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- Teaching Math: Is There a Right or Wrong Way? - December 10, 2015
I'm at a new school this year and since the beginning of the school year, I have always felt that something was missing from my lessons but I just couldn't put my finger on it. I'm not a new teacher and I have taught many different kinds of students, but the students that I have this year are different because they lack simple life experiences such as going to eat at The Waffle House.
As a natural problem solver, I began to talk with my grade level team members to see if they were having the same kinds of experiences. They agreed that no matter how well they planned and prepared for our lessons it was like the information was falling on deaf ears. We talked about the problem but we really couldn't come up with any viable solutions.
Like most of you, my school year is almost over and the standardized testing date is near but that lingering feeling like the students were not connecting with my lessons like countless other students still remained. In Texas 5th grade is a SSI (Student Success Initiative) grade level which basically means that the students must pass the STAAR test to be promoted to 6th grade. Instead of testing with the rest of the school in May the 5th graders test in March. I really like testing early because it actually gives me a chance to do some really great projects and activities with them. This year was a little different because I really didn't have a clue as to what activity I wanted to do with the students. I always had the desire to implement STEM in my math classroom but I never knew where to begin. With the way that I had been feeling, I felt like I had nothing to lose. So like most teachers I hopped on Google and began to search the Internet.
I searched for STEM projects that I could do with elementary students and I found the Elmer's Glue Popsicle Bridge Project . I thought that this was a great project that I could possibly do with my students but in the back of my mind, I knew that that my students would have a difficult time with the project because they lacked background knowledge of bridges and the engineering design process. I didn't abandon the bridge idea because I had the perfect plan! I could let the student build a Truss Bridge with straws!
I was over the moon at the possibility of creating a successful Truss Bridge STEM project. Since my students were in review mode for the STAAR math test I was able search the Internet for a straw bridge project. I found a straw bridge lesson and modified it for my students. The students were so excited about the project that I didn't have to redirect many students because they were interested in learning about bridges. They worked in their cooperative groups and stayed within their group roles, helped their group members when they needed information during the research segment of the project, and shared ideas as well accepted the ideas of the other group members. My lowest students were answering questions about the different kinds of bridges and could even name and describe the 3 different triangles that are used to build a Truss Bridge.
Yes! The Truss Bridge project was a success and it gave me goosebumps to see them so engaged. Beyond the fact that the project was a success you know that lingering feeling that I was having, guess what? It had suddenly disappeared. I had finally found the solution to my problem and it had a name. It's called deeper learning. In classes where deeper learning is the focus, students' apply what they have learned in one subject area to newly encountered situations in another. They can see how their classwork relates to real life. This approach encourages problem solving, collaboration, communication, self-directed learning, and a belief in oneself alongside mastery of content.
Deeper learning is exactly what the students at my new school need because as English Language Learners the current math curriculum lacks the depth and complexity that the students need to successfully master the math standards for 5th grade. I know that this kind of instructional approach to learning has its pros and cons but for right now it's the perfect solution for me!