Sunday, June 8, 2014

Making Math Workshop Time Meaningful

The topic of discussion for Week 2 of the "Diggin' Into Series" is Math Workshop.  Out of the list of topics, I must admit that this is my absolute favorite since I have always taught math and have worked with resources at a variety of grade levels.  Right now in one of my summer courses where I am working with some future elementary teachers, we have been having discussions on our Discussion Board in an online course about the root of their math anxiety (for those who suffer from it).  You would be amazed to hear some of the stories from these future teachers about how early elementary teachers planted the seeds for their years of math anxiety that grew stronger with each and every struggle that they have faced.  Perhaps good organization with math workshops and positive experiences with intervention from a teacher might have prevented the beginning stages of this type of anxiety.  Who knows?  We are certainly exploring this as they work toward becoming future teachers.

Make Math Workshop Time Meaningful

While I realize that you may believe that many of the students in your classroom today are visual learners because of all of the technology that exists in the world today, I am guessing that you still have some learners who are auditory (prefer to hear to learn), verbal (prefer to write or speak to learn), kinesthetic (prefer to physically move or touch things), logical (prefer to reason when learning), social (prefer learning in groups), and solitary (prefer learning alone).  The problem is that you cannot satisfy all of the learners in your classroom with one single type of problem presentation and activity in your math workshop.  You have to offer a variety of problem presentations and allow students to work on the concepts you are teaching from a multiple of meaningful learning approaches so that they can leave your classroom having learned by the way(s) that influences them the most.  

When I first started teaching, I was especially guilty of teaching the way that I was always taught.  I figured that if I was able to learn that way, then so should everyone else!  Right???

Wrong!  That was one of the first things that I had to learn to change.  Just because I was a visual learner who also loved to physically move and touch things with my hands did not necessarily mean that my students loved doing the same.  Thus, when I began thinking of ways to introduce new concepts to students or instruct my new teachers about introducing new concepts to students, I knew that their Math Workshop time needed to be built around the different types of learning styles.

How would it look in my classroom?  Let us pretend that I was introducing the idea of equivalent fractions to my classroom.

I would begin the introduction of the new concept with  some type of foldable for their interactive notebook that would hopefully allow my kinesthetic learners to be moving and touching something and for my logical learners to be trying to reason the idea behind the word equivalent.  I would have the students write the term "equivalent fraction" and offer them a formal definition only after I first allowed them the chance to offer guesses at what they thought that the term might possibly mean (especially since we would have already studied fractions and they should have realized that the root word was "equal").  The foldable would have flaps with the reduced form of an equivalent fraction listed below a nonreduced form on a flap folded on top of the reduced form to show several examples.  I would provide the first series of examples of 1/2, 2/4, 3/6, 4/8 and then start the students with the next set of 1/3 (hoping that they would come up with equivalent forms of 2/6, 3/9, 4/12 after talking with me about where my other equivalent fractions came from on the first series of fractions.  I could then let a student give me a basic fraction to start us on the next example.  This work at our individual seats would also benefit the student who preferred to work alone.

Next, we would divide into groups of 3-4 students to allow the students who prefer to be social while learning.  I would have several different stations around the room for students to continue to work on the idea of equivalent fractions and also allow me the time that I may need to do intervention with particular students.  The equivalent fraction stations would include activities such as a concrete manipulative station, a virtual manipulative station, a scoot station using task cards, a quiz me section using the interactive notebooks, and another task card station where students all work the same problem to see if they all get the same answer.

In the concrete manipulative station, students must build models of the different fractions that were listed in the interactive notebooks using centimeter cubes or any type of blocks where they could then show that the overall ratio of cube on the top of the fraction to cubes on the bottom of the fraction for each series was the same overall.  In the virtual manipulative station, students would go to the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives to practice finding the equivalent fraction of a given fraction as shown below.

The task cards offer so many option in the classroom and the game of scoot or the option for all students to work the same problem and then all check the answer at the same time and then give each other peer feedback can help students learn from each other.

For the game of quiz-me, one student can choose one of the fractions from the earlier list of equivalent fractions to see if another student can name one of the fractions that was equivalent to that one.  Then, the next student can do the same.  

Here is a link to the set of task cards mentioned above and another set of fraction task cards that I have in my TPT Store.  I have a variety of Math Task Cards sets to offer for Grades 1-5 that you can find by clicking on this link for Shari Beck's Math Task Card Sets.

 Equivalent Fractions Task Card Set
Equivalent Fractions Task Card Set
Naming Fractions Task Cards

Problem Solving Using Algebraic Representations

As always, I look forward to sharing with you again next time.


  1. I am glad you brought up the issue of math anxiety in future teachers. I think many seasoned teachers have the same problem. Many teachers are comfortable teaching math they way they've been teaching it for years, and if you try to move them to newer methods, they really panic. If I had been taught math the way I am currently teaching math, I think my whole life would have turned out differently. This is a bit unsettling since things turned out very well, but also because I shut so many doors because of math anxiety. I think one thing we need to do to make a change in society is get teachers to move beyond their math anxiety and thoroughly understand what they are teaching.
    Not very fancy

    1. Deb,

      You are so right! Seasoned teachers are some of the best in their experience, and I am one of the first to admit that I get so comfortable in my teaching that the idea of having to change doesn't always make me happy. It doesn't necessarily bring me anxiety, like some would feel in dealing with the idea of math anxiety, but I simply do not like change. I guess I could say that I sometimes want to shut doors because I want to keep things the way they are instead of going through the initial "rocky roads" of change. We have found some success in our area with what are known as Teacher Quality Grant Programs where groups of teachers work together with Master Teachers in a subject area to feel more comfortable about making changes.

      I am so glad you made this point about the seasoned teachers as well. Thanks so much!




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