Thursday, June 22, 2017

Multiplication Charts in the Middle School Classroom

Every year when I put up my posters, I put a multiplication chart near the front of my room.  Until a few years ago, it kind of bugged me.  You know how it goes...kids coming in to middle school should know their multiplication facts, why should I need this, etc....   But then I finally realized I needed to start looking at the good old multiplication chart not for what it might have been in elementary school (although, yes, some kids still use it like that), but for what I could use it to show in middle school.  Because now what I see when I look at that multiplication chart in the front of my room is patterns, patterns, patterns!  That's what math is all about.  Here are some of my favorite ways to use a multipication chart in my middle school classroom.

1.  Equivalent fractions--The multiplication table is filled with row upon row of equivalent fractions.

Here you can see a simple multiplication table that I created on Google Sheets.  The thing I love about my Google Sheets multiplication table is that I can customize it in whatever way is useful.  So if I want to talk about equivalent fractions for 3/8, I can highlight those rows.  But then I can easily change to something else.    What a great way for my students that may struggle with equivalent fractions to have a quick reference to find them, but also a visual way to see that the reason by 12/32 is equivalent to 3/8 is because both 3 and 8 were multiplied by 4!  These realizations that may at times seem to be no big deal for teachers can absolutely blow the minds of our students.

2.  Equivalent ratios/ratio table--Just as we can use the multiplication table for equivalent fractions, it can also be used for scaling ratios up and down to find equivalent ratios.  So now our students are trying to answer some proportional reasoning question:  "It takes James 4 minutes to solve 7 problems.  How many problems can James solve in 12 minutes?"  Again, this idea of using the multiplication chart flexibly, even attaching a label or meaning to some quantity, can be a stretch for kids at first.
This would also be a great way to teach students to think about if the answer to a proportion question like this is even reasonable.  For example, what if the question had been, "It takes James 4 minutes to solve 7 problems.  How many problem can James solve in 11 minutes?"  Now the answer is not actually on the multiplication table...but a sense of what is reasonable sure is.  If 8 minutes is 14 problems and 12 minutes if 21 problems, then the answer must be between 14 and 21 (but closer to 21!).  That sort of amazing proportional reasoning can be supported by a great visual tool like the multiplication chart.

3.  Proportional relationships versus non-proportional (but linear) relationships--Let's say you were focusing on the proportional relationship of 6x = y.  What about showing the multiplication chart as a place to see this?
The multiplication chart can show the table of values for a proportional relationship by simply looking at the column with the correct constant of proportionality.   This gives another way to think of a proportional relationship....it is a relationship that if you had an infinitely large multiplication table, it would have a row on there.  You could also build the connection between 6x = y and 6x + 1 = y by having students add one to all of the values in the 6 column.

Ok, and honestly, some students will use the multiplication chart because they don't know their multiplication facts.  As much as I wish this weren't true, it just it.  So rather than fighting against it, I've decided to help all of my students see that the multiplication table can be a great tool to help us learn about a lot of middle school concepts far beyond simply multiplying.  After writing all of this, I think this year, we just may create a digital multiplication table in the first few weeks of school to establish right away what a great tool it can be.

How do you think multiplication tables can be helpful in middle school?  What other "elementary" tools do you rely on to make your classroom a better place?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Beginning of Class Routine Revamp

At NCTM, I got several ideas that I wanted to incorporate into my beginning of class routine, and I've been finding others as well.  Here is my beginning of class routine for next year.

Wonder Monday:  This idea is the culmination of a lot of reading and listening that I have been doing.  Jo Boaler's Mathematical Mindset, as well as her growth mindset course have really opened up my eyes to the need for math to be an open and creative field.  I've also been reading "Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You'd Had", which talks about the importance of a "notice" and "wonder"...what do kids notice about a problem?  What do they wonder about?
So this is my thought for how to get kids thinking creatively, as well as how math is woven in to so much that we do.  My plan here is to find a crazy or interesting picture each week, and just letting the kids start to wonder about it.  I think it will get their creative juices flowing, and hopefully start to see math as an open subject, with a place for interesting questions.  I think this will be a fun way to start each week!

Two Way Tuesday:  This one came directly from a wonderful session I went to at NCTM.  The idea of the two-way puzzle is that you add going horizontally and vertically.  I think the puzzle aspect of this will keep kids engaged, and I can see it being useful for all kinds of review content....fractions, decimals, whole number, integers, and combining like terms are the first few that come to mind.

 In this example, the missing box in the top row would be 22, since -8 + 22 = 14.  The bottom left square would be -5, since -8 + 3 would be -5.  From there, you can fill in the rest of the squares.
What's the Question Wednesday:  I got this idea from another blog I was reading.  Basically, you give the answer, and the kids brainstorm what the question might have been.   Again, I think this could encourage creativity and help kids see that there are all kinds of ways to get to any given answer.

