Monday, June 13, 2016

Math Instruction

I've been thinking about my math instructional time.  For the most part, I think I have it set up in the most efficient way.  We have math for about an hour each day.

The first 30 minutes are devoted to a whole group lesson. We start out with some calendar math for a few minutes.  It's kind of a way to warm up and get our brains thinking about math.  It's also a way we integrate several skills in an ongoing way.  For example, we track the number of days we are in school and make that number in dollars and cents with magnetic money on our whiteboard.

After calendar math, we have a core lesson from our math program.  We currently use Math in Focus.  I use the Smartboard for this instruction.  Although there are student books, we just have the student book displayed on the Smartboard.  We also use interactive resources from the math program or ones we have found on our own.  This lesson usually lasts about 25-30 minutes.

Next, we work in small groups.  We only do one "rotation" each day.  In the picture below, you see four rotations.  Typically, I  meet with each group once during the week.  However, I have it arranged so that my group that needs the most support comes to the table twice during the week.  In the past, I have tried rotating groups during the hour but have found that I really don't have enough instructional time with each group.  As it is now, small group time lasts for about 30 minutes.  This is working well for me.

The groups are flexible and are based on observation, MAP test data,  and pre-test scores.  After I complete the pre-test for our math chapter, I decide how to arrange the groups.  There are usually 4-6 students in a group.  I typically have 4 groups. One group works with me at the table.  This is usually where I really target and differentiate my instruction.  I use lots of manipulatives during this part.  I can deliver instruction on the same topic to all students but really meet the needs of each group.  For example, I always have a group that already knows the standard for our grade level.  Our math program provides some great enrichment pieces that I like to use with this group.  I know they are being challenged and we have some great math conversations together!

Math Group Rotations

On the other end of the spectrum I have students who really struggle with the concept we are learning.  It's much easier to see where they are challenged when you only have a few students in front of you.  I can give them a math problem, observe, and intervene at the point of error.  I love hearing, "OOHH!  Now I get it!"

Besides a group of students working with me, I also have a groups of students working on their iPads.  (I used to have a computer group before we had iPads.)  These students have a few choices.  We use a program called ESpark that differentiates student instruction based on MAP test results.  In my class last year I had students working on kindergarten math skills and students working on fifth grade level math.
Students have the option to work on their ESpark assignments or use IXL or Tenmarks.  I'm pretty sure our district pays for the IXL, but Tenmarks is free.  I really like using both of these programs because it's so easy to differentiate with these as well.  For IXL, I have a small whiteboard in the room.  I can post what skills I want certain groups to work on.  In Tenmarks, students can work on a variety of assignments and there are great supports provided with this website.  They can click on a button to have the problem read aloud and also click to get extra help.

There are many other free options available for math. I know about Sumdog for one. Many teachers at my building utilize this as well.  I have used it on a limited basis.  I think it's good, I just already am used to using IXL and Tenmarks.

Cart of Games and Manipulatives

In addition to table time and iPads, another group is playing games.  I have a ton of math games that I have collected and organized.  I have a large file cabinet that is full of file folder games.  I organized them by concept and numbered them so that I can find them easily.  I have a master list in the front of the file cabinet.  If I want to find some games for time or money, I can look on the sheet and find which games cover those concepts.  It makes it much easier to see what I have and locate the games quickly.  I can also differentiate the games.  If I know that a certain group of students needs more practice on basic addition and subtraction facts, I provide this practice through games. I have tubs for each of my groups.  In the tubs, I place the games that I want them to play along with any manipulatives they may need to be successful.  This way I know they are getting practice on skills that they need.

You can find so many great math games on Teachers Pay Teachers.  It's amazing what is offered for free!  This is where I have gotten many of the games my students play.

The last group is completing paper/pencil activities.  I usually use the workbook pages from our math series.  These pages are easy to differentiate too because our math series provides extra practice, remediation, and enrichment pages. Because I need for these students to be able to work independently, I use the practice pages from the previous chapter.  Let's say that our current chapter is on multiplication of 3's and 4's.  The chapter that we completed before that was addition with regrouping.  I do not give the paper/pencil group practice pages from the multiplication chapter.  Instead I give them practice pages from the addition chapter.  The reason for this is that the previous chapter is one that they have already learned.  They should be able to complete these practice pages independently.  I don't want students to be interrupting the table because they need help with the paper.  The important thing to me is that I am providing some practice of math skills at a level on which they can be successful.  There can still be challenges within the activity, but they are ones that the students can work through independently.

The only group that I have to worry about being finished before our 30 minutes are up is the paper/pencil group.  The other groups can continue to play games, work on iPads, and work at the table  with me for the entire 30 minutes.  In order to make good use of our math time and not be interrupted, I have trained the paper/pencil group to read math books if they happen to finish the paper before the end of math time.  I have a bin of trade books on math concepts.  I have collected lots of great books that the students love to read.  Jerry Palotta and Marilyn Burns are 2 authors I can think of that write some great math related stories.  When students finish papers, they are allowed to get a math book and read it alone or with a partner.  This is another way I can tie in language arts skills during math instruction.

One of the things that I have been thinking about for this paper/pencil group is making it more collaborative.  I already allow students the choice of working independently on the paper/pencil or with others.  When they work with others, they can help each other in different ways.  Some students need help reading certain problems, but they are fine with the math part.  Other students need a "coach" to remind them of the resources they may use.

I am thinking about trying to give this group one or two problems on a topic that they work together to solve.  I want to give my students more opportunities to collaborate, talk, and learn from each other.  I would have to find or make problems that were challenging but not outside the group's ZPD.  Knowing that the group is comprised of students with a similar understanding of the concept, I would need to consider the strengths and challenges of each group carefully.  I know that within a group, I usually have someone who is stronger with computation.  Another student may be stronger with problem solving strategies.  Yet another student is great at locating and using resources to help them.  My hope is that the groups could work together to solve a problem.  One of the benefits of this collaborative group would be that the students would have the chance to hear more "math talk."  By talking and trying different approaches, the students could learn from each other.  Students would have an opportunity to explain their thinking about using a certain approach or about how they arrived at a certain answer.

"I Charts" for Math Stations

I know that getting students to work successfully in a collaborative group can be challenging.  The key is in the training.  With all of the other groups that I mentioned move, I have spent much time in training students.  Collaborative groups is not something I would introduce and have going in the first week of school.  I know that I will have to lay some foundation before trying this approach.  When I am ready to implement collaborative math groups, I will want to be extremely explicit in my expectations.  I will create "I charts" much like I do when introducing components of Daily 5.  I will model and practice with the class.  This is really something I would like to try.  I think I will put this on my "professional goals" list of things to do.

How do you provide differentiated math instruction?  What is going well?  What challenges do you face?

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