Differentiation pt. 1

Pardon me while I continue to idolize Sam Shah. He’s inspired me quite a few times recently.

A couple days back, Mr. Shah posted a project he was planning to use for his students to foster extracurricular exploration of math. Quick summary: There are TONS of cool math sites and blogs and newsletters on the internet which highlight progressive, artistic, fun, puzzling math, and he put together a project for students to choose several things to investigate.

As I read it, I LOVED it. I replied to him on Twitter and soon realized that another favorite math teacher blogger had been his inspiration. SO MUCH COLLABORATION!

As it is my first year teaching all the classes I am teaching, I am trying to hold off on making a huge investment in forming projects at least until I have a chance to get through a first year and make it to the summer to have a chance to reflect. I began to think of ways I could still use these ideas in my class.

Enter tension 1: In a recent observation, my observer challenged me to go all in with differentiation. Its always something I struggle with, as it tends to make me think I have to plan separate lessons for each level student in my class. I have no more time for that. However she introduced the idea of just offering choices in how students show mastery. No doubt its a lot easier to give a problem set and get all students to work through it, but she suggested a choice board. This one is from an art class, but the point is to create options that engage students from the different learning styles and preferences.

Enter tension 2: I usually teach to the majority of low level learners I have. I have not been happy with how I am (not) challenging my high level learners. I feel like the common advice was to turn them into peer tutors when they finished their work. I know they can benefit from that. I am learning a ton about statistics by teaching it for the first time this year. I’ve always felt a bit uneasy about that idea. I want them to be excited to finish other work early so they can continue to challenge themselves with a new and exciting topic.

Tension 1 + Tension 2 = My Current Idea

I am trying on using most of Mr. Shah’s mini-exploration activities as an opportunity for choice and for my students to continue to push themselves. So far, I’ve had a only few students I’ve asked to participate. I ask them to go to our class website and read the directions and pick an activity to complete. See the work in progress. I’m still working to break it down into clearer chunks. Vi Hart’s doodling has been pretty popular so far, as well as a couple of the games on Math Munch. Still looking forward to see how it works out as time goes on and as the routine continues to settle in.