Equivalent Fractions Lesson Fail (and Fix)

The week after vacation, as every teacher knows, is crunch time.  We know that the state math test is rapidly approaching and equivalent fractions lesson reviews are in order.  And we know that the pressure is ON.  As veteran teachers, the whole thing is old hat.

It's not old hat to our kids, however!

Usually my fourth graders tend to be well rested after a vacation (a benefit of teaching upper elementary kids; they don't forget about classroom expectations like the little ones).  But during Monday's equivalent fractions lesson, my kiddos were just not on their game. 

The Equivalent Fractions Lesson Fail

First, I was all excited to do an equivalent fractions activity involving stations and manipulatives and exploring different shapes and amounts of pieces that can equal one whole.  I was going to lead a discussion on patterns we notice and post photos of all their ideas and it was going to be collaborative and hands on and foster real mathematical thinking.

That is not what occurred.  At all.  

Similarly, my plan was to end the day with a fantastic board game I created that help kids practice how heating and cooling results in a solid, liquid, or gas.  I spent my vacation finding cute fonts for the game pieces, typing up directions, and looking forward to more thank yous like I got on 100s day for the fun activity that helped them practice a tricky concept until it was mastered.

Again...nope.  Most of the class was so off task that I called off the game.  I let the kids who had done focused work help me with some coloring/cutting prep, and left it for the next day.

It just confirms the fact that no matter how carefully you plan a lesson, no matter how fun you make it, and no matter how many classes it's worked for in the past, not every equivalent fractions lesson works for every group of children.  Otherwise there would be a single curriculum that everyone uses.

So here's how I turned a day 1 equivalent fractions lesson fail into a day 2 triumph!

Changing the Content Delivery for My Equivalent Fractions Lesson

The first problem was that the kids bicker, a lot.  Despite Morning Meeting and Responsive Classroom, and student generated rules and setting expectations for group work and reminders 5 minutes prior to starting, they still bicker.  

The second problem was that despite modeling each station, posting the model and directions on the board, and answering questions/the same question 10 times, lots of kids just did not understand concept and/or, more likely, the directions.  

So what I decided was to give them an extra day of break...from each other.  I love collaborative learning and I do lots of it.  Which is strange, because I'm an introvert.  Or maybe it's BECAUSE I'm an introvert, and it doesn't come naturally to me, so I want very much to impart the strategies I've learned in order to help other introverts in my class.  But when it's not working, there's no sense beating a dead horse.  When the concept is too hard AND they have to focus on collaborating well, it's too much for them to handle; one of those things has got to give, and today it was the collaboration.

The Equivalent Fractions Lesson Fix

The equivalent fractions lesson fixSo for Tuesday's equivalent fractions lesson reboot I came in with...a worksheet.  I know, I know, what a horrible teacher I am.  Antiquated methods and all that.  But you know what?  They did it.  They did focused work for the period, they noticed patterns during this revised equivalent fractions lesson, and they enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere that coloring patterns tends to evoke. 

Once they finished the worksheet, I pulled out the manipulatives once again with a different, higher level skill to work on.  But by starting out with a coloring worksheet (you can get it free from my TPT store) with the exact same skill that didn't come to them when they were collaborating with a hands on activity, suddenly they could do it.     
I continued to rethink the cooperative work hiatus in the afternoon.  I didn't let them play the science game in their groups.  Instead I told them they were going to "play with me."  I chose only 4 kids to get a game board, and I got one too.  I situated them so that kids could look on with those that got to play.  And then we each took turns, drew cards, read them aloud, talked about our move, practiced the good sportsmanship I was modeling, and applauded the first person who got to the finish line.  

I'd never tried a board game this way.
I liked it!

I'll definitely use this strategy at the beginning of the year, and whenever a class has a case of the "bickers."  Not only did it help, but the kids actually enjoyed it.  They started saying "us," instead of "her" for the person near them playing with the same board.  They formed informal teams.  It created a better atmosphere than having 5 separate groups with every man for himself.  Sometimes you just know:  It's time for plan B! 

So how do you use this in your own teaching?  My vignette was one example, but here are more general ideas.  

5 Switcheroos for Plan B Activities:

1.  If a competitive game creates tension, take out the competition. 
2.  If a cooperative activity creates tension, try an individual activity (worksheets including coloring often go down well).
3.  If individual activities (like worksheets) create frustration, try a partner activity (Pick partners by personality, then sit with a couple partnerships who struggle with the content area).  
4.  If you don't have good working partnerships, play a teacher vs kids game.
5.  If a modality displeases the majority, pick a new one (drawing as opposed to music as opposed to acting out).

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I originally posted this on All Things Upper Elementary.

1 comment :

  1. I applaud you for taking the time to reflect on what went well and what you needed to change so that your students got the most out of your lesson. It is not an easy practice, especially since fractions can sometimes be a difficult concept to grasp.


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