I'm so excited to share with y'all the Top 3 ways I create a meaningful math learning environment for my students. A meaningful learning environment is one where the lessons are POWERFUL, IMPORTANT, and SERVE A PURPOSE. Here are a few ways I strive to do this in my classroom!
As teachers, when do we NOT try to incorporate meaningful activities?? I absolutely love to scratch the "worksheet" routine and get my students up, thinking and moving. A few of the activities that I LOOK FORWARD to teaching are Area and Perimeter Zoo and Pumpkin Math.
- Area and Perimeter Zoo gets students thinking, creating and calculating. Students work together to create a zoo environment for an animal, then have to find the area and perimeter of their irregular-shaped enclosures. Lightbulbs go off for kids EVERY TIME I do this activity and it is so rich with math language. It's such a powerful and FUN activity for my students!
- Pumpkin Math is an activity I LOVE-LOVE. First of all, I'm a Halloween baby so pumpkins are pretty much my favorite fruit (yes, it's a fruit! Look it up!). This activity is SO FUN, incorporates a ton of science, and is incredibly meaningful because it's math skills that are used everyday in REAL LIFE. Weight, distance, circumference, buoyancy, estimating, adding with decimals... And all with PUMPKINS! Can I get a "WOOT"?!
A few of my other favorite and meaningful activities I added to my classroom this year is Bendy Bodies and Detective Math.
- Bendy Bodies is a fabulous idea I picked up from GENIUS teachers at CAMT. Our new fourth grade TEKS has students measuring angles and working with protractors, and this activity incorporates both. I would love for you to read about it HERE (and pick up a FREEEEEBIE so you can do this activity in your classroom!). This activity is HANDS ON and REAL LIFE. That equals meaningful!
- Detective Math is a combination of the UH-MAZ-ING Teaching with a Mountain View's Math Detective Task Cards and my Identifying and Correcting Math Errors. I cut up the task cards, put them in a "Top Secret" file folder, and put in a laminated Identifying and Correcting Math Errors sheet. I had students find the error on the task card, "hire" the correct detective and "fire" the incorrect detective, and then use the Math Error page to justify their decision to fire! This was a test-prep activity and it was SO amazing to see my students understand who was correct and identify and explain why the other was incorrect. My kids loved this SO much they BEGGED to do it over and over! It is definitely something I will be using year after year, so I created a cute sheet to put on the front of the folder and directions for the inside. You can get the freebie HERE!
When students walk away from a lesson talking about it, I know they've been impacted. I stay away from "fluff" lessons and nothing I do is arts and crafts even when my students are using artistic skills. I make sure my lessons and activities serve a purpose and align to our TEKS - and that equals meaningful lessons!
I love math stations. But more than that, I love when my STUDENTS love math stations. And mine do! They think it's "play" time. I just giggle because I know they're actually engaging in meaningful learning and skill practice. Hehehe! Here are a few of the "play" time activities I LOVE.
- Task Card Game Boards: These game boards are made with old DVD cases and work with ANY task card. After practicing a skill in whole group or small group, I throw the task cards into a bucket and let my kids choose which they want to use for their game. Then, they grab a DVD game board and start
- Measurement Checkers: WATCH OUT when my measurement unit comes around, because students will RACE to get to measurement checkers. Basic rules of checkers apply HOWEVER, before you can move you have to associate a unit of measurement with a "real life" measurement (example: an inch is about the length of a knuckle). This gets my kiddos learning their real life measurements with tha' quickness (and they think they're just playing checkers.... pssssh)! Texas Teachers, go get a FREEEEE copy HERE! Just buy the big ol' checker games (you can find them on Amazon), Modge Podge them on your play pieces, and you're done!
- Big Board Math: Give kids a dry erase marker and let them write math facts on the "big board". They will GO OFF. You will find your students will push each other farther than we as teachers might think to do. Seriously, HALF MY CLASS became long division rockstars in like, a day just from practice on the "Big Board". They pushed themselves to divide huuuuuuuuuge dividends, and I stop them at 4 digit dividends because that's what the TEKS say... LAME on my part! ADVICE: Have a student that has mastered the skill play "teacher". They're there to observe and help when needed AND the other kids will work 10x harder to earn the spot as teacher!
