I look at record student records provided by the school and the parents. And the third is do direct observation. And that's a boilerplate approach. And we triangulate. So the idea is you look at how two or three stools that are legs of that stool lead you to some some themes or some observations about what's going on. And for my direct observation, I start off with two assessments. One is I assess the mastery of content that the student has. And then the second is I assess, I test run some instructional strategies, and see what works for that particular student, then that's my approach.



So when you're testing for content, because I'm thinking of when we do an assessment, again, using the reading example, because I think it's an easy one to compare. So when we're, you know, we're teaching reading, we're saying, Okay, well, let's figure out is it that they can't read the words? Is it that they don't understand the language? Is it that they can't summarize it? You know, there are different components within it that that you're looking for? And with math, you know, just the content? Are you looking at, say, like, just their grade level content? Or is there? Are you going back to like, original facts? So for example, my daughter, we were told, like, Oh, you just need to practice her math facts with her. You just have to do that all the time, because that will solve the problem, which in case you're wondering, it did not. But, you know, I'm just curious, like, do you go down to like, do they know all their math facts? Because is it really necessary to know all your math facts in order to do the future math?


Randy Ewart  09:28

Okay, so that's, there's a couple of great points that you brought up that I'll once go. That's right. So that's what I do. So I start, first of all with the current math that the students working on, so if it's an eighth grader, but they're working on third grade math, then I'm going to start with the third grade math, I might try some second grade content, even first grade, fourth grade, and then I sometimes I'll even test out some higher level math. I've had students working at supposedly working at a fourth grade level. And I find that they're able to engage some algebra even at that point. So I'd narrow the focus and primarily work at where their grade level is, as far as the content, the IEP, but then I branch out to test out and I go where the their ability leads me their performance leads me. So if they show some ability to do higher level math, I explore that. If they struggle with third grade, I'm going to go backwards and look at second and first grade and see if I can find out where where the gap is. Now, the question about some basic math skills, that's a common mistake or assumption that a student must have basic skills in order to do higher level math, the twice exceptional student that I'm helping, she even now has some trouble with some basic math skills. But I have her doing algebra, and I have her doing some higher level algebra, and she processes it very well. And it just it remarkable, but then she'll, she may have to go back and count on her fingers or use the calculator for like six times eight, but then she can understand the concept of Six times eight, there's just a deficit there for her disorder as far as how she processes, you know, maybe in the working memory. So the


Meredith Masony  11:15

when you understand Six times eight, but she can't tell me six times eight, what how do you mean that when you say that, what, what does that mean? Because some people would say, you can't if she's not reading the flashcards and getting them, right, right, then she doesn't know it. But you're saying, Oh, they could know it,


Randy Ewart  11:32

right? Someone can show me how you're supposed to ice skate. And like, I can say, Okay, I know that you're supposed to maybe turn one blade a little bit and push off and bend your knee or whatever. That doesn't mean I can do it. But I know the process for doing I know what it means and the the underlying concepts like she can allergy can for six times he or she can draw six groups of eight each. So she understands. Or she might add on, she might add eight plus eight plus eight plus eight and keep doing that six times. So she understands that that's what multiplication means. But she doesn't have the capacity and her working memory perhaps to be able to process that. And that's what I that's what I mean by that.



Right? So when you're talking about fluency, then that would would that be a fluency issue? I guess, I this whole, as you can tell, I spend a lot of time with math facts. Trying to kind of understand, you know, when a child understands the concepts of it like that, you know, how, what Six times eight is that doesn't have, whether it's her working memory, the capacity to process and give you that number, or just follow the flashcard? Is that something you can get a student to? Or do you realize they understand the concept, so maybe you go a different route?


Randy Ewart  12:52

That's right, it depends on the need, if we're talking about an eighth grade or ninth grader, and they want to go to college, and they need to get through the math content. If they understand the concept, and they can make sense of the problem. Let's do an analogy. You may have some students that can read and comprehend beautifully in a deep level, but they may make spelling errors because you have some disabilities where that's common. And so then you go, Okay, do we really want to put a lot of our eggs in that basket and try to flush out spelling? Or can they just continue to process at a high level, and then they type their work and do word prediction, or do spellcheck and you have to make I'm not saying that it should always be there's a universal answer. But I'm saying there, it's a much deeper problem than simply basic skills are a necessity to move on. And I'll give you a quick example. Another student, I worked with his freshman year, he spent almost the entire year working on basic math skills. Well, he'd been working on that for years. And he was stuck in an endless loop with that. And what I did when I when they brought me in to help him is I did some algebra with him. And he had a remarkable ability to handle the algebra. So he didn't have these basic skills that they're pushing on him was the way I would put it, but he could move on from that and that's what we did. And then he was able to get through high school and go through two years of algebra and, and move on to a community college. So it's nice if they had the basic skills, and it could be useful in some regards, but it's not like it's not an absolute necessity. Just like we know people that can't spell but they can comprehend someone at eye level.



I believe it's I believe spelling's genetic. I do. My my mother, who's probably one of the most well read and educated people can't sell for anything. My father dropped out of high school at the age of 15 and never misspelled a word. So I have issues.


