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Breaking Out of Math-Class Monotony

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Human beings love patterns. Many of us feel a sense of satisfaction and security when we can predict what’s coming next. But it’s definitely possible to have too much of a good thing—especially in math class. (Review homework, lesson, independent work. Repeat. Ugh.)

Here are seven things you can try today to break out of a math rut:

Invite a virtual guest teacher. Discovery Education, LearnZillion, and Khan Academy all offer video clips of teachers addressing a plethora of concepts. Look to these online libraries for alternative ways to present ideas. Students can view these as a whole group—but they can also be valuable for students who are absent, need more reinforcement of their learning, or are on the hunt for new challenges.

Come up with hands-on activities that link directly to concepts. For example, when we are studying proportions, fraction, and scale, I challenge students to create “Mini-Me” drawings of themselves, using scale factors to shrink their own self-image down to a size which will fit on a sheet of copy paper. These activities may not “feel” like assessments but you can certainly use them for that purpose.

Take it 3-D … virtually. Virtual manipulatives, such as those found at the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives, MathPlayGround, or Glencoe, can enhance your lessons and engage students. For example, try using an online Coin Toss to collect probability data, virtual geometric solids to demonstrate new concepts, or widgets that help students with visualizing equivalent fractions.

Use foldables or “cheat sheets” to help students study processes. Many students struggle with processes in math problems. Guide them in creating foldables (a.k.a. educational origami) that contain their instructions to themselves, as well as examples of how to apply the concepts. A quick Pinterest search will turn up many valuable ideas.

Whatever you’re teaching, supersize it. Don’t ask me why, but I’ve seen it again and again: Students respond well to big stuff. Capitalize on this. For example, ask students to create poster displays of words that indicate the operations in algebraic equations. Or posters that spell out conversion facts and rules. Or large graphs to demonstrate students’ knowledge of linear equations, inverse relationships, or even the basics of a Cartesian coordinate system. Creating these helps students learn the information, and you can opt to display the posters in your classroom as reminders.

Get smart about grouping. (This is going to seem awfully basic, but as we get caught up in hectic schedules and negotiate competing priorities, we sometimes neglect the basics.) Take the time to consider the groupings that work best for particular lessons and concepts, rather than relying on a “default.” When is it best to use whole-group instruction, work time with partners or small groups, or independent work? Individual whiteboards can be a great help in mixing independent work with small-group instruction. They make it easy to assess individual progress and then to group and help students who struggle with similar challenges (or need more challenging work).

Crowdsource solutions. I consider my document camera to be the most valuable piece of technology in my math classroom. It lets me demonstrate math concepts for students, but also makes it easy for students to support one another. When students are “stuck,” we can project their work on the board so other students can guide them through the process of error identification and give hints about the next step.

Changing up predictable routines can engage students and inspire them to look forward to your class. Making an effort to mix it up can help you stay alert to the best ways to help students learn (rather than falling into the same old patterns). Keep ‘em guessing!

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