February 12, 2020

With the rise of one-to-one initiatives and more devices available to students in the classroom, it may seem like most teachers find it easy to teach using technology. Bulky textbooks have been outmoded by tablets and Chromebooks. Teachers are swapping out their once-coveted overhead projectors for flashy smartboard systems, and you have a variety of supplemental resources to choose from. But, as we chat with teachers during training, we find that setting up fun time or practice time using technology may be easy, however, using technology to enhance the instructional value of a lesson is more of a challenge.

If you use instructional technology that complements the way you want to teach, the benefits to your students are tremendous. When incorporating technology into your lesson don’t fall into the common trap of replicating the same tasks in a digital format. Ask yourself, “How does this resource help me to teach this concept in a way I couldn’t before? Or, how can I use the technology to help the students engage with the concept in a way that makes it come alive for them?”

One fifth grade math teacher uses online math problem-solving activities to help students with building conceptual understanding and improving math conversation. Ms. Alex Lapcevic, a Georgia teacher, made Applied Math Friday a much-anticipated day for her students!

During their Friday math block, students work in groups through the three differentiated activities covering the math standards they’ve learned during the week. Once they successfully complete their problem and they can explain their answer as a group, they get to create a poster showing their success to hang in the hallway.

“Classworks Applied Math lessons are great because they present the standard at three differentiated levels: Progressing, Meeting, and Expanding. And, they include a critique and precision problem called the Investigative problem. The progressing activity is the most preliminary step. The activities build in complexity and I’m able to seamlessly work in other standards and tailor the exercise to how we’ve progressed as a class. Because Classworks has done the work of finding problems with the right amount of rigor and differentiating them for me, I have time to scaffold in content that complements the lesson and create multi-step equations.”

As the students are working, Alex observes and acts as a guide on the side. With the real-time teacher view pulled up on her own device, she sees which students are struggling and where she should intervene. She’s able to provide feedback right from her device or conference and guide students as they work.

“It’s a great way to see their thought processes as they maneuver through rigorous multi-step math problems. I can determine who has clearly mastered the standard we’re covering, and also see exactly which standards need more attention.

In the Meeting activity, students encounter the standard in its fullest form. They then move to the Expanding problem deepening their mastery of the standard. Once the students are proficient, I know it’s time to challenge them further while still driving home the key skills.

These activities are the perfect tool for preparing students for success on their end-of-grade test. Because of the rigor they see during these assignments, the way they are able to show their work on the problem with text, drawing, and audio, and the way the problems foster math communication, the actual test feels like a walk in the park!”

Grouping students in a way that allows them all to feel like valuable contributors is one key to the success of Applied Math Fridays.

“I don’t just assign numbers or by desk proximity, instead I group my students by skill level and personality type. This way, everyone is bringing something valuable to the table. And, by requiring all students to finish one problem before proceeding to the next one, I’m able to help build accountability. At the most preliminary level, I know my lower-performing students are going to shine and lead. This is crucial for building confidence.

Plus, giving them the agency to work independently helps them prepare for end-of-grade assessments even more. They’re going to be by themselves when they take the test, it’s their work that is going to be graded. Even though they are working in groups, each individual student is accountable for the work they do. When I see a thumbs-up, I’ll go over and check over someone’s work at random. If all students don’t have the correct answer presented in the correct method, they don’t get to move on. ”

Once the students complete their assigned problem, they create a poster to display in the hallway. This helps incentivize students by providing a fun, creative activity after completing their work.

“The response to Applied Math Friday has been incredible! Students pitch a fit when we don’t have it,” she laughed. “We’ve experimented with a few ways to do this. If it’s a tricky standard, sometimes we’ll do the Progressing piece as a class and then they can get into groups to really immerse themselves in the standard, completing the Meeting or Expanding problem. After a few test runs, they’ve really taken the activity and made it an incredibly productive hour of learning. They love having the autonomy to collaborate amongst themselves and then show off their knowledge to the school.”

Any instructional resource you choose to incorporate should complement the way you want to teach in the classroom, not just replace the textbook. Select a resource that gives students the opportunity to interact with the standards you're teaching in an engaging way. You should easily be able to see what students are doing in real-time to gain insight into their mathematical thinking and mastery of the standards. Look for resources that help you make lessons so engaging that students ask to do more work, like Alex’s fifth-grade students!