Sunday, September 30, 2012

Think Dots

This week's #MSSunFun post is about favorite ways to practice.

 I use a variety of ways to practice as I don't want kids to get bored doing math.  Just giving them practice problems or worksheets might work for some but will definitely turn others off.  I use a variety of games most often to practice, at other times I'll have students do some writing and reflecting and yes at times I do have them do some problems or even a short worksheet.  However, my most favorite way to have students practice applying their math skills is Think Dots.

I'm not sure exactly who I got the idea of Think Dots from.  It could have been in a Rick Wormelli book.  It could have been when we had Nancy Smith present on using differentiated instruction in math and science.  Anyhow whoever I got the idea from, thank you!

The basis idea behind Think Dots is that a student will work with another student to solve and discuss a minimum of six problems.  These problems could be all about one topic or about a number of topics.  I tend to use more word based problems that make students apply whatever we are learning (say prime factorization) but you could do Think Dots with mental math problems or even rote skills.

I print out the six problems onto a piece of card stock which I then chop into six pieces.

  On the back of each piece I use colored dots that our fantastic librarian (Thanks Kim!) gave me.

 Originally they were designed to be level books but we stopped doing that soon after she got the dots in and thus had no use for them (lucky me!)  I put one dot on the back of one card, two on another, three on a third, and so on.  I try my best to make them look just like dice.  Then I hole punch the upper left hand corner of the cards and use a ring to hold all six cards together.  Now the Think Dots are ready to go.

I pair students up (depending on the skill being done, I will often "make" the groups because I may have differentiated the questions for readiness) and give each pair a set of Think Dots.  I also give each pair a small stack of sticky notes and a dice.  The first student rolls the dice and has to answer the question that matches up with their roll.  They are asked to not only talk the answer out with their partner but also write a synopsis of their answer on the sticky note which they then attach to the Think Dot cards.

After the first partner has answered his or her question, they move on to the next partner who rolls the dice and answers the next question.  The activity continues in this way until all the questions are answered.  Once all the questions are answered, students turn in their cards to me (sticky notes attached).  This allows me to look at their understanding later and possibly be able to clear up some misconceptions the next day.

I love this activity for a lot of reasons.  It gets kids talking and writing about math.  Kids are up and working with a partner.  I'm able to get around and sit with groups and listen to answers and provide a thought as well.  Because of the nature of the problems, I'm able to differentiate them to meet students readiness levels.  It gives me good feedback on where kids are, both from what I hear and what I get back on the sticky notes.  Lastly, the kids enjoy it.  Oddly enough, they love to roll dice, they like talking with one another, and they like the fact they aren't just doing a packet of problems.

I highly recommend giving some version of Think Dots a try.  Here is a sample of my prime factorization Think Dots.  Please feel free to try them.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Alphabetical Numbers


So I missed last week's #MSsunfun post on games (darn it all!) because school just caught up to me and I became super busy.  I decided that I needed to make sure I posted this week, even though it was just going to be a short post on organization.

This year, I'm trying something different in terms of getting back papers (quizzes, home enjoyment, exit cards, etc.)  My wife teaches fifth grade and has been using a form of this idea for some time now and I figured I would go ahead and try it.  I've given each student in a particular math class (say math 1 my first math class) a specific number that corresponds with their last name alphabetically.  For instance, if Michael Adams is the first name alphabetically in my class, he gets number 1, Janie Betts is the second name alphabetically, she gets number 2 and so on.  In addition to writing their name on each paper, students are expected to write the number as well.  Then when I pick up all the work, I am able to simply put the work in order by the number and see who is missing and then I can go right over and approach them.  Right now I'm still getting used to doing this as are the students so I need to remind them and need to go back and look at what number goes with whom when I'm missing a number but I think both of these problems will soon go away as we get used to the system.  The other potential problem is that I teach on a three person team and we mix the kids up for different classes, so if my teammates try to do this, kids will have different numbers.  At this point, neither of them is using this method so it isn't currently a problem.

Overall, I'm happy with how it affords me a little more time which over the year will add up to a lot more time!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

My Home "Enjoyment" policy

This week's #MSSunFun post has to do with homework, specifically homework policies.  My homework policy is really just a combination of things that I have borrowed and stolen from others over the year.  For instance, this year for the first time I'm not calling it homework but rather refer to it as home "enjoyment" thanks to an idea from Sam Shah (@Samjshah).  The thought is that it shouldn't be viewed as work and so we shouldn't call it work.

My journey to where I am now in terms of homework started when I first began teaching over ten years ago.  I originally assigned homework just about every night and graded it, in fact I counted it for as much as 50% of students' grades!  Over time, I realized that homework really is practice and counting practice toward the grade isn't really fair.  We don't count practice toward the final score in a soccer game for instance.  However, I do feel that students need to practice in order to do well so I go do insist that students complete the homework I assign them.  Along this line of thought, I'm instituting a type of responsibility binder much like Julie Reulbach (@jreulbach).  This will be a great way for me to get some data on which kids are completing assignments and which aren't.  I also go by an idea I heard from Rick Wormelli which is "the penalty for not doing your work is, DOING YOUR WORK."  Therefore, students who do not complete their homework are responsible for staying after school to complete it.  (this isn't really a problem in our district as the K-5 school gets out about 45 minutes later than we do and kids can take that bus.)  We are trying something new this year by having band and orchestra after school (it used to be during a time in school we called "enrichment.")  so I'm not really sure how that will play out if a kid doesn't do his homework and needs to go to band or orchestra.

So to sum it up my homework policy is basically this:
  • Homework is practice and as such is not graded
  • I still expect everyone will complete their homework
  • If you do not complete your homework, you will have to complete your homework (after school)
Looking forward to reading some others thoughts on homework and how they manage it and probably stealing a couple other ideas!