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Sunday, January 29, 2012

ReThinking Project Based Learning - Building a Radio

In the teachers' lounge early in the year I noticed someone was donating some "freebies" to any interested party. There were children's books, books for middle readers and even novels for adults.

It just so happened that this one day, there among the books, was an AM/FM Radio Kit. You know, it's the kind that you have to put together. Quickly, I snapped it up and brought it to my classroom.

The kit sat among my games and forgotten for most of the year. Just the other day I was organizing the shelves and found it again. A few students were waiting to be dismissed and asked about it. After listening to the explanation I asked if they would like to try building it together during indoor recess. Little did I know the hubbub and stir that would ensue!

Before any assembly could occur the kids realized they would need a screwdriver and started trying to decide which type was necessary. One student offered to bring one a small phillips head. Another said that wire cutters were needed but thought that maybe they could use strong scissors. The conversation about where to begin and what was needed went on until all students were dismissed for the day.

Due to the rain, the next day found the kids indoors for recess. A barrage of students approached me asking about putting together the radio. And so it began - the making of the AM/FM radio in short 15 minute bursts. It is still not completed, but the kids have not lost their enthusiasm.

This made me think about 'authentic problem solving'. These kids were learning on their own - how to organize, handle tools, read directions, classify parts, test out ideas, work together and more. Their level of interaction and engagement was high. This was a problem they wanted to solve.

Noticing the students' enthusiasm for learning makes me wonder how I can incorporate meaningful, well-focused Project Based Learning lessons in my classroom. These resources below may help.

The Power of Project Learning: On Scholastic by Wayne D'Orio

Problem Based Learning Activities: A collection of PBL activities through Mrs. O's House site.

How to Write Effective Driving Questions for PBL: on Edutopia by Andrew Miller

Resources for Project Based Learning: on Wikispaces Blog

10 Free Project Based Learning Resources: at Tech&Learning by Michael Gorman

Project Based Learning: A compilation of resources by Cybraryman

Project Based Learning Resources: by the Educational Technology Guy

Please share your favorite project based learning lessons in the comment section below!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Power of Math Manipulatives

Practicing subtracting with regrouping
A couple of my students were having difficulty mastering subtraction with regrouping (a skill they have been practicing since the younger grades).  It was clear they did not understand WHEN they should be regrouping and WHY they were doing so. The concept was too abstract and I knew I needed to make it more concrete.

Grabbing my bins of base ten blocks, I sat down and started using them to instruct and SHOW the meaning of subtraction.  Reviewing the idea of "trading" the tens for ones and hundreds for tens was the first step.  I then gave the students a number to 'build' with the base ten models.  From there we came up with a number to subtract. I modeled how we would use the blocks.  It was then the students turn to use the blocks to subtract (they were NOT writing yet, but I was recording each step on a white board for them to see.)  In this way, we continued through many, many problems until the kids were comfortable with the idea of subtracting and regrouping with just the manipulatives.

Eventually, I heard the words I had hoped would come,"OHhhh, I GET IT!" The math tools had worked - they students were able to make that connection between the concrete and abstract! The students were now ready to move onto the next step of using the manipulatives and recording the steps on their own to just using the algorithm. 

Base Ten Blocks, Pattern Blocks, Money, and Square Tiles are just some of the math manipulatives that are helpful to use in classrooms to help children explore the sometimes abstract  world of math.  

For teachers who don't have these types of tools available there are many Virtual Manipulatives available on line.  The following are some of those sites that help bring abstract concepts come to life.

NLVM: National Library of Virtual Manipulatives.  Manipulatives for use with PreK - Grade 12 students in the areas of Numbers and Operations, Algebra, Geometry, Measurement & Data Analysis.

Math Playground: Contains manipulatives for fractions, Algebra, angles, percents and more.

Teacher LED: A site to use with an Interactive Whiteboard to help with mathematical understanding.  (not just virtual manipulatives)

Shodor Interactivate: A site with lessons, manipulatives and activities.

How to Make the Most of Math Manipulatives: An article in Scholastic by reknowned Math Educator, Marilyn Burns with other helpful links.

Manipulating Math: Concrete Vs. Abstract:  Blog post in Teach Hub by the author of Thinking Outside the Box Blog

The Use of Manipulatives in  Math Instruction: An article in LDOnline by Louise Spear Swerling which discusses the pros and cons of using these tools.

Learning Mathematics with Virtual Manipulatives: by CITEd (Center for Implementing Technology in Education) includes an article and resources.

Subtraction with NLVM site
I have witnessed first hand the power of using math manipulatives.  When students finally grasp the meaning of those concepts that might otherwise remain abstract for years it is proof to me that those tools have a valued place in any math curriculum.

(Managing these tools can be challenging  and I find that sometimes I do not use these tools because they can be cumbersome and difficult to distribute.  I welcome your ideas on best practices with the storage and distribution. Feel free to leave your ideas in the comment section below. Also, please let me know of your success or concerns with using different math tools.