Randy Ewart  14:50

That's a great analogy. Yeah,



yeah. So sometimes you just have, there's just something there. You were talking a little bit about preparing kids for that student putting actually preparing for them for going on to whatever College community college or what have you. But not every kid needs that level of math, right? So you know how you decide when, for example, again, going back to my daughter as a learner who has a math disability, and I've always said, Let's get her through algebra, and we'll be good, right? I'm not going to stress over higher level math, because she doesn't like it. It's not, it's not going to be an issue for her. But she does need math. And if she goes to college, she will need that correct. But for some students, you know, you get to a point where you're like, Does this make sense for them to learn algebra? Or should we be going in a different direction? Right? So how do you make that determination? What we call, I would call functional math, right? So learning how to tell time and learning how to deal with money and money concepts and stuff like that, versus algebra, calculus, trigonometry, that level,


Randy Ewart  15:57

right? Yeah, so there's, I would say there's two parts to this. First, there's the the outcomes. So let's start with the outcomes, and then talk about when you should make a decision towards which outcome to pursue. So the three outcomes that I come up with, that I use when I talk to families are one, there's the four year college, there's two, there's just life skills, functional skills, where there's not going to be any type of college or post secondary type of training or anything that involves academics. And three, there's the in between where you have maybe it's a two year college, or it's vocational school, or a professional training to be, you know, plumber, or something like that. And, and there's some math that's specific to that particular area. So those are the three groups, if a student is going to go to college, they have to check the boxes of all those classes that they need to take, do the Common Core, or do the curriculum and go through the general ed classes or the general ed curriculum. And then there will be some sort of math requirement from almost all majors when you go to a four year school, so you have to get ready for that, then there's math, maybe it's another some of the other non math subjects. On the other end, if it's life skills, then you want to focus on you don't need to do any the general curriculum, the or the what I call the math, the math, you need to focus on applying math. For example, if you buy a pizza, you have to pay for the pizza, and you have to pay for the toppings. You don't need to talk about an equation to do that. Whereas if you're in going to a four year college, you may have a problem like that on a test. But you need to come up with an equation and have x and y and all this stuff and slope and intercept. And so it's very mathy, whereas you as opposed to just applying it. And then if it's in between, you may have to dabble in check some boxes, but not as much in the in between. Maybe you need to all of your math is geared towards passing one math class in a community college to get an Associate's degree. And maybe that's all you need to do, which has been the case for me with a couple of students that I've helped. Now, how do you make that determination?



That's the tough part. And that's where I find a lot of disputes between parents and schools. Yeah, directions, because I've had it to where the schools think, no, it has to be functional. We're not going on to the math, the math is, right. And the parents are saying no, they they need the math, the math, because we think they're going either to some some other place where they need the math, the math, and the reverse, where the pay, I had situations where the school is like, no, they have to take algebra, and the parents are saying that's never going to be a part of their life. So So when do we make that decision? And how?


Randy Ewart  18:35

Okay, so actually, let me go back to the math, the math part of it a little bit more. There's an assumption that the general curriculum is going to provide students the ability to do the applied applicable functional skills, math. And that's not the case in a lot of times, because again, like the example I use before buying a pizza, you have the pizza cost, plus the toppings cost two toppings, three toppings, whatever, the learning how to write into an equation for that doesn't really gear you prepare you to go into the pizza place and order of pizza, because you're not going to create an equation while you're standing there in line to order your pizza. So you're really looking at the math, the math to check some boxes, and then to apply that maybe some higher level work, possibly, but it's not necessarily, it's unlikely to be able to carry over into some functional skills. Now to make that decision, there's two things that I want parents to think about one, the sooner you think about it, then the sooner you can start to make sense of where you're going with all of this work that you're doing with a special ed and all the information that you're getting. You don't have to sign a contract and lock them in for the next six years and then for the rest of their life saying, well, they have to go to college now because we're doing this college track. But it gives you a sense Standard IQ is so that when you see progress, you can measure the progress not in terms of, did they get better, but are they moving in a direction, particular post secondary goal. Now, along those lines, the other thing to think about is, the decision has to be made based on what doesn't have to be. But a big consideration for the decision is how far behind is the student, if a student's in eighth grade, and they're doing third grade, fourth grade level math, that means they have in eighth grade, they have four, four and a half years left of special ed support and four and a half years of public education, they, then they're seniors, and then they're going to graduate and move on. Well, how are they going to move get caught up? How are they they get from third or fourth grade math to 12th grade math, in just four years, there has to be a plan for that. If at that point, if a parents, the parents are thinking there's no way they're going to catch up, they're so far behind, and they just don't get this, then that could be an indicator then that maybe the four year school is not what we want is going to work for our student. Or perhaps they need extra time, whether the school district provides it or the parents have to find private support. And maybe they they're going to delay going to a college for a few years. But then that gets really tricky. But thinking in terms of the outcome, at least it shapes the way that you for looking at all this. Now, if a student is two years behind, and they're in eighth grade, then perhaps they can catch up. But then you need to talk to the school the team and say, Hey, what's the plan to catch my student up so that when they're a senior, they're now doing senior level math, and they are ready to move on to college. And so those are some things to think about. I'll say I strongly recommend that parents start thinking about this in elementary school, because especially for the more severely disabled kids, the analogy I use are Domino's, there's a lot of Domino's, they're standing up ready to be knocked over. And you're not going over the first couple of dominoes in elementary school, and then those dominoes is going to keep falling. So you want to be aware of that because you're impacting their future while they're in elementary school.



