Friday, March 11, 2011

My Best Ideas Are Often Borrowed From Others

A little while ago I was reading Pernille Ripp's blog (she's amazing - you really should check her out on Twitter @4thGrdTeach), and I read about this activity she did with her class. My team and I had just been talking about what we could do in addition to our daily spiral reviews to help our students review before the PSSAs. As soon as I read her post I realized that we could do something similar so I shared with my teammates, and we starting talking about what we could do.

Out of this collaboration was born Mission: Math-Possible (cue Mission Impossible music here!), a 2.5 hour math review activity. We reviewed the 5th grade anchors, talked about how our students had been doing in class and on our assessments, and determined that there were 7 different areas in which we needed some extra review. The students were put in 7 groups and moved between 7 different stations to review these skills in a variety of different ways.

We had 4 fifth grade teachers, 2 student teachers, and a laptop cart to make these seven stations possible. The activities included bingo, web-based pattern activities (you can see them here and here), designing a concert hall event, building solids, geometry Simon Says, an algebra race and a measurement activity. The kids really enjoyed the activities, and we even heard such unsolicited comments like, "Huh... I didn't remember learning that. Good thing we talked about it," and, "This is REALLY cool!"

The comment that got me thinking the most was from one of my boys. He looked at me and said, "This was really fun. Why can't math always be this much fun?" Sure the warm and fuzzy was there, but the second part of his question is the part that is sticking with me. How do I make THIS my math class all the time? How do I give the kids short lessons and big projects where they can apply the skills we're learning? I won't say that these were exactly real-life situations, but the kids had to use the skills to solve problems. THIS is what I want my math class to look like all the time because THIS is problem solving -- not those cheesy questions about leprechauns and trolls, or tickets, or putting 4 cards in different orders.

But how do I change my math class? Changing things up in communication arts and social studies comes naturally, but it's exactly the opposite in math. And in this age of test scores, proficiency, and leaving no kids behind, what happens if my experiments to teach differently and in a more meaningful way actually leads to poorer scores? I need to make sure that I do this correctly so that I don't have to go back to doing things the way I've done them in the past.

I feel great about what we did today. It was a baby step, but it met our purpose, and I hope the kids are feeling more confident than they were when we started. Now I need to continue this change. The question is where can I go to learn how to do math differently? Anybody have any suggestions?

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