One of the most rewarding experiences of my job as a first-year teacher was encouraging kids to write. One of my professors gave us an assignment called, Daily Warm-Ups. I chose to turn this into a math/literacy assignment which I will refer to as, Everyday Math. The idea of daily warm-ups is to engage students with short activities that require reading and writing at the beginning of every lesson, each day of the week. These daily warm-ups can be based on any subject. I chose math as my subject because it coordinated with my alternative licensing unit plan for my Colorado Work Sample and Portfolio requirements. This also happened to tie-in very nicely with my Math Literacy assignment which I wrote about earlier this week.
My professor’s motivation behind daily warm-ups is that each day of the week, there is a quick lesson activity to help students get engaged with reading, writing and putting actual, real-life learning behind each lesson. My professor also required that a challenge problem be included at least once during the week. An everyday math warm-up was perfect for my daily plan which already included daily math problems at the start of each math lesson.
Using Everyday Math with Story Problems
To tell you the truth, the everyday routine of assigning raw numbers, adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, fractions, etc., was getting a little bit stale in the class room. What really brought this to light, though, was how my students struggled with story problems. Even some of the brightest, most ambitious students struggled to solve math when it involved literacy and a story. I found it rather alarming that the mathematics rules, calculations and formulas I was teaching were not making any practical sense for most of my students. I was too quick to assume that they were understanding the actual purpose of the math problems they were asked to do everyday. The word problems often proved that they didn’t know when to divide or when to multiply or when to subtract or when to add. Learning the algorithms is only one tool in learning the use of mathematics in a practical way. For this reason, I continued to add real-life story problems into their daily, every day math routine. This is when I began to notice a very positive flip-side to this whole dilemma. The story problems were helping kids who previously struggled with the calculations. Literacy is the not only the key to making practical sense out of everyday math, but helps enforce the formulas and calculations by teaching how, why, and when they are used. Bringing this all to light, made me all the more anxious to put forth some extra effort and creativity into our daily math routine. Unfortunately, our old routine was making the daily math seem more like a routine chore to students rather than a fresh learning experience. I was faced with a new challenge where I had to not only increasing interest and motivation of the students, but make it seem interesting, fresh and new.
Daily Math Warm-Ups
First, I began making it a requirement for the students to hand-in their daily math assignments for daily grading. Second, I designed a rubric for these assignments and requested a signature by the student’s parents. I wanted to stress to the students and parents that daily math would be an important part of their grade in the final semester. This meant that I had to put forth the effort everyday to grade the papers and hand them back the following day. So, at the beginning of each math lesson, I would hand the graded papers back to the students and we would review the problems in class. Then, I would assign them the next set of problems which they were given 10 – 12 minutes to complete. The wisdom behind my rubric is that kids don’t have to get all the answers right to get a good grade. In addition to accuracy, the rubric is also based on completeness, neatness and showing their work. This would insure that kids take their everyday math seriously. This new routine resulted in an immediate improvement in the work ethic of the majority of the students. No longer were kids just sitting around doodling and looking at the wall during the 10-minute daily math session. They got right to work.
However, it would require more than just this to really motivate these students and get them more engaged in learning something from their everyday math routine. I felt energized by the daily warm-ups assignment from my professor and the idea of incorporating this into our everyday math routine. This is when interest, engagement, understanding, and enthusiasm from the students finally started to come to life in the classroom.
Everyday Math PDF File Download
Here is an actual PDF sample of a lesson that you can download, here: Everyday Math
Prior to this lesson, I did not have much experience teaching writing skills. I was not their language arts teacher. The first thing I noticed was that getting some fourth graders to begin writing was like pulling teeth. You would think they were about to scream, bloody murder. Other students quickly began writing, but didn’t always put the numbers in the right place. Some of them wanted to make math-problem questions out of them, instead of written paragraphs. After a while, a few of the students completed logical and accurate paragraphs and I read them to the class. Here is the beauty of this type of assignment: It allows for natural differentiation. The slower students were able to listen, learn and become inspired as they heard the stories from their classmates. Before I knew it, they were all begging me to read their stories. Not all of them were accurate, but the effort and understanding was vastly superior to anything I had seen from these kids up to this point. By the middle of the week, things were getting too easy for some of the kids. That is when I decided to make things a little more interesting. I announced to the class that I’d like to see some creativity and excitement in their stories. I wanted to see some writing!
As I was walking around reading stories, I decided to make a point by dreaming up a story example while pretending I was reading a kid’s actual paper. I picked up the paper of a kid named, Thomas, and quietly stared at it for a moment before saying aloud to the class, “Now this is more like it!”.. I began reciting what the kids thought was Thomas’s story from my imagination. While Thomas started protesting that he didn’t write the story, the rest of the class listened in awe and silence. Just to give a brief example off the top of my head, I recited something similar to this:
It was a dark, dreary and blustery afternoon when old-man winter came knocking on the door of our little cabin. Grandma started up some broth as we huddled around the wooden stove to keep warm. Our crazy old grandpa just rocked back and forth in his rickety wooden chair glaring at us with the eyes of a mad man. We had a total of five wooden logs and grandma already used two. Winter was now clamping down on our bones like a great white shark in the arctic ocean. While we all silently feared how three logs might not be enough to get us through the bitter cold evening, grandpa just looked at us with those crazed eyes. He rocked, and he laughed and he laughed …
As I handed Thomas back his paper, the kids, now realizing that I was deliberately trying to amuse them, were ready to take on the new challenge. A few minutes later, I had students begging me to read their stories. Their stories were not only accurate, but much improved in every way. Many of them were very interesting, creative, and humorous. I designed this daily assignment to be a 10-minute routine, but had to stretch it into 20 and 30 minutes because the kids were enjoying it so much. They enjoyed using their own imaginations and names to amuse their classmates. It was difficult to get them to stop. Some of the students wanted me to read their stories long after class was over.
What once seemed so difficult for the class had now become a very enjoyable, Everyday Math routine. This year, as I teach both Language Arts and Math, there will be much more time for valuable writing assignments like these.