Sunday, April 6, 2014

Warm-Up: Perfect Squares Timed Trials

Inspired by this post from miscalcul8, I tried something new with my classes this week.

I have been unhappy with how much time we spend on bell work each day and with the low percentage of students who are actually engaged during that time. This week, I've started each class with a perfect squares speed drill, and I don't think I will ever go back to doing bell work the old way.

Here's How This Looks in My Classroom
The kids use calculators as needed to simplify 1^2, 2^2, ..., 16^2. (The stopping point was arbitrary; I project the problems and with the font size I chose, 1-16 fit perfectly.) I use the stopwatch feature on my phone and time the kids starting when I say, "Go!" As soon as a student completes the problems, he stands up, and I stop the clock when everyone is standing. I've been recording the time for each class on the board all week, updating the times as each class sets a new person best, and it's really sparked a lot of interest among the students. (When students are coming in for class, their first stop is the records board where they see if their class's time has been beaten, but I'm also having a lot more kids pop in between classes to check the times.)

Things I Love About This
  1. Students are eager to get started. My expectation for bell work has always been that students should get out their supplies and get started as soon as they enter the classroom and before the bell actually rings, but all year, I've found still having to prompt most of my classes to actually do so. For the first time all year, I've made it through an entire day without having to prompt students to get out the supplies they need or to get started.
  2. Kids like standing up. The kids get a chance to move a little (especially good in 1st period when they're all still asleep).  Students who wouldn't consider themselves particularly good at math are seeing that they are often among the first to finish or at least are not the last to finish. It makes keeping an accurate account of the time easier since I'm not looking for a pencil to be put down but for a student to stand.
  3. Everyone is participating in the warm-up. At this point in the year, I have a few students who know they will not pass the course, and motivating them to participate in anything is a major challenge. I have several other students who are hit or miss--sometimes, they'll come in and work hard, and sometimes they won't try anything I put in front of them. Monday, most--but not all--kids participated. On Thursday and Friday, I had 100% participation in every class--a minor miracle! 
  4. More kids are participating all period long. I think giving the students something they can all complete and experience success with at the beginning of class has made a big difference in their willingness to try more challenging tasks later in the period. Providing opportunities for small successes early on is certainly not a new idea when it comes to student motivation, but I have had trouble providing these opportunities on a daily basis.
  5. Students are studying! Because they want to! I have heard several students say that they have written down the problems and answers and have been studying in the evenings and throughout the day to improve their time. While I have mentioned a few times that once they have the answers memorized, they'll be able to get their times down, I have not at any point suggested that they study these outside of class. The students who have mentioned studying have all seemed a little surprised that they're actually doing it, and I admit, since many of them are students who have probably never studied, I've been more than a little surprised myself. 
In the upcoming week, we'll be focusing more on accuracy first, and then speed. I also plan on having them go up to 20^2. We'll be working on weaning ourselves from the calculator, as well.

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