October 1, 2014

Number Sense, Logic, Perseverance

Four of my five blocks this year are dedicated to teaching Fundamentals of Algebra 1. It's a double block course so I have two classes. They are filled with students with IEP's (one class is all IEP's and the other is mixed but the kids turned out to be about the same level despite a technical difference in the labels on the courses) and so I get to work with my awesome co-teacher from the special education department (this is our fourth year teaching together!). Since we have so much time we knew we wanted to dedicate time to the essentials of number sense, logic and perseverance in addition to the core concepts of Algebra 1. Students in the fundamentals courses tend to struggle with being students, those are skills we wanted to teach. These students have frequently lost their curiosity, we wanted to re-awaken it. Students with disabilities need to learn how their brains work, we wanted to help them discover techniques that help them learn.

Do Nows:
Mondays: Mental Math
Tuesdays: Visual Patterns
Wednesdays: Math Arguments or Would You Rather?
Thursdays: My Favorite No (this is the only day where the do now is related to the week's topic of study)
Fridays: Estimation 180

Some kids have already learned to tell the day of the week from the type of problem on the board. "I didn't know it's Friday! Woo!" And they know what's coming: "Are you going to pick your favorite wrong answer?" There's a balance of structure and variety. While each day focuses on a different skill, they all focus on the math practices which are an essential foundation for math class. When we do these problems they have to complete the task to the best of their ability individually. Then I take contributions from most if not all of the class (everyone's estimate, everyone's vote or everyone's prediction). Finally, students are asked to explain their answer. Even in the first month they've made great strides in respectful disagreement and sharing their reasoning.

In past years my co-teacher and I have kept a pile of logic puzzles, connect the dots, find the hidden object and other similar sheets. When kids finish an assignment early or need a break (say, after taking a test) we offered them the choice of any of those pages. They promote attention to detail and perseverance among other things. This year we knew we'd have freshman who would need to develop these skills and also might need a break more frequently than our students have in the past. We managed to nab a table and a couple extra chairs to set up in one corner. We took all of our games and puzzles and pages of challenge problems and put them together on this table. Students are motivated by the idea of having time to do puzzles and get their work done efficiently. We also direct kids there for a break if they need one. They don't think of it as developing their logic skills, they think of it as a game to play!

Last year we gave kids stamp charts to give them regular feedback on whether or not they were meeting the goals we set. This year we are having them write the goals in the margin of their notebooks and stamping there. I'm undecided if that's better or worse than the small charts which would get lost between papers. We started with just "ready, on task and off task" and now we're adding "on topic and off topic" to get them to work together. But it's hard to stamp their notebook unless they're still on the first page of the day. Things we're still figuring out...

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