Posts Tagged ‘math’

CCO public domain image by Pixabay user

So, I’ve been thinking about classroom observations. I have been observing colleagues informally at my school this spring. What that means is I look at my schedule for the week, find some time when I don’t have a meeting/class/whatnot, look at the master schedule, find out who is teaching what, and drop by for 10-20 minutes.

I decided to pick a department and stick with it until I had observed each teacher. I did this partly because it made it economical to go between classes in terms of time. It has turned out to be a great choice for a first go round. I started with Math.

It’s been a long time since I was in a high school math class. I found that there were classes where all or most of the content came back, and I could listen along with the students. Then, there were classes where content didn’t really come back; words sounded familiar, but I really did not know what was going on mathematically. And, there were classes somewhere in between. However, since I was not necessarily there to learn math that really did not matter.

One of the things I noticed, particularly in classes where I was not necessarily familiar anymore with the specifics of how to do or solve the problems, was that I did have access to the patterns and the big picture. For example, in one class I observed a teacher put a few things on the board in a chart. She asked students to look and share what they noticed. A couple of students had big picture comment to make. Most students saw the trees and really didn’t or couldn’t step back and wonder if there was a place in the forest where the trees were short, or place in the forest where all the trees had no leaves. I, on the other hand, was not burdened by the details, and so for me, the patterns and the interesting similarities between data points were relatively easy to see.

I spoke to the teacher afterward and I said that I had thought that the point she was trying to make with the chart was interesting and told here that I had found it actually the part that was easiest for me to do, yet surprisingly hard for the students to do. We talked about how it happens that students get lost in the specifics of the content.

I have to say this idea of the details and the big picture and what students find easier and more challenging to do is really fascinating to me. Always has been. I see it in my English classes all the time; it just looks a little different. There are often students who love the big picture, love the big themes and grand ideas of the book. When it gets down to the specific details of solving the problem and actually defending those big ideas, explaining how the author very specifically builds those ideas, they either lose interest or don’t quite know where to go. And, I have students who would love to collect details, see all those little trees, and never or rarely get to what kind of forest that makes. 

So interesting.

I am sure teachers in math classes find that there are students who love those patterns but do not really want to do the work of solving the problem or be particular. And, then are there other students who are happy to follow the directions, complete the steps in the right order, but don’t ever really step back and see what it all means. 

What conversations should we be having across disciplines to compare notes? Are the same students big picture thinkers in all disciplines? What strategies and vocabulary are we using that are working?

I can’t wait to think about another department in a new way.



BrainTree Challenge

Posted: October 11, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about how to get more pizzazz in math. We use the University of Chicago Everyday Mathematics program and it has some good problem solving activities in it. However, some of them lead to too much silliness and I skip them. A few days ago I used one of them as an extension activity when some students had finished their work. It was a very popular lesson and it reminded me how much the kids like some of those goofy activities and that there is plenty of math involved.

Then a few nights later I found myself creating just such an activity. I had planned for the Unit test, however, when we finished our review I surveyed the class and there are a handful of students who said they were not ready. That meant I needed a bunch of options for class on Friday. We had a few things to finish in the math journals, but after that there was a list of options:

  • Work on math box pages (these are mixed review/preview pages after each lesson which we don’t always finish)
  • Problem solving/estimation worksheets (I know hardly exciting sounding, but good problems and some kids chose it)
  • Logic and other problems solving type questions in a packet
  • More test review with me
  • BrainTree Challenge (group activity, how many miles or kilometers is it from our school to the BrainTree School in Uganda, how much would it cost to get there, and what is the cost per mile/kilometer)

I thought that everyone but the test review crowd would go for the BrainTree Challenge. But, not so. There were a number of kids who wanted to work on more straightforward math problems than the more free-ranging BrainTree Challenge. However, those who did work on it loved it.

I had broken down the trip into legs with guiding questions. Students could search and use the web, but could not just google “how far is it from x to y”. They had their choice of modes of travel. Some went for cheap and direct. They even decided to use a bicycle to get to the airport. Another group wanted luxury. They were on the Amtrak Acela train and then took a transatlantic cruise on Cunard. There was definitely plenty of time not exactly spent doing calculations, but the practice with effective searching and working together was an added bonus.

There is nothing like overhearing students tell each other how much fun something is when it’s also a good learning experience. A great end to the week and a good reminder to bring some sparkle to math.