Definition of a café – ‘An establishment serving a variety of meals, coffee and snacks’.
A learning café would thus serve good teaching practices, strategies and ideas, for free! The only payment a teacher seeks is to benefit her students and inspire other teachers.
A café was recently organized at my school wherein the idea was to get teachers to share their best teaching practices in any sphere of their experience that they wanted to.
This was an excellent example of teacher agency – where teachers volunteered to be a part the café, chose their area of expertise and then shared it in their choice of presentation with the larger community. On the other hand, the participating teachers also had a choice of which café they wanted to attend to hone their understanding in a particular area.
It is easier to do what you are doing, than to talk about what you are doing!
The challenge was to make sure that the attending teachers had a lot of takeaways from our workshop as they were investing their time in us, so we decided to share some of our best practices, the thought process when we plan and design our math curriculum, and some strategies that we aspire to include in our teaching.
While planning any math concept for our students, we follow the process below and try to integrate as many elements as possible from those listed below –
- Assessing the prior knowledge of students, which helps us to –
- Plan the progression (from where to start)
- Plan the differentiation
- Look for grouping strategies
- Understand to what level of complexity we can take the concept
- Making real life connections – helping students see the relevance of their learning in real life – “where am I going to use this?’
- Ensuring differentiation in instruction – stepping up and stepping down to cater to all learning levels.
- Developing critical thinking skills – in a world with an overload of information – the ability to think clearly and rationally; identify, analyse and solve problems; be an active learner rather than a passive recipient of information – is a critical one.
I am sharing here some of the strategies that could help make math more engaging and relevant for each and every learner in our classes.
To begin with, on a lighter note, just to understand why we need math in our life –
Strategy 1 – setting the scene for math classes – what a math class should look like
Activity – 100 numbers to get students talking
‘He/she who does the most talking does the most learning’
- The goal is to get all students talking – about math – every day.
- This activity can be done in the first week of school as it helps lay the foundation for effective communication and collaboration in math
- This is what group work in math should look like –
- All group members are focused
- Collaboration between the group members, (sharing of ideas)
- Well defined learning goals and success criteria
- Group members are encouraged to persist and have a growth mindset
When students repeat the activity a couple of times, they begin to see patterns, they can predict where the next numbers can be found, and work more effectively as a group
Strategy 2 – Moving from concrete to abstract
- CONCRETE: an actual apple–it can be felt, manipulated, cut into, eaten, observed.
- VISUAL: an image of apple
- ABSTRACT: the word apple
This is how the flow in math should also be – e.g. For a concept like fractions, get students to fold a newspaper into half, then a fourth, then trace along the lines and observe the shaded parts to recognize the equivalent fractions formed. Later, when they express on paper , they will understand equivalent fractions better, as they can visualise it.
The video below explains the activity
(Watch from 0:40 – 2:54 minutes)
Strategy 3 – Making real life connections
Concepts such as symmetry, tessellation, patterns can very easily be seen in the world around us – flowers, beehives, monuments. Students just have to hone their powers of observation – math is all around us, it’s not just numbers.
To provoke student thinking, ask questions like – What is the shape of each cell in the beehive? Why do you a hexagon would be the best shape for it?
Observe the Fibonacci series in flower petals, the tessellation in the tiles of a floor, the patterns in monuments – field trip for math to Humayun’s Tomb, perhaps?
I have stood on the walkways of my school with my students, counting the petals on flowers, much to the amusement of onlookers!
Number sense in cooking and baking
Ratios and proportion can be introduced through a simple activity of making a glass of lemonade or a fruit salad, and then changing the amount required. So, you give students the quantity of lemon juice, water, sugar, and salt required for 1 glass of lemonade, and then ask how much of each would be required for 2 people, 3 people etc. Once they figure out the correct answer, they can reward themselves with a cool glass of lemonade!!
Analysis of real life events
Most students take a keen interest in sports – so whenever there is a sporting event going on – try and relate math to it. For eg. while we were learning about decimals, the IPL was on. We got students to compare decimals by analysing the bowling speeds of various bowlers to determine who the most impressive bowler of this IPL was!
Other sporting events could be – the Olympics, the FIFA world cup, tennis tournaments etc.
Elapsed time and 24 hrs. time through real life context of flight/train schedules
Students can understand the importance of 12 and 24 hr time as flight timings are written in 24 hr format. They can practise and reinforce conversion between 12 and 24 hr time, and calculation of elapsed time, by analyzing flight/train schedules.
When students read the flight time as 0030 hrs, it is so important to know – is that morning or night, else they may end up missing their flight! Has that happened to anyone of us ??!
Strategy 4 – Gamification
- Children love playing Minecraft, a game of adventure and limitless possibilities as they build, mine, battle mobs, and explore the ever-changing Minecraft landscape.
Math concepts like area and perimeter, patterns, ratios, and coordinates all come alive when they’re laid out spatially and can be manipulated with the click of the mouse, as students immerse themselves in the Minecraft world.
- To bring the fun element in my math classes, i play a game called ‘buzz’ with my students. Over the number of years I have taught math, I have seen that almost every student loves playing this game. They reinforce their times tables and apply divisibility rules – thus improving their skills in such an exciting way. The way the game is played – sit in a circle with your students (i always play with them), choose any number – e.g 4, then starting from 1, every student says numbers sequentially, except they have to say ‘buzz’ for any number that is in the table of 4. So, 1, 2, 3, buzz, 5, 6, 7, buzz…and so on. For older students start from a higher number eg. 100, or choose 2 numbers – so any number that comes in the table of 3 and 4 is buzzed.
Strategy 5 – Encourage a growth mindset in math
Brain research shows that deeper learning and greater neural connections form from making mistakes on difficult tasks, rather than simply having constant success on easy tasks. This is a sentence that my students can now complete for me!! However, I feel it well worth repeating the message, that it is really okay to make mistakes, but it is not okay to not try.
Strategy 6 – Finger perception
Latest research goes against a common misconception that students should not count/calculate using their fingers. I encourage students, who find it difficult to memorize the multiplication tables, to use their fingers to do repeated addition – for e.g. 7 x 3 – add 7 three times using your fingers – 7, 14, 21
‘Mathematics may not teach us to add love or subtract hate, but it gives us hope that every problem has a solution’. I would consider myself a good math teacher not just when my students can solve all sums correctly, but when my efforts sow the love for learning and a spark for always trying ….
I hosted the math café at my school – DPS International – along with a colleague of mine – Ambika Bansal. Both of us teach Grade 5 math, so there is a lot of common understanding and shared experiences of what has worked well for us over the years of teaching math.