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Differentiated Math Assignments

Differentiating instruction is one of the greatest challenges for self-contained classroom teachers. Gone are the days of whole group lessons, and assigning the same activities to the entire class. We now teach in a student-centered environment where personalized learning is key.

Fortunately, our students are more engaged and successful than with the former instructional model. Unfortunately, teachers often feel swamped by the prep, coordination, and organization required to maintain quality differentiation. The key to keeping overwhelm at bay is the use of consistent routines and frameworks like math workshop, daily 5, reader’s workshop, and writer’s workshop throughout the day.

What Is M.A.T.H. Workshop?

M.A.T.H. workshop is a framework that allows students to learn new math content each day, practice math strategies in a variety of ways, and reflect on learning through verbal or written sharing. The predictable structure of math workshop makes it easier for students to participate in differentiated activities.

The components of M.A.T.H. workshop include:

  • Daily math warm up (10-15 minutes)
  • Mini lesson (10 minutes)
  • M.A.T.H. practice time (40 minutes)
  • Share (5-10 minutes)

Daily Math Warm Up

This is a time when students are provided spiral review, and routine practice with challenging skills that require repetition to achieve mastery. Your math adoption may have a strong spiral review component that can be utilized, or you may be interested in differentiating your warm up through the use of an activity like Number of the Day (you can learn more about why I prefer this option here).

Your students should be able to complete the daily warm up activities with complete independence to set a positive tone for their workshop session each day.

Mini Lesson

Each day, students participate in a 5-10 minute lesson, during which new math content is introduced. This is one of two very brief times when all students are potentially working on the same activity simultaneously.  This is also a time when students can work through personalized lesson sequences using Khan Academy, Front Row, or your own video lessons recorded using a tool like Educreations. To learn more about different mini lesson approaches, click here.

M.A.T.H. Practice Time

Following their daily math lesson, students have an extended work session when they practice the new math skills taught that day, build their problem solving skills by solving performance tasks, get hands-on math practice, work on project based learning, complete assessments, use technology to practice math skills, and receive differentiated instruction from you.

How is this possible? These activities are organized into the following categories, stations, or rotations:

M – Meet with the teacher

Students receive differentiated instruction from you. You can either schedule specific small groups to work with each day, or formatively assess students as they work, and pull individuals and small groups as needed. For more tips on organizing small groups for M.A.T.H. Workshop, click here. If you are interested in learning five tips for efficient data tracking during workshop, read this post.

In my third grade class, I prefer the latter because I can touch base with more students each day using this approach.

A – At your seat

Students work to build their math reasoning, modeling, and problem solving skills. This is a perfect time for students to work on assignments that match their specific skill level. Student independence is a central focus of at your seat work. To learn how to boost student independence during M.A.T.H. Workshop, read this post.

Resources utilized for the at your seat rotation in my third grade class include:

  • Reteaching, practice, and enrichment sheets from our math adoption for math drill and equation practice.
  • Problem Solving Task Cards for practice with performance tasks, word problems, math modeling, and writing about math reasoning.
  • Project based learning units to apply math concepts to real world situations and provide cross-curricular integration.
  • Performance tasks
  • Math Journals

To read about each of these at your seat activities in detail, click here.

T – Technology

Students build math fact fluency using math websites or apps.

Websites used in my third grade class, depending on the unit, include IXL, Front Row, Khan Academy, Quick Math, Hungry Fish, and Multiplication.com.

H – Hands on

Students build math reasoning and fact fluency as they play math games. Providing students with game cards that have a consistent format boosts independence and engagement.

In my third grade class, we use Math In Motion Hands On Math Games for every math unit. To read tips about boosting math game success, click here.

Organizing Student Groups

To maximize efficiency and focus in the classroom, you may want to group students based on a pre-assessment. The groups you form can work through these activities at assigned times to minimize overcrowded at a specific rotation option, and to provide balance in the type of practice students participate in each week.

I use the schedule template above to provide each group with equal opportunity to visit each station. To access this editable schedule template and a set of printable number desk tags, click here. To read all the details about how I organize groups and set our schedule, click here.

Share

Students take a moment to reflect on the math progress made that day and share their thoughts verbally, or in writing. This is the second brief time when all students are potentially working on the same activity simultaneously. A few methods for sharing include:

  • Buddy share out: share a reflection, or the response to a specific question with a math buddy.
  • Whiteboard share: write a reflection, or sharing response on a whiteboard.
  • Journal share: write a reflection, or sharing response in a journal.
  • Exit Ticket: write the response to a specific question on a whiteboard, or on a slip of paper.
  • Whole class share out: take a moment to reflect silently, then share a reflection with the class.

