I Speak Greek When I Teach Math–PART 3

Hopefully you’ve caught the first two parts of this story already.  If not, they are here and here.  🙂

After we had our cooking lesson, we got back into our groups to do a re-try of our posters.  Another thing that my friend Pam mentioned to me when we were talking about what could have gone wrong was that maybe the paper they were using was too big.  What?!  Something that simple?  It’s funny, because I hadn’t really considered that before she said it, but as soon as she did, it made perfect sense.  They only had a certain amount of information to share with other mathematicians, and many groups ended up with lots of white space they didn’t know what to do with.  Maybe it wasn’t a factor in our troubles, but it was worth taking a look at.  So as we started again, we used smaller posters. 🙂

We tried something else with this investigation, too–we invited another class (who didn’t know anything about our problem) to do our gallery walk with us.  This, we thought (ok, well I thought) would give us an even better idea of how we could revise our first drafts, since it was a “cold read” for them–they could only use the information we gave them to make sense of our mathematical ideas, rather than the context of the problem or background knowledge of the process.  So we invited Mrs. Hong’s class to work with us.  This was a PERFECT situation, because they had just finished a big problem, too, and needed someone to help them revise, too.  Match made in heaven, right?

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I mentioned in my last post that I’ve been thinking about incorporating more with cooking into math next year, and this whole trade-classrooms-and-do-a-gallery-walk thing is another idea my team is considering doing more of.  We want to be more purposeful in how we create real-life, meaningful scenarios for our kiddos to solve, then use the knowledge and ideas of each other to help make the work even better.  Seeing another version of a problem you’ve also solved is very different than looking at a poster that is completely new. The mathematician has a much bigger job to do for these new viewers; every word, number and symbol they write is a clue to help them figure out the puzzle.

So what have you done with posters, gallery walks or real-life problem solving in your class?  What advice do you have for us as we work to continue these ideas with our mathematicians for next year?  We’d love to hear your thoughts. 🙂


The Story of How Alphabox Changed My Life

I love learning.  It’s part of the reason I became a teacher in the first place.  And as my kids will tell you, we’re all teachers in our room, so I’m learning every day!

Aside from learning my students, however, I learn many things from my colleagues, as well!  That’s part of what makes me a better teacher–finding out about new strategies and techniques that are working for others and trying them with my students.  And this is how I found out about the Alphabox.  Credit here needs to go to my friend and 5th grade teammate, Genie Hong.  She introduced me to this strategy the other day and it quickly changed my life forever.  Really it did.  Keep reading. 🙂

Really it’s pretty simple: and Alphabox is a sheet of paper with boxes that each have a different letter of the alphabet in them:

But then the  magic happens.

The Alphabox is an organizer that is aimed at helping students summarize information, by choosing the most important word from a text that they’ve read that starts with each letter of the alphabet.  It can be used with anything, really, but we started with some information we needed to read and digest in our Ancient West Africa unit.

A filled-out Alphabox looks like this:


The next step is to put down the book, pick up your paper and try to summarize the part you just read using only the words on your Alphabox!  The first time around this was a bit tricky (some would even say hard!), but once we got into it, we go the hang of it, and really started to enjoy it, actually.  I’ve had several kids mention that they like how this organizer helps them really focus on the important ideas and it sticks in their brains better than things we’ve done before.  I would agree.

Here are some paragraphs we wrote together with our alphaboxes (and sorry for the fact that they have mistakes–I only got pictures of the rough drafts.  I recopied them before I hung them up, I promise!):

I love it when you learn something new and it totally rocks your world! I wonder what I did all those years before I knew about the Alphabox.  It’s so simple, but so powerful.  You should totally try it.  We’re using it all the time now. 🙂

Have you ever used an Alphabox to organize your important ideas?  Tell us what you think. 🙂