Cecilia Hunter – Punta Chica Primary School – Math in Years 4, 5 and 6.
Creating a motivating environment in the Math’s class where achievable challenges are provided for all students.
(PLEASE CLICK ON THE LINKS as you read along, to see the children in action.)
For long I have looked for innovative strategies to motivate the “strugglers”- students with difficulties, both in the way they process new knowledge or in their span of attention and participation during class discussions. Providing them with technological tools such as the wiki (mathsinfo.pbworks.com) where the EXTRA PRACTICE and the THINGS TO REMEMBER links provide them with significant scaffolding to reinforce the work done in class; or the EDMODO quizzes which keep their skills sharp summed to the personalised attention during the weekly 40 minutes during our Special Math lessons, have been ways of getting about this matter.
While these actions continue, successfully aiding these students to build new knowledge, I started to hear voices call: “WHAT ABOUT US?…
…WHAT ABOUT US, WHO SOMETIMES FEEL THE BOREDOM OF ALREADY KNOWING WHAT TAKES OTHERS LONGER TO LEARN?”
Following are some of the activities prepared, thinking of the sometimes forgotten high achievers who wish to move on, reach new horizons and share their acquired knowledge and experience with others.
- 4th GRADE BEAVERS
Participants: A small group of 8 to 10 students of 4A and 4B.
As the second term was coming to an end, I offered the 4th grade teachers a weekly period to coach some of their “strugglers”. Considering that these were already being coached by their regular assistant, they asked, if instead, I could take the high achievers who often disrupted the class or felt bored when the activities were not challenging enough for them.
I took the challenge and started creating a program which would be both challenging and motivating. I called the group BEAVERS and told the students that these animals would symbolise the perseverant attitude expected from them each time a new challenge was presented. Beavers never give up and when the currents of water wash away their dams, they start all over!
Every Monday since then, the teachers sent a group of students to my class, where I tried to surprise them with a variety of problems to solve, where their logical thinking could be stretched and their basic knowledge could be used to discover effective strategies. Individually or in pairs or threes, they enthusiastically discussed possible solutions to then share them with the others.
Guessing and checking, sorting, calculating, drawing what the problem presented, acting it out…were the different approaches used to find an answer.
Today I’d like to share their first steps into the world of algebra… Never before had I thought of introducing algebra to my young students, and somehow I felt that this was a good opportunity to get started.
Knowing that they were the first students at St Andrew’s to be introduced to algebra at such a young age, was a powerful motivator for them to look forward to our meetings every Monday.
The following presentation shows the sequence of activities followed. Starting with images in the place of the unknown value, as they became familiar with what had to be done and easily solved their first equations, we began to replace the images for letters.
(CLICK to SEE)»> BEAVERS: ALGEBRA IS EASY!
After three Mondays of symbols, unknown images and letters, they began writing their own equations and solving equations with more terms in them. Following is a short video of moments when I was amazed by their thinking and solutions. DON’T MISS THEM!
(CLICK TO SEE) »>VIDEO: ALGEBRA CAN BE EASY!
- YEAR 5’S OWN “KHAN ACADEMY”
Participants: Punta Chica Year 5 students.
Faced with the new challenge of introducing the children to the EDMODO social learning platform I was motivated to think of new ways in which the students could build or reinforce their knowledge.
Ipads and video cameras came in very handy. Those students who grasped the new concepts rapidly and completed assignments sooner than the average child, started filming their explanations and compiling a VIDEO with the most important concepts learnt. A selection of these was made to finally compile a video with THINGS TO REMEMBER ABOUT LARGE NUMBERS «<(CLICK TO SEE), which was then shared with the class and posted on Edmodo for revision or reinforcement purposes. They even went a step further and shared their video with their Olivos, Year 5 peers!
