Friday, April 20, 2012

Hands On, Minds On: Student Achievement and Successful Best Practices

A Post on Student Achievement Best Practices

By Linda Kelleher, Math Teacher

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Student achievement best practices can focus on hands-on activities in almost any class.
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When I first started teaching math, my primary focus was planning lessons.  My reasoning was that with so many unknowns in the classroom, I would at least know what I would be teaching.  And, so I thought, after the first year, my plans would be complete and I could focus on other elements of teaching such as classroom management.  Now, nine years later, I’m still making lesson plans.  I’ve changed and grown a great deal as a teacher since then, but one thing that never varied for me was the importance of the plan.  A lot of classroom management issues are avoided with an engaging lesson, and when participation is high, retention of the material is also high. 

Five years ago, I started teaching a large number of English Language Learner students.  One of the things that enhanced my teaching for all, but especially for the ELL’s, is the incorporation of visuals.  Pictures enliven any text, but like my four-year old daughter’s emergent reading, pictures also give children clues to the text.  But beyond this, pictures facilitate hands-on activities.  We use fraction pieces to disprove fraction misconceptions, such as ½ + 1/3 = 2/5.  I also have the students develop a feel for customary capacity by pouring water into a cup, pint, quart and gallon containers.  My students cut out shapes and manipulate them into rectangles or parallelograms in order to show them how the formulas are derived, use snap cubes to help them visualize volume, and they can toss dice and spin spinners when they are learning probability. 

A hands-on classroom is an active classroom.  Far too many children are passive in school and at home, not participating or interacting the way kids did before cable and computers and texting provided constant distractions.  An engaging classroom helps students disprove their misconceptions.  For instance, many students will tell you that the probability of rolling a 2 on a die is 2/6.  In order to dispel their mistaken beliefs, you need to replace it with the correct idea.  So, rather than telling them that there is only one two (favorable outcome) on a die, I let them run the experiment 60 times, and compare the results to their theoretical probability.  On the topic of circles, in order to reinforce the formula for the circumference of a circle, I have students measure the circumference and diameter of various circles and then have them compare the circumference to diameter of each circle with a ratio.

So, now class, who can tell me the rule for adding fractions?  Who can tell me how to improve classroom outcomes?

Linda Kelleher Schirling is a ninth year math teacher.  She is a career-changing Teaching Fellow.  She teaches in IS61, Leonardo Da Vinci, in Corona, Queens, New York.  She was rated as “Above Average” on the Teacher Data Reports and has consistently produced gains with her at-needs students.

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