Thursday, October 30, 2014

Great Things I See In Math Classrooms Part I

I thought it would be useful to share some of the great things I see in classrooms as I am out and about each week.  I get to see math happening at all grade levels, from Kindergarten through Middle School, so I will share reflections from math classes of multiple grade levels.  Keep in mind early elementary content and learning has many connections to middle level learning, and vice-versa.

I will not use any names unless individuals have given me specific permission to do so.

Students Sharing Their Strategies With Confidence... In 2nd Grade!

This is so hugely important I cannot even begin to emphasize it enough.  I witnessed a great sequence of whole class instruction into stations (aka centers) recently.  The whole class instruction portion began with a number story projected on the wall, and each student had individual white-boards with them.  Students were asked to write their solutions and share their strategies for finding each solution. What was special about this was not just that these students were being asked to share their thinking, but how comfortable and confident they were in the process of sharing their thinking:  

"I knew the answer was 7, because there were 13 and we had to take away 6.  I know that 12 minus 6 is 6, because it is a 'double' fact.  So since 13 is one more than 12, the answer must be one more than 6, which is 7."  

Not every student's strategy was correct, but it was clear to me that these students had become comfortable with this kind of sharing-- and that is not easy to facilitate as a teacher, especially with grades 1 and 2.  This section of the lesson, which took about 25 minutes, allowed students to practice their addition and subtraction strategies with four separate number stories.  It also gave them a chance to practice sharing their thinking out loud.  These second graders were not being asked to reflect upon their thinking; they were being asked to show their thinking and they were making great progress!   And just as the kids were showing signs they had had enough of this kind of thinking, they were asked to transition to the floor to hear a very quick set of directions for their centers.  The centers involved rotating through two separate fact activities and an opportunity to work on math boxes/ independent practice.   Students were able to have fun and demonstrate some independent responsibility while the teacher had opportunities to check in with individuals.

The key take-away from this math lesson is that every opportunity students have to practice sharing strategies is greatly beneficial to their learning and understanding of concepts and operations, and also beneficial to their learning how to become effective communicators.  As the years pass, these students will be asked to share their thinking a lot, as well as collaborate to solve problems and transfer their thinking/ strategies into writing.  These students' 3rd grade teachers next year will be appreciative of the work they have done this year in 2nd grade (and their 7th grade math teacher will appreciate it five years from now, too).  

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