A while ago now, I had a great conversation online with Chris Wejr, a principal in British Columbia, William Chamberlain, a teacher from Missouri, and many others. We spoke about the values and drawbacks of keeping lessons the same over the years versus changing them. I mentioned that I rarely do the same thing twice, at least in the same way. While this is true, an activity that worked well, I may do again, but usually tweaking it to meet the needs of my current group of students.
I thought about this discussion this week when I coordinated a Shape Hunt for my Grade 1/2 class. Last year, we did this hunt as an introductory lesson too, but this year, I made some important changes:
1) Students worked in partners instead of on their own. I wanted students to continually dialogue about shapes, and I thought that if they worked on their own, this wouldn’t happen. In a group of two, they had to discuss what pictures they were taking and why, and this helped! We got some great “math talk.”
2) Students used various tools to take the photographs, and in some cases, videos. Last year, all of the students used Palm Treos to take these photographs. This year though, as a class we’ve really discussed the benefits of multiple tools for learning. Students feel comfortable with using various tools, and they see the value in different tools too. As a result, I had some groups using Palm Treos, some groups using iPod Touches, some groups using digital cameras, and some groups using flipcams. Groups chose which tool they used.
3) Students traded tools throughout the Shape Hunt. I encouraged students to do this, as I wanted them to experiment with different ways of documenting their thinking. While sometimes they were taking photographs, other times they were recording videos, and this helped shape some of their discussions too.
4) I challenged students throughout the process to find different shapes based on different clues that I provided. Sometimes I focused in on the number of sides or vertices, sometimes I just wanted them to find multiple shapes in a given area, and sometimes I asked them to find objects that were the same shapes as other objects. With my own professional learning focus on math this year, I think that I’ve taken an even closer look at the Math Curriculum Documents, and I had an even better understanding of what expectations I wanted students to meet as a part of this activity. While last year, I was just glad that students were finding shapes in their environment, this year, I wanted them to talk about the properties of shapes too. Giving clues helped guide some of the discussion, and I quickly got a good understanding of which students already know the properties of shapes and which students were having more difficulty with this.
5) I added a global component to the activity, and I opened our Shape Hunt up to other classes that wanted to participate through Twitter. Using the hashtag #shapes2012, classes could tweet us clues about shapes and we would tweet back replies with photographs of the shapes. The students used the cameras on the iPod Touches to do this. It was the first time that students tweeted out photographs, but combining the visual of the picture with the written explanation was great! The only problem is that we had some issues with the tweetstream updating on time, so we missed a lot of the tweets on our Shape Hunt. The students adjusted though, and still shared photographs and information. Ideally, they would have added more information about the shapes, but I think that this could have worked better if the hashtag was updating as usual for us, and we could have had discussions with other students and classes. The next time, I’d also bring along an iPod Touch or iPad, where I can tweet out questions for the students to respond to as well. This might extend the discussion around shapes.
The great thing is that even without my students participating in the discussion in the tweetstream, the discussion still evolved with other teachers and classes tweeting away about shapes. We can now go back and add to the discussion, or even encourage another Twitter chat on another similar topic. In fact, on Tuesday, students are going to be tweeting using the hashtag #namethatshape2012, where they describe shapes that they see in the classroom, and see if others can guess the shapes. I’m hoping that this will lead to an even bigger discussion on the properties of shapes.
Last year’s lesson was a success, but this year’s one was even more so because of the added components. Students really started talking about shapes and the similarities and differences that they see when comparing different shapes. The only thing that bothered me is that the majority of students that recorded videos ended up with ones such as the one below:
Videos such as this one show me that the students know the names of the shapes, but they don’t record the good discussion that was actually happening in the hallway on shapes. So why did this happen? I think that I need to be more specific with what information I want recorded. Maybe I can give the students a list of guiding questions that can help them as they record. Had I provided questions such as what are the properties of the shapes, what other objects are the same shapes, and how do you know that this shape is a ________________, would it have resulted in a different video outcome? I think that the answer is, “yes.”
I’ll know this for the next time though, and I’ll know it for future activities as well. It’s a hard decision, as I want the students to have that spontaneous “math talk,” but I also want to guide those that don’t know what to say. Maybe I need to ensure that I spend the most time with those that are recording videos, so that I can ask the questions if needed and/or let the discussion continue as is if the questions aren’t required. What do you think? What would you do?
Already I know that I would do this activity again another year, but with changes in place to make it better. As teachers, we encourage our students to take risks, reflect on decisions, and make changes accordingly. I’m glad that I can show my students that I do the same thing as a teacher too.
What lessons have you kept the same over the years? How have you changed them to make them even better? I’d love to hear your stories!