Math: Small Steps

5807208_08e151f86c_mI learned something this week.  You learn your subject area and classroom management and introduce pbl & technology and expect to co-construct criteria all at the same time.  It won’t happen or you’ll go insane making it happen.  So this past week I focused on the first three.

In the past, I could do large-scale inquiry & PBL because I had extensive background knowledge in the areas I was teaching.  My classroom management was solid.  I knew my students & what they were capable of and this gave us the freedom to experiment with inquiry, tech & co-constructing criteria, assignments and units.  But things are very different now.

This week I started teaching grade 6 & 8 math, a completely new subject area for me.  I also discovered that I have few classroom management skills for grade 6.  Things I took for granted in high school I can’t take for granted here.  So for the next couple of weeks we’ll be discovering what routines make things easier to learn.

We began with ratios, percent & fractions, and I’ll admit, I used a boring worksheet to provide a formative assessment. I really had no idea the capability of a grade 6 student or their background knowledge in this area or how to figure it out otherwise.  I found out quickly they could convert pretty well between the three, but the bigger thing for me is can they actually use them? I’ve read in numerous places of students being able to plug information into a formula, but not being unable to use it in “real life”, so we began our first PBL.  Using ratios, my students have chosen something in real life and are scaling it down to create it.

When beginning a course of action like this in high school, I would have to spend a great deal of time “unteaching” much of what they’ve learned the past 10 -12 years.  In grade six, I wasn’t sure to expect.  I showed them the Welcome to my PLE video created by a grade 7 student.  I asked if they wanted to learn like that. They were in. That’s it  None of the cynicism or apathy that I encounter in high school.  They were excited.  Too excited and that’s what I’ve been trying to reign in all week.

While it’s great to create projects, they also need to teach the skills we’re working on — using ratios. It’s important to create the scale & blueprint before they start building. Instead, they want to build right away. They’ve come up with terrific ideas volcanoes, NHL rinks, McDonald’s, our school library.  And I’ve learned in explaining scale & ratio over and over to each small group that they don’t really understand the math.  So I end up saying things like, “so every centimetre on this piece of paper, is equal to five feet in real life”  and then the light goes on.  I find it interesting that they can do the math on paper, but the truth is they don’t necessarily understand it.

I’ve come to realize this week that PBL & inquiry is incredibly important for this age group.  Developmentally they’re at an age when they’re searching for independence & responsibility, even though they might not be able to articulate it that way.  But in order to be independent & responsible, there are a few self-regulatory skills that need to be learned. I think that’s why PBL can go awry when teachers try it for the first time with this age group, and yet I think these are some of the most important things middle years teachers can help students with. It’s using content to teach skills.

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About shelleywright

I love education & learning, which likely explains why I'm a teacher. My areas are ELA, Sr. sciences, and technology. My classroom is best described as a student-centred, tech embedded pbl/inquiry learning environment. I am currently a PhD student in the area of Curriculum and Instruction. My focus is play-based learning in high school, and it's impact on brain development.
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4 Responses to Math: Small Steps

  1. Kirsten tschofen says:

    Hi Shelley, I think you are very wise to recognize that we can’t work in everything all at the same time. As an elementary generalist the best advice I ever received as a new teacher was to focus on one subject at a time, and then add on. I started with English, and then social studies and by the time I got to math I easily incorporated problem based learning/inquiry/differentiation and better assessment techniques because I knew what strategies worked for me. I look forward to reading more about your experience of changing grades. Best of luck!

  2. Great commentary, especially your reflection on rejoining the classroom. I’m curious about how you would perceive the use of Scale City by KET in PBL? SS is intended to be PBL. Would it work in your classroom, or is it “too curriculum”?

  3. Pingback: Mr G's Idle Musings » Blog Archive » My Diigo 02/14/2013

  4. Pingback: Update: Diigo in Education group (weekly) | ChalkTech

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