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Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Math Teaching: Practice What You Preach

I've devoted significant time to teaching and learning related to math education this semester as I led two classes of teacher candidates at a local university and by teaching three sections of math at fifth grade. The more I study math teaching and learning, the more enthusiastic and engaged I become. There's a sea of wonderful information, tools, and resources out there when it comes to teaching math well, and the key is to orchestrate that potential into engaging, meaningful math teaching and learning.

As I travel down this road, I can see more than I can do, but instead of fretting over that challenge, I want to move forward with renewed effort as I we begin our December computation and problem solving unit.

How will I make this unit matter in ways that invigorate student learning and success?

First, the preparation matters.

Vocabulary Cards
I need to make vocabulary cards that are easy to see from our "math talk" space (traditional desk set-up) and also easy to access from multiple collaborative work spaces (desk groups, tables, and comfy chairs/rugs around the room). I also have to make time to explicitly review that language with students through whole class, small group, and individual efforts.

Manipulatives and Learning Tools
Next, I have to organize all the related manipulatives and learning tools for this learning. These resources need to be organized in places that students can readily access with ease. I also have to regularly model the use of these tools as I introduce lessons and problems.

Next, I need to think of the roll-out of the unit, a roll-out that embeds past learning and provides new learning, review, and enrichment. This is a step-by-step plan with the culmination being an assessment to see who has learned what after the three-week effort. Throughout the unit I will gather numbers and problem scenarios from the news and students' interests to make the learning meaningful and relevant.

Addition and Subtraction
Students who have not solidified these skills are working in RTI groups twice a week to practice and study these skills in conjunction with problem solving strategy and practice. I know students are making good progress with this.

We'll begin with a review of multiplying with powers of ten. Then I'll review area model and partial product multiplication. After that we'll quickly move to learning the standard multiplication method combined with lots of problem solving and practice. I suspect students will move through this quite quickly since their fact knowledge is solid and many already know how to multiply with ease and precision. For students who struggle, we'll employ manipulatives, base-ten frames, and other systematic efforts to build their strength in this area. We'll also focus on fact review in this regard to support those students.

We'll review divisibility rules. Study the area model and partial quotient, and then introduce and/or review the standard division algorithm. Students, similar to multiplication, will practice a lot while solving word problems. The goal as with all of the algorithms will be precision and fluency.

Operation Study and Practice
Finally we'll return to a review of order of operations, problem solving, and knowing which operation to choose as students practice all operations. Finally, students will take an assessment to assess what they've learned. We'll use the assessment to inform our next RTI rotation and future core teaching as we move into studying fractions in the new year.