Grouping Which Abilities?

January 4th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

It gets very frustrating when doing research on “best practices” for teaching math and in different books I get completely different viewpoints while being backed up by research and studies. The latest practice that falls into this frustration is ability grouping. I have read authors in favor of mixed ability grouping and authors in favor of similar ability groupings. The latter seems to be the new trend in differentiation that students working in similar ability groupings are easier to differentiate for. There are of course several other caveats of mixed ability grouping that similar ability groupings are supposed to solve – like a higher ability student dominating a lesser ability student.

The majority of my students sit in mixed ability groupings in which they do new lesson work when time and behavior allows. I normally do similar ability behavior only during specific differentiation days. As I work towards differentiating on a more regular basis I guess I shall try same ability groupings more often and see how the results compare.

Opposing research has made it so I have to do my own research in my classroom which I guess is not such a bad thing. It is possible that also depends on the students in the class and their interactions, we shall find out. Anyone have experiences to share?

Students Want To Be The Focus

December 30th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

In Learning To Love Math Dr. Willis mentions a study that asked students to draw a typical classroom learning experience and then draw a learning experience they liked. When drawing a typical learning experience most students drew a teacher at a board and often didn’t include themselves in the drawing at all. This is quite the contrary to drawing a learning experience they liked where they predominately drew themselves as the focal point.

I find myself constantly battling the direct instruction, teaching at a white board (whether it is interactive or not) mentality. It is how I learned and I learned pretty well. It is how all my friends learned and a lot of them were even better than me. I think the problem is that direct instruction works. I know I can get certain results with it and it is comfortable to me. If I want to go beyond those results – or better yet – engage my students in a profound way, the focus needs to be off of me in the front of the room and shifted to make the student the center of the learning.

Teacher turns facilitator.

How would this look fully realized?

I think groups, stations, experiments, etc. aren’t answers but rather pieces. Forming them to make a unique math classroom experience is something we must all experiment with. Resisting what is easy and natural is the start. What do you think?

Seeking Inspiration From Books

December 27th, 2011 § 8 comments § permalink

So I figure many of the ways I will get inspired for posts on this blog will be my own classroom situations and conversations with you and other teachers. However, I thought reading some books during the process will also help to garner some inspiration for this blog. You would think that there would be tons of books on teaching math – or at least I did. It seems like authors grab ahold of a hot button topic like differentiation or literacy in mathematics and write 300 pages about that topic. Not that I am against reading 300 pages on differentiation, but I am looking for inspiration! I want some thoughts on methods, strategies, types of lessons, etc etc. This is not a differentiation blog – but a math instruction blog. I did download a sample of Learning to Love Math: Teaching Strategies That Change Student Attitudes and Get Results and I am hoping that it will give me something to go on…

Do you have any books that you would recommend? Even if you come across this post 3 years later – please leave a comment with a book recommendation!

The Love and Hate of Best Practices

December 23rd, 2011 § 5 comments § permalink

I get why best practices are important and why we talk about them and attempt to get teachers to use them. I however feel that there is an inherent danger with labeling best practices. It can seem as if you do not use one of them or several of them then you are not a good teacher. This is besides the point that every book or person you meet has a different definition of what are THE best practices for teaching math. We need to face it there each teach is very different from the next and more importantly each student is very different from the next. Focusing less on labeling and more on discovering new and innovative ways to teach math is far more important in my opinion. It should be our job not to implement “best practices” but attempt to try out as many practices as possible to see what works best for the current group of students you have and what works best for who you are as a teacher. We are not robots.

All that being said, we should be doing everything we can to continue to learn, get better, and discover ways to make our classroom and instruction the best it can be. That is hopefully what this blog will assist in doing for me and anyone else reading.

“When Am I Ever Going To Use This?”

December 15th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

A lot of people think my lessons are built to answer “When am I ever going to use this?” – they’re not. Don’t get me wrong, my lessons can answer this question, but this question is not one I am really too concerned about answering. The true answer to the above question is “You might not” or “You probably won’t” if we are being honest. I have never used the Pythagorean Theorem outside of the classroom. Once again, that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t find a reason to use it; the reality is reasons to use it just don’t come up. I encourage you to tell your students this on the first day of school. Is that a scary thought? For sure. However, you need to follow it up by telling them that although you are not concerned with this question, what you are concerned about is showing them what we use math to do – <b>help explain and better understand the world around us</b>. That’s what I created my lessons to do.

Students are not going to be sitting around someday and decide to write a probability problem and solve it about what song is going to come up next when they shuffle their iPod. BUT, they have thought to themselves before ‘what are the chances…’ when shuffling. So, by using my lessons and MATH you can show them what they can learn, interpret, and predict with their iPod’s shuffling feature. Or they might never use ratios when talking about music, but using the lesson will allow them to experience how math can help them describe why a song’s chorus get’s stuck in their head.

That’s what I hope you do with my lessons. I have no problem with you using my lessons and saying: “See, here is where you will use this in life.” Feel free. However, I would LOVE it if you say: “See, look what math helped us discover. Without math we may have never thought of it this way…” Training students to see math as a tool that helps them gain insights into things is much more beneficial than showing them where math can pop up.

I guess it is all a matter of perspective.