Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Angels Singing About Fractions

This week I heard the angels sing. As students were being told to start cleaning up the room for the day, quite a few of them moaned. I was ecstatic. I was overjoyed. I was head over heels. I was pleasantly surprised to see some of my reluctant mathematicians disappointed that we were stopping our investigations into fractions and decimals for the day. These same moans erupted earlier in the school year when we were starting Math, not ending it.

So, what changed? Simple: Me, my attitude, my desire to engage ... my desire to change myself.

I've alluded earlier to new responsibilities at work. I found that I was increasingly chaining myself to my desk and I was disengaged while I expected my students to be engaged in learning activities. I had to look back and question what I was doing. I had to re-examine aspects of my practice. I had to re-learn that best practice is about personal engagement over anything else.

My first step was to rearrange the classroom so that there is a huge open space in the middle of the room. My "desk" involves me with some scrap paper, small whiteboard and my computer as I lay sprawled on the floor with the kids. I go to my desk when they leave the room for specialist classes.

My second step was to find ways to make Math interactive for the individual. My inspiration was from my colleague, @jennysfen. She created a very interesting Math menu for fractions that I loved. She was so welcoming in sharing with me and allowing me to pick her brain. What I came up with was this:

Using the inquiry process, individual students are engaging with fractions at their own pace and in a way that is not threatening. I've found my sprawling on the carpet has provided me with opportunities to ask students to come over to tell me/show me what they have learned or are learning. I can check for misunderstandings and work through them with students. I can get brief snapshots of skills development through the Coaching Function of Kahn Academy or That Quiz. My more advanced mathematicians love the fact that they can extend themselves. This is not Math through technology for technology's sake - it's using technology to engage and motivate. It's using technology to differentiate. It's using technology to open up pockets of time for more small group mini-lessons and conversations. More importantly, it's an attitude adjustment on my part: it's about personalizing education because we all know by now that one size does not fit all - we get bogged down my administrative tasks and sometimes take the easy way out. This is the source for my re-examination.

The angels have been singing all week and now my challenge is to keep the music going. As the unit comes to a close, I hope to write some final reflections in this space. My prediction: as long as the personal touch is there, the music will continue. 
For now, here are some links to students' work. They seem to be relying on the safe way to present - Prezi or Keynote. I'm hoping I can inspire them to take on more risk-taking in they way they explain and present their understandings. As they create their presentations I will upload them here.

This student linked to his blog using Slideshare, as did the student below:

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