That's a good point. And that is something that we that we ran into a lot and thinking about, I mean, the law says what at 16, we have to talk about transition. And you know, transition is post high school. And I always say to parents, we need to look at that way earlier. And you know, there are some issues that really need to be addressed. While they might be adult issues they need to be addressed at a young age. So I mean, that applies to everything. But you're right. I mean, with math, that's something. Now when you're talking about the functional math, I also feel like if there's any kind of dispute, I'm not clear on why they can't work on both, right? So can we have the student working on functional math over here for the life skill component? Well, and also sorry, I'm gonna get get off on a tangent. But when you're talking about for them to buy the pizza, I was also thinking a lot of my students might be going to be working at pizza place, right? So it's not just about being able to count your money, but it's also about being able to, to make change or to if you're at that level, if you're at that. So that brings me to money skills. And that was going to be my question, which is, you know, I also hear this a lot where school districts are saying, well, we're working on this money goal. And the parents say to me, they know money, they've been able to show me dimes and quarters and dollar bills, since they were little like they know that I don't understand why the school is still working on it. Why might the school still be working on


Randy Ewart  23:45

it? I think there's different reasons why instead of posing why they're they're still doing it, what I would say is, I would go back to your previous point about assessment, have an assessment. I mean, if if they're going to have IEP objectives, than they should have present levels of performance, well have them do present levels of performance with money. And then I'll unpack that in a moment when we talk, talk about objectives, but the let's see what they can do. I mean, let's make informed decisions. And let's see how they can do with grade level math how they can do with maybe a couple years behind your lower, you know, if they're in eighth grade, let's see how they do in sixth grade math, perhaps less how they do with money skills. That's how they do maybe with a little bit of algebra, it's like a doctor, doctor's office visit when you go there. What's the first thing they do? They take a lot of your vitals they get information to help make informed decisions. Well, we should be doing the same thing. Now when it comes to assessment, you talked about the skills and money skills in that setting. That's an important piece. Part of the assessment should be how does the student generalize the skills? What do you say at home as a parent? Are they like I had a recent family Telling me that their student can't divide. But at school, they're saying they can divide just the student can divide just fine. And maybe they can in that setting. This ties into post secondary life, what the students doing at home or outside of that clinical setting with their special ed teacher or their their the math class setting with a supports, what they do outside of that environment is a sneak preview of what's going to happen when they leave special ed services and Ida and their exited. You're getting an idea of what life is like without the support. And if they can't do the math without the support, then how are they going to do it now? Then? How are they going to do it when they exit out? They're still not going to be able to do it. So part of the assessment should be can they generalize? Can they do the work without supports? Unless it's a support, you know, that they can have when they're in college, for example? Now, one other piece that oh, this is a bit of a tangent? I'm good at though. Yeah, yeah. Well, you know, that's a matter of also, when you talked about in the buying a pizza, one of the things that I've seen happen with some students that I've worked with, is the money skills in the setting of a supermarket become very challenging, because now you have extra task demands put upon you think of your computer where you open up several apps, you're playing a video and you got some files open, and your computer starts to buffer. Our students can start to buffer when they're in a setting where they have to navigate the cashier or the cash register stand the pulling food out of the carts, pull out their money, standby accord. This right?



Visual bright days, like when you can fit in a space that you know, yeah, there's a tough, yeah, that's really I'm glad you said that. Because it is so easy for someone to say God, you can't give change there, it's hard to recognize all the pieces that a student has to address. We take that for granted, right we don't think of a woman in the grocery store is a big deal. It doesn't take a lot. But it does. You have to recognize your place in line recognize the person but front of you figure out how to be social with the person talking to you figure out how you're going to get your money out how you're going to bag your groceries, how you know all of those things happen at once. And if you're somebody who needs extra time for each one of those pieces, that's challenging,


Randy Ewart  27:32

right? So so the assessment then should not be how well can they perform in that clinical setting. It is ultimately how well do they take those skills and apply them in the setting that they'll be seeing when they're exited out of special ed.



And I do want to comment to the transition piece because we're talking about post high school. So for purposes just of this podcast, and anybody listening is that children with special needs are entitled to services until they are exited from special education graduate from high school or the year they turned 21. So when children finish high school, if their next post secondary is, say a transition program that falls under the high school, but they don't go in the high school. So I just wanted to clarify that you might finish your senior year, but you may still have services that are special education that go beyond your senior year. So I just want to clarify that for the audience. So that was always gonna say sorry, were you saying something else? Or no,


Randy Ewart  28:33

no, no. I'll piggyback on that for a moment. One of the suggestions I often have is for students who show some ability to do college level work. But there's other factors at play, whether it's anxiety, or whether it's study skills, or one of the things that I always I recommend is, if it's possible is either have the student tried to take a class at a community college so that you get some information while they're still under Ida, even if it meant if the parent had means to pay for it themselves, but still get that support. Or even better yet if the district pays, but the other, the other. The other thing that you can do is Yeah, that's right. And you call Dana. The other thing that you can do is try to replicate a college setting as much as possible while you're still in high school. So that would be I told one, I told one family that I was helping. I said her senior year, take away any accommodations that she's not going to have in college and I'm going to talk about that in a second to the difference between the accommodations and see how she does because that's you want to find out her needs and develop the her need areas before she leaves Special Ed because a lot of parents and students find out after they get to college. Oh, I'm not prepared for this. Well now services They're gone on it. That's why



we call it the college cliff, right? Because, yeah, so supported in that environment. And for children who do qualify for transition program, they often get that transitional piece that you're talking about, but a lot of kids don't. And they get to college. And then there are none of these supports. And that's when they they fall down, but you touched on accommodations. And you know, in college, you are entitled to accommodations, if you have a diagnosis, and if you have the right paperwork, and if you are getting those accommodations before. So there's a lot of components to that. So it's not automatic,


