Wednesday, 15 January 2014

I'll just take a fraction more cake please...

In my year 3/4 class our last major push in maths for 2013 was FRACTIONS. Yep, we thought we'd go out on a high note. Actually, the kids all seemed to enjoy it as a topic and it was great to see their development. (As an aside, that's one of the advantages of composite classes - seeing such a broad range of development levels right in front of your eyes.)  

As I've probably mentioned about a dozen times, my co-teacher was our school's maths co-ordinator which was a double edged sword: she REALLY knows her stuff and is an amazing resource v's she REALLY knows her stuff and compared to her I feel rather inadequate. Of course each of those sides plays into the other and I learnt bucket loads from her. At the start of our fractions unit she told me that we needed to be careful to guide the kids to see fractions not just as 'part of shape' but as equal parts of a quantity. That really stuck with me (partly because I'd never thought about it that explicitly) and I focussed almost entirely on fractions of quantity rather than fractions of shape. (Notice I said almost because I did use shape when introducing equivalence.)

CC BY-SA 2.0 James Petts
My favourite fraction work came when I asked the class to help me with my Christmas catering. I presented a table with a long list of food items; the number of attendees I expected; and what fraction of the food unit I expected each person to consume (including different fractions for children and adults). Some were fractions of quantity (e.g. each child will eat 1/4 of a 12 pack of mince pies while each adult will eat 1/2) while others were more like fractions of shape (e.g. each child will eat 1/8 of a Christmas cake while each adult will eat 1/6). 

On first setting the task I felt like I'd let the team down - it seemed rather dry and uninteresting BUT the kids loved it. It had relevance to their daily lives at that point, and it was meaningful. I made sure the range of difficulty was quite broad and explicitly stated that I didn't want them to work from the top to the bottom but to choose their own items (and I set each child a minimum target number of food items to work on). The variety allowed the kids who need extension to find the challenges while the kids who needed support worked with me in a small group. 

The sharing and reflection session at the end was inspiring. My role was limited to very sporadic guiding through the social issues of turn-taking and airtime-hogging. So many different strategies and techniques that had not been formally introduced were shared.  So many 'a-ha' moments. So many organic 'what about if you do it like this' moments.  I always loved maths as a student but love it even more now as a teacher. The way we teach it is so very different... I wish all those people my age who hate maths because of the way they learnt it at school could sit in on some of our lessons and see how much fun it can really be.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1.1 Physical, social & intellectual development and characteristics of students
Standard 1.5 Differentiate teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities
Standard 2.1 Content and teaching strategies of the teaching area 
Standard 2.2 Content selection and organisation
Standard 2.5 Literacy and numeracy strategies
Standard 3.1 Set explicit, challenging and achievable learning goals for all students 
Standard 3.2 Plan, structure and sequence learning programmes
Standard 3.3 Use teaching strategies  

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