My Grade 8s, you see (or rather, some of their families), have not been quite as enthusiastic about my unconventional-yet-research-based approach to teaching and learning math as I was when I began this school year. And rather than presuming positive intentions, and probing to find out more, some of said families went directly to the boss to complain -- they did not pass GO, they did not collect $200 (or information from their child's teacher/classroom) -- and so my success some areas has been more limited than in others.
However, Growing Success calls on us to develop and deliver "creative and judicious differentiation in instruction and assessment to meet the needs of all students" (page 2), and no less than 47 references are made in that document alone to "differentiation". And besides, I've been teaching long enough to know that despite being a know-it-all, judgmental parent myself, parents actually don't always know better.
So -- despite considerable damage to my admittedly fragile ego -- I was not ready to throw in the towel just yet. :)
Rather than full-on math centers for the Grade 8 Patterning and Algebra Unit, we developed a series of lessons using a partnered learning approach, and integrating technology.
Assessment Informs Instruction
After writing a formative test on expressions, equations and variables that match the curriculum-linked learning goals we had set for the unit, and submitting a proposal for who might make a good learning partner for the next two weeks, students were partnered up (mostly with someone working at a similar level of mathematical understanding and demonstrated ability, and almost exclusively with someone they had elected to work with) and assigned a laptop from the semi-functioning computer cart for the subsequent 6-8 math periods to work through a series of patterning-related, online learning activities developed by the Ministry of Education in conjunction with OAME, Math Clips.
As partners began working through the cluster of learning activities on linear growing patterns on the Math Clips website, my instructional coach and I were freed up to meet with individual and small groups of students to either teach mini-lessons on concepts that we had identified as gaps from the pre-assessment, or suggest extension activities and assign "stretch your thinking" problems to students we had identified as ready to move ahead in their learning.
Although a few of the students continue to struggle with the small group meeting/teaching format (some of them seem to be of the mindset that group work and teacher conferences are "primary" or babyish), many of the students were really demonstrating growth in their algebraic understanding once removed from the pressure of having to "perform" in front of a large group of their peers. And because they were partnered with a "near partner", mathematically, for the CLIPS activities, most of them were really focused on and engaged in their work!
At the end of each of the two CLIPS activity clusters, students were given two options to demonstrate their learning: At the end of the first cluster (CLIPS 2), students could either complete a series of problems from the math textbook, or they could sort and group a series of linear patterns expressed algebraically, graphically, descriptively and in a t-table and create a poster of their pattern groups. The second activity (CLIPS 3) had students choosing to apply their knowledge and understand either through more mix and match practice, or by building, describing and photographing a series of geometric patterns.
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As students are being encouraged to develop self regulation across the curriculum, we also built in an opportunity for them to self-assess their progress in relation to the unit success criteria, and select appropriate homework that would move them forward. In some cases, students benefited from extensive teacher guidance and encouragement to complete the "next steps" section specifically and fully. "Responsibility" and "Initiative" marks are noted under Learning Skills for homework completion.
A growth mindset self reflection exit ticket will also be completed at the end of an upcoming class.
Although a more traditional, full-class approach to teaching math is most certainly easier in terms of teacher workload (and I am planning to teach at least one of the next two math units in that fashion!), I am excited by the great learning leaps I see being made by some (though admittedly not yet all) previously struggling students in the class.
I am also appeased to see some of the more math-competent students beginning to rise to the challenge of extending their learning by engaging in some of the rich problems we had prepared for them to work through if and when they had completed the CLIPS learning activities expeditiously.