I was talking with my good buddy Pernille Ripp Thursday night about her selection as a Great American Teach Off finalist for a $10,000 prize as the most innovative educator in America. She was looking for some help as to what she could talk about that made her innovative or inspirational to peers. I was in the middle of writing Friday’s math lesson at that moment, and I pointed out that very often (as was the case Thursday night), when I sit down to write plans now, my first question is, “What would this look like in Pernille’s classroom?”
In that vein, I taught a lesson on Friday that was as student-driven as any I’ve done this year. We transitioned from 10s and 1s place value to 100s, and in the spirit of wanting this year to be less about me and more about the kids, I presented a challenge to solve a problem without assistance from adults.
I split the class into 3 groups (Side note: These groups were determined not so much by math ability but by personalities. I’d like to try to avoid delineations that become, to the students, about who is smart versus who is dumb).
I displayed three base 10 blocks: a one, a ten, and a hundred and posed the question: “How are these related?” Each group received 10 ones, 10 tens, and one 100. I told them they had about 15 minutes to work with their group to try to figure out how the blocks were related, and that at the end, someone from each group would present the findings to the class.
At first, students were rather possessive. Each group’s members decided to take a certain number of blocks, and at this point they were playing with them more than anything. Once my para and I impressed upon them that they needed to put all their blocks together and figure out an answer to the question, things started happening.
As I circulated, I noticed one group laying the tens atop the hundred, noticing that you could arrange the pieces in such a way that they created two equal stacks. From here, they were able to, with my assistance, talk about: 1) how many tens make a hundred and 2) how many ones make a hundred. This was a highly desired outcome and I was, truth be told, quite pleasantly surprised that they grasped this concept with only minimal support. That the student who is typically the best at math was silent throughout this and two girls who typically struggle were the ones explaining was just unexpectedly delicious gravy.
(Another side note: I expected the better math student to dominate the group, but either he was confused or disinterested – I go with the latter based on his work later in the lesson. So be it, look at the way it allowed those two girls to shine.)
The other groups were following suit, and each group had a clear cut reporter who articulated to me the logic behind their argument.
I walked on my cloud back to the meeting area and brought the kids over and asked the first group to present. That group’s reporter sat in the share chair and used the magnetic blocks to model his group’s work. Wow, it was awesome. We never talked about how to “teach” like that, but there he was, doing it like a pro. Yes, he needed some guidance, but so what? He’s 8.
He explained how ten tens are the same as one hundred, and demonstrated by counting by 10s to 100, then counting each 1 in the hundreds piece. Then he pushed the tens together and laid them directly above the hundred, demonstrating that they were the same.
When I commented that they didn’t look the same, I did so to throw him off. I wanted to force him to further explain his thinking. Though he had lined them up perfectly, they were not the same width, so he had some doubt. I asked, “Are they really the same?” He thought, looked, and said, “No.” “But you just told us they are! Which is it?” Then he thought again. It seemed he was backing away from his original claim that ten tens equaled 100. But then, he realized, yes, they were the same, because ten tens are 100. The kids by and large gave him their full attention and a nice round of applause when he finished. It was really genuine and inspiring.
One of the first nuggets that Pernille put in my head when we first began collaborating was that I need to stop worrying about what my kids can’t do and start thinking about what they can. This was when we were planning our WisconsiNewYork class collaboration and I was concerned about how my kids would take to Skyping with hers. Her words were right then and they are right now. I need to trust my kids and believe in their capabilities being more than what I assume. This will empower them, give them confidence, and allow them to continue to teach me.