Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Problem Master and Mountain Climber

My Facebook status this evening sums it up: "That was the kind of awesome day of teaching that will get me through until Christmas."

Have you ever had a day like mine when the lesson goes seamlessly (or nearly so), the kids enjoy what they're doing, you enjoy what you're doing, behavior problems are non-existent, and the learning conversations are rich.  

The best compliment I got from a kid today, "You know, Miss B, this is the highest class but we do the most fun stuff." ("highest class" = most advanced class offered to 8th grade)

So, what caused this awesome day?  Two new activities.  

The first activity was for my Algebra I class.  We have been studying probability for several weeks and it's been slow going.  Many of my students are struggling readers, so the questions are difficult for them to answer independently.  I decided to use an activity that I adapted from a math blog (I think it was ispeakmath but I cannot find the post now for anything and would love to give credit if anyone knows).  We'll call it Problem Master.

Problem Master Directions
  1. Create one problem per student on the topic you're studying. (I used a mix of all the kinds of probability questions we're responsible for in 8th grade: simple, independent, dependent, sample space, permutations, and predictions from experimental probability.)
  2. Assign each child a different problem.  Have them work out this problem (I used scrap paper for this step) and check the answer with you.  They need to understand and be able to explain how they arrived at that answer.  
  3. Create a packet (or use notebook paper) with a numbered space for each problem.  I have 21 students in Algebra I, so I had 21 problems and a packet with that many spaces.  
  4. The "Master" of the problem gets a copy of the question in green.  They glue it into the packet and show the work needed to solve the problem.  They also get a yellow sheet with 20 copies of their problem to give to classmates when they pair up.  You'll need to print one page with all of the questions once on green paper and then make a yellow sheet for each child with their problem duplicated enough times for everyone else in the class.
  5. Each child then pairs up with another member of the class, they trade problems to solve, work independently to solve the problem, check their partner's answers, and they coach as needed.  
  6. I had students grade each other with smiley faces for how much help they required.  
  7. When a pair is finished, they return to a designated area to meet a new partner.  (Rarely was anyone waiting for more than 1 minute.  You could choose to have a secondary assignment for anyone waiting or call out switching times, but my kids were able to handle this bit of freedom because they could work at their own pace.) 
  8. I had students carry their glue stick and scissors around with them.  We only cut out one problem each time we paired up instead of cutting them all apart at the beginning because I wanted to avoid them losing a pile of little yellow papers!  Envelopes or baggies would also work, but giving them an entire sheet limited my prep significantly and made it easy when we realized we would like to finish the activity in the next class period.  
We worked on this activity for almost an hour of our 90-minute block.  The kids were engaged the whole time and were taking their responsibility seriously.  They weren't happy that we didn't have enough time to finish and begged to get more time next class.  I'll happily oblige because they were doing an awesome job!  

With my morning class going so well, I worried some about the potential of my afternoon class.  After all, could I manage two new group activities in one day without pulling out my graying hairs?

This activity probably exists out there in one form or another, but I invented it last night without any direct inspiration.  It's called Mountain Climber. 

My students were very complimentary of my artwork.  Bless them for loving my scribbles!  Coming soon, there will be a picture of the poster we used to track our progress in the "game."  For now, just picture a crude half-mountain drawn on poster paper.  Starting at the bottom and going up the side, there are labels reading "level 1,"  "level 2," all the way to "level 10" and the groups all have a little mountain climber clip art icon colored a different color that they move up the poster.  

Mountain Climber Directions
  1. Each group is assigned a different colored marker.  My grouping scheme is discussed here.  I used groups of 3. 
  2. Create a variety of problems/tasks related to the topic you're working on and level them from easiest to hardest.  Put each problem on a separate page (half page, etc) and make enough copies for the number of groups you'll have.  I chose to make 10 problems, but this can be adapted to the difficulty level of the topic and the amount of time you have. 
  3. Students provide notebook paper.  Pass out one record sheet per group and one copy of the level 1 problem to each team. 
  4. Students work in their groups to solve the problem.   Group roles are recorder (writes on record sheet discussed below), messenger (delivers paper for corrections), and scorekeeper (keeps track of group progress).  
  5. As the students work on a problem and reach a consensus, the recorder fills in the record sheet, the messenger brings it to the teacher for checking, and the scorekeeper moves the mountain climber up a level when they get a problem correct. Give them the next level of problem when they get a correct answer.
  6. I emphasize accuracy over speed in this exercise.  You can see there are three columns on the right of the record sheet.  The first time the group gives me their paper, they get 3 points for a correct answer.  Each subsequent time, they earn less points.  This is a good motivator to help them reach a consensus before bringing me the paper!   The team with the highest point total at the end is declared the winner.  I do not care who finishes the 10 problems first.  
The kids were very excited to play Mountain Climber.  I teach a competitive group in Intermediate Algebra, so they all wanted to be fastest.  Some groups started to realize that they needed to slow down and read the questions carefully so they could get their points.  I had one instance of a team that tried to "divide and conquer" on a problem.  I marked an X in their first box for that problem, and they went back to helping and coaching each other as I'd asked.  Despite that one very minor incident, the activity went well and the kids again begged me to let them finish next class. 

My students want to do math problems.  That's my definition of winning! 

Mathematically yours, 
Miss B