Friday, October 14, 2016

Making Common Core math fun!

Today I taught a lesson on multiplication using arrays and area models.   For those of you, like me who grew up in an era that did not learn math like this, this could be a very challenging task to do.   Actually last year I was devastated when I attempted this lesson.  I really didn't understand it.  I looked at my 4th grade Common Core State Standards and saw that 4th grade students needed to multiply a whole number up to four digits by a one digit number and two-two digit numbers.  Ok, I thought, that would be easy.  I have been doing that for over 20 years with the regular standard multiplication algorithm that I learned when I was in high school.   But then I kept reading, and the standards continued to say, "illustrate and explain the calculation by using equations, rectangular arrays, and/or area models".  Last year I thought to myself, "What the heck is that?"  Truthfully, I really tried last year.  I tried to learn how to do arrays and area models when multiplying but it just didn't sink into this "older' brain of mine.  But seriously, I tried, but when I taught the lessons, I remember I would get the steps all mixed up, and it just didn't make any sense to me.  I totally understand parents when they say that this math is impossible! 

But something happened over the summer.  This concept began to click in my brain.  I think I had gone over it so much, and the key word is, I never gave up.  No matter how frustrated I was with this concept, I knew that I needed to learn it, and I would.  I evoked the Growth Mindset within me and told myself, "Don't give up!"  You can take a break and let the information settle in your brain, but return to it.  I think the turning point was when my fellow 4th grade teachers and I collaborated and they expressed their own frustrations with arrays.  They had not yet put the work into understanding it, so I gave it a go at trying to teach them.  It's true what we teach our students about taking on the teacher role helps you internalize a concept.  As I struggled to explain what I knew about this Common Core strategy, I began to really see it come to life. 

So that's what I did this year to teach multiplying using arrays.  I utilized peer teachers.  I taught the concept, I modeled it, explained it, and gave the students multiple opportunities to use manipulatives to explore it.  I made it fun!  We used graph paper, lots of graph paper, to draw and model the arrays, and then I let them color the different sections, or partial products.  They LOVED this lessons.  They actually had never seen math before like this.  Also the correlation to art really helped to hold their interest and that was especially helpful for such a difficult concept to learn.  Then I assessed them.  I kept teaching until half of them understood.  Then I sent them out like little soldiers on a mission to teach the students who still hadn't grasped the concept yet, just like I had taught the other 4th grade teachers.   It was a very fun Common Core lesson. 

I then offered to post this "math art" on our walls so anyone who passes by in the halls could see how fun Common Core could be and be amazed at what my 4th graders were learning.  What was surprising was their reactions.   Well, many students did want to post the day's math arrays, but I heard many say, "No way am I posting this on the wall, it's going home to be posted in my room".  That's when I knew that this Common Core math lesson was truly a winner! 

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