September 12, 2013

Teaching Math through problem solving

We've spent spent the first week of school doing the "back to basics" kind of work. This means we've been doing lots of addition and subtraction practice, place value review, and some discussion about even and odd numbers. We even have a song that we use to quickly identify an even/odd number! 

Here's a tune I wrote to help kids remember the difference.  This is last year's crew performing the song. 

Our Even and Odd Song

So now it's time to move on to the good stuff.  Starting tomorrow, we'll begin the shift to what will be our typical Math lesson:  

  • open with a Math game or story
  • I'll teach a concept or present a problem
  • students will use their slates, workbooks or manipulatives (sometimes a combination of all three) to solve problems 

When I think about it, this is really not all that different than what we're doing now. The biggest difference is that students are doing good ol' fashioned worksheets now so that I'm able to assess where we're at and establish expectations for independent work times. Some simple review worksheets this time of year are also really useful in helping children feel confident in their skills at the beginning of a new grade. Pencil and paper activities definitely have a place in the classroom at the start of the year.  

Now that everyone has had a chance to refresh their skills and feel good about themselves as math students, we're going to move on to a problem-solving based approach to Math.  This means I'll be teaching concepts through problem solving. I won't do this exclusively; I still need to teach students how to multiply and divide, calculate perimeter and round numbers, but once the boys and girls learn how to perform calculations, I want them to take those skills and apply them to problem solving situations. There is all kinds of evidence out there to support this approach to Math instruction. Like many of my colleagues, I find I get more bang for my buck when I teach through problem solving.  

Teaching a concept through a rich problem provides an opportunity to consolidate skills from previous units and as a result achieve a greater understanding of the practical applications for math.  If I just tell you how to solve a problem, you might only use my method for the remainder of the year.  If I give you the problem, provide some level (not too much though) of support and encourage you to find your own solution, just imagine the learning that would take place! It's pretty exciting!

So this means that while we'll have a workbook for each Math unit for practice, most of the work will be completed doing hands on activities and investigations together on the Smartboard.  It's a lot of fun and really maximizes our time together. There will always be a place for traditional paper/pencil activities, it just won't be our focus.   

Starting Thursday, I'll introduce the problem solving steps to the boys and girls. These four steps will help guide them as they tackle a variety of different problems over the course of the year.  By Monday, we'll begin our first official unit and then after a bit of instruction, start working on solving related problems that week.  




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