Math Reflections and Sentence Stems

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My students just finished up the first trimester yesterday.  So we’re about a third of the way through the school year. In my mind this is a perfect time to reflect on the progress that has been made over the last couple months.  All of my classes started near the end of August and many of my classes have recently completed the second or third unit. It’s been a great journey so far and we’ve made progress.

Last week I had a class conversation about progress and what it looks like in math class. We discussed growth and how it doesn’t look the same to everyone.  To help facilitate the conversation I had students reflect on their unit assessments.  Usually, I’d have students fill out a form indicating questions that were incorrect and then they’d code the errors.  Students would then set a goal for the next unit.  That process is detailed here.

This time around I wanted my students to recognize their growth and how their perceptions change over time.  I also wanted students to preview the next unit and set a goal based on the preview. I modified a journal prompt from a colleague and decided to add sentence stems with space to write.  I didn’t give students much advice or guidance on how to complete this, but I told them that I wanted them to be honest with their responses.  The prompts are meant to have them reflect on their progress.

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Students were able to follow the sentence stems a bit easier than past reflection prompts.   The wonder question was left vague for a reason as it presents a way to indicate student interest and curiosity.

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Most students were able to analyze their unit assessment and look for trends that were positive.  I wanted to communicate that they should be proud of what they accomplish. Some students even looked beyond the test and wrote down that they were proud of how they improved their understanding of x skill.  Other students stuck with the grade on the test and being proud of that aspect.  I really like the “something I want to remember …” piece as it reinforces that what students are working on and developing will be used in the future.

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Some students asked for more lines to write additional pieces that they learned.  Again, I found there tended to be two camps of students.  One group focused on the math concepts/skills, while others focused on the points/questions.

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The “PA” is a pre-algebra activity that we complete to start the math class.  It was interesting to read what students felt was the most difficult as some were more vulnerable than others. This year I’m emphasizing the idea that this class is part of their math journey and that we’re all mathematicians.

The next step was to preview the next unit and start to set a meaningful goal.

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Student went through their math journals and looked for words or skills that didn’t ring a bell.  At first students thought that everything looked fine and confidence was brimming a high level, but then they started to look at the wording.  The next unit explores box plots and percentages.  Based on the words/topics, students made a goal that they’d like to accomplish.

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I appreciate how the above student extended the skill to learn about percentages and sports.

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This particular student wants to become better at the “LCM box method” as it was explored last unit.


Students completed the page and then we discussed it together 1:1.  I asked each student why they felt that the goal was relevant and meaningful.  I’m looking at adding a progress monitoring piece to this goal as the class progresses through unit three.  Ideally, I’d like to revisit the goal every 2-3 weeks to see what progress has been made towards the goal and make adjustments as needed.  By doing this, I believe students are taking more of an ownership role as they can see progress made towards the goal.

You can find the entire template for the sheet here.  Feel free to leave in the comments how you’d use this or if you have questions.

Feedback and Reflection Opportunities

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Over the past few years I’ve emphasized the use of student feedback, reflection and goal setting in my classroom.  Trying to find an adequate balance for this has been a challenge.  This school year I’m looking at different mediums in which students can reflect on their math progress.  Reflecting on individual progress and determining where students are at in the progression can lead to powerful outcomes.  This year I’m looking at different ways to encourage students to make more meaningful reflections that lead to actionable goals.


Math journals

Each student has a math journal.  These journals take the form of a 70 count spiral notebooks. The journals are primarily used to reflect on assessment performance.  My class has eight unit assessments per grade level and there’s a reflection sheet designated for each one.  I’ve written about the different sheets and journals: (1)(2)(3).  Students then complete the sheet and bring their test along with their reflection to the teacher to review.  At that point the teacher and students work together to develop a math goal for the next unit.

Peers

Students work together often in my class.  I use a randomizer and group students so they tend to have different partners daily.  After they complete a task I give the students a couple minutes to discuss with their partner the effort level and challenge of a particular assignment.  I tend to use a timer and encourage students to be honest in the process.  Hearing how other students feel about the effort and challenge level can help students be more aware of the struggle that is part of the process.  Certainly not all, but I’ve seen some students thrive with this type of reflection.

Independent

Before students complete a project teachers give a sheet indicating the criteria for success. This looks like a checklist with statement indicating what’s needed to meet the expectation of a particular assignments.  As students complete each component they reflect on whether they’ve met the criteria and place a check.  Students will attach the criteria for success sheet to their assignment

Digital Platform

Along with the criteria for success, students may submit a project to a digital platform like SeeSaw or Canvas. Other students in the class are randomly selected to give feedback on other projects.  Students follow a prompt that asks whether a student has met the criteria for success or not.  They then re-check the work and ask a question or provide a positive comment about the work.  After the comments are submitted, the original poster reviews the comment, reflects and responds to the question or comment.