Randy Ewart  30:38

even if you do check those boxes, the accommodations provide access, they don't provide any specialized instruction, they don't provide modifications for grades or whatever it basically it's going to be, it's going to be more time, note taker, different setting, go take your test somewhere else. And it's not going to be go take your test somewhere else where they're going to help you a little bit, it's going to be very rigid and strict, where you go there and no one's going to talk to you and you're not going to, they're going to keep an eagle eye on you make sure that you're doing the test independently. And I see when I'm teaching at colleges. What I see is students showing up there and they're ill prepared. I even had a couple students one, she came up to me for the final and she said, this is a college. And she said, I get to use my notes on the final it's in my IEP. And I had to I had explained to her, I said no, you don't have special ed services anymore. You don't get to use your notes. And I had another guy he he was held accountable for something. And he this is in college, and he looked at me and he goes, but I'm I'm in special ed and I'm like no, we do have special ed



so only exists in the public school. That's the only place special ed is in the public school. Yeah,


Randy Ewart  31:55

so So the so going back to what you see, with your students, when they don't have accommodations, gives you a sneak preview for what it'd be like when they're in college, if they're going to college or anywhere else, take your student to the grocery store and have them find an item and pick out the appropriate item. And they have to compare prices and its quality and the expiration dates and know where to find it and then navigate the aisles and find the cash register that's open and wait in line and don't stand too close to the person in front of you. And then to count out the money and pay the correct amount of money and know what change you're getting. And to be socially competent as you're doing all that find out how they can do that. Now, don't you know why you get still gets the support?



Well, and that's an interesting point, too, because so my eldest who two years ago, so she would have been 16. At the time, we went to we took a trip to Europe. And we were in France. So everywhere we went there, these crepe stands, right, and everyone had to have a crepe every time we saw one. So I give her money and say bring it back to change, bring back the change. And she did. And at one point were somewhere else. And she came up and I said well, how much do you need. And she looked at me puzzled, and was like, I should mention she's on the spectrum. But she was very puzzled and wasn't quite clear on what I was asking of her. And I said, I need to know how much she's like, I don't know, 20 Euro. And I thought she's been buying them all along. And I start I started watching her and I realized now she's 16 years old, and she's on grade level math. And actually math is a strength for her. So you wouldn't think to give her math goals and objectives, right? Because she's good at math. But standing in that situation, what I started to realize was she had no concept of of money, right? So she math, but she didn't have a concept of a crepe cost $3 and not 20. Or that if I give her give them a 20 I'm gonna get a lot of change back versus just a little bit. And that that concept she absolutely did not have. And that was fascinating to learn at 16.


Randy Ewart  34:04

Yeah, that speaks to what I had mentioned previously about the math, the math versus the Applied Math, the functional, that's great. So what I find that happens too, is math oftentimes is taught as symbol manipulation or just skill, versus understanding the concepts and using math to make sense of the world around us. And so if we're going through courses where you're just checking boxes, and you're just completing problems, so you get credit, you're missing the application by quite a bit.



Right? And that's what I thought was really fascinating because she knows what money is. She knows she can identify money, she can ask me for 20 and she knows if I gave her 20 or something different, right? But I we didn't know that she didn't understand that basic concept. I guess. When we talk about disabilities and math. It's not just math disabilities. You Right, so you can have a disability that technically doesn't have doesn't have a math issue, but it's going to impact your math. So say ADHD, for example, how would that impact a student's ability to do math?


Randy Ewart  35:13

Right? So the page for the IEP where you have your math area? Yep, they're looking at what impacts is the is the math ability impacted by the disability. And it doesn't say well, is the impact due to a math specific disability, it just says is the math impacted. And then for ADHD, we're talking about executive functioning disorder, in essence, and that includes problem solving, well, there's plenty of problem solving in math. So you're going to have, that's going to be an impact. And this, then if that's listed on page four, under the area of math, then as soon as that's listed under page four, for the math, there has to be an IEP objective written to address that. Same thing with reading the, you know, if a student has is impacted by their disability in terms of their reading, that affects math, too, because you have in elementary school, you have story problems. And in throughout math, you have word problems. And math itself, especially algebra is an language. It's a unique type of language that involves numbers and symbols, as well as just your letters and variables. And the word problems requires some very straightforward comprehension like you have in reading class. And then all of that can be impacted by speech language impairments, or by reading. because math is the math language is being used to make sense of concepts, a lot of them are math concepts. And that's what comprehension is. And reading is trying to make sense or communicate ideas and concepts using symbols and letters or symbols. So the words are abstract representations of these concepts and ideas. So if if the student has trouble with reading chair, then is very likely that they're going to have trouble with math in terms of word problems, and there's going to be tons of word problems, especially like on the LSAT, or in one first third through eighth grade, where you have the aspect testing, certainly going to be a lot of reading involved. If you have trouble reading, how are you going to do the problems?