The Benefits of M.A.T.H. Workshop

Since implementing the M.A.T.H. Workshop framework in my third grade classroom, math time has become one of our favorite parts of the day.

Students are more engaged because they participate in a variety of activities each day. Student achievement has grown because students are engaged in math work that is “just right” for them.

My math prep time is minimal because I rarely need to change centers, print materials, or prep elaborate lessons. I have more assessment data because I interact with students and can provide them support at their level.

Ready To Give M.A.T.H. Workshop A Try?

For more details about each component of M.A.T.H. Workshop, check out my other posts about this instructional approach:

If you want to give M.A.T.H. Workshop a test drive in your own classroom, grab your M.A.T.H. Workshop Starter Kit, and feel free to share any questions you have about implementation in the comments below.

Filed Under: Math, Project Based LearningTagged With: Differentiated Instruction, Differentiation, Math, Math Games, Math In Motion, Math Projects, Math Workshop

Teachers have been split down the middle for years regarding if students should be assigned homework or not. Some think that it is very effective, while others disagree.

Whatever the case may be, many students are still getting lots of homework, especially in math. Math can be a very hard subject for many students, particularly when you add the “New math” aligned with the Common Core. Many students need to review and practice these skills at home with their parents.

However, many parents do not have the knowledge or the skills of how to help their child with the new math, resulting in the teacher having to re-teach the concept the following day.

Here are a few math homework teaching strategies, as well as a few teaching strategies on how to make math homework more meaningful.

Homework Teaching Strategies

Students are taught at a very young age that homework is meant to help make the information learned stick to their brains. However, many students (especially the older ones) do not believe that homework will help them. Keep that thought in mind before you hand out any homework, as well as the following tips.

  • Keep homework assignments short and to the point. You do not need to assign students 20 of the same problem to see if they understand the concept. Just assign a few of each concept.
  • Before even assigning any homework, make sure that all students know how to do the problems so that you don’t have to waste any time the following day re-teaching it.
  • Consider only assigning homework to the students that need the help. If a student completely understands the concept, they do not need to keep going over it time and time again.
  • Try to differentiate the homework. If you don’t have time to do that, then consider assigning students a math app review game that is at their level.
  • Start each class with a quick review of what was taught the previous day. This will help you see which students really grasped the concept, and which students still need a little more practice. Considering having students complete one to five practice problems.

Quick Check

As mentioned earlier in the homework tips, consider assigning only the students who need the practice homework. You can figure this out by doing a quick check. A quick check is a popular teaching strategy that only takes a few minutes, and you can have students complete the problems on scrap paper or on a dry erase board. Make sure that you let students know, that if they get all of the answers correct on their quick check then they will have no homework. This is a great motivator, especially for the students who never hand in their homework. You will find that you will have a lot more engaged students once you implement this teaching strategy.

Procedure:

  1. Here’s how to do a quick check. Write down a few problems on the front board and have students (privately) do them on their own. Tell students to make sure that they show all of their work. If you are using dry erase boards then you can have students just write down their answers and show their work on a separate sheet of paper. Or, you can have students complete one problem at a time, then as a class check their work.
  2. Give students enough time to complete each problem. If students finish early, have them re-check their work and remind them they only get one shot at getting it right or they get homework. This strategy really works because you will find a lot more students paying attention during the math lesson.
  3. Walk around the classroom and mark off the students that got all of the problems correct, and also keep track of the ones who didn’t, these will be students who will receive homework.
  4. When everyone has completed their problems go over all of them, then discretely hand out the homework to the students who need it.

Making Homework Work

Here are a few tips on how to make math homework more meaningful.

Utilize Class Time

Use the extra time at the end of class to allow students to start their homework. You do not know the kind of parental support that they have at home so it is wise to give your students the support they need during class time.

Use Technology

Children love technology and any chance that you give them to use it, they will take it. There are millions of fun math apps on the market that students can really benefit from. Try assigning an app for homework and you will never hear “I forgot to do my homework” again.

Use Real-World Connections

How many times have you heard a student say “When am I ever going to use this in my life?” Well, you can answer this question by showing them that people do use math in their everyday lives. You can show them how chemistry is applied in their kitchen, or how electricians need to use the correct equations and formulas to get their job done.

For many teachers, homework is a struggle. The students that really need it never want to do it, and the students that don’t need are always the ones that are first to hand it in. If you are really have a difficult time getting your students to do their homework, then please consider the quick check strategy. Many teachers have been using this idea with their dry erase boards for years, and have found it to be extremely effective.

How do you make math homework more meaningful? Do you have tips that you would like to share? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below, we would love to hear your ideas.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.

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