 

Each one of these mediums has pros and cons.  I’m finding that the classroom environment plays a major role in how comfortable students are in sharing their thoughts with the class.  Some students are much more willing to independently reflect and speak with the teachers than others.  I find that students take more of an ownership role when they analyze their own performance in context and make steps to improve.  Bypassing the “I’m good at math” or “I’m bad at math” type of thinking can be a challenge, but providing ample opportunities to reflect can move students away from generalizing and be more specific about their analysis.

The next step in my process is to take these reflection opportunities and transition it to meaningful individual goal setting.

Math Responses and Discussions

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Last year I experimented with a couple different ways to encourage students to discuss mathematics.  I used a form of a number talk last year and found some success.  Students were engaged the conversations were more productive than in the past.  I also noticed that not all students participated in the conversation.  Even with manipulatives, some students participated minimally and shied away from being called on.  I found that some students dominated the discussion more than others.  This was taking place in most of my classes and I kept on reinforcing the importance of having a positive classroom climate where mistakes were honored.  I thought emphasizing the climate and providing support would help encourage participation from everyone involved. For some that worked, others not so much.

This year is a bit different.  I’m still using a form of number talks with success.  I’m still looking for ways to help improve this process.  I also introduced a more organized way to incorporate math discussion prompts with students.  I first organized students into groups using a randomizing student spreadsheet.

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Students are put into groups and a destination in the classroom.  I put a new slide on the whiteboard once everyone finds their assigned location.

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Students get into their groups and identify themselves as partner A or B.  Usually I use the spreadsheet to indicate the partners.  Partner A starts with the first prompt and I display it on the whiteboard.

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I click the timer and partner A has 40 seconds to respond to the prompt while partner B listens.  After the 40 seconds I pick a few different people in class and ask them about their thoughts about the prompt and their answer.  Partner B then gets a different prompt.

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Partner B gets to respond to the prompt while partner A listens.  I’ve toyed around with 20 – 40 seconds and have landed on 40 because it gives students an ample amount of time, but also the limit encourages them to be concise.  Students usually go through 2-3 questions each and then we have a whole class debrief session.  So far students have been receptive to this medium and I’m hoping to expand it to other classes that I teach.

Files referenced in this post:

 

Finding the Difference

My second grade math group started this week.  I gave a pre-test on Monday and found that students had some trouble with the word difference.  Many of the second graders saw the word difference and immediately thought subtraction. I could see why students would see this as a quick search reveals difference as being “The result of subtracting one number from another” and “How much one number differs from another.”  I think most students in my class focused on the first definition rather than the latter.  While discussing the word more than a few students brought up that they knew how to find the difference using a method.  It ended up being the standard subtraction algorithm.

On  Wednesday students were introduced to part of a 100 grid and asked to use it to find the difference between two numbers.  Some of the students started to see that difference could be interpreted as distance between.

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Students used two different colors to locate and identify the numbers.  Students then counted the space between the two numbers.  They used hops while moving to the right and then down.

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30 + 3 = 33

Another student used the grid to show a different way to find the difference.

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3 + 30 = 33

I showed both methods under the document camera and the class discussed how both could work.  Students were then asked to place their strategy on a number line.

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Another student raised their hand and wanted to show the class something that they created.

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Next week the class will be investigating regrouping strategies.

Categorizing Numbers and Number Lines

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This week my students explored how to categorize numbers. By then end of the week students were expected identify integers and rational numbers and apply them to real-world contexts. The class reviewed what and where to place numbers on a number line and how to classify them as whole, counting, integers, rational, and/or irrational numbers.  This was an introductory lesson and the term rational and irrational were new to them.  After a brief class conversation about the differences between rational and irrational numbers the class took a deeper dive into how to identify the characteristics of each classification.  The class looked at a few true/false statements:

  • Is 1,000,000 a counting number?
  • Is 1,000,000 an integer?
  • Is every rational number in an integer?
  • Is zero is a counting number?

The class went through these types of questions and were able to respond and justify their answers.  The questions started to get more challenging as students needed to circle  multiples answers.

  • Circle all of the numbers that belong to each set.

Integers:   4.5       2/3     102     -6       8       0

 

This was more challenging and took some time to categorize each number to see if it fit accordingly.  Students were then asked to place numbers on vertical and horizontal number lines.  I was glad to see how well the students responded to the vertical number line as I don’t believe they get enough practice with those.

Students had about 20 minutes left and one project to complete.  I introduced students to a number line project.  I ended up going with Google Draw for this project because I don’t have enough access to iPads at the time and I was able to checkout a Chromebook cart for this particular lesson.  Students were given a prompt to use dice to create numbers and fractions to place on a number line.  They rolled and found their numbers.  Students used their Chrombooks to access bit.ly/mrcoaty.

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Students make a copy of the Google Drawing and added their numbers to the number line.  It took some work to manage the tools involved in this platform.

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I explained what each icon meant and how they could use it to make the number line their own.  It wasn’t as smooth of a transition as I thought it’d be, but students persisted and were eventually able to place the numbers they created on the number line and dragged the label to each number.  Students were then expected to take their drawing, save it as an image and place it in their individual SeeSaw account.

