Sneak It In All Day: Make Math Real World To Increase Minutes

Children are surrounded by words and language all day long. It is everywhere around them, on signs, all over their technology, in their books, and it takes up a large portion of the minutes in an elementary classroom. In an effort to get more math minutes in, I’ve been trying to sneak math in during other times of the day. Here is an example:

When my daughter was ill last week, I needed to take an unexpected day off.  My class this year can be a little shaky with a substitute teacher.  Like most classes, upsetting their routine can cause a lot of anxiety and disruption. Whenever I return the next day, I like them to reflect on their behavior the next day.  I put up the chart on the easel below, and had them vote as they arrived in the morning.

We turned it into a 5 minute lesson during morning meeting on how to calculate percentages. It was perfect for my gifted students who are working on some presidential birthday data, they can now extend this thinking to their project.

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This directly connects math to the real world, and it gives us data to reflect on.  It is also a really visual way to look at the day! We certainly want the orange part of our graph to be at 100% next time! We talked about where we went wrong, and set goals as a class for the next time a guest teacher is in:

  1. Listen to the speaker when they are talking.
  2. Focus on your own work, not what others are doing.
  3. A level zero voice means level zero!
  4. Respect other people’s space.

Putting this type of work into all parts of the day can really help students understand the importance of math in our every day life!



Data Doesn’t Have To Be Overwhelming!

The idea of collecting data has really been getting a bad rap lately. Have you heard these comments (or comments like these) in your building?

  • “We are drowning in data!”
  • “All we do is test our kids.”
  • “I feel like our kids are just numbers, like we are ignoring that they are PEOPLE.”
  • “We collect all this data, then we have no time to analyze it and use it.”
  • “I don’t have time to enter in all this data.”

I think we’ve probably all heard some version of this at some time or another. Some of these comments might actually be true in some districts. I’ve heard horror stories about schools that are doing so much test prep, that they really aren’t finding time to intervene and help their students when they struggle. I feel lucky to work in a district that believes firmly that our data should drive instruction, and if it doesn’t, we shouldn’t collect it.

I had an amazing moment about 5 minutes ago. (Yes, I was working on a Saturday night, not totally uncommon around here!) I was looking at some problem solving we did for report card purposes/parent teacher conferences (THAT explains why I’m working on a Saturday night), and I noticed something amazing.

I use multiplication and division word problems in my classroom about 3 days out of the week. I am a firm believer that students need simple problems to try out before diving into difficult and complex ones. I use Practice Problems for Multiplication and Division because according to the Common Core these students must have multiplication and division mastered by the end of grade 3.  There are also 9 word problem types that are broken down in the common core for students to master in grade 3 so why not teach these things together?

Instead of just diving in and giving everyone all the problems in the entire booklet, I first assess each student on each problem type by giving them the first one. Then, I set up a spreadsheet to look at my results.  I noticed that my class was really struggling with the Type 2 problem, only 8 students got this problem correct. (I score this according to a standards based grading scale, it could also be scored pass/fail.)

My chart:

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So we practiced this problem type. We tried this type of problem five times, each time giving students a chance to come up to the chalkboard to explain their thinking.  Awesome strategies were shared, and students asked many questions to see how they solved it.

The student on the left has pretty good knowledge of multiplication, while the student on the right is just beginning. Both strategies are successful.

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Now we fast forward to tonight.  For parent teacher conferences, I decided I wanted a sample problem solving exemplar to show to parents (it also made sense to have the latest info for report cards!). Naturally I choose this same problem type, since we’ve worked so hard on it. I just finished scoring them, and noticed that 21 out of 25 students got it right this time! I started yelling to my husband (who probably thought I was crazy) that I was so proud and excited for my students.

It really DOES work.  Using data to target instruction is a much more focused way of going about planning instruction.  I haven’t wasted any time on problems that students already knew, and now I know exactly who needs a little intervention work with me! The best part is, this entire process was so simple.  (Instructions are included in the Practice Problems for Multiplication and Division resource. You could also set this up with your own problem types!)

I can’t wait to share this awesome news with my class. I am hoping celebrating our success will motivate them to continue to work hard.