Right? Well, and also because a lot of times the answer I get at the IEP table is, well, we're teaching reading over here and reading. So that will carry over to the math area. And we don't have to worry about that. But maybe we'll put in someone reads the problems to them on their exam, say if that's a problem, but you know, we're really teaching reading over here, but teaching reading for the purposes of reading and the areas we expect and reading, which is whether it's letter identification, or sounding out words, or whether it's the comprehension or whether it's the ability to summarize you, there's so many different areas that and I presume if you're reading for a math problem, you're reading it differently, right? Because every word matters, so you're not trying to just summarize it. So to me that that sounds like an area that would need its own objective, if readings an issue


Randy Ewart  38:25

right you're you're when you're doing a math problem, you can't just give a summary and say, Well, you know, you can't say, well, Billy, the pizza costs $10. And it's $2 per topping and, and you have a $25 gift card, and how many toppings can you afford to buy? You don't just give a summary and go Well, the guy is buying pizza and wants to know how many to get, you actually have to you apply the reading and to solve some problems. But the other thing I'll mention about the reading is if you said well, they'll say we're covering reading over there and reading class, and then I would say is Okay, so two things, are they doing math problems? Are they reading math problems and reading class, highly unlikely. And then give us some evidence, put this in the present levels of performance, okay, give them some word problems in math to read, and let's see how they do. And if they're processing that just fine, then you it's not an impact. If they have trouble with it, then it's an impact, then their math education is being impacted, that area is being impacted, it needs to have some objectives for that particular area. So I would frame it that way. Put the put the onus on them say, Do you have evidence that the student can do math word problems? If you don't, then their math is being impacted? Therefore, there needs to be a math objective.



Another issue? Yeah, and another issue I see with that is that most people writing the math objectives aren't math teachers, right. There are special ed teachers. If the child has reading disability, we have a reading specialist at the table. Sometimes the regular ed teacher He's been asked to join as a math teacher, but rarely. And so how do we write the objectives? Yeah, I mean, where do we go for objectives? How do we know we're hitting the right mark?


Randy Ewart  40:09

Okay, so there's two parts to that that I'll address. One is they have a team there. And so just like the special ed teacher is not going to write occupational therapy, ot objectives, they're not going to write speech objectives, the SLP is going to write speech objectives. So have them involved the math teacher, I have special ed teachers who asked me to write out some proposed math objectives. Now I happen to be trained in both areas. I'm bilingual, so I speak Special Ed and math, but you can have involves making a collaboration put the onus on them to collaborate and come up with the objectives. The second piece is, what I recommend for assessments is that parents, ask the case manager, ask the team, and this is for math. So ask the case manager for examples of mastery for the objective, say, what's an example problem that goes that you would use to assess mastery for this objective? And then show me what the answer would look like. Now that'll do two things. One, it allows parents to be full participants of the team, because now they have a standard against which they can evaluate the data. But second, what it does is, it will help hold the special ed teacher accountable. And I don't mean that in a critical way, I mean that in just a common sensical way. And this is what I mean by this. A lot of times the IEP objectives for math are not written in a way that's a measurable, for example, count money, like the student will count money appropriately. Well, count money could mean counting dollar bills, it can mean counting just ones it can mean counting fives and ones, it could mean counting pennies and dimes. And so you need to know what exactly we mean by that. So instead of saying count money, it could be the student will count out the total value of a given set of nickels, dimes and pennies. And now you know exactly what you're looking for



adding addition to it, that, so counting money to me, I'm thinking they're able to, you know, go I have five dimes, or I have, that's how I would interpret it, right. They're counting the money they can identify. But I could be completely wrong. I always look at the specificity of the goals and objectives. But what what I was touching on from what you just said was, I see that schools will identify, you know, the parent might be thinking it's identify like, what is a quarter? What is a quarter cost? Or what does it stand for? How much is it worth that component? Or are we just saying it's a quarter 25 cents? Because to me, any student can memorize that, right? That that's a quarter is 25 cents? But if they don't understand where that fits within the money system? Do you know what I mean? Like, I think thing, so like, sometimes we're asking kids to add, I think I'm being very confusing. I think I'm crossing over. When we're saying count money. If we are measuring that counting money by giving them a math problem that involves addition, or subtraction or multiplication, that's not really identifying that objective, is it?


Randy Ewart  43:24

No, well, it will, if it's just count money, nothing is going to be specific to that objective. Because that objective is unmeasurable because count money is just what does that mean? It can be? Measurable, right. I think to your point, though, there's different ways you address money addition, is not counting money, because then actually, we don't add in our brains we count on so when you're counting out dimes, we you know, we go 25, get a quarter 25. And then you count out some dimes 3545 55, you don't go 25 Oh, and this is 10 plus 10, plus 10 is 30, and 25. And 10. We count on, but to your point, identifying money, think of it as a task analysis, like showing my son how to get dressed. Well, getting dressed involves a lot of smaller tasks. And that's that's called no task analysis, when you break it down like that. So counting out money involves a lot of tasks, one of them is identifying the currency and then also identifying the value and then being able to count and so the way that the parents can get at all that is asked for an example say, Show give me an example problem that I can use to evaluate mastery and show me the answer. What would it look like? And then what that does, that clears up that whole problem there? Because if they say the objective is count money, and then they say, okay, here, count this, you're gonna be like, Well, what does that mean? Count this that allows you to see that there's a need for more specificity, specificity. To be more specific, let's try that. I need an SLP to help me here. So what that does is it does it. So summarize that does two things. It holds the special ed teacher accountable for writing an effective objective. And it also for data collection, because this allows you to have some, some meaningful data. And then the other thing that is you now you get a good idea of what it is they're trying to do when it's not just counting money, you something more specific to that,



right. Yeah. And I always say that, if any objective can be interpreted more than one way, it's not specific. So if what you're thinking as a parent isn't what the school is telling you, then it's possible that that objective is wrong. You know, if there are more than one ways to interpret it, don't just assume it's because you didn't understand. It could be that it's not specific enough,


