Starting something new in math

Last year I wrote about how our school was looking to try Flexible Math Groups. A few teachers from our school had gone to another school to see how they do it and we tried it out on our own in the three grade 5 classes as a test run. This year it’s a whole school initiative so everyone from K all the way to grade 5 is involved. At the end of the year, the K-4 students were given a pre-test in questions about operations (addition and subtraction) and new students were given one in September and then based on the results, we were each given a group of students to work with.

To make it relatively easy for me, where I came in a little later in this, I was given the group working at grade level for grade 5. I mainly have grade 5 students in my group with a few grade 4’s and a couple of 3’s. They’re one of the larger groups but because they’re working at or above their normal grade level, I’m lucky to not have many behavior issues with my group. Actually, one of the main benefits that many teachers are seeing is that there are fewer behavior issues because students are, in theory, working on content that is differentiated for them and they’re mostly working in smaller groups. I have 24 students and it’s one of the largest, if not the largest group.

We have our last week with our groups this week, with a post-test at the end of the week so we can compare results and see growth. Then we’ll go back to just teaching our own classes math for the rest of November and December and start a new block on Number Sense in January.

Overall, I think it’s been a positive experience. There have been a few snags in the road, a few details that need to get ironed out as we go. I think with an initiative like this that is so huge in scope there are bound to be little issues and problems that no one would have foreseen before we got started, and even though I think some people may feel that we should have done more studying and thinking through all the details first, I’m glad that we jumped in and decided to just try it and see what happened.

Some of the issues we’ve had included the fact that swimming was scheduled for my and another grade 5 class during math time. Normally, if a class has an activity like swimming it’s no issue to just move the schedule around but where we all teach each others’ students, not only would my students be missing out on math but the students who I teach wouldn’t have a teacher. So we had to move flexible math from Mondays to Wednesdays to accommodate that.

Another issue was that the pre-test had quite a few lower level (grade 2) questions, and only one of each of the upper level without a whole lot of deeper thinking questions. Addition and subtraction of whole numbers aren’t outcomes that we spend a lot of time on in grade 5. We get into estimation strategies and adding and subtracting decimals, and a little bit of word problem stuff but it’s expected that students can add and subtract with whole numbers by grade 5.

The other issue we’ve had is that we wanted to wait to integrate the kindergarten and grade 3 immersion students until the second block and so we decided to do operations first and number sense second which many of us have found challenging as number sense fits better at the start of the year and operations builds on number sense in many ways.

But it’s been a good learning experience. As I’m constantly saying to my students, we learn more from making mistakes than we do from getting everything perfect the first time around. I’m interested to see how my students do on the post-test this week and how much growth they will show. I’d also like to give them an opinion survey to my class as well to see what they thought of the experience as a whole and what we could do to improve it. Often times students see and think things that we would never realize. We did an opinion survey after doing flexible groups in grade 5 last year and it was very interesting to see how they reacted to it.

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