Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Power of Choice

This is not the first time I'm writing about giving my students choice,  nor will it be the last.  In the past I have written about it here,  here, and here.  But this time I'm writing because I gave my students choice in math.

Freedom of choice by Krzysztof Poltorak
I have always run an open ended centres approach to teaching math.  I just could never wrap my head around everyone doing the same thing at the same time.  The thought of giving my students pages and pages of math worksheets where they all answer the same addition and subtraction questions over and over again just seemed wrong, right from the very beginning of my teaching career.  Over the years my centres have changed and improved (I hope) as I learned more.  But, and this is a big but, I have always told my students what station to work at each day.   So far this year my students have been through number sets, patterning, ways to make ten, and addition stations. We were just starting our subtraction stations.  Then things changed.

A couple of weeks back one of my students asked me if he could decide which station to work at instead of me telling him which station to work at.  Initially I didn't give him a yes or a no answer, I just said, "hmm let me think about it".  And I did.

I thought about why I wanted to say no to him yet ever time I thought of a good reason why I should say no, deep down the little voice inside of me said, "but is that really a good enough reason".

The following Monday when math time arrived I called all my students to the carpet area.  I talked with them about the stations we have been working at and what they were suppose to be teaching them.  And then I changed what I've always done in the past.  Instead of rotating them through, telling them which station to work at, I let them choose.  But before they went off to work we talked about what that would look like and what I expected from them.  I was very clear with my expectations, and what "meeting expectations" at this time of the year with subtraction looks like. I was also available for any or all that wanted my extra support as subtraction seems to be a more difficult concept for many of my students to master.  And then I let them go.

Immediately everyone got down to work.  I was interested by the choices that the children made. Some were drawn to the hands on manipulative activities while others liked using the educreations iPad app to show their knowledge.  Math placemat use was very popular too as it's a combination between digital and non digital.

I also had a small group working with me at the rainbow table. Some were there just because they like being near me while they work, and others were there because they knew the concept was difficult for them and needed extra support.  I love that they knew what they needed and sought after the support they wanted.

When the time was up we talked about what everyone did and how they felt about having the choice.  Many of my students up loaded their work to their individual blogs which I use to help guide my future teaching.

Here are some samples of their learning.  You'll notice that they don't all grasp the concepts being studied but this documentation helps guide my future teaching.

Recardo - using Math placemat and the iPad app Draw and Tell to show his knowledge of subtraction

Eldon - using Math placemat and the iPad app Draw and Tell to show his knowledge of subtraction

Nicky - using Math placemat and the iPad app Draw and Tell to show her knowledge of subtraction and addition

Kaleb - using Educreations to show his knowledge of subtraction

Jaydan - using Educreations to show his knowledge of subtraction

Maryam - using Educreations to show her knowledge of subtraction

For most of my students it was a total success and I was excited to see what they could do independently.  For a few however it was a bit too much for them to handle and the reality is they didn't get much done.  Was I surprised, probably not, but it helped me know where to better focus my teaching or instruction so that they can be more successful the next time.

So now they have me thinking about ways to continue this with our math time.  Have you ever tried something like this? I'd be curious to hear how you tackle choice in math.

Also, I would like to add more authentic "real life" math into my program.  I know that math is all around us and I need to get better at showing my students this. I'll take any suggestions you can offer me.

Here is the blog post  written about choice in math on my class blog.

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