Friday, April 9, 2010

Book Review: "Good Questions: Great Ways to Differentiate Mathematics Instruction"

In an attempt to find and implement effective strategies to differentiate instruction in my classes, I purchased "Good Questions: Great Ways to Differentiate Mathematics Instruction" by Marian Small. I purchased the book from the NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) web site.

The Good: The book does a great job giving examples of open questions and parallel tasks that can be used for student from Kindergarten up through 8th grade. The levels are grouped by k-2, 3-5, and 6-8. And, there are examples of both question types for all the groups across all of the "Big Ideas" derived from NCTM's Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. The examples themselves were of high quality and the advice for creating your own questions didn't require intensive planning labor.

The Bad: Like every other resource I've encountered, there seems to be an assumption that the right questions will transform all your students into active participants that will suddenly take charge of their learning. The author writes about it as if its a foregone conclusion that everyone will suddenly enjoy learning math and immerse themselves in the questions. There isn't any discussion about how to actually make it happen. I will use strategies because I like the concepts, but I have no delusion that I've solved my struggles with keeping students engaged while I work with individuals or small groups.

Overall: I do recommend the book because of the sound teaching strategies and plethora of example problems for elementary and middle school students. If you're struggling with apathy and lack of effort from students, I don't foresee this book providing the solutions to resolve those issues.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Organizing and Teaching with Spreadsheets.

Every year, one of the first things I do to get ready for the new school year is import student data into a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet serves many purposes throughout the year. I mail merge student names into a label document to print out labels for student planners and take-home folders. I record assignments of textbooks, calculators, locks, and lockers. The formulas feature makes calculating growth on test scores a breeze. And, as ridiculous as it sounds, it helps me answer the question that takes me off guard about three times a year, "How many students do you have on your team?"

One of the best teaching strategies I've implemented in the past couple of years requires students to store collected data in spreadsheets. One of our class activities at the beginning of the year has students working in groups to measure each students' height, arm span, resting heart rate, exercising heart rate, wrist, neck, thumb, foot length, and stride length. The data is used for multiple purposes throughout the course of the year. We make scatter plots to determine relationships between different data. We use the data for five number summaries, box-and-whisker plots, frequency tables (line plots), stem and leaf plots, and histograms. We make circle graphs and bar graphs to demonstrate misleading graphs and displays of data. The spreadsheet software only makes a few of these graphs, but putting the data into a spreadsheet accomplishes a few critical objectives. One, the data is stored electronically under the students' profile and less likely to be lost. Two, students accomplish some of the technology curriculum by creating formulas, sorting data and graphing data using spreadsheets. And Three, students can easily reorganize the data to make it more readable for a specific application. I strongly recommend reserving the computer lab anytime students are collecting data. Even if you don't have access to the computer lab when you're using the data, any student can access the data on the classroom computer and share with the class.

Tammy Worcester has developed an extensive list of spreadsheet enhanced lessons for all grade levels. I would be remiss if I posted this blog without providing a link to her website.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008 Great Way to get Class Materials

Today, I submitted my first grant for the school year. I submitted a need for a video camera and tripod for my classroom. I've had great success in the past with grants. Over the past three years donors have bought some excellent technology for my classroom. Thanks to the generosity of various donors, my classroom has been equipped with a Bluetooth wireless keyboard/mouse, a XGA TV converter, a USB 1GB memory stick, a presentation remote, and a TI-Presenter. I haven't been awarded every request, but its certainly paid off to keep trying. DonorsChoose outright tells you that requests costing less than $400 have the best chance of being funded. This has proven very true in my experience. I have applied for other grant opportunities with no success. I will continue to try for these other grants, but I strongly recommend that every eligible teacher appeal to donors on to get what you need for your classroom. I also recommend starting small so that you build momentum toward getting higher priced items.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Physical Education and Math

Had a great conversation today with one of our P.E. teachers. He was looking for a way to integrate fitness data with the math curriculum. We discussed ways students might electronically store their fitness statistics. (Heart rates, # push ups, # sit ups, running times, ... etc.) It was a fortuitous discussion because I have deliberated several times over the past year about ways to used data that is meaningful to students in teaching data analysis and graphing. I'm excited about the prospect of the 8th grade math department collaborating with the P.E. department to find ways to make math personal for the students.

I really enjoyed the conversation because it testifies to the climate of our school. We have an amazing professional staff and the professionalism is contagious. It looks like we're off to a great start this year.