It’s about the tools. Tools assist to create a final product. These tools listed below are just as important to create the final product of students understanding mathematical concepts as the concepts themselves.
It’s important that teachers model and instruct on purposeful talk. This is teaching students the art of conversing (listening skills.) and most importantly, practicing to pause and think before speaking (who couldn’t use this sometimes?). One of the things I do is have a weekly Math Huddle, where together we gather as a class, sit in a circle, and debrief on the math instruction for the week. I have discussed the importance in respecting, reflecting, and listening during this time.
I have my students use a math journal (or notebook) daily in centers. They can write, draw, or glue in materials in their notebooks. Just like reader’s workshop, students need a place to brainstorm ideas, write their explorations for math, list questions they have, reflect on math problems, summarize concepts, and justify their answers. This tool is an effective way to assess what a student understands and clear up any misconceptions.
Typically in lower grades you will find a word wall with all kinds of sight words as a way to assist with reading. I like to use a vocabulary word wall (though this year, it is on a ring) to frequently review math terms. As we begin studying a unit, we discuss the word, the definition, and then draw some sort or representation. Occasionally as a review or activating strategy, I will play games with our words (including old terms) to keep them fresh in the students’ minds. I have also pulled two different terms and had students discuss why they are important and try to find some connection between them.
I love to use graphic organizers (I do love organization.) even in math. When we are exploring new definitions of words, I like to have students complete the Math Frayer Model where students write the definition in their own words, a representation, an example, and a non-example. I have even substituted “real life examples” in this model. Students can also use Venn diagrams to compare and contrast concepts, draw a diagram, illustrate steps, or create analogies (sum is to addition as product is to multiplication). Graphic organizers make great anchor charts and can be placed in their math journals for reference.
I love, love, love anchor charts. They make great references for students and I have found that these are most successful when you create them together as a class. I have seen students over and over look to where an anchor chart was during testing to “visualize” what it said. Anchor charts do not need to be beautiful or fancy, but rather short and to the point. They can be math methods, strategies, and/or steps. Anchor charts are just a brief visual of your mini-lessons.
What other tools can you think of that I may have missed?