One of my favorite ways to amp up problem solving is to throw something into the mix that they can touch. This makes the project or problem so much more interesting to students in one instant. We are working on the Design a Dream Bedroom project, so I picked up some free samples from the hardware store:
Give them stuff to touch when they are working on real world math activities.
Of course you can be sneaky about introducing the materials. Before I even went over the problem during math, I spent the morning organizing the materials on a common table when they were arriving for the day. I got about a million questions, and hands were reaching out to touch the carpet and flooring samples before I could even get them in the bucket.
That is all I needed to do to get them interested in the problem. After I read through the introduction with them during math problem solving time, the students literally leaped out of their carpet spots to run up and grab the problem from me.
That is what we want problem solving to be like…exciting, engaging, rigorous and motivating! Putting things in their hands to make it real world has worked every time.
Today was the final stage of our Elementary Architects Project. Students were about to turn in their design plans for approval (and classroom money), and were feeling the pressure as the clock was winding down. With 5 minutes to go, one student (“Corey”- I certainly don’t want to cyber embarrass anyone with their real name) came to me, tears welling up and blurted, “I don’t want to turn this in, I don’t want to be paid, and I just want to throw it in the garbage!”
I was a little taken aback, because Corey’s blueprint of his dream bedroom was beautiful! It had all the right things, and was designed with all kinds of creativity. Miraculously it was to scale (many third graders struggle with this a bit!) and it was a totally perfect birds eye view.
So I sat him down at my table where four other students were sitting. Corey was fighting back tears as we went through the specifications sheet. As we named each specification the other four students at the table gave him encouragement, pointing to each item on his blueprint as I read it off. When we got to the part where it said to calculate the area of the space, that was when he really broke down in tears.
Now I know I should never underestimate the power of anchor charts, because at that moment, one of the other boys at the table looked at him and said, “Look up on the Smartboard!” We had worked through calculating area in three ways just a few days prior, so I’ve kept this slide up every time we worked on the project.
Then, he proceeded to help Corey figure out which way would be the best way to calculate the area of the space. The student who was helping used a calm voice, and his method was methodical. Once Corey had the help, the tears went away and he handed me his final page with a very proud smile.
I learned today that a kind classroom community will support all learners. Students can stay calm in the face of obstacles if those around them are calm and supportive! I think sometimes I feel like I have to be the one to help them, but their peers can be just as helpful if not more so. As I reflected on my day today, I want to think more about how to foster that type of community so that everyone can learn to persevere together.
I am going to preface this post with a note about me. I am not at all a person who self promotes or constantly mentions things I’ve created in blog posts to sell them to everyone. I don’t use cutesy clip art or decorative borders. My cover pages for the things I create are always pretty straightforward with real photos of students doing real math. The units I write are meant to take students to a deep level of understanding, with research based practices.
In addition, I want this blog to be all about teaching tips, reflections on the best ways for our brains to learn math…not a non-stop promotion of myself. The whole idea of putting items up for sale took me a full year to actually agree to do, and only because the staff members in my building kept on pressing and encouraging me to share to the world what I had created for all of them. My hopes and dreams are to raise enough money that I can design an online math fact fluency program that is all in my head and just waiting to happen.
With all that being said, I did join an event called a Facebook free-for-all. I joined because there are people out there that are just like me, they want their ideas spread because our primary focus is not about making money. We know that the more we share, the more we’ll learn about becoming better for our students. I have been going through the “map” and am amazed at all of the things that other teachers have created and are giving away for free. It’s truly remarkable.
If you go to my Facebook Page and click on the tab right under my cover photo that looks like this:
It will take you to my free resource, Elementary Architects. The reason I linked this to my facebook page, is because there is a map that you can use to find other people who are participating in this same event (you’ll see on the picture it says “click here to find more”. If you don’t have facebook, hate facebook or really hate the whole idea, you can still get Elementary Architects for free in my TPT store. It’ll be free until January 27th!
In Elementary Architects, students design a space, calculate the area of that space and then figure out the cost of flooring. It is sort of cool because it differentiates naturally, and it requires LOTS of precision. I pay my students with classroom dollars if they get everything perfect on the specification sheet which is very motivating to them.
Here they are at work!
What I like best about this project, is the structured days leading up to the actual work that they do. They learn little bits at a time, and I can even introduce the distributive property as a third way to calculate area. I hope you find it useful, and would appreciate any feedback you can give to help me get better!