One of the things I've learned about people is that given a topic that sparks their interest, they will spend time talking for hours...what I've also learned is that the same thing goes for children. This week I was invited to visit a 5th grade class to watch a math lesson. For the lesson, students were asked to find the volume of the space inside their classroom. The teacher assigned students to work in groups of 4-6 based on the measuring tool used for the lesson. Teams had the option of measuring the classroom in cubic inches, cubic centimeters, cubic feet, and cubic meters. Before sending students off to work, the teacher reviewed the standard units of measurement. She also explained that when all the units were built, they would look at them together to discuss why some units would work better than others for measuring a large space.
As students went off to work in small groups, both the teacher and I walked around to listen in and observe. Although the teacher did not assign a specific task, you could see the students who stepped to the plate to lead the activity. In one group, I noticed a girl who was insistent that the yard sticks be taped correctly so her groups measurements would be as close to accurate as possible. As she watched her team place yard sticks together to build a large cube, she sent others on her team off to tear pieces of tape and hang them on the edge of the board so the people in charge of tapping could simply pull a piece from the board. Other groups used inch rulers to build their cube and had similar ideas for team work. As the children were actively engaged in the lesson, both the teacher and I asked questions to help them make their plans for their model more explicit (e.g., what they planned to measure, what measurement tools they intended to use, and how they would use their measurements to determine the volume of the classroom).
Prior to the lesson, the teacher was intentional about making sure students understood the meaning of specific math words that would be used in this lesson and she also encouraged them to use that vocabulary when working in teams. Students posed questions to one another and even used mathematical reasoning when building their cube. I especially enjoyed hearing them laugh as they made connections between the lesson they were doing and what they had seen before that was like this activity. One boy commented "I knew there was a reason I watched all those Bob The Builder Shows when I was little"!
Great conversations can certainly make a huge difference in the learning process. As students wrapped up their lesson by sharing their plans for carrying out this activity, I told them that I will come back to their class to hear what their findings are! Below are some pictures that I wanted to share from the work that 5th graders were doing in class.
This week in the Intentional Toolkit, I have shared information that focuses around team building activities in math. I hope you find these resources helpful. Until next time...go out there and be GREAT!
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