Thursday, October 18, 2012

Making Connections

Hello everyone.  This is my first blog...ever.  I have been contemplating writing a blog for a long time now, and I finally felt like taking the dive.  Many ideas have gone through my head on what my first blog would be about.  My thoughts were blogging about my life, about my journey becoming a teacher, or something else to introduce myself and provide background.  However, I have decided to go in a different direction.  
But aren't stories supposed to be the other way around?  Shouldn't you give some background information first in order to understand what is happening later?  Well, I challenge that theory and say, “Let’s turn it around.”  Let's get right to it, and then discuss the background info later.  This is exactly the teaching style that I am bringing into my Algebra 1 classes this year.
Earlier this week in my Algebra 1 classes, we were learning about ratios and proportions.  This is normally a difficult topic for students because it includes what I like to call the "f-word" in math, fractions.  So I decided to take a different approach.  Instead of putting numbers on the board and showing examples of what ratios are and then doing problems 1-10 in the textbook, we just defined what a ratio was and went right to work.  Students had to use the numbers 1 through 10 and make ratios for different scenarios (i.e. prime numbers to composite numbers, multiples of numbers, factors, sums, products, etc.).  To assist in the learning process students received index cards with the numbers 1 through 10.  This benefited tactile learners by having concrete examples in front of them.  Students can pile the cards according to the description and count how many they have in order to make their ratios.  Then students went on to make ratios using different types of measurements (feet to yards, centimeters to meters, hours to days, quarts to gallons, etc.) The students not only learned about ratios, but reviewed math vocabulary and measurement conversions without even knowing it.  Students were encouraged to use their mobile learning devices in order to look up conversions as well as using their agenda they were given by the school in the beginning of the year.  Now students were practicing how to use their available resources.  It was a great day for learning all around.
After learning about ratios, we moved onto proportions.  Again, without showing example after example and lecturing the students about proportions and cross products, we just simply defined what a proportion is and went to work.  Students were given a worksheet called "What's Cooking."  Problems on the work sheet were all about cooking recipes.  In each problem students would be given equivalences, such as 8 slices of cooked bacon was equal to 1/2 cup of crumbled bacon.  Then students had to figure out how much 12 slices of cooked bacon was equal to.  Once the worksheets were handed out, teacher assistance was not available. The only thing I did was let the students know if they were correct or not. Students were able to implement their own strategies, come up with proportions on their own, and work together to develop answers.  Learning, collaboration, and discovery was happening the whole class.  It was wonderful!
Most math classes would wait until the end of a lesson or the next day to work on word problems or make connections to real life.  Why?  Why not start with the word problems and then go into how you would solve mathematically?  Students have a tough time understanding the abstractness of math.  There is no connection made when they see two fractions equal to each other and using the cross products property to solve.  However, when students come up with their own strategies and make their own connections, then they will get a better grasp of the topic.
Is this done for every topic?  No.  There are going to be times where the teacher needs to teach and the students need to learn.  But, for those opportunities when a student can make their own connections first, before being taught how to do something, it makes the material so much more relevant.  Not only that, it is more fun for the students to learn and more fun for me as a teacher.