Number Talk Thursday:  This is something else that I've been reading about, and something that I heard about at NCTM.  The idea is basically that you give kids a problem to solve mentally, and then you let kids share their strategies for how they solved the problem.  I tried this out a couple of times toward the end of last year, and I was amazed at what a great use of class time it was.  The kids were highly engaged, and had tons of great strategies.  It also allowed for great discussion as we compared strategies.

Quick Draw Friday:  This is also something that I got at NCTM.  The idea behind it is that you give kids a short look at a geometric drawing, and they try to reproduce it.  Then you give them one more look, and a chance to revise.  Then let kids share their vision for how they saw the picture, and how they re-drew it.  I think this one can really lead to some great vocabulary, and my artistic kids will love it!  The idea comes from this e-book.

So these are the ideas that I plan to use next year. If you would like a copy of the Google Slides shown above for this beginning of class routine, click here.

One other idea that I would also love to incorporate (but ran out of days!) would be to have a day each week dedicated to looking at a graph and focusing on what story it tells.  I think this is really important as we live in a world surrounded by data, with graphs everywhere trying to convince us of one point or another.  I may try to work this in somehow to my routine, but I can't decide what to give up!  Why is there always more to do than there is time?????

What routines do you use at the beginning of class that you love?

NOTE:  I did a part 2 to this part with even more ideas.  Click here to see the rest!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Good Math Class Discussion: Part 2

In my last post, I talked about my presentation norms that I use in my class.  Today, I'm going to address another important part of a class discussion:  listening.  For most kids, listening is a passive activity.  It is our job to teach them to be active listeners.  These are the strategies I use to teach my students to be active listeners in class.

1.  Listen carefully.  The first one is pretty obvious and speaks for itself.  If you're not paying attention, it's hard to hear what someone else has to say!

2.  Write down questions, comments or notes.  I think we all fall into the trap of thinking that we will remember what we want to say, what question we wanted to ask, etc.. when it is our turn to contribute.  The reality is that if we jot down notes to ourselves, we are far more likely to remember things.  Making sure that students always start with a piece of paper in front of them, even if it's just a scrap of paper or a post-it, is very important in making sure that students are active listeners.

3.  Be ready to summarize what the speaker said...    This requires a focused kind of listening.  This requires that students be more ACTIVE in their listening. As students try to do this, I think it also requires them to really think about whether or not they understand the explanation that is being give.  This leads to the second half of this expectation.

4. ......or ask the speaker a question.  It was really important to me that my classroom listening norms leave room for students to NOT understand.  I always want to send the message that it is OK to struggle and not understand, as long as you're still trying and working.  At the same time, I want students to know that not understanding doesn't mean that you don't participate.  This expectations gives students a way to stay active and involved even when they don't understand.

5.  Think about how your strategy compares.   I want a classroom that is open to many strategies.  By comparing strategies, students can see more clearly how strategies compare.  The more students get used to comparing strategies, the more likely they can start to pick the best strategy for the given problem.

A Good Math Class Discussion: Part 1

Good discussion is so important in class, and it supports the standards for mathematical practice.  Yet, we all know that good discussions don't just happen by accident.  Over the years, I have learned that I need to spend time teaching my class how to have a good discussion so they can really get the most out of it.  In this post, I'm going to focus on the presentation norms that I use in my classroom.

1.  Speak loudly enough for everyone to hear.   This one is pretty obvious, and yet we all have students that seem to speak at a whisper.

2.  Speak at a reasonable pace.  Again, seems obvious, but I know that students really seem to struggle with this for a variety of reasons.  For one thing, when kids get excited, they often rush when they are talking!  Unfortunately, that can really get in the way of other people getting understanding what you're so excited to share with them.

3.  Pause after each step and make eye contact.  This one goes hand in hand with speaking at a reasonable pace.  I can't tell you how many times I have had students completely lose everyone in the room (even me!) trying to explain their method.  I find that there are two common reasons why kids get lost during another student presentation.  One reason is that presenters give all of their steps at one time, and this puts everyone's brain on overload if they're still trying to process the second step, and the presenter is talking about the fifth step!  The other common reason that happens is that a student doesn't understand something early on, so they either stop understanding or stop listening.
For these reasons, I teach kids that they need to pause after each step and make eye contact.  This way, the listeners have a chance to process what you're saying as you pause.  Hopefully, when you make eye contact it will be obvious if the people that you're talking to are lost!
I also find that it is very important to tell my class that this helps everyone....including me.  I like having my students see that I also have to ask people to slow down, repeat a step, or answer a question to clarify their method.  I think it is so important to normalize the process of understanding, and that needing someone else to slow down does not make you "dumb".

4.  Ask for questions from the class.   This one closely follows the last one.  If you are pausing after each step, it is a natural time to let people ask questions.  Hopefully when you continue, there is a better chance for your audience to understand what you're saying now.  Also, if you have more chances for questions, there is a better chance more people will understand by the end.

5.  Show visuals.  This can help for different kinds of learners.  It is also helpful to have it as a reference throughout the presentation.

At the beginning of the year, we spend time talking about and practicing these norms.  In my next post, I'll look at the other side of the discussion:  listening norms.