an attempt at becoming a better math teacher

giphy (4)Sometimes I think I’m like my dog in a pet store, smelling all the different foods and treats anddogsandcatsandSMELLS oh-my-gosh. There are SO many wonderful things going on in education that I want to smell and touch and taste them all…if only I had more time. Also, that’s a bit extreme. I don’t really want to eat that stuff.

I am extremely lucky to be a part of a team made up of four teachers, one administrator, and a math coach. We meet every other week to learn how to help teachers (and ourselves) bring effective math practices into every classroom in our school. Every Monday, I leave inspired and wishing the conversation didn’t have to end. Needing more, I research math and try things out right away with my students. Basically, (I like to think) my math instruction has improved.

My fifth-grade team and I realized after the first few math units that we have some VERY high students in math. Some come into our classrooms on day-one with mastery of the standards. Yeah, basically that means there have been LOADS of mini-lessons where these high-achieving math students were compliant. Bored, likely, but compliant. I offered challenges that went with each unit (thanks, Robert Kaplinsky, Jo Boaler, Steve Wyborney, Math Landing and NCTM), but I probably bored them so much during the lesson that they didn’t even attempt many of them during independent work time.

Something had to change.

We analyzed results from a pre-assessment to determine which standards each student already mastered. Honestly? There were only a couple of students in my class who didn’t know any of the skills. Almost every student had at least one standard they already knew and could apply. Did they know it DEEPLY? Probably not, but they knew enough to meet the grade-level expectations. My struggle was how to push them deeper into those areas, while also making sure everyone met the basic expectations.

Here’s what I am doing to better reach all of my learners this unit. Please comment and let me know any suggestions you have on how I can improve! Seriously, help me!

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 7.30.46 PMI created THIS Study-by-Skill sheet and marked off the second column (study and practice) for students who demonstrated mastery on the pre-test. Each student received their own hard-copy and digital copy (as there are a lot of hotlinks) the next day. This unit, students are in charge of how they spend their time each math block – this also has helped them make wiser choices in other subject areas. Students can choose to opt-out of the mini-lessons that covered that standard as they arose. Each day, ALL students participate in a number talk (more to come next post), a math conversation, or a written math response to kick off the math block.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 7.52.33 PMNow, this is the part that can look a little messy. I teach a mini-lesson on a skill for the group of students that did not show mastery but want to know those skills so they can check off those boxes and get to the games (true commentary from a student)! If students opt-out of the minilesson, first they choose which skill they want to work on. Next, they choose if they want to play a game, push themselves deeper in that skill, test themselves on that skill, watch some math videos (Khan Academy or Learn Zillion), re-assess a skill from a previous unit, or work on a project. After the minilesson, ALL students are doing their own thing.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 7.53.51 PMThe best part is what I get to do! Before I implemented this choose-your-own-adventure math workshop, I felt I spent the majority of independent time working with those students who needed extra help. Guess what? Now, I have already done that in the minilesson! So far, I am finding that I get to spend more time PUSHING students to think more deeply and helping students make wise choices and become better learners. I use Tom Schimmer‘s genius feedback idea for the “Test Yourself” options. Instead of saying an answer is wrong, I highlight any misunderstandings they show me. They go back, figure out their error, and correct it. It takes NO time and puts the responsibility for learning back to the student.

At the end of each block, students fill out an Exit Ticket. I am obsessed with doing the Exit Tickets using Google Forms because it gives them immediate feedback on their answer (I choose the quiz option) and helps me organize a small review group if necessary. The problem at the bottom changes each day to match the minilesson, which ensures I know EVERYONE now/still has that skill mastered.


Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 7.54.30 PM
You can see I wasn’t very successful in this mini-lesson – three students will get some review from me tomorrow on this skill.


We are testing next week…fingers crossed!


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