Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Math Workshop - The Homework Center

On to the next center of focus in math workshop! And the winner is....HOMEWORK!

After my students finish their rotation at the teacher center, they go directly to the homework center. This time is a critically important time for my kids! This is where they get to practice what they have just learned by themselves. In past years, I have sometimes let them work with a partner, but this year I have kept the homework center as an individual work time. My students have other times to work together and I think it is important for them to try these problems on their own! Students have the choice of working at their seat or finding a spot by themselves around the room.

We have a math curriculum we use at my school and my homework assignments are usually a set of about 10-15 odd numbered problems (so students can check their own answers!). For a lot of my lessons, I actually give students two assignments to choose from. Homework A is the regular homework and Homework B is more challenging. I let students choose, but sometimes I need to push certain students to choose Homework B if I feel like they can handle it!

This year I also began sharing a homework list with students (and all my parents!) before each unit begins. This has been one of, if not THE biggest, change I have made from last year! It takes some preparation to have the homework assignments for each unit ready to go before we start, but it is a great way for parents to keep track of what homework is due! I share it as a Google doc and then just update the due dates as we go!

One downside to math workshop is that one group always needs to start at the homework center without meeting with the teacher first. It turns out this really isn't too much of a problem. I have one of my more advanced groups being with homework. Before we break into rotations, I usually give the whole class a quick mini-lesson on whatever concept we are learning (maybe 5 minutes tops!). That is usually enough for this group to get started on their own.

Finally, one extra note about homework that has been too effective not to mention! After the 4-5 weeks of the school year, my sixth graders as a whole weren't the greatest at getting homework completed on time. We decided to start implementing a new system at my school that has been extremely effective (check out the graph below!). Students who aren't finished with their work go to work on finishing it at lunch on that day. They grab their lunch and bring their math stuff to a separate room where they can get some help finishing up that day's assignment! If you find where the graph changes from teal to green, that is right when we started implementing this new system - talk about results!

I'd love to hear any questions about how I am using homework or ideas you have about what works in your classroom in the comments section below!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Math Workshop - The Teacher Center

Well, I think it is safe to say winter is officially here in Wisconsin. This was the view outside today when I got home from school...I'd say a bit of a change from the rain I drove through to get to school this morning!

My last post focused on some activities my students are doing this week that are different than our normal routine, so I thought it would be good to give some insight into what "normal" is for us in 6th grade math. A good starting point would be to check out my Math Workshop page, which gives an idea of the general structure of our class. If you'd rather just keep reading, I'll give you my day in a nutshell. After doing a brief warm-up and introduction to the new lesson, my students travel in groups to four different centers each day. Each center is about 10-12 minutes. At the end of class we do a brief wrap-up or exit slip to check for understanding. In the next few weeks, I plan on posting in more depth about each of the centers my students travel to each class period. Today, let's start with the Teacher Center.

In my opinion, the 10-12 minutes my students have each day at the teacher center is the most important and effective part of math workshop - for ALL students! My struggling students I can help individually to learn the concepts and my advanced students I can challenge to extend their understanding. I also like how it holds students accountable for understanding what we are learning that day. They know they will be meeting with me in a small group, which helps them focus on learning the new concepts as I teach my brief introduction to the lesson.

I usually group my students based on how well they are understanding the current concepts, switching up groups every unit. I start each group by having them work on one of my math task cards for the specific concept we are covering. I currently have a full year set of 6th Grade Math Task Cards and a full year set of 8th Grade Math Task Cards available. I used to have students work on their own individual white board, but now converted my entire front table into a giant dry-erase work space for my students. I would definitely recommend this and have other blog posts with more details! They love using the white board table! For my students who don't get it yet, or are still a little unsure, these math task cards are a good starting point. The great part about meeting in such small groups (4-6 students each) is that if two kids breeze through these three problems and two are stuck, I can easily differentiate my instruction. I can have the two kids that breezed through them start on my enrichment problems (which I'll talk about later), while I focus on helping the two kids who aren't understanding it!

In each class, I usually have a couple of my groups that are in the middle somewhere. Maybe some of the students really get the new lesson and some are still a little bit unsure. In the small group setting, I can quickly see if they need more practice with more basic problems or if they are ready for a challenge. Sometimes, once I get to know my students, I will even give them the choice of starting with the regular task cards or starting right away on the enrichment problems. It's amazing to see how well they can gauge their own understanding of a new concept!

Here is a picture of the enrichment problems I am talking about! I also have a full year set of 6th Grade Math Enrichment Task Cards and a full year set of 8th Grade Math Enrichment Task Cards available. As you can see, there is some printing, cutting, and laminating involved, but once you've done this they are all ready to go! My wife is a first grade teacher and buys the fun colored cardstock...and unfortunately I always get sucked into printing them on that cardstock instead of the more reasonable (and cheaper!) option of using school cardstock! I usually can't resist the fun colors. I also have a unit for free (Decimals and Exponents) if you would like to try them out first!

My last couple of groups are my more advanced students. If I feel like it is a tough concept, or maybe they aren't understanding it the greatest, I might have them start with a few of the regular task card problems. That way I can double check and be sure that they've got it down before starting the enrichment problems. However, usually with these groups, I can start them right away on the enrichment - and boy, do they LOVE these problems! I swear, just by adding the word challenge to something, it adds extra motivation! This center is great, because I can sit back and enjoy watching them try to problem solve on these difficult questions. It is amazing to see the different strategies and thinking that goes on. I let them work together in their small groups if the choose. Quite honestly though, a lot of times they want to try them out on their own.

Hopefully I have shed some more light on how the "Teacher Center" works in my math workshop classroom! I'd love to hear any feedback or questions you have. My next couple of posts will look more closely at my other three centers - the homework center, technology/hands-on center, and the problem solving center. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Hello and welcome to Math in the Middle! It is exciting to get started in the blogging world of education. I'm looking forward to finding and sharing ideas relating to teaching math. I am a sixth grade math teacher from Wisconsin. To learn more about me make sure you check out my Meet the Teacher page. In my classroom, I use a math workshop structure. I plan to post a lot of ideas relating to math workshop, math centers, and how I have been using them with my 6th graders. Take a look at my Math Workshop page to get a better idea of how it works in my class!

Students use unit rates to compare grocery store deals!

With the short week of Thanksgiving coming up (two and a half day week for my district), I am taking a break from the math workshop rotations. We just finished a unit on Friday, so I am taking some time to review and have some fun with the 6th graders before our first break of the school year! Monday, I plan to have students review unit rates from earlier in the year with this Shopping for the Deal activity I created last year! In celebration of starting my new blog, I'm going to make this free until Monday morning...so make sure you check it out!

Tuesday, I am going to teach my 6th graders a new game called the Product Game. I found this one through NCTM a few years back. It is really a great game for students to practice basic math facts and it includes a ton of strategy!

Then on Wednesday, I get to bust out one of may favorites each year! After reading the hilarious and creative book Math Curse, by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, I have my students try to solve some of the crazy, funny, and challenging math questions that are asked in the book. I let them work with a partner and have a prize for the group in each class that can solve the most problems correctly! How many m&m's would it take to measure the length of the Mississippi River? And more importantly, how many m&m's would you eat if you had to measure the length of the Mississippi River in m&m's? Have your students try out these fun and engaging questions for themselves! This one is also free in my TPT store!

Math Curse Challenge 

I always look forward to this short Thanksgiving week with my students. It is a nice opportunity for a change of pace and some fun activities, while still focusing on some important 6th grade math concepts. I hope you've enjoyed some of these and can put these great activities to use in your classroom!