Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Learning from math lessons that bomb

Today I provided a math project task for my fourth grade students.  It was very eye opening and I'm glad I gave it, but for probably different reasons than you're thinking.  It went really bad.  Well, actually it didn't go bad because everyone was on task, and everyone was engaged and excited about the lesson.  Now that I think about it, maybe one could say that it went very well.  The problem though, is that the students TOTALLY bombed it.

This math lesson was a group task.  There were about 6 students in every group.  I had copied a page from the math book and had made it into a gigantic poster.  This created a novelty about what could have been a common worksheet in their eyes.  But to them today, it was a privilege to be able to work together on this giant poster, to be able to write on it with markers.  It was a great motivational tool.  In my opinion, the task was pretty basic.  The students had to figure out which text books we used in the classroom, then figure out how many students were enrolled in the class, and then multiply the two numbers to decipher how much money would be needed to buy the books.  Easy, right?  Nope.  Every single group was trying to add different columns and rows.  There was no rhyme or reason to the madness.  They just all wanted to add.  They had forgotten that we had spent the last month on multiplication, and that just yesterday we had worked on group problem solving using these same problems.  Nope.  They all felt they needed to add.

So I carouseled around to every group, giving bits and pieces of nuggets to try to get them to see that addition did not make sense for this particular problem.  You would not believe the hints I had to throw at them to get them to work in the right direction.  Some even would say, "Oh!  It's multiplication!"  Which is when I left them to work independently on that idea, yet when I carouseled back around to their group they were back on an addition problem. 

We didn't finish the activity, but rather will continue working on it tomorrow.  As I said, I initially thought of the project as a disaster, but as I reflect it was one of the best lessons I've given.  First of all, the students were excited about doing this real world problem solving on a poster.  Even though they were all on the wrong path, they were all working together and collaborating, throwing ideas out for group evaluation and discussion.  If you were looking at the lesson through the lens of English Language Development it was brilliant.  All students speaking and listening, using math concepts in new and fun discussions.  Students were taking risks and not afraid if they were incorrect.  Students were definitely struggling with the concepts and strategies, which is good both for the Growth Mindset model and brain development.

It was also a good lesson for me.  I initially thought this was an easy lesson.  I thought that my students could read a table and would know what each column meant.  I thought it was obvious that it was a multiplication problem but obviously I was alone in that prediction.   As for reteaching, I actually don't think I'll do a lot of it.  Truthfully, I've taught til I was blue in the face everything that was on this activity.  I don't think they need more lectures from me.  They need more projects like this.  They need to struggle and talk and fail, so they can want to find the correct answer so they can succeed.  When I lecture, there is no motivation for them to actively learn, but with this project I saw a different fire in their eyes.  Its the fire I want to see tomorrow, and the next day, and for as long as I can keep it going.  We're going to do more projects like this.  I think this is the missing link in my teaching repertoire.  So today's lesson was a turning point for me in my teaching career.   It was a time I learned what my students didn't know, and I now have hope for a direction we can take to remedy that.    Today was a good day wresting with the Common Core.

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