Friday, March 23, 2012

Practice, Practice, Practice...

Some of you might have read @lmhenry9's blog posts over the past few days over getting kids to practice and how to structure a class. Note to readers: All of the below were used in Alg1, Geo, and Alg2... I use different methods in AP.

Her first post was about how to get students to do their assignment. I can't say that I have a magic bullet answer, but I can share what I have done. My classroom is fairly traditional - warmup, new lesson, start on the homework. But a few years ago, I was very frustrated with the "start on the homework" part because kids did not use that time wisely - they were tired after 45 minutes of math and wanted the last ten minutes to chat. So I changed my lesson structure to use that 10 minutes within my teaching. I gave them opportunities for independent practice within the teaching time or at the end of the lesson, would put 3-4 practice problems on the board for them to work in the notes. It worked! Kids who before would use that time to visit with their peers, now saw it as part of the daily lesson. They didn't have to dig out textbooks, etc - it was readily available to them. I would put the answers on the board so they could self-check and I walked around monitoring and answering questions. I'm sure some of you are thinking "Well, DUH!", but for me, this was a revelation. I had always done/seen it done as the traditional, get out your book and start working, so for me, this was eye-opening.

Another part of @lmhenry9's post asked about "practice days" - those days when your kids need another day to practice before going on. She expressed frustration that many kids would not work on those days, choosing instead to chat or work on other classes. I know many of us have had that same frustration! Several years ago, I taught an Algebra Lab class. These were kids that had not had mathematical success and many of them had failed or been held back at least once in their lives. In fact, sad to say, several of them did end up dropping out eventually. Of the kids that stayed in school, many of them ended up transfering to our alternative high school. But, during the year(s) that I taught that class, at least most of them were able to achieve some measure of mathematical success. I've since used those same methods with my on-level and advanced kids and they work.

Some of these methods will be familiar to you. Some of them you've probably seen on ILoveMath (which actually came about as a result of that Algebra Lab class). Some of them I've stolen and tweaked from other people. But they all have one thing in common - it's not a traditional worksheet. For some reason, when my students get a worksheet, they shut down. But if I put that same information in a different format, they soak it up... go figure!

  • PowerPoint Review - This strategy is one I use often. I copy and paste the problems from a worksheet into a powerpoint. Then I show one problem at a time, the kids work it, I walk around to monitor. After most are done, I either project the answer that I've typed in prior or I hand my pen off to a student and have them go write on the board. For some reason, they find it an honor to write on the board. (I should point out that my classroom is arranged so that I can get to every kid, so there is no "back row hiding" - if I see a kid not participating, I mosey over to them and redirect their attention)

  • Cutting and Pasting - High School kids are really just little kids in grown up bodies. I have been known to take a worksheet and turn it into a glue fest :) Here's an example of a matching worksheet that I used in Algebra Lab. I've also taken pages like this and made them into cards that I laminated and cut apart. The nice thing w/ laminating is that its reusable, but it does take more up-front time.

  • Jigsaw Puzzles - Also along the same line with cutting and pasting, I love the "Jigsaw puzzle" games. I've always done mine by hand, so I don't have any to share here :( but here's a software that generates them. My kids would work all hour on these puzzles and beg to have more time!

  • Partner Problems - One of the issues that I noticed back in Algebra Lab was that most kids *could* do it, but they lack self-confidence. By providing them a support system (giving answers for self-check, etc), they were much more likely to work. In my class, we often work in partners. Hence the idea behind Partner Problems. (I've seen others post on this and call it "row games"). The idea is that each partner works a column. Within each row, the problem is different but the final answer is the same. If the partners get different answers, then they go back to find the error(s).

  • Relay - This is one of my favorite activities. The idea is to take a 25 question worksheet but only give the kids one question at a time. With my Algebra Lab kids, they would easily get overwhelmed with a worksheet and immediately shut down. However, when faced with one problem at a time, they were okay. Again, I would have them work in partners or triads. I would make a set of cards from a worksheet. Typically I would do each set in a different color and laminate them. Then each group would get card #1 in their color. They would work the problem, bring it to me to check, if it was right, they moved on to card #2. If not, they kept working.

  • Stations - This is one of my favorite low-prep activities. I take a worksheet, chop it up into several parts and post them around the room. Kids only work 3 or so problems at each station and I usually have the answers written on the back. They move from station to station working. This can also be done in sitting groups and the papers move between groups.

  • Algebra with Pizzazz - On those days where I needed a worksheet and fast, AwP was my standby favorite. For some reason, the self-checking nature and the corny jokes really do encourage kids to work more than with a traditional worksheet.

    The Bottom Line....
    I'm not saying that the ideas above are fool-proof. I still had kids that didn't want to work. But, just having something a bit different worked for a vast majority of kids. Sometimes it was more work up-front, like with laminating and cutting and such, but often times these ideas can be done fairly quickly by just cutting and pasting a worksheet.

    More Links...
    These are some links to blogs, etc that I've picked up along the way. Enjoy!
    Chase the Rainbow game
    Add Em Up Review Game
    Speed Dating
    Poker Chip Test Review
    Ghosts in the Graveyard Review
    Bingo-like Review Game
    Colored Folders Review Stations
    Math Hunt Game
    Matching Card Games