Randy Ewart  45:54

you just avoid all that by asking for those examples. And then everyone's on the same page, you don't get caught up in a subjective discussion about opinions. Now, it's more concrete, it's more objective, and it's much harder for someone then to go off in a different direction, when it's very clear what it is that everyone should see for that particular objective.



Right. And I find that math isn't as easy to fake as reading. Sometimes I think, you know, students who can read enough or who can predict well can go a long time without people noticing that they have significant reading disabilities. But I don't think those kinds of strategies help in math. Yeah, I mean, like for kids who can guess the word? I don't see a lot of kids able to guess the formula?


Randy Ewart  46:38

Right? Well, you know, I think what happens is, a lot of times they get extra support they get, they get helped along. And I think that happens in general is I think, a lot of times teachers want to be helpful, they want their students to feel good and have success. And I think sometimes we lose sight of the idea that well, there's some long term ramifications for helping them in the short run, but helping them too much that is, so ultimately, if you have good objectives, like I mentioned, and you get good data that can kind of take care of all those issues.



Okay, great. We are amidst the COVID 19 closures of 2020. And a lot of parents are home, teaching maths that their kids now and I know I got a note home when my son was in third grade asking me to please not help him with it anymore, because apparently, I was doing more damage than good. So now we've got parents who don't truly don't understand the new math, we always talk about that like a joke. But it's true. We weren't taught it. We didn't learn that way. So it's hard for us to replicate it. And now, how are parents who aren't able to do the math themselves the right way? I think we're facing a lot of panic in, for example, in the homeschooling world, most kids don't even start math till that middle school, because the parents don't want to do it. So they just push it off till they have to. So you know, in this crazy unprecedented time, What recommendations would you have for parents who are struggling to help their kids with math,


Randy Ewart  48:05

I have a kind of an informal list. First thing parents can do is compare the math work with the AP math objectives. Now, that may not be easy, because maybe the objectives are not written well. You can ask you can you know it's not you can go ahead and email now and ask and say, can you send me an example of what this objective should look like? Like it? What's an example problem? And how would you work it out? So compare, make sure that the math that they're working on is not just busy math, just so they're doing something, but it's tied in directly to the IP objective. And what you may find is it's not addressing the math objective, but it's addressing the general curriculum, then now you got an issue, because that means the IP objective is not aligned with the general curriculum. So that can open up a bit of a can of worms. Second, be aware of the student's frustration level you so you can break up the work if necessary. So some things to think about is, is the format itself challenging? If So break it up into smaller pieces, so there's less frustration going on for an extended amount of time. Second, is the math is the work kind of convoluted, is it confusing. It's not that it's online, but it's just that the problem itself are confusing, whether it's just because it's math, or because it was just presented in a challenging way. Third, if it's boring, you none of us want to do boring stuff for an extended period of time. So you could break that up as well. The third thing would be focus on performance and not just completion. And what I mean by that is, just because the student completes the work doesn't mean they got anything from it doesn't mean that it was useful. So and what can happen is on some online work, some support can be provided. That's one of the advantages but also it's a two edged sword where If with technology is sometimes they guide you through how to do the work, but then you're not completing the work on your own. So how much of that do you really know. So what you can do is you can give what I say is give like a little pop quiz, take a problem from the work that was assigned, right, copy a problem on a sheet of paper, and have the student do it independently, and then maybe compare it to the work that you saw online or have someone else that you know, that can help with it, and assess to see if your students getting it, maybe do like a pop quiz each day, just like one problem, maybe a couple problems. And then fourth, I'm going to have some of this information posted on my blog that you said you would have available



to their contact information in the show notes. So I'll say it again. Now it's Connecticut, spared SPE D, math There will also be notes so people can go look that up if they need.


Randy Ewart  50:54

I'll have some recommendations about sites to go to, and some handouts, and then you can contact me through the blog, happy to entertain contact. And then you mentioned the new math, I don't think there's a really a good answer for that. What I would say is reach out to the teacher, whether it's the math teacher or the special ed teacher or both and say, hey, you know, my son's having trouble with this particular type of work? Can you give me an example of what it looks like? Can you work out the steps or whatever, and, and then if they there's a reason that they're teaching it, the way they're teaching it, and people get upset, and they go, Well, that's not how I learned it. Well, in the old day, we had, in the old days, we had a lot of people that couldn't do math, they went through the old school math instruction, and they didn't learn the math. So just because some of us did doesn't mean then that all of our kids should be doing that. There's a lot of smart people came up with some ideas about how to teach it more conceptually. So it is what it is.



The problem is I was trying to when he was asking me questions, I was trying to show him the way that I learned, which, right, the way they were teaching it. So that wasn't what they wanted, right?


Randy Ewart  52:06

And people can disagree and say, well, they still shouldn't teach it that way. And, and I'm, and I'm not here to defend it. I'm just here providing information. But then I will say, you know, it is what it is, yeah. And your student needs to learn it. So then ask them same thing with this that I mentioned with the assessment, ask for an example, say, show me what this should look like, and what does mastery look like? I put some thought into this. And I think that's what I've come up with, as far as some suggestions for for parents,



you any of those sites that you recommend do lessons, for example, I know sometimes a lot of schools use Khan Academy, right, so the children can go and look up and say I'm having trouble with blank, and they can look up those lessons and watch a lesson. Are there sites that do that that would be helpful to parents that you think of?


Randy Ewart  52:52

Yeah, like, I'll mention one, and then and then rest in your blog, put them in the blog, I want to say something in general about that. And then I'll mention one site. So in general, you know, sometimes these sites like a Khan Academy will work for one student, but not another. I mean, just like you know, we have different tastes or different needs. So the way I do things is I just I try something and if it works for the student, I keep using it. If it doesn't work, I go find something else. So like a doctor assigning us medicine or prescribing us medicine. I got Allegra once for my allergies that didn't work. And my doctor is like, Okay, let me give you something else. Let's find something that works. Mary,



say try try again and then try something different.


Randy Ewart  53:33

Right? Yeah, well, right, we a lot of times people get stuck in the end, just trying the same thing. That's what that's what they know. Now the the site that I recommend is I excel, it's those three letters, I It's very straightforward. It's nothing snazzy about it in terms of the presentation. So it's not going to work for everybody. But the nice thing about it is it gives a lot of practice problems, you get immediate feedback. And it keeps collects the data so that you can go look at it in you as a parent and see how many problems that they tried, how many problems they got correct, it'll do a running score. I gotta tell students just stop at 80 You can go up to 99. And then from 90 to 100 is like a challenge section. So if you want them to go to 100, and challenge them, and then if they get a problem wrong, it gives them a written out feedback on that. And then that's where for some kids, that doesn't work for them. Maybe it doesn't work for parents, but you try it and I have some others posted I have some worksheets online worksheet providers sites listed, and they can take a look at those. And there's another thing another site called Brain Genie, and they have videos and it's kind of like a Khan Academy. I think it's easier to use. So I would say you know, try one of those three sites and see if one of those work well. I



mean, one of the things I've been telling my parents, you know, my my clients who are parents is to document things, as you were saying, this is a great opportunity. They're home, they're working with their students, they can see firsthand what the student is or isn't doing, if there's something that they should have mastered. But the parents are saying that they didn't, I am telling parents, so let's just get a little notebook for yourself and just start writing down the things that children are having challenges with. But the other thing that it's really great for is that parents can individualize even further, if they so choose. I know sometimes for children, they get really overwhelmed. And there are a ton of math problems on the sheet. And for whatever reason that visual, when it's a page full of math problems, can set off some anxiety for students. So to give them one problem at a time, that's fine, if that's better for them. And that's something parents can do now. Because when they're home and more one on one or more individual work, it doesn't take the same amount of time to learn as it does in the public school with 23. Other room, right. So, you know, you could get through those academics sooner, or you may have the time to individualize and then, you know, for some students, I know that if you just put one problem on the sheet, it just reduces all that anxiety, and they're able to go through it or take a break between problems or do something else, you know, now that parents are, they still have to deliver the same work. But there are lots of ways we can present it that we can be creative about now.


Randy Ewart  56:33

That yes, you know, that's that is the silver lining to this. But you know, there's a cost, obviously, the extra work, but then you do get a little more chance get more opportunity to kind of control this situation, we talked about giving breaks, one of the things that I have posted on my blog, and I'll make it easy to find for the listeners is a system that I've used where I'll do when I had to consumer math classes, and I had to individualize for all the students, I would use a manila folder for each student. And inside the folder is a printed out agenda. Each row represented a new tasks for them to work on. And some students needed more breaks or needed some motivation, some rewards. And so then I could individualize for that, for example, I had one guy on the spectrum. He loves jelly beans, and I got permission from his parents to provide him some jelly beans. And so the first line on the agenda was to go to Excel and do a problem. And then the next line would be a picture of jelly beans. And so when he finished, I would give him I had a big bag of jellybeans had pour like six or seven into a cup, and he could take a break. And he would go look at the weather, he loved the weather. And then he would eat his jelly beans. And then when he was done, he would go to the next row and start the next topic and work on it. And then when we got to the jelly beans, again, couple rows later, he let me know we do it all over again,



right in the schedule. So it's not something was not something extra, it's this is part of the day.


Randy Ewart  58:05

That's right, and it and he and he saw it and he was motivated, he actually said to me, when I first showed him the jelly beans, he said you had to get jelly beans didn't do. And it worked like a charm for him. So you can do that with your own kids. I do that. And for my son Gabriel that has autism, I planned out where I'll do like a training program with them. And then afterwards, we'll do fun, like a leisure activity or something that'll break it up. And then we'll go do something some more training. And you could do that for all levels of kids. You know, most kids need a break. And so you can build that in. And the break can be you can still be educational, but maybe it could be the thing that they really enjoy. So if they love reading, maybe they take a break and read for a while the book they're supposed to read for class, and then they go back and do the math if they don't like the math or, or vice versa.



