I’d like to preface this blog post with a friendly reminder:
I am NOT a morning person.
I am a bleary-eyed, coffee-clutching, stumbling fool before about 9:00 am. Yet…
MY SCHOOL STARTS AT 7:30. Students begin arriving at 7:20. I needed a way to help the morning routine run smoothly so I didn’t accidentally say or do something inappropriate in my morning-cranky haze.
I’ve been using word problems as a way to engage 5th grade mathematicians for awhile, and first thing in the morning seemed like a good time to establish a routine that would accomplish a few things: get them working right away, foster independence when things got a little tough, improve their problem solving skills and give them an opportunity to share and get feedback.
Here’s How It Works
Every Monday morning (usually, because #reallife) my whole class receives a new Problem of the Week on their desk. Their job is to glue it into their notebook when they arrive and start working independently. (Key word: independently. As in, “It’s Monday. It’s before 9:00. Please work by yourself while I do teacher-y things like take attendance and drink my coffee.”) But seriously, I want them to work alone so they can do their best thinking and not worry about what their partner is doing. I find this gives even the most reluctant students an opportunity to have something to share when they do find a partner. They work until the announcements come on, which at my school gives them about 10 minutes.
The next day when students arrive, they get out their problems and keep working. Most likely, they didn’t finish the day before, but even if they did, they can review and revise their work. Every problem I use has an extended thinking question, so they can also move on to work on that part. Again, we work until announcements.
The following days (usually Wednesday and Thursday) are a little different because, once a student is ready, they are free to find a partner to share ideas or help each other get unstuck. I’ve had very little interaction with them on these problems so far, because I’m trying to foster that independence and critical thinking. Working with partners helps them to see the problem from another point of view or to confirm that they were on the right track! We had lots of conversations about what to do when they got stuck, and so we made it into a digital anchor chart.
And put it into their notebooks:
On the last day, usually Friday, students get the opportunity to share their thinking with the whole class. I usually choose a few students who solved the problem in different ways or some who made mistakes along the way. I also like to choose students who explained their thinking particularly well or who showed unique thinking in their strategies. (I also love to showcase organized, clear, and concise work!)
The whole week looks something like this:
Why Use Problem of the Week?
It turns out simplifying the morning routine wasn’t the only great thing about having a Problem of the Week routine.
- helped kids practice skills in just (about) 10 minutes per day.
- encouraged a smooth transition into the school day.
- was a great way to introduce a new concept in a problem solving context.
- gave students opportunities to review their own work every day.
- encouraged revision of ideas and work.
- offered opportunities to collaborate and discuss with other students.
- taught students how to help each other without giving answers.
- gave students lots of opportunities to be successful and grow.