The article I wrote, “Using Math Menus,” appeared in the October 2016 issue of Educational Leadership. I began the article with three questions I’ve been asked by teachers so many times over the years that I’ve named them The Big Three.
The article explains why I think that using math menus is an effective way to respond to The Big Three. I included a link to the article in a recent blog post I wrote describing a division lesson based on the children’s book 17 Kings and 42 Elephants. I explained how the lesson led to an activity that was perfect for our math menu. Jill Downing, a Title 1 Educator with the Helena Public Schools in Montana, tried the lesson, read my article about math menus, and sent me an email. Here’s an excerpt from that message.
My Reply to Jill
Before I responded to her specific queries, I gave Jill an update about my current work, explaining in my response that the fourth graders I wrote about in the article are now fifth graders. Sara Liebert is teaching math to the same class for a second year. Most recently the class has been working on whole number division, and here’s their current menu.
About the menu items, Pathways is a multiplication game that Sara included on the menu because multiplication is so important to division. The game helps students continue practice multiplying as they focus on division. (For more information, read a previous blog post, The Game of Pathways.) The last menu item, Four in a Row, is a coordinate graphing game like Tic-Tac-Toe that involves strategy while giving the students practice plotting points on a coordinate grid. This isn’t related to their current work on division but introduces something the students will be learning a bit later in the year.
Now to the specifics of Jill’s queries.
Jill’s First Query: What methods have you used to track children’s performance on math menu activities?
About your first question, tracking student performance. I think of that in two ways―one is keeping track of what they’ve done and haven’t done, and the other is seeking information about what they’re learning. For tracking what students have and haven’t done, I have several tips.
Tip #1: My favorite method is for each student to make a Math Menu folder. I give them each two sheets of 12-by-18-inch construction paper that they fold―one hamburger style and the other hot dog style―and put together with a few staples or masking tape.
Tip #2: On this menu, all of the choices but one (Kings & Elephants) are partner activities. The four lines after each partner activity is a place for students to write the name of the other student who was their partner, and students have to play with four different partners for each activity. This encourages students to interact with all of their classmates, not just their friends.
Tip #3: Notice the number in the upper right corner of the front of the menu folder. This is an idea I learned from a teacher friend years ago. At the beginning of the year, she assigns each student a number, typically in alphabetical order by their first names―Ana #1, Burt #2, etc. The folders are much easier to file that way, especially when students are organizing them. New students just get the next number in order.
Tip #4: I can easily see what a student has done by looking at the list in the front. It’s easy to look at their lists and record on a class list which menu items I particularly want individuals to try. And I can check any of their work inside.
For the second part of tracking: knowing what students are learning. That depends on the task. There are several division games on the menu, and our goal is for games to provide students practice in different ways that helps them further their skills and cement their understanding. So whatever benchmark or other evaluation we give will help reveal their progress.
Jill’s Second Query: How have you typically set up math materials?
We have math materials organized on shelves and available for students to get as needed and return when they’re through. Some teachers use centers and set out the materials needed for a particular activity.
Jill’s Third Query: How do you structure the reflection time? Do you have children record their reflections in a math journal?
Sara has students write a reflection at the end of every math period. It’s a quiet five minutes. Sara prepares booklets for them which are half sheets of lined newsprint stapled with a construction paper cover. Here are some recent pages from students’ reflection journals.
Sara posted a list of suggestions for students’ reflections that she based on Mark Chubb’s blog Exit Cards―What do yours look like? (Thanks, Mark.)
Students’ Thoughts about Menus
I shared Jill’s interest with the students and asked them to write her a letter describing their thoughts about the Math Menu―what they like about it, how they feel it helps them learn math, what they would change―whatever they’d like. Jill wrote them a lovely thank-you note for sharing their thoughts.
Here are a few of their letters: