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Sunday, 24 March 2013

Learning Goals in Math

I had a very interesting conversation with my friends Janice and Celiza the other night.  Janice and Celiza are currently Curriculum Consultants in two other school boards in Ontario.

We were discussing the use of Learning Goals in Math.  Janice was of the mind that we shouldn't be naming the Learning Goals up front at the beginning of the Math lesson if we are truly teaching through problem solving.  I understand her point.  If you are teaching Math through problem-solving - which I hope you are - then you are using a constructivist approach, and you want the children to construct their own learning.  You don't want to give away the punch line.  Janice was adamant that the Learning Goal should come out during the Consolidation (the third part of the three part Math lesson).

<For a brief review of the Three-Part Math Lesson click HERE.>

I was very fortunate to go and hear Dr. Marian Small speak last May (I reference her often, I am quite a fan of her work).  She addressed this very question.  She said that we have to tell the students something about what we want them to do.  She asked (and I quote) "Can we say: 'We are going to develop strategies to compare two fractions'?"

What I liked about Marian's talk was that she never told us what we should be doing.  She only ASKED us what we might want to consider.  The fact is, there is no right answer here.  It is trial and error.

I have tried it both ways, not telling my students anything, and also giving them a simple statement about what we are hoping to learn about.  Not what we are going to learn specifically, but what we are learning about.  I have found that giving them a Learning Goal up front helps give them more direction.  It sets a purpose up front for why I am giving them the task that I am giving them.  And, I admit, it speeds up the problem-solving and consolidation.  The fact is, I don't have unlimited amount of time to teach them everything I want to teach them.  I only have 9 months to teach them 10 months of curriculum (because I have EQAO testing in the beginning of June).

What I don't do is give them Success Criteria for the content expectations up front.  That is what I want them to come up with in the consolidation.  I DO however, give them Success Criteria for the process expectations up front. (The process expectations include communication, representing, selecting tools and computational strategies, problem-solving, reflecting, reasoning and proving). Confused yet?

For example, I might write:

  • We can reflect on the reasonableness of a solution 
  • If we determine our solution doesn't make sense we can look for a different solution
  • We can share our solution with others in a way that makes sense to them
  • We can explain our thinking so that someone else "gets it"
  • We can connect our solution to someone else's solution
  • We can restate the problem in our own words

Here was our Math Learning Goal from Thursday and Friday:

For our Minds On, I gave the students fractions to add to a number line.  This allowed me to differentiate by giving different students different fractions.  As the students placed their fractions on the line, I asked them how they knew where to put it.  "Tell me what you are thinking in your head as you are deciding where to put that fraction."

Here are some strategies we came up with for comparing fractions in our Consolidation:

We are still using the "ShowMe" app and "Explain Everything" app to show how we solve a Math problem.
Here is a video from one of the problems my students solved on Friday.  I was only going to give them one problem, but some of the students solved it so quickly and easily, we went to the text book to find a second problem.

I think it is important at this point to mention the obvious.  This lesson could not have happened if it weren't for the previous lessons.  We spent Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday reviewing what fractions ARE.  Before students could begin comparing fractions, they had to fully understand what a numerator and denominator are, and they had to understand what mixed and improper fractions are.  For example, many students knew that an improper fraction was a fraction with a numerator larger than the denominator, but very few students knew that this meant we were talking about a number greater than one.

I also had one student who could compare fractions by using a common denominator.  He had learned how to do this in a previous school in grade five.  But he did not know how to represent those two fractions, and he did not know how to compare those two fractions without using a common denominator.  For example:  students should know that 5/6 is less than 7/8 because sixths are larger pieces than eighths. Just because they can convert them into 20/24 and 21/24 doesn't mean that they understand that concept.

I guess my point here is this:  You have to be extremely deliberate in everything you do when you are teaching.  Before you post a Learning Goal, you have to think, "How should I word this?" "How will knowing this help my students?" "What do my students already know and think?" "What skills do they need?" We have to be reflective practitioners; I am very fortunate to have friends that are interested in having these conversations with me!

1 comment:

  1. I really like your ideas. I truly appreciate your effort in publishing this article. Keep it up and God bless.



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