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Not all students finished this in class and I sent it home as optional homework for students to complete.  The above example is from one student that took it home and completed it before putting it into their SeeSaw account.

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Data Landmarks and Context

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One of my classes is working on a unit related to data displays and number systems. Around a week ago the class was putting together sets of numbers to match data landmarks.  This was a challenge as students had to think differently.  The class was also asked which data landmark better represents a student’s performance.   I was meaning to write a post then, but a number of things came up and it never happened.  Fast forward a week and here we are.   

Students were given two sets of scores from two different students. 

Jack’s scores:  85, 81, 78, 100, 84, 89 

Sonja’s scores:  55, 87, 91, 92, 68, 93 

Students were asked to find the median and mean for each student.  For the most part, students were able to identify both of these landmarks.  Here comes the kicker … now students needed to determine which landmark better represents each student’s performance, mean or median?  This was a challenging prompt for a couple reasons.   

  • Students weren’t accustomed to using the word represent in this context.  Students were taking the view that the students should get the higher grade and that would be the mean or median. They explained that the student should receive the higher grade because they (the person) is a hard worker and deserves to be rewarded with the highest score. 
  • Students thought of the word represents as the typical score.  When discussing the mean earlier in the year the word typical would often come up as a synonym. 
  • Students looked at the last score as the most recent and thought that should be the final representation.  My school is heading in the direction of standards-based grading so that’s maybe why students took that approach.  I don’t know. 
  • Students looked at the lowest and highest score of each set of data and reviewed the range to help them pick the median or mean 

 

After struggling a bit, the class came together and we discussed a few possible solutions.  The class agreed that the question allows a lot of room for interpretation and context certainly matters.  The fruitful conversation brought about a change in perspective for some as students started to see this type of math differently than just numbers sprawled across a page.  The numbers had meaning and the context drives the answer.   

A little later in the week students were asked the following prompt: 

If you were the teacher in Jack and Sonja’s class, would you use the median or the mean to calculate students’ grades?  Explain. 

This was a bit confusing at first, but students made progress in understanding the context and how it helped determine which landmark to use.  Again, I had answers related to the teacher wanting to give the higher score to help students with confidence.  Other students used the data landmarks to find the average.  I felt like students were more comfortable using the average as they could say that they used every data point, therefore making sure all assignments counted for something.   

I’m looking forward to next week as we dive into histograms. 

Building a Classroom Community

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The 2019-20 school year officially started on Wednesday.  We’ve only been in school for three days, but it seems like a full week and then some.  Teachers had institute and professional development on Monday and Tuesday.  The first few days of school tend to be full of community building, learning new routines and organization. Everyone is nicely asked to be patient as new routines are established – such as going to lunch, specials, arrival and dismissal. Teachers also talk about the different procedures involved in all the weather and emergency related drills.  Most classrooms have and are continuing to build community and rapport in their classrooms.  They create expectations together and come to a common understanding of what they look and sound like.  This year teachers are asked to conduct morning meetings with their classes.  The idea sounds interesting and is one way in which to help reinforce the community aspect of a classroom while addressing social/emotional learning standards. This is a first in my district so the verdict is still out on how it’ll be received, but I’m optimistic and I think there’s potential in starting the day off with this structure.

I often loop with my students for multiple grades so I tend to stay away from using the whole-class community builders year after year.  In my mind it keeps our activities fresh, although there have been time where I use similar projects, but in those cases the final products are different.  I’ll be highlighting two activities that I used this week in this posts.  Both activities are designed for teachers and students to get to know each other better.  Both were found on Sarah’s fantastic blog post.

How well do you know _____?

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Hints aren’t given and students are asked to fill in every blank – even if they don’t have an answer.  I give the students around 5-10 minutes to come up with a solution.  Sometimes students will work in groups. The class then reviews the answers as I display the sheet under the document camera.  The students’ answers are telling and a few downright made me laugh. Those shared experience can be brought out as the school year progresses.  The template can be found here.

Getting to know you quiz

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After I collect the responses from the first activity I move on to this one.  I tell the students that it’s now their turn.  They’re asked to create a quiz that I’ll fill out, except this one is multiple choice.  I give them a few sample question ideas and they’re off to the races.  Some students even use the “none of the above” or “all of the above” for a letter.  Students have around 15 minutes to complete this and it gets turned in.  Here’s an example from two years ago.   I answer the questions that evening and return the sheets the next day.  Students get a “teacher marker” and grade my work.  From a teacher’s perspective, I’m hoping I get at least one right on each page.  Sometimes I get more and sometimes less.  I’ve had my share of humble pie in these instances, but it’s worth it.  I might even ask a sibling to even the odds : ) .  Anyway, students get a kick out of “grading” the work and then the class discusses how we’re all learning and getting to know each other.  This will help our community grow and how we react to perceived mistakes is important.   Feel free to use this doc to make it your own.


I’m hoping that these activities are a good start to helping build a worthwhile community of learners.  Being able to reference the student responses throughout the year is another shared experience that benefits all involved.  I’m looking forward to next week as we dive into more content, but I’m also keeping in mind that community is key.