There's this checkbox in our lesson plan system. We have been tasked with emphasizing language based activities into our curriculum (not just math, everyone) and there are all sorts of checkboxes in the lesson plan system that relate to various kind of activities. Most of them I have no idea how you implement in a math room, or what they even are. But there's one checkbox I come back to all the time that says "Divide/Debate/Discuss" which seems to me to be the ideal activity for math. But what does that look like?

Last year it was my default choice for this little class of 10 kids I had. It was an accelerated group and when there's only 10 kids in the room you get a lot of time to talk with them. So 90% of the time, I clicked that box for their daily activity. But we didn't really dive into the spirit of that box. There were no projects, just a lot of modeling with little whiteboards. It was nice, I liked it, and it was a good group. But how do you divide/debate/discuss with 28 people in the room (which is far too common this year)?

Thus, poster projects. So below was a bit of an overview, here's the meat of one poster project I did.

The subject at hand was systems of equations and we had completed discussing all three methods. For whatever reason, this is the nuclear bomb topic of Algebra II. It really lets you know who has a strong foundation because it exposes so much about your math game. So rather than photocopy a worksheet with 15 problems on it, watch the smart ones get most of the done, the middle do like 7, and the bottom end struggle to finish 2 (me answering the same question 5 times along the way), I turned to my group system. Each was given a paper with 5 systems on it. They were tasked with discussing which method would work best for a problem, dividing up the work, verifying their answers and assembling nice versions of all this on a poster. My only hint was that each method should appear at least once. The rest was up to them.

End result, they're doing all the question answering and asking of each other. I really only stepped in if the whole table was stumped. You get to answer a question for five kids instead of one and I don't feel like I'm repeating myself over and over again in a given class period.

The more fascinating thing was to see groups approach the problems different ways. Some would graph the one I didn't expect them to, or eliminate when they could have substituted, and vice versa.

One last thing about this activity is that after our first grading period I used some student feedback to figure out who felt challenged and who didn't and found them appropriate new groups. Those smart kids were given a special set all their own with the same goal.

In the end, systems are still hard, and test performance separated the haves from the have nots. But I find that the journey we took to explore them was far more engaging than some faceless problems on a worksheet.

Photos of the full set of posters and a zoom in on an individual one.

AuthorJonathan Claydon