Follow us:

Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

September 17, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Round II: Another top teacher explains more of jargon you hate


Spencer Olmsted

In our quest to illuminate some of the education jargon you’ve said confuses and confounds you, today we offer plain-spoken definitions of five more terms, provided by National Board Certified teacher Spencer Olmsted from Olympia. Thanks, Spencer!

He follows Mark Gardner, a Camas high-school teacher (also nationally certified) who tackled three terms last week.

Both Olmsted and Gardner write for the Stories from School blog, a project of the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession, a Washington nonprofit.

Olmsted teaches fifth grade in Olympia. His full bio is below.

He chose to define manipulatives, formative assessment, constructivist, scaffolding and number sentence.

Here’s Olmsted:

Formative Assessment: Formative assessments are measures teachers make in the process of teaching that help them make decisions about instruction. By assessing where students are during a lesson or unit, teachers can make adjustments to suit individual student or small-group needs. Formative assessments are like little checkpoints on the road map, whereas summative assessments tell us whether or not we have reached our destination.

Constructivist: A philosophy of education that says that students learn by building understanding through experience. Because what every student knows and understands is different, constructivist teachers strive to provide a wide variety of connections to build on what students already know. “One size fits all” is the antithesis of constructivism.

Scaffolding: Temporary supports that help students access and understand new ideas, much like scaffolding on building. Scaffolding could be provided through materials, peer interactions, or teacher support.

Manipulatives: Hands-on materials that students can use to help them learn concepts, especially in math. Manipulatives include calculators, rulers, protractors, colored cubes, or any other tool.

Number sentence: Complete numerical statements, inequalities, or equations. 3 + 5 = 8 and 10.2 * 10.6 > 100 are number sentences.

About Olmsted: I began teaching fifth grade in Olympia in 2006. Between 2010 and 2012 I completed a master’s degree in mathematics education at The Evergreen State College. Before becoming a teacher, I was a computer programmer.  I am originally from Connecticut, but have now spent half of my life out west. My wife and I love to hike whenever we get the chance. We are currently working on nurturing this love in our preschooler. As soon as he’s a good enough swimmer, we’ll teach him how to surf.

Want to contribute your own jargon definition? Pick your favorite term and send a one- or two-sentence definition to We might include it on the Education Lab blog at a future date.

Comments | More in News | Topics: Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession, jargon, Spencer Olmsted


No personal attacks or insults, no hate speech, no profanity. Please keep the conversation civil and help us moderate this thread by reporting any abuse. See our Commenting FAQ.

The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.

The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►