Teacher to teacher

Engaging students with foldables

Teaching middle school has many challenges, and one I seem to face often is getting unmotivated students to do their work. I’m a 7th-grade math teacher and one of my key goals is getting my students to retain skills and information given during instruction. I try to keep this in mind when assigning homework, projects and other work, but while motivated students readily accept the responsibility of completing assignments, there are always some students who don’t.

This is where I am challenged to get through to unmotivated students. Math may not be their forte, so I look for other ways to allow them to excel or draw out their hidden or unknown talents. I always work to get to know and understand my students in the beginning of the year so I can give them the support they need to be successful throughout the school year.

I have noticed that those who seem unmotivated or unable to overcome certain barriers are easily distracted. I decided to change this fast.

Foldables were my answer. Foldables are 3-D interactive graphic tools that help teachers and students organize and master complex information. They are a fun and engaging way for students to create a learning tool for themselves. Paper is folded, stapled or cut in a certain way and information is written inside or outside so that topics can be practiced and learned as the paper is manipulated.

Kinesthetic learners enjoy using foldables because they involve hands-on activity, as opposed to worksheets or pencil-to-paper drills. Students can review, study and take the foldables with them in their backpack. Visual learners are intrigued as well, usually with graphs and diagrams they draw when creating foldables.

I have undertaken professional development in the past where our lead math teacher discussed and showed different styles of foldables. I was thrilled when my math coach introduced me to a wonderful book, “Teaching Mathematics with Foldables,” written by Dinah Zike and published by McGraw-Hill, and I was eager to start introducing these tools to my students.

For my first assignment using foldables, I chose a unit on solving equations. Students were instructed to find algebraic equations for each inverse operation of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. They used their notebooks or other books in the classroom to solve, check and explain. During this time I had the opportunity to make modifications for some students and give them examples on their level as well as challenge them.

The students solved all the problems in their notebooks, which I approved and checked before they completed their final drafts.

At one point they began to share ideas and help each other solve the equations. I was shocked! Suddenly I was able to work one on one with students who had never shown much interest in learning math. They were explaining their examples with the steps they had taken and I actually saw connections being made. I received colorful, artistic, creative, outstanding projects from students who had rarely turned in completed assignments.

Now I prepare foldables for just about any math topic possible and also for math journals. I have even become very creative and have put my own twist on them because I find that foldables work not only for math, but can be used across the curriculum. Students are incorporating reading and writing and are organizing information in ways that will benefit them in any classroom.

The joy students find in creating foldables is amazing and very rewarding. It is a gratifying experience for a teacher to see students learning and having fun at the same time. Students are being creative and completing foldables with pride of ownership. They start to shine as they are being praised for their results and their previously hidden talents become apparent. They gain a boost of confidence, which helps them become better learners. The positive feedback from students makes me realize that this is working and benefiting them greatly, and I will continue to use these tools to enhance their learning.

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