April 6, 2015

Monday Puzzles

We start each Algebra class with an opener. There's a different opener for each day of the week. On Mondays the slide looks something like this:

Puzzle from solveme.edc.org

The objective is at the top of the board because it's a school requirement. I even had to write "Objective: See SMART Board" on the white board that also has my agenda etc. Since my agenda is the same every day (opener, HW, activity, journal) this means that I never have to climb over my desk to change it, I just type a new objective in every few days and copy it down the slides.

Students normally take out their homework and leave it on their desk for me to check. Except I don't assign homework to this class over the weekend. Instead of removing the instructions, I strikethrough them, so when kids ask "Did we have homework?" I can just point at the board.

There's a 3 minute timer. I start it when the bell rings. This timer has been awesome for keeping me honest. After about a minute I walk around the room and stamp the charts of kids who have started the opener.

When the timer goes off I get everyone's attention. Since we do puzzles on Mondays, there are frequently students who haven't finished, but they have had plenty of time to start thinking which means they're ready for a discussion and can finish as we go. Most puzzles we do have many steps so I ask students to share one thing they notice. Students know they need to both make a claim and justify it. I then annotate the diagram with their claim and ask for a new student to tell me something they know. I wait very patiently for volunteers and then start calling on students who haven't contributed something. When I call on a student who hasn't volunteered and they say "I don't know" I direct them to a particular aspect that they could notice. For students who still don't participate, a classmate or my co-teacher gives them an idea and then the original student repeats it loud enough for me to hear. I have many students with anxiety and nearly all of them lack confidence in math. We have worked hard to develop a classroom of respect where we help each other out and don't laugh at wrong answers. Puzzles are great because there are enough pieces that everyone can contribute (when your classes are as tiny as mine) and we can check the answer. I lead the check with a choral response.

The next slide is homework - Friday's homework is always "Have a good weekend!" So we chat about our weekends while my co-teacher hands out the mad minute.

Two minutes of skill practice. We started with multiplication and have meandered through fractions and integers and back to multiplication and two step equations and plotting points and back to multiplication. It's not a stressful timed test - there's no goal. Students have both shown growth and seen their own growth. They don't have to get them all right to move on (sometimes the whole class does one sheet but frequently they're individualized), but it's a place where we can help kids fill in some gaps and meet the goals on their IEP's.

That completes the opener. You do recall that I have 90 minutes with them every day, right? The class is called Fundamentals of Algebra. We spend up to thirty minutes on the Fundamentals part of the class and then the remaining hour on Algebra. This schedule works well for us because we are breaking up a long block into several discrete chunks - and we are not just breaking up the activity (discussion vs. groups vs. individuals) but also the content. Some kids thrive on puzzles, others really struggle, but we are stretching everyone's brains in new directions beyond solving equations.

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