Time in my math classroom always flies by! Whether we are striving to cover a new concept or spending time grappling with a problem or two, the time passes too quickly. There are so many things to talk about, so many things to “get done” and such little actual time! We have 44 minutes for math (minus time to switch classes) and for 6th graders, it often just isn’t enough time for us to do much more than get through our curriculum. Our students are not grouped by ability, so students in the same classroom struggle with basic facts and choosing the correct operation for a word problem, while others have mastered these skills (and more) a long time ago. Little time is left for in-class projects (though I do dedicate time for group problem solving that addresses real life situations….these sometimes feel like small projects!). When students are at such different levels, projects need to offer options that allow students to work in an area of strength, especially if the actual math topic is challenging for them. While some of my 6th graders will take projects very seriously and put forth fabulous effort, others still struggle to complete a “good” project on their own. For these reasons, I have started offering “choice boards” for projects.
For a recent choice board project addressing fraction operations, I gave students a choice of 12 different projects, allowing them to choose the way in which they wanted to demonstrate/apply their knowledge. The project options were not complicated; they offered a mix of alternatives, some being real-life applications, while others allowed students to function as teachers/presenters. Regardless of students’ choices, my goal was to reinforce the concepts and help student understanding to become deeper, as will happen when students must teach, explain, or apply their skills to different situations. Doesn’t this aspect of choice boards applies to any subject area?
For math projects, it is important to incorporate real-world aspects that will help students to understand the role math plays in life every day. Therefore, included in the choices were: the option to alter the fractions in a recipe; write musical rhythms that applied the use of fractions; find the areas and perimeters of the rooms in a floor plan they designed (room lengths had to have sides with fractions in their dimensions). Other choices helped students to use their logic and problem solving skills to work with magic squares using fractions. More options included presenting or teaching fractions operations through creating a PowerPoint, a video, a children’s book or a song.
There are students who, much like myself when I was in high school, will hesitate to volunteer in class, for whatever the reason. Individual projects allowing personal choice provide those students with a greater opportunity to truly display the depth of their understanding.
Ellie is a math teacher at the middle level (grade 6). She shares classroom ideas and activities at Middle School Math Moments (and more!).