- 5 Minute Fact Practice: It's pretty amazing what a couple dice and 5 minutes can do. Have you ever seen a presentation by Boxcars and One-Eyed Jacks? OHHEMMGEE. So many of their activities are so powerful and reinforce skills in just a few minutes. And kids love 'em! I ALWAYS have dice on hand to fill those random minutes when we're early to lunch/recess/specials.... We add them, multiply them, subtract them, divide them - sometimes I bring out the big guns with double and triple dice!!
Stations/ Rotations / Centers should align to instruction and/or work on strengthening skills. How fabulous is it when kids LEARN when they think they're PLAYING??
Y'all. If you don't read anything else, READ THIS. Students have GOT TO HAVE FEEDBACK. I truly believe feedback is why my students are so successful. I provide them with instant feedback almost every day because it is KEY to their learning! Don't let mistakes go unnoticed.... I know that's kind of impossible, BUT with these strategies you'll catch a lot of them.
- Partner Share: MAKE YOUR KIDS TALK. My students sit in pairs (shoulder partners) and I always pair a lower level learner with a higher level learner. I do this for so many reasons (1) The higher level learner can tutor the lower level lerner (2) The lower level learner is PUSHED by the higher level learner (3) The lower level learner feels safe trying new skills with their shoulder partner (no whole class nervousness) (4) Eventually you won't have a high/low pair, you'll have a high/mid or a high/high! And it doesn't just benefit the lower level learner - each time your higher level learner is TEACHING, they're embedding that knowledge deeper and deeper in their brains. Partner share is so powerful!
- Plickers: Have you heard of Plickers?? SO AMAZING. You get the app on your phone, kids hold a card based on their answer, you scan with your app - INSTANT DATA. It is oh, so amazing. You can see RIGHT AWAY the kids who have the wrong answer. SO FAB! It can work for quick quizzes, feedback on homework, or you can throw some task cards or worksheets on the board and have kids respond. SERIOUSLY SO COOL. Data should DRIVE YOUR INSTRUCTION, and this is such an easy way to get data!
- Response Sticks: These can work the same as Plickers but less formal. Whenever I check homework, my students are showing me their answers. Quick scan of the room tells me, "The kids completely understand this", "I need to check with Joe and Jill", "WHOA! None of them got this". They also work with small group and partners. Throw out a question, see if your partner has the same one. If not, why? If so, did you solve the same way? There are so many ways to use response sticks and it sure does help you identify errors QUICKLY. Response sticks are my faaaaaaaavorite. FAVORITE! That's why I've created a FREEBIE to show you how I make my response sticks! Go get it in my TPT store!! While you're there, I would LOVE for you to follow me, and feedback is HUGELY appreciated! :)
- Quick Assessments: Exit tickets are a great way to quickly assess skills - I just don't let my students give them to me as they "exit". They must complete the exit ticket/ quick assessment during class, then bring the paper TO ME so I can check it immediately. If it's wrong, they go get an Identifying and Correcting Math Errors page, find out where they went wrong, and correct for points. I GIVE POINTS FOR EACH CORRECTED ANSWER. Not full credit, but some... This reinforces the importance of identifying where you went wrong and encourages students to solve for the actual answer (and PROVE their answer).
By incorporating meaningful activities, meaningful play-time, and meaningful feedback, you've got yourself one powerful, purpose-driven learning environment! Thanks so much for reading- I truly hope some of my ideas help you and I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to hear how you make learning meaningful in your classroom.
Before I stop my rambling - here's a list of some of my FAVORITE math TPT sellers and products. Be sure to check them out!
Stephanie McConnell - Her STAAR math review games are SO MUCH FUN
Peppy Zesty Teacherista - Great updated TEKS resources!
School House Diva - GREAT TEKS based task cards!
Teaching with Tiffany - Lots of TEKS products!
Teaching With a Mountain View - Check out her Error Analysis & Math Detective sets!
Rachel Lynette - Check out her Word Problem Detective Task Cards!
The Teacher Studio - Check out her Open Ended Math Problems & Concept Sorts!