Tuesday, July 24, 2018

How Problem of the Week Saved My Sanity

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:

These days are also the time when students revise their work based on their discussions with partners. This might mean adding a bit more detail, changing some part of their answer, or explaining their thinking more clearly. I always ask students to review in another color so it's easy for them (and me!) to see how their thinking has changed.

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.

It also:

  • 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.

Wrapping It Up (I swear!)

Problem of the Week has literally been a morning routine game changer in my 5th grade classroom. They know what to do. They do it. I drink coffee and take attendance and do anything else that needs taking care of in the morning. (Because you know the office is calling and someone left their backpack in the cafeteria and it's probably snowing so everyone is dealing with boots and hats and mittens.) 

And beyond the obvious plus of me not being a crazy lunatic in the morning, the students really grew. Not only in their mathematical knowledge and abilities, but in their confidence, their willingness to take risks and their ability to discuss mathematics with a partner. It was a win for everyone!

You can totally create your own problems for this routine, or find some in your math resource. (Usually all the good word problems are at the end of the chapter...) 

Or if you want some that are already done for you, you can check these out on TpT. These problems all focus on the Number and Operations in Base Ten standards for 5th grade. (More domains coming soon!!!) Click on the picture to check it out. 

Problem of the Week Graphic


If you think you want to give it a try, just do it! Your sanity, and your students, will benefit.


1 comment:

  1. I love this, Nichole! Great idea and your explanations are very helpful. Thanks so much for your step-by-step guide to making POW powerful and doable!

    ReplyDelete

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