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Teachers’ Corner

By Laura Pettit

Currently I teach fifth grade math at Universal Institute Charter School. Last year was my first time using the Drexel Math Forum PoW. The grade that I had was very low academically. I originally planned to do the PoW monthly. The first one I tried was a disaster. I picked a problem that I thought the kids would get but ended up being way too hard! I had to guide them through the notice and wonders and even then the students were having trouble even picking up the key math points.

After this lesson I was, of course, very discouraged. I sat down with the Drexel team who gave me some great pointers and even offered to model a problem in my room. I agreed to let them come in. When I saw the problem they picked, I thought it was too hard for students because they couldn’t grasp the concept of equivalent fractions. However, after watching them teach, I realized that it wasn’t hard at all. The students were finally able to understand the concept of equivalent fractions. However their explanations of how they got their answer still required some further attention.

Seeing the success that the Drexel group had with my students, I decided to try again. This time I knew I needed to guide them more through the notice and wonders, even forgoing the problem, giving them one sentence at a time so they could concentrate on that. After a lot of guiding, they got there! I even helped them with the explanation of their answer so they knew what I expected.

I decided to try a PoW more often in my room from then on. I continued to guide them through it but added more each time. I gave the students two sentences at a time and so on to build their stamina and get them to focus on what is important in each problem. I helped them less and less on the explanation and how to solve the problem. I know some of them didn’t go as well as others, but looking at the year as a whole, the program was very successful in my room.

By March, the students were able to figure out the question to the problem without it being present. When they were noticing and wondering, they began to notice the answer which blew me away! By April, their explanations were close to perfect, giving great detail on how they solved the problem and even using correct math vocabulary. And by the May, the students were able to just constantly focus on the math part of the problem. All of their notices and wonders had to do with math 99 percent of the time. What took close to 90 minutes to complete at the beginning of the school year now took 45 minutes. I was able to add harder bonus questions for homework to get them to think and expand the concepts I was teaching in class. I used this after each unit was taught as a wrap up of what we learned. Depending on the schedule for the week sometimes we would do two and the students went from hating them to loving them!

This program took a group of struggling math achievers last year and helped them tremendously. They still have yet to be where they need to be but they are getting closer. I believe this program helped them make gains much quicker over conventional teaching methods. At the beginning of the year, the students were 18 percent proficient or advanced on the open ended responses on the math 4Sight. By May, the students rose to 88 percent. I believe that the consistency of using the PoW is the main reason for the rise.

After talking at the end of the year with the English teacher, we both feel that this program can help her as well. Using the explanations or open ended responses that the students need to do after they solve the problem, I can focus on some of the skills she is teaching. I am excited to try the next step this year with the PoW and will definitely be using this all year. I know that in the beginning it is going to be frustrating as it was last year but it will take some time to get the students into the swing of the program. But I know if I stick with it the final product will be well worth it!