Friday, January 27, 2017

Reflecting on Our Math Workshop

Math Workshop has always been one of my favorite hours of the day...the energy and controlled chaos within the room is contagious, and we love that the kids take ownership over their choice time. This year our district adopted a new math curriculum...I'm not going to lie, that adoption made me a little apprehensive. After attending the training and reviewing the materials, it seemed to be greatly teacher-driven...something we are not totally in agreement with. I loved the components of Bridges, and knew the kids would enjoy the problem solving activities embedded throughout, but worried that I would be spending too much time in front of the students.

Angela and I promised each other we'd go into the year with an open mind and a positive attitude towards the program. We knew we liked Bridges in and of itself, so we had to remain optimistic. We discussed with our students some of the changes they may see in our workshop block, but promised them we'd familiarize ourselves with the curriculum and go from there. This was one of those moments when we felt bound by curriculum. It took us a good three units, and copious amounts of time co-planning, before we felt we had a grasp on Bridges and all it had to offer. Our students were extremely patient with us getting ahead of the learning curve.

Bridges has supported our students in many ways, and they have grown tremendously through this program. They have an amazing intervention binder that supports our struggling mathematicians (we also use that for our daily bullpens). Our students have also developed incredible mental math strategies. They approach complex problems in a variety of ways, and think about numbers flexibly. We've enjoyed the overlap of concepts, and love seeing how the different domains mesh together throughout units.

A few disadvantages, though, is feeling there is a repetitiveness of lessons at times. Sometimes lessons seem redundant and unnecessary. We also noticed a decrease in the students' daily choice time. Part of these struggles are due to system structures that we can not control, and part of that is feeling as if we needed to teach the program with fidelity in order to best understand all it has to offer. It is a juggling act when you're tackling a new curriculum. There are concepts the students already know, but then there are definite areas where they're missing information. BUT...with the first half of the year under our belts, we are thrilled that we FINALLY feel we can venture away from Bridges a bit and bring in some more project based learning. Please do not misunderstand, Bridges is still our primary resource, but based on pretest results and some of the skills our students have mastered, we know many of our students are ready to take on more independent choice and project based learning.

As I previewed our Unit 4 pretest results, I was extremely pleased with the skills our students already had in place. Students doing well on a pretest is sort of a double edged sword- you're excited and proud of them for showing they're applying skills previously taught and knowing they're ready to move ahead...BUT it can also be terrifying because you're faced with the dreaded "Now what do we do with them?" question.

We had a relatively large group of children (8-10ish) that scored 100% on the entire pretest. We have another 5-8 that will master the skills needed within a few mini lessons or bullpens. Knowing that, we knew we had to plan accordingly for these flyers. They'd be ready for something more. We did not want these students sitting through unnecessary mini lessons. Last year, based on their pretest results, we had students moving back and forth between multiple mini lessons on a daily basis. That was easier to do when we were writing all of our units and lessons. This year it's been more difficult to juggle because we are still getting to know the Bridges units.

Seeing our results for this unit, though, we knew it was time to venture outside of the walls of Bridges and jump back into our "normal." We wanted to give our students an opportunity to practice the skills and standards addressed within Unit 4, but also push them further ahead. We knew this would better serve them and give them the opportunity to apply their knowledge in a real world situation. Angela and I spent time creating "Planning For Your Future- a Personal Budget Project"; an independent project that our students could work on throughout the unit. This project is required for students that mastered the learning targets on the pre-assessment, but is open to ALL kids in our class, as well.
Click the image above to see the full product.
Students tackling the budget project may participate in certain mini lessons, especially during problem solving days. We want their expertise in our discussion, and we want them to practice the skills and explain their thinking in a variety of ways. With that being said, they will spend a good portion of their unit working independently on the project. We have the luxury of having two full time teachers, and a student teacher in our space. This gives us a lot of flexibility to work with a variety of small groups throughout our workshop block.

We are excited because it's wonderful to see the enthusiasm back in  our classroom. The students are thrilled to be gaining back some choice time, and tackling long term projects. They understand, though, that there are days we will pull them back to our mini lesson for multiple reasons. Maybe we feel they need more practice, maybe we need their voice in our discussion, or maybe we think they'll just have fun tackling the day's lesson/activities. We are also hoping to see them take this sort of open-ended project, and spark new ideas of their own! They always come up with better projects than we do!

The "Cake Pop" problem below is a perfect example of a problem-solving day that was beneficial for ALL learners. Only a handful of our students have background knowledge on multiplying decimals, but EVERY kid in our class could solve this problem using a variety of strategies we've learned in class. Some used ratio tables, some used the double-half strategy, some tore apart the dollar amounts and made the questions easier to solve, and some used the traditional algorithm for multiplying decimals (teaching them the traditional method will come within this unit, but we loved that the students pulled other strategies to solve instead of just saying, "I can't do this...". Our hearts were even happier when partners chose to solve the questions in multiple ways.
Katie & Evy solving their cake pop questions using the traditional algorithm. Another group setting up a ratio table to solve.

We are super excited to see our students jump into the "Planning For Your Future- a Personal Budget Project". This enrichment project has them exploring their future careers, as well as budgeting for life's everyday expenses. Students will find an apartment to rent and furnish the apartment, determine cost of additional living expenses each month, along with making a plan and shopping for healthy meals.  It's going to be an eye-opening experience for them. To check out the project, and try it in your classroom, visit our Teachers Pay Teachers store. As always, if you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out! We love hearing from you!

 ~ Kate


  1. Great reflection on the Math workshop. My district is going to an individualizwed program for each student, and the teachers are having to write the curriculum. I teach SPED so I am in demand to help with differentiation. Where are you located? I teach in the Arkansas Delta.

    April Guyer
    Special Education Instructional Specialist
    Barton-Lexa School District, Barton, Arkansas USA

    1. Hi April,

      Angela and I teach in the School District of Elmbrook. We are located in Brookfield, Wisconsin, about 20 minutes west of Milwaukee, WI.