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A Mathematical Solution

By Barbara Hackett

The good news is you’ve been assigned to teach a double period of mathematics. Now, you finally have enough time to impart your love of the subject to your students.

The bad news is you’ve been assigned to teach a double period of mathematics. It’s hard enough keeping your students engaged for a 45 minute period, let alone a 90 minute block.

This scenario does not need to have a down side. The workshop model breaks that 90 minute period into smaller more manageable segments while providing enough time to explore topics in depth. Alternating whole group with small group instruction maintains students’ interest.

When using the workshop model, start with the mini lesson (15 – 20 minutes). Provide focused direct instruction modeling the strategy to be taught. Next, provide students with an opportunity to try out the strategy with you during guided practice (10-15 minutes).

Now your students are ready for group work (30-45 minutes). During group work, students apply the teaching point from the mini lesson by trying out new ideas with their group members and engaging in mathematical conversation. This allows students to make connections that lead to deeper understanding. When planning:

  • Assign group members roles (recorder, materials captain, presenter, etc.) to ensure the participation of each member
  • Put students in heterogeneous groups of 4-6
  • Develop groups that remain together for several weeks but are flexible enough to allow for changes if necessary
  • Consider the interplay of personalities
  • Create a presentation rubric
  • Provide opportunity for your students to share their work in an organized manner
  • Circulate to provide feedback and encouragement to groups

In addition, it is vital to choose tasks that are relevant while capitalizing on students’ prior knowledge and past learning. Encouraging mathematical conversation, sparking student interest, and appealing to a large range of learning styles will keep students engaged. Tasks should be open ended and/or allow for multiple ways to solve the problem. As groups share out (5-15 minutes), students are exposed to various problem solving strategies. One group may rely heavily on verbal descriptions and equations to represent their solution while another group may use pictures and charts to represent the same problem.

Finally, it’s time to summarize the lesson (5 minutes) and evaluate whether the learning objective was met. Determine your next steps.

The good news is you’ve been assigned to teach a double period of mathematics.

Additional Resources:

Adrini, Beth and Kagan, Spencer. Cooperative Learning and Mathematics. San Juan Capistrano, California: Kagan Cooperative Learning, 1992.
Zikes, Dinah. Dinah Zike’s Big Book of Math For Middle School and High School. San Antonio, Texas: Dinah-Might Adventures, 2003
Winter, 2008