Teacher’s Corner

In the fall after I finished explaining the Math Forum problems to a 2nd grader who missed the introduction day, his classmate said to him “we have to explain everything because the Math Forum people want to know how our brains work”. That is just one of the amazing things I hear while students work on their Math Forum problems.

My name is Laurel Pollard and I am the computer lab tech at Hanover Street School, a K-4 Elementary school in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Although I am not a classroom teacher, I am the go-to person for the Math Forum at my school.

We have been using the Math Forum as math enrichment in the 3rd and 4th grades for a number of years, but this is only the second year we’ve included second graders. This year I work with two groups of second graders.  One is a group of four students I see only once a week when their whole class is in the computer lab.

The other group I see twice a week.  The second graders do the weekly current PoW in the Primary and Math Fundamentals band or I use the online PoW Library to look up a problem that will hit areas of the Common Core curriculum where these students need work.  I meet with the classroom teachers to develop a growth plan using each student’s individual results from the computer-adaptive standardized assessments (NWEA Map tests) we give at Hanover Street School.

• I wonder
• I noticed
• First I did
• Then I did
• Here is a number sentence I used.
• Here is a picture I drew.
• The best part was
• The hardest part was

At the beginning of the year we mainly used a hard copy of the worksheet to work the problem.  We’ve now transitioned to mostly typing the answers online and using the whiteboard for drawing the pictures.  I still prompt them with questions like, “What did you do first?” and “Did you show your number sentence?”  I continue to read the scenario to them when they first arrive in the computer lab. I try to let them do most of the typing, but when I want them to expand on an idea or explain why they did what they did more thoroughly, I will type in their own words.

I find it most difficult to balance the amount of time to allow for a given problem.  The second graders tend to be impatient once they have figured out the answer and will only be receptive to a few prompts to add more details. Some of the questions I am working on are: How important is it for them to go back and rethink their solution or other possible ways to solve problems?  When do you move on to the next problem? Like in the art process, how do you know when your painting is finished?

Most rewarding for me are the surprising learning opportunities that come up as the students work on the Math Forum problems.  I never know which of the current PoWs will spark the interest of a group of students, often promoting conversation beyond the question posed.  But when it does I try to be ready to run with it. This year I’ve seen it twice. Once was with the PoW Miracle Miranda and the Mascot, which got the 4th graders interested in the very large numbers generated by doubling. With a simple spreadsheet calculation and cut and paste they were able to watch numbers grow astronomically and across the screen.  Even I joined in the fun and looked up how to say those large numbers like (“317 octillion!”).

The second time was the Voting Time scenario.  I usually stick to the Pre-Algebra and Math Fundamental band levels for 4th graders, but I thought one group of 4th graders could look at this problem as they were studying graphs in their classrooms. With November elections that week, it was very timely.  We videotaped our results, which you can find on the Math Forum site. That sparked another interest– becoming famous. How cool it is that by solving a math problem you could be famous?

With the encouragement of the Math Forum team, my students have started making video scenarios of Math Forum problems.

From my perspective, The Math Forum is a truly unique opportunity for students to stretch their math brains. The only other place you find such constructed math problems is … in the real world! While we do want to “know how their brains work,” I am most excited for the students themselves to understand how their own brains work.