Math = Love: Q & A: Practice Problem Conundrum

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Q & A: Practice Problem Conundrum

Today, I want to answer a couple of questions I received in my e-mail. I hope that my answer can help more than just the teacher who sent in the question. Since I'm hoping this will become a regular thing on the blog, I even made a cute picture for these posts. :)

By the way, I'm terrible at replying to e-mails with questions. Hopefully this will help me get better at answering these types of e-mails.




The Question


Right now I use the textbook to give my students practice problems that they write over in their notes and can reference back to later how they did something (for a quiz, test, etc.). On your blog you mention whiteboards which I think are great, but the work that students did is erased and lost. So:

1) How do you give your students practice problems (where do you get them from, how do you present them)?

2) Do you have students write down their working out of practice problems in their INBs or do you find that it's not necessary?

My Answer

This is one way in which my approach to interactive notebooks is changing. When I first started doing interactive notebooks with my students, I was very controlling of what went on each page. I wanted my students to have notebooks that were identical to mine. We would do a few problems in our notebooks, but the majority of our practice happened on individual white boards. Several of my students started asking if they could include some of the whiteboard problems in their notebooks. I tried to making up a modified page numbering system to accommodate this. If we took notes on page 7 and students wanted to take extra notes, I would have them number these extra pages as 7B, 7C, etc. This was a hassle, and my students never really caught on. 

This year, I've given up on page numbers. As long as my students have the notes in their notebooks, I've decided it doesn't really matter what page the notes are on. It is nice to be able to tell the class to open up to page 52 to reference something, but I think it's more important to have my students taken ownership of their notebooks. I've started to recognize that some of my students need lots and lots of practice problems in their notebooks. Other students benefit more from having a few practice problems in their notebooks and doing the rest of the problems on their dry erase boards.

So, I've started giving my kids an option. We start a new concept by getting out our notebooks. After taking notes and doing a few practice problems, I pause and give them the option to keep their notebooks out or to transition to a dry erase board for the rest of our practice time. My students who need the notes know that they need the notes. My students who prefer the boards often do so because they know that they are more willing to take risks in solving problems when mistakes can be wiped away with a swipe of the finger.

For next year, I think I'm going to have students number pages according to the learning goal. So, I can say turn to the notes for learning goal 14. This may be a different page number for each student, but we should still be able to reference our notes together as a class when necessary.

It comes down to knowing your students and what they need. I'm learning to be less controlling in certain areas because I know it's what's best for my students.

As to your first question, I get practice problems from a variety of sources. I frequently use problems from the free sample Kuta worksheets. I also keep a textbook or two around to steal problems from. But, my most frequent source for problems is the Test and Item Specs and Released EOI Items from the Oklahoma Department of Education. I try to expose my students to the wording they will see on their end-of-instruction exams. I also frequently just do google searches for various topics and steal worksheets and practice problems from other teachers on the Internet.


11 comments:

  1. One thing I do is let students write extra problems on a post-it, index card or piece of paper that they can just tape into their notebooks on the correct page. That way they can still have page numbers. Or some just work on the next page and don't number it so when I do give page numbers, they still have them.

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    1. Great idea! I always have students who run out of space just by a little. I need to remember this post-it note idea for them, too!

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  2. We will have new textbooks next year. I'm planning to do a composition books for notes still but have them keep a spiral notebook with all of their practice work in it. I'll have tubs in my room so they can leave them in the classroom as needed. I also use the whiteboards for beginning work.

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    1. I like the idea of having two notebooks, but I struggle with finding space in my tiny classroom to let my students store things in here. Need to come up with more creative storage ideas this summer!

      I also like the idea of starting the class with whiteboard review and ending the class with notebook problems. Then, we could do whiteboard review of what was practiced in the notebooks the next day.

      Thanks for the ideas!

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    2. :-) Our students have to have evidence of completing their formative assignments to take the summative assessment. The spirals along with observations, MP tasks, and common formative assessments will be the evidence

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  3. I also struggled with page numbers, especially since some students have larger handwriting, and some I need a magnifying glass to read. I really like the idea of numbering the pages according to the unit or topic. You could also print labels for them with the unit topic (ex: Ratios) on it to mark at least the beginning and ending of that unit's pages. That way, students have the right amount of pages for them as learners.

    As far as practice problems and where to put them .... some of my kids have liked putting them right into their interactive notebook. Others have wanted to put them right into the unit packets as we work.

    I learned this year, having done interactive notebooks, that they can be a tool that empowers the kids to make their own choices for how they learn best. It gives them ownership over their learning. :)

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    1. Love the idea of labels! Or, we could even make the labels fold over the pages slightly to form mini-tabs for each learning goal.

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  4. I can't speak for the interactive notebook, as I don't use them. However, with my 8thgrade algebra and 9th grade geometry students, I have found that letting them take a photo of the problems done on the whiteboard, or any extra notes on the board helps them. Since I have a projector hooked to my computer, but no interactive board, lessons are done through powerpoint, which I post for the ids on Edmodo. We often work extra problems on the whiteboard. Students can take the photos of the powerpoint slides, or of what is on the whiteboard using their phones or ipads. (all of these students have one or the other)

    Since I teach internationally, I have found the INB to be a challenge, because we just don't have access to the same type of composition books that are available in the USA.

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    1. Could you do some other sort of notebook that is readily available?

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  5. I've reached the same conclusion about page numbers in INBs that you have. I just don't care any more. I like the idea of attaching notes to a learning target or some other higher-order organizing principle. I might just use the learning target name, rather than the number, since that's what I want them to associate with.

    Thanks for all this food for thought!

    - Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)

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    1. Good point about associating with the name of the learning target and not the number!

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