Math is a Learning Subject: More Small Steps for Differentiation

My favorite thing about math is that is a messy thinking subject. It is a learning subject. It should be messy and full of questions. We need to teach kids that it can be glorious when it suddenly is no longer messy and the patterns and the discoveries are right in front of our faces!

We have to model this for students, and more importantly we need to give them opportunities to make math a learning subject. So often we want to give all the answers, and tell them all the patterns, and show them how magical it is, that they lose their passion for discovering math at an early age. They begin thinking that math is a performance subject…teacher asks the question, student gives the answer…25 times in a row…on a worksheet.

Instead we need to give students meaningful explorations that can often run in the background of the school day.  These can often be very simple, and they really allow for differentiation. Some students will take these explorations much further than others.

Here is a third grade example:

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The keys to making this work are:

  1. Give enough time for the exploration. This one will be 2 weeks.
  2. DO NOT, and I really mean this, DO NOT give them the answers. (This is very difficult, I know.)
  3. Tell them to work with each other! Isn’t that how we learn best? The second we want to know something we email, text or call someone. Let them teach each other.
  4. Make them research it, prove it and let them feel some confusion. This teaches perseverance and also that math is truly a learning subject. Bring in iPads, computers or have them look it up at home. (Hint: Use school tube when searching! Great resource!)
  5. Be sure that they understand that the most important part is not the answer they give you, but rather the method they use to solve it and WHY IT WORKS. That is the number one most important thing that they can get out of this inquiry activity.

Will all of the students be able to do this? Possibly…their level of understanding will vary from student to student. But in the end, when you bring them all together let the students do the talking. They will get there, if not now…they will have some prior knowledge for 4th grade.

Drop Everything and Try it! Multi-Digit Multiplication Interactive Tool

I was told about this *amazing* online tool today.  It can be used in SO many ways. Here is one:

There is a core groups of students who have been absolutely flying ahead of the others with multiplication. They are ready to go deeper and play around with double digit by double digit numbers. The last thing I want to do is try to teach them the traditional algorithm I was taught in school at this point in their learning. I’d like them to understand what is happening conceptually first.

So I brought up the dreambox learning teacher tool page today during our computer lab time. I pulled that group of 7 students over to take a look at the Fourth Grade Multiplication and Division section.  You are looking specifically for the tool titled Multiplication: Open Arrays – Students compose arrays, use partial products, and develop understanding of the distributive property to mentally multiply up to 3-digit by 3-digit numbers.

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THIS IS AN AWESOME TOOL. My group of third graders went crazy over it. After I showed them a few examples (like below). They were so excited to be multiplying such huge numbers. Not to mention the fact that it helps solidify the concept of arrays and area.

This is a screenshot of the game. It totally walks them through the entire process.  Since they just recently learned how to multiply by multiples of 10, they were eating it up.

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The best part? It’s FREE!

P.S. Just as an FYI, we had a lot of problems with googling it, we had to actually type in http://www.dreambox.com/teachertools.