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When I first started student teaching I was instructed by my colleagues that a quiet classroom is the best way to maintain control. As a student teacher, wanting to graduate, I smiled and agreed with my colleagues. Maintaining the authority position in my upper elementary classroom was one of my first priorities. I believed at the time that my leadership (according to my cooperating teacher) was the only thing that contributed to learning in the classroom. I focused on classroom management and thought that the learning would take care of itself. That sounds horrible now, as I reflect on my student teaching experience. It didn’t take me long to figure out that this method was completely wrong. During my true first year of teaching I became more confident in my teaching ability and allowed students more flexibility in the learning process. Allowing students an opportunity to be part of the learning process enabled them to vocalize their opinions and increased their learning. Respect is earned and modeled through example, not necessarily through words. This seems true no matter where you work, but it’s completely evident in a classroom full of students.
During my first few years of teaching I incorporated a flow chart and set the expectations in my classroom at the beginning of the school year. I even had the students help create the rules. As my years of teaching experience increased, the volume of my classroom did as well. At times, I would be asked to close my classroom door because there was so much talking (I thought collaboration) going on in the classroom. I didn’t mind because my students were learning at high levels through collaboration. I remember a teacher (one of the colleagues in the first paragraph) asking me why my room was so noisy. At the time I just simply responded by saying that all “that noise” was contributing to learning.
Unfortunately, I don’t think my answer 10 years ago was clear. I’d like to to clarify my answer below.
Question: Why is your classroom so loud?
- Collaboration: Students are often found in partners or small groups, discussing math problems or working in literature circles. Often, there are between 10 – 13 conversations occurring during these times.
- Manipulatives: Students are putting together 3-D models, cutting out geometric shapes, using Tangrams, utilizing base 10 blocks, creating space figures with nets, measuring objects, etc.
- Technology: Students are using iPads or computers in the learning process. The sound of technology can be turned completely off, but I feel that sound often reinforces learning.
- Drama/Skits: Students are working in groups to create skits that reinforce reading and math objectives. There are many opportunities to incorporate skits in the curriculum.
- Connections: Students are making connections to the text they are reading in a variety of formats. Making connections to the outside works is an important skill and this is something that seems to happen daily.
- Music: Students are listening to music while they work on different activities. Students seem to enjoy the music in the background and I think it improves the overall classroom climate.
- Games: Students are playing math games with each other. The noise of the dice and talking can be intense at times, but learning through games is definitely something to look into if you haven’t yet.
I think it’s also important to note that some students need their surroundings to be quiet to focus. Understanding how a student learns best should influence the learning environment. Unfortunately, the learning environment can’t always be changed, but we can do our best to modify the climate to best meet students’ needs.
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After working on a math world problem for approximately five minutes I hear ….
“I don’t get this”
“I don’t know what to do”
I believe every educator has heard one or more of the above statements while teaching. These statements don’t really help a student succeed in any class. This type of student feedback is important, but the words themselves seem discouraging. When words like the above are communicated, I feel as though the classroom instruction isn’t meeting the students’ needs or students aren’t utilizing math problem solving strategies. This post is going to focus on math problem solving strategies.
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Teaching new math concepts often requires building on students’ background knowledge. When students experience a challenging math problem, they generally have two options. Students can become frustrated and quit or they can find a solution. A discussion regarding this particular situation took place in the past after their was a major struggle with one particular math word problem. As a class we had a brainstorming session. The students came up with some ideas of how to overcome mathematical struggles. We called these strategies the math tool belt.
During this discussion, the students began to recognize that the teacher will not solve all of their problems. I pointed out that giving an answer without support isn’t learning. In fact, I pointed out that I will help, guide, and assist, but they are responsible for completing the problem. Making mistakes and having “I don’t know” moments are part of the learning process. Having students reflect on their learning through journal writing may also benefit the student. I feel that students should “own” or take responsibility for their own learning as @pammoran, @mthorton78, and @irasocol indicate.
Long-term retention infrequently occurs when students are required to just regurgitate what the teacher says. Here are some of the math problem solving strategies we decided to use when confronting a complicated math word problem:
- Read the problem and underline important numbers or information.
- Cross out information that isn’t needed
- Create a visual model (chart, graph, or table)
- Indicate what operations will be needed
- Restate in your own words what the question is asking
- Work backwards – keeping the end in mind
- Write steps needed to solve the problem
- Guess and check
- Look for a pattern
- Estimate and use logical reasoning to solve
- Use manipulatives to solve (students can just grab them off the shelf and use as needed)
- Use a formula
- Work in collaborative groups to brainstorm what steps can be taken to solve the problem
- Use a ratio / proportion to solve the problem
- Ask the teacher for help
In an effort to foster resilient and responsible citizens, I ask the students what problem solving tool they used before they ask me for help. This also reminds the students that they should be utilizing the tool immediately in the learning process. I believe that students need to understand that their effort (not mine) leads to individual achievement. Creating a classroom environment that encourages learning through engaging and relevant instruction
is vital, but I feel as though students need to “own the classroom and their learning.” When students are stumped or are struggling with a math problem, they need to have the tool belt readily available to power through the obstacle. Giving opportunities to utilize the tool belt gives students positive experiences of overcoming obstacles and builds confidence. Students become owners of their learning and they find that their learning experiences are primarily controlled by how they react to the problem. Overcoming obstacles will develop confidence so that the next time they encounter a complicated problem they will reach for the tool belt and be successful.