Q&A #139

Middle School lower-level math ideas

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From: Cindy Wilkins (for Teacher2Teacher Service)
Date: May 13, 1998 at 23:54:17
Subject: Re: Middle school low-level math materials

I currently teach an 8th grade low-level math class. Not only were these students 
low in math achievement, they were low in self-confidence. Your consideration for 
matching the level of the hands-on activities with your students' age is 

The list below consists of some of the things I've tried with my students that 
have been successful. I hope they'll give you some ideas.

Overall structure of the class:

At the start of each grading period, I gave the students a pre-test on the skills 
to be covered that term. Every skill passed at the 70% level earned them a test 
grade of 100 and a complete pass for any lessons on that skill. For example, 
during the first grading period, I set as my goal to teach fractions, decimals, 
and percents. Two weeks were set aside for each block of skills (+/- fractions,
decimals, */ fractions, decimals) with one week for percent.  

While students needing instruction in these skills completed the class activities, 
those who already knew the skills completed independent projects. All students 
kept a journal.  

For the second grading period, the pretest included all topics from the first 
period, plus the new material (integers and equations). Students who did not 
master the first topics were expected to complete additional assignments (usually
worksheets) and take skill tests, plus work on the new material. That required 
some serious time management planning on their part, with a lot of help from me.  

This pattern was repeated for the third grading period (geometry and measurement).  

The fourth period was spent in a final attempt at mastery. The targeted skills 
were fractions, decimals, percents, integers, equations, evaluate expressions. 
Students who had not yet mastered them completed more exercises while those who 
had achieved mastery worked on larger projects.


     Fraction tiles and pattern blocks; fraction dominoes; fraction board games;  
     fraction popsicle sticks (wonderful for adding and subtracting, reducing)
     Decimal dominoes, working problems on lined paper turned sideways so the 
     lines are vertical (helps with aligning columns); base 10 blocks
     Base 10 blocks
  Pre-Algebra skills:
     Two-colored counters; algebra tiles; Try-A-Tile; games; integer number line; 
    "sticks and dots" for solving equations

Independent project ideas:

  construct a balloon-powered vehicle out of styrofoam and straws
  construct a straw rocket
  construct the tallest tower possible with a minimum of materials and at the 
     least amount of expense, each item used having a price tag
  hot air balloons
  Estes rockets
  design and build a battery-powered vehicle (these last three items were from 
     kits paid for with Enhancement funding)
  alka-seltzer rockets
  Odyssey of the Mind hands-on spontaneous problems
  computer games (Dr. Brain, Voyage of the Zoombinis, Math Safari, Math blaster)
The larger projects were done by the entire class (that way all students could 
complete some of the fun activities).

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