Friday, April 17, 2020

Improving Virtual Math Lessons

Of course, teaching math virtually to elementary students is not ideal, but it is the way of the world right now, and I continue to wonder how I might use this challenge to improve math teaching and learning in ways that will transfer to classroom teaching in the fall, and in ways that will continue to coach my students forward. This is a positive challenge.

What's working?
The opportunity to greet students in positive ways, engage them in happy conversation, and tackle a meaningful math problem with a small group is positive. So far, so good.

The way to better this work includes the following steps:
  • Finding/creating the most meaningful problems: I want to focus on problems that connect to students' real life opportunities now. For example a problem about building forts inside or outside could be very positive since that's a fun activity that students can engage in during this stay-at-home time. Problems related to baking, making playdough, jump roping, and conducting science experiments with simple materials all work in this regard. 
  • Creating a best possible virtual worksheet: I use an online worksheet to guide the problem solving. Those sheets generally include math models that demonstrate the "behavior" of the math concept as well as pictures, words, numbers, and activities that engage children in the problem. The better I create these activity sheets, the more engaged the students will be. 
  • Connecting the online lesson with the follow-up practice exercises: Students have a number of practice exercises online. I want to make sure that those practice exercises are a good way for students to practice the concepts taught in meaningful ways with ready feedback. Platforms like Google forms and That Quiz offer targeted, quick feedback opportunities for students' math practice.
  • Assessment: We are asking students to complete at home assessments that we typically use. These assessments still offer helpful information and give students an opportunity for practicing their math.
  • Personalization and Parent Support: The children fall into three groups. There's an advance group that are motivated to do their work--these children learn math easily, and independently move ahead when given good tools. Then there's a middle group that profits from exercises that truly engage their interests--if I can make the exercises enjoyable and motivating, they'll learn more. Games really help all groups, but are particularly good for this group. Then there are the strugglers--they require a lot of support because their math learning is compromised for a large number of varied reasons. These students require a case-by-case response and lots of parent support. I want to think deeply about how to help these students more. The small group meetings are really helpful with regard to teaching these students well. I want to think about how to better the scaffolded practice opportunities as well as the meetings for this group.
Fortunately due to the team teaching model we employ at our grade level, I am able to deeply invest in students' math learning. This has been especially helpful as we quickly move into "virtual school" rather than our multi-modal, hands-on, rich classroom experience. 

I'm finding this challenge to be positive, and I'm finding that the positive attitudes of students, families, and colleagues energize the potential for optimal student learning. That's all good. I'm grateful that this is the situation. Onward.