There are leisure activities that can be productive, too. I you know, I think that there's it's so easy. And I'm hearing this a lot parents getting very frustrated. And they're like, you know, we spent all morning doing the academics. And I'm like, Well, maybe you should spread them out more. You do that some kids? Yeah, I have one kid who actually my eldest, she would sit down and just do the work and just keep going, if you kept handing it to her, and she wouldn't complain. I have other children in my house that would not work for have to get up and move their bodies and do that sort of thing. But I liked that idea of putting it straight in the agenda. This is part of what we're doing and you know, being able to see throughout the day, because at school, they know what their day is that's typical. This isn't typical for them and, and for students in school. They've been doing it for a long time. So this really is new for the kids too. And they also just because they had a schedule at school doesn't mean they're going to totally understand and grasp the concept of the schedule now. So Right. You know, I think I like that idea of as putting those breaks in there,


Randy Ewart  1:00:02

right? Yeah, that's so. So and then the other thing I mentioned, and this is on the blog already, too is any parent can sign up for a Google account and then access what they call Google Classroom. And Google Classroom is an online site where you can run a virtual classroom, you can post assignments, you can post videos, activities, or handouts. I



think a lot of parents are getting familiar with Google Classroom, right?


Randy Ewart  1:00:29

Yeah, that's right. If they hadn't heard of, if they had heard of it before, they're gonna hear of it. Now, on a funny side note, my phone just heard me say the G word. And it started talking back to me. But on the Google Classroom, I shouldn't have said that word, the I can, I created one class, or both of them, my non disabled kiddos, and then one for my guy with autism, that some of his teachers have access to. And then what I'll do is I'll post their work and you can set it so it only posts to one for one of them. So like, for my boy, I post work and only he can see it. And then for my girl, I post work only she can see it. No, I can



create a Google Classroom page. Yes, even if I'm not a teacher, you can take that and utilize that with my own children for whatever enrichment or whatever, or additional


Randy Ewart  1:01:23

eyebright I'm supplementing, because I find that my son is not getting enough work and no knock against the district. You know, they try to come up with what they can. And then I supplement it with some I excel now, they are not making any money from sales or like selling memberships.



But you in genuine referral.


Randy Ewart  1:01:43

Yeah, it is in they they have they cover in language arts, science, social studies, and even Spanish. And so I bought a you can get like a math account for like $7 a month, you can get one for all the content area for like 20 something for the month. And what I do is I assigned them language arts, social studies, science and Math, to supplement what they're already getting. And they have it posted on their Google Classroom. And when they so they know at a certain point during the day, it's time to go back to work. And then they look in there. And I set all this up the night before. So you know, I'm a parent. It's hard for me, but I'm up late. And I will film



and we have Right, right? Yeah. And I'm sitting in bed with my laptop. My husband said what are you doing? Like it's quiet? I can finally get it done. Yeah,


Randy Ewart  1:02:33

well, my Well, I have a son who will he'll stay awake. So I have to run off to an office space and escape and, and in, but then I'll set it up. So the next day, everyone knows what they're supposed to do. And then what I do is throughout the day, we do checkpoints where I'll say, Okay, what did you work on? Show me what you did. And then if they're lacking in some work, then they have to make up that time. And they got to they got to get the work done sooner or later. And they once they realize that they're more likely to get it done.



Yeah. Well, that's great. Randy, I can't tell you how helpful this is. I feel like there's just so much information and you somehow just made math makes so much more sense. To me. I love the way you talk about it being a different language. It's It's so true. And not linear, but a web. It's so true. I mean, that's just such a great visual, right? When we're talking about that disconnect between, say reading and math. Well, that's a web and this is a linear process. And it's two


Meredith Masony  1:03:32

different notes really, really great and helpful. So thank you for being here. And thank you for talking with me and giving us all this wonderful information. I will be putting your blog, which is CT, spared math in the show notes,



and if you can get me those other links that you're talking about, I can put them in my show notes too, so that anyone can see them if they want to go back there, or they can go to your blog to find them. Randy Wert. And if people want to find you, they go to your blog, and they can contact you through that. Right,


Randy Ewart  1:04:03

right. That's correct. Yeah. And then and then a Facebook page to CT spread math dude, on Facebook, they can. A lot of people ended up contacting me through that. Which, yeah, yeah.



Well, and I also just want to clarify, like, aside from tutoring, you do do tutoring, you do full math content, you do evaluations, you also consult and you can consult on goals and objectives as well. Correct.


Randy Ewart  1:04:26

If it's math, and it's kids with special needs, I'll do it, whatever parents need. And sometimes people reach out with an email, just ask me a question. And I'm happy to answer that. And some people want to hire me to do certain things. And then I make time for that as well.


Meredith Masony  1:04:44

Yeah, well, great. Thank you. And I think it's great to have people like you out there because right now is really tough for everybody. So it's it's wonderful. When I found you and I put out to my listserv, does anyone know someone who evaluates math and I got your name. I was blown away because we really don't have a lot resources like that. So thank you very much for everything you're


Randy Ewart  1:05:02

doing. You're welcome.


Dana Jonson  1:05:04

Thank you so much for joining me today. Please don't forget to subscribe to this podcast so that you get notifications whenever new episodes are available. You can also find this podcast on his website at special ED dot life. You can follow me on Instagram at special ED dot life or you can email me at Dana at special ED dot life. I want to know what you want to know. So please reach out with your comments and questions. And I'll see you next time here on need to know with Dana Jonson Have a great day