Sunday, February 22, 2015

Rethinking Unit Reviews

Last year, I had the opportunity to work with a gal who taught me so much about instruction, and I didn't even realize I didn't know it.  Even after 15 years in the classroom, there is still so much to learn about the most effective ways to reach students.

One of the things that really stood out to me was the way that she reviewed content in preparation for a test.  Traditionally, most teachers review every single concept that is going to be on the test so students know exactly what to expect. This gal really focused on the student work throughout the unit to see the areas of most need for students.  She was all about mastery and would not move on until at least 80% of her students mastered the content.  She believed that if her students really knew the material being taught in 5 out of 6 units, and aced the end of the year test, then she had done a much better job than rushing to cover units because she was on her pacing guide.  When she reviewed for a test, she only reviewed what was necessary based on student work, and as a result, students really understood the concepts that were lacking. A few years back,  I had begun to drop the traditional philosophy of review, but I still dreaded it.  I needed a way to spice things up for my students.

This past week we were finishing up a unit on writing equations for word problems.  My students did exceptionally well on one step word problems, but when it came to word problems with multiple operations that involved brackets and parenthesis, they were a little shaky.  But, I didn't want to inundate them with a ton of word problems to work and check.

So, enter a little Ron Clark inspiration.  When I spent the day at Ron Clark Academy a few months ago, he spoke about putting equations in balloons and having students pop the balloon to discover the equation.

I decided this was just what we needed.  Last week we were out of school two days and had two late starts because of wind chill temps, so recess did not exist.  I needed  a way to get my students moving, but also to incorporate review.  I decided to take the balloon idea and turn it into a relay race.  Normally, I don't do races for math, because I know how it feels to be under pressure in math.  There's nothing like all of the class watching you work a problem out in front of the room (thank you Coach Ashton for the math anxiety) when you lack the confidence needed to think straight.  So we did the following:

1. I found word problems out of our math book that focused on the multiple operation component that I needed.  I cut them out, rolled them into little strips, stuffed them into balloons, and blew them up to prepare.

2. I put all of the balloons at the back of the room.

3.  Next, I divided my kids into a Team A and Team B, making sure to balance my math whizzes among the groups. Each person had a white board and a marker.

4. Set the expectations: Students would move in partners.  I organized the lines purposely to put a stronger math student with one who needed extra support - be careful not to put high with low because the high will usually do the work while the other watches.

5. Students ran in partner groups, picked a balloon, popped it and both students had to solve the problem.  This was critical.  I needed both kids accountable for the work.  I was at the back of the room providing extra support if needed.  We read word problems, applied our strategy of the 5 Step Way (post coming soon), and worked them.  Once the problem was worked, the students returned to their line.

6. When students returned to their line, they partnered up with the group ahead of them and swapped problems to check each other's work.

It was a blast - for me and my students.  They loved the variety of the activity and asked to do it again.

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