What about those SMPs?

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About a month ago my teaching team was asked by administration to map out our new sixth grade unit assessments.  By mapping, I mean that we had to review the questions on the tests and determine if the question was was multiple choice, short answer, essay or a performance assessment.  We then wrote what type of objective was present, the domain for learning, and the DOK level.

This mapping took a long time and the entire team was knee-deep in our teacher guides. It was a productive session, but we all needed some more caffeine afterwards.  While reviewing the assessments, we noticed how the guides emphasized the standards and the Standards for Mathematical Practices.  Both were given somewhat equal allocated text boxes in the guides.  Both seemed to be highly valued by the publisher and our district math coaches.  While the team was matching up questions and standards, I noticed that the SMPs weren’t getting any love.  They sat there unhighlighted and under appreciated. This had me internally asking questions about how teachers actually incorporate and communicate the SMPs.  So I went to visit the #Mtbos community and came across a Tweet by @cmmteach.

I completely understand that the standards are important, but what about the SMPs?  These practices are part of our lessons, but I’m wondering how teachers address that importance.  I asked a bunch of teachers this same question (I think they’re tired of me talking about it) and I generally get the same generic response.  That response generally is, “I know what they are and they are part of the lessons” or “I sometimes mention them when moments come up to use them.”  I see the SMPs briefly reviewed during math pd opportunities.  I also observe posters of the practices hanging in the classrooms around schools.  I even think there’s a Jedi one roaming the Internet as I’m writing this.  I wonder how often they’re referred to and what students think of them.  A few years ago I even had my students personalize the SMPs, but haven’t revisited them in as much detail since them.  Are they really engrained as part of the daily math lessons or do they need to be outright communicated.  Maybe there isn’t a right answer here.

I’m curious to how other educators communicate the SMPs.  What’s your favorite strategy or technique?

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Standards for Mathematical Practices in the Elementary Classroom

Standards for Mathematical Practices

This year my school district adopted a new K-5 math text. This new text is more aligned to my state’s standards and emphasizes number sense strategies much more than in the past. It’s been a change from what’s been used over the past few years. One of the major shifts involves the use of using multiple strategies and visual models to put together and take apart numbers.  Although they aren’t explicitly taught in our newly adopted math text, the Standards for Mathematical Practices (SMP) are highlighted as part of the CCSS.

Just like many educators, I have a child-friendly SMP poster hanging around my classroom. As the months passed I feel like I haven’t been referring to the SMP as much as I should. This is a missed opportunity. The poster has started to fade (literally) and students haven’t been referring to them since the very beginning of the year.  I doubt students notice it anymore since it’s basically blending into the wall.  One of the benefits of using the SMP is being able to refer to them while teaching.  Perseverance, using the right tools and attending to precision happen just about every day.

So after introducing the concept of pan-balances, I decided to have the students revisit the SMP.  I felt like the students were having a challenging time persevering.  Okay … that’s an understatement.  They were struggling and were very willing to tell me about it.  I stopped the class and we had a brief discussion on the meaning of being able to persevere in math class.  The talk on perseverance lead to discussing the SMP in more detail. I wanted students to internalize their meaning and see how it applies to their math learning. The class had a conversation about the different mathematical practices and how they’re used. The math discussions that followed were amazing. Students started to find examples in their own lives of how the SMP connect to what we’re doing in class.  The class finished the lesson on pan-balances with a renewed approach.  A few days later I had students complete an activity related to the SMP.

I printed out eight sheets with a standard practice statement on each one.  Students were grouped into pairs and asked to draw a picture that represents a particular SMP.  The picture also needed to include some type of caption or written statement. Students first put together a rough draft, refined their idea and created a final product. The final product was cut out and glued onto our SMP board. A few examples are below.

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Thursday night was my school’s annual open house. Parents and students come into the school and visit the classrooms during this time. It was great to see my students become tour guides and show their parents the role the SMPs play in their learning and how they approach math.

Students cut out and placed their SMP    visualization  on this board.
Students cut out and placed their SMP visualization on this board.

Overall, I thought the activity  brought more awareness to the SMP and what role they play.  I’m hoping to revisit this board throughout the year.