During the PROBLEM SOLVING UNIT, a different device, the IPAD, offered these students the possibility to explain and show their methods of solution using the EDUCREATION application. Three different division problems where the answer was not always the quotient were given to solve, together with a multiplication problem with rows and columns. Again a selection of the clearer explanations was done, shared with the class in a POWER POINT presentation and posted on EDMODO for future consultation. The same activity was organised in Olivos, by their teacher Florence, therefore each slide showed both, the Olivos and the Punta Chica strategies.
CLICK TO SEE THEIR EXPLANATIONS (You have to “START THE PRESENTATION” to be able to access to the links posted in it)
Both activities gave the students a sense of pride and produced in them the desire to make their explanations the best they could. They often asked if they could start all over, feeling that some part was not clear enough for others to understand.
The IPADS were especially motivating, leading those who usually work at a slower rhythm, to focus on their tasks and complete them to also have a chance to record their strategies. As their work was completed I paired them, making sure that each student had the chance to at least solve one of the problems and record the chosen method, knowing how valuable this step of explaining to others is in each child’s learning process.
Reaching the end of the year, these two productions, THE VIDEO and the EDUCREATION PRODUCTIONS were important tools to aid them in their studying and exercising before their final Math’s Test.
- THE YEAR 6 EXPERTS
Participants: All Year 6, Punta Chica students in different roles.
Experience taught me that doing the corrections of a test with all the class is a tedious task for both the teacher and the students. Those who have gained almost full marks get bored and restless and those who need to improve their understanding feel the weight of too much information to process at the same time and consequently “switch off” half way through the explanation.
The End of Year Test this year included 5 different Units. I decided I would name two experts per Unit, per class; to be the ones others could approach to understand their mistakes and correct their work.
The tables were arranged in 5 groups…this already surprised the students who usually walk into a class arranged in 6 groups. After introducing them to the activity and giving them time alone to go over the mistakes done in the different Units, I named the EXPERTS and assigned a table to each of the pairs selected.
I recommended that, if possible, they should start by going to the experts of the Unit they had had greater difficulties in, telling them they would have enough time to walk to all of them by the end of the time allotted.
Being the first time I was organising the class in such a way, I had my fears about how seriously each one would take his/her responsibilities.
It didn’t take me long to see how enthusiastically the experts explained each problem, making sure their “students” understood; looking for a different way of explaining the same problem when the look in the other students’ faces indicated lack of understanding and even asking them to explain what they had now understood. REALLY AMAZING! They were being INCREDIBLE teachers! At times they switched to Spanish, but their commitment was such that I ignored this fact and instead enjoyed watching them in action.
Those being the “students” followed each explanation; asked clarification questions; checked to see which of the experts’ had a clearer method; walked from one station to the other and enjoyed having one “teacher” for themselves rather than one teacher (myself) explaining to 28 students at the same time.
One period was not enough for all to complete their corrections, so the following lesson I changed some of the EXPERTS around to explain a different Unit, named 3 or 4 new experts and allowed the first ones to walk around and correct their wrong answers.
Listening to the “EXPERTS” and “STUDENT” reflect on how they felt and benefitted from a more personalised attention, leads me to add this strategy to the list of effective ways to enhance the students’ learning process and to give the more able students the possibility to share with others what they have learnt. They not only shared mathematical knowledge, but felt the joy of having cooperated, listened to each other, and exercised their patience and creativity to help their peers reach the “AHAA MOMENT” of full understanding!
See them and listen to their reflections by clicking the following link.
CLICK TO SEE »> YEAR 6 MATH’S EXPERTS
Beavers, Year 5 Academy editors, Year 6 experts…three very different approaches to learning, where the sometimes forgotten high achievers felt they had a challenge to face; a responsibility before others as they paired to find a solution, or filmed their strategies or helped others correct their work and enhance their understanding.
Nothing can be more satisfying than students enthusiastically participating and working to build new mathematical knowledge while reinforcing their values as cooperative, respectful and responsible beings.
Somehow…I have started giving some answers to the question: ”AND…WHAT ABOUT US?”
2014 AWAITS… CREATIVITY, INVESTIGATION AND REFLECTION SHOULD LEAD TO NEW ANSWERS.