Random (and not so random) Acts

Last week, as I was walking down an aisle in the grocery store, I had a sudden flashback to my childhood.   A little girl was hopping down the aisle, making sure to only land on the white tiles.   I smiled as I remembered doing the exact same thing, selecting a color at random and then looking for the pattern in the tiles to navigate my way.   Seeking patterns and building structure has always been the way that my brain works.

Given my penchant for structure, it’s no big shock that my daily classroom routine follows a regular pattern and has a definite structure.   (I do all kinds of different things within that structure, but I stick pretty closely to the overall structure.)     I close each lesson with a summary and then take the last five to ten minutes of class to revisit material that we have already covered.   It is a chance to force delayed recall and to try to find new ways to address something when the first time didn’t work well enough for some kids.   This is where I differentiate instruction most days.

My Favorite Thing – Random Acts

Every once in a while, I step out of my box.    Yesterday, after our exit card,  I gave students a different kind of task.   They had to select a random act of kindness.     They must do the random act of kindness sometime in the next week.   I had my student aides create the set of tasks.   My only direction to my aides as they created the tasks was that the tasks had to be free and they had to be something that kids could actually do with relative ease by themselves.    These are some of the tasks they created.

  • Hold a door open for someone.
  • Help someone who needs help with a problem (math).
  • Smile at someone.
  • Give someone a compliment.
  • Do an extra chore for your parents (without being asked and without drawing attention to it).
  • Help a teacher clean up the room (and doing it for someone who gives you a reward doesn’t count)
  • Save pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House (our Builder’s Club collects them)
  • Make someone laugh.
  • Share paper or a pencil with someone who forgot theirs.
  • Save Box Tops for Education (our SPSO collects them)
  • Compliment your parent’s cooking

The ground rules are that the act must be done without seeking reward/attention and that it should be a small thing to make someone else’s day a little bit brighter.

This was a follow-up to two other closing activities.   First, I had students share one brave thing on a post-it.   About a week later, I had them share one kind thing.    These small acts of bravery and kindness that they have done or witnessed at school fill a space on our classroom wall.

I have a plan in mind for my next step on the “brave” front.   I don’t know how well it will work, but I am trying really hard to bring “Be Kind and Be Brave” to life.

Not So Random Acts – Only if you want a “math”y answer

After each quiz or test, I track each student’s mastery of the different skills/concepts in a spreadsheet.   I use this information to form intentional groupings for different activities.  Sometimes, the groupings match skill levels.   Sometimes, the groupings pair someone with mastery with someone who is still working on putting a concept together.    The only thing that is consistent is that the groups are constantly changing and that everyone is an expert at something and no one is an expert at everything.

Tiered Grouping

I use tiered groupings early in the year as students work on number operations.   Students  play Jenga to practice decimal division.   I have three versions of the game with three levels of difficulty (dividing a decimal by a whole number for students who don’t know the standard division algorithm and need some 1:1 or small group instruction, dividing a decimal by a decimal for students who are learning how to manage the decimal point, dividing a decimal by a decimal with a zero in the quotient for everyone else).  Students are assigned to a version of the game using a color coding system.   As students progress, versions of the game are retired.

Skill Grouping  

I use skill groupings for number operations  in addition to tiered grouping.    Students are assigned to play a game to practice a targeted skill.   Students play Don’t Get Zapped to practice decimal multiplication, rational number addition and subtraction, and rational number multiplication and division,   They use Fraction Fortune Tellers to practice mixed number addition and subtraction.   They use Fraction Flip It (a game with cards) to practice mixed number multiplication and division.   I set these games up as stations and I circulate, working with students as they play different games.  The games don’t have a high DOK, but they aren’t intended to do so.   They are fun ways to squeeze a little bit of practice into a routine on a regular basis.   I try to make my lessons higher DOK, so I don’t worry too much if the last few minutes are just fun.

Mixed-ability Grouping

I use mixed ability groupings most often.

Oftentimes,  I pair a student who has mastered a concept with a student who has not (none of them know this – I am just intentional in forming the grouping).

  • I do this with task cards where students practice making double number lines and tape diagrams.      (For some reason, some of my students really struggle with these models.    A lot of these kids seem to view math as algorithmic.   Pairing them with a kid who is more of a “sense-maker” seems to help them make sense of the model.   The combination of the kid talk and the “this is not going away – you have to learn it” seems to help bridge the gap better than anything else I have found.)
  • I  do this with “find the error in the graph”
  • I do this with card sort activities for all kinds of concepts
  • I do this with manipulatives that build 3-D shapes.   Students create the net, find the surface area, and/or find the volume.
  • I do this with exit cards using green/red marking.   I send a kid with a green mark to work with a red mark.   (I can’t have a 1:1 conversation with every student who needs help in a couple of minute span, but someone can. )

I do this with the whole class with Quiz/Quiz/Trade card sets or Give One/Get One card sets.   Right now, I am collecting spice mixture recipes from my students (trying to reflect their cultural experiences in some of our problems) to create a set of cards to practice modeling mixed number division.   (Too many of my students didn’t do well enough with this skill on our last test, so we are going to keep working on it.)

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