Friday, May 9, 2008

Playing Catch-up

A few months ago, I wrote about the grade seven math class I'm co-teaching and the rote memorization of multiplication facts. The basic thesis is that I know my students need to learn the multiplication facts, but I cringe at the monotonous repetition of multiplication tables and skip counting (the comments suggest I didn't convey the former as well as I did the latter).

After a few weeks of helping my counterpart get started with the instruction and use of mad math minutes every morning, I let her take over and moved on to other projects. Last week I checked back in.

"How is mad maths minutes going?" I asked.

"You know, I can say now, though it is not one hundred percent" she said, "I can say that I am satisfied."

She is an excellent teacher who receives much respect from her students and co-workers, but I was skeptical that the six week mad math minute program with only two weeks of instruction would yield results we could both be satisfied with. Together we've been focusing a great deal on assessment and it's three main uses as I see it: assessment of instruction, feedback to learners in the form of evaluation, and grading. So I suggested we perform a post-assessment to check our instruction.

We gave the learners five minutes to complete 50 multiplication facts. Using the rules of mad math minute, a learner could only receive points for the number of problems they consecutively and correctly solve starting with problem one. So for a learner to get 10 points, the first 10 answers must be correct. They may have missed number 11, but if number 12 is correct, it makes no difference. The reason for this harsh grading is to get the students to know all 390 of the math facts, not just the easy ones.

As I feared, the highest score out of 98 students was 17. Few learners completed more than 10 questions and the vast majority could not answer the first problem - 9 x 9.

My counterpart felt that the students had relaxed since she had finished doing mad math minute a couple weeks before. I agreed with her, but added that our instruction did not make the information stick, and so this Monday, we're starting fresh. All grade seven students are arriving at school an hour early for 50 minutes of multiplication instruction. (South African students, unlike most of their American counterparts, are more than willing to arrive before school for additional learning.)

I've written up six weeks worth of lesson outlines (here they call it a work schedule) and this weekend I'll write up the lesson plans for each day next week. We're throwing everything we can think of at them - flashcards on yarn, 1-100 squares that you color in the numbers on, touch math mini-lessons, and mad math minutes is back on a daily basis. If our lessons prove successful then we can hit grades 3 to 6 next and hopefully end this game of catch-up. I'll post my lesson reflections here, but they'll only appear on the complete feed with lessons.

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