I am working with a group of 8-11 year old children at a local primary school. Today in our 4th lesson, we worked on these questions (click to enlarge):
We had a vote on how we would work this lesson; the children decided that I would choose the groups of two or three. My suspicion that this is not the easiest way of working for this class was confirmed, but this does not mean that we should not work in this way. There is some work to be done on working with others, not only friends.
Some groups found it difficult to co-operate. In some groups one person dominated, and in others some children took the opportunity to drift out of (and sometimes back into) a task. That said, I must be careful about assuming that children are drifting out; there were cases in which children were working in ways that were not immediately obvious.
I have tended take a light touch on noticing a child not seeming to engage with the task. It is perhaps a privilege of not being their 'main' teacher, but I would like to see what they choose to do. A few children in this class are more reserved; I am very aware of the need to respect their right to independence.
Today I had a number of conversations with children about choice, or about what they can do to get more out of a situation. This might seem like a lot to ask 8+ year olds, but there was evidence of them responding to this challenge. There was also evidence that a number of students required some further input from me to become involved with a task.
Often students become 'distracted', building structures with the Cuisenaire rods we are working with, or playing with rulers, rubbers, toys/puzzles, and so on. This is perhaps to be expected. I have not set out classroom norms yet, it is something that is developing week by week.
I am aware that we have only worked with Cuisenaire rods thus far. It is the fourth week we have worked with them, and perhaps some children would like to do something different, either with the rods, or with something else entirely. It is also possible that the tasks are too constrained; the energy last week when I asked the children to create their own questions was palpable.
It may be the case that the tasks are too complex, or mathematically different, or that too much is changing too quickly. There is some evidence that children get the hang of one thing, only for me to shift onto something else. For example, in answer to the question: '1 yellow square, 1 stick and 1 white = _____ whites' (sheet 1 above), a number of groups answered 26, because they thought a yellow square was made of 4 yellow rods following our work with pink rods last week.
This shift (from yellows to pinks, and then into other coloured rods) was a central theme of the lesson. However, it is precisely these shifts - getting used to how one thing works, and then being presented with some kind of alteration in how that thing could work, which must be assimilated with the previous thing - that are difficult for most if not all mathematics students (not just at primary age).
Some variation is required, but varying too many things too soon is difficult for (younger) children to cope with. I am learning quickly what is required to make tasks accessible for younger children, particularly with regards to (my) use of language.
Having said all this, some children who were not engaged with some of the 'simpler' initial tasks became more interested on the more challenging 'patterns' questions on the second sheet, and most notably the child responding least to what we have been doing so far. It was good to see her becoming involved. It would be easy to jump to the common assumption that she is bored and needs more challenge, but the truth is that I am not sure why she became engaged in this part of the task.
Many of the children found patterns 2 and 3 difficult, but after some direction, many of the groups started to be able to make sense of pattern 2. A few groups started to notice and describe things about the pattern. However, nobody attempted to explain why it was happening. I am not sure whether this was because they didn't know how to explain this particular phenomenon (which is not easy!), or whether it was because they could not discern the difference between pattern spotting, and trying to understand why a pattern exists. I talked a little bit about this at the end.
All of this might sound a little negative, but it is a collection of thoughts about how I might encourage more children to be engaged in what is happening, more of the time - particularly those who do not seem as engaged as others in what we have been doing so far.
This is not to say that there is not lots of lovely work being done, mathematically and with others, as can be seen from these examples of their work today: