Saturday, 17 December 2011 17:45

Math Problem Solving Menus (Part 6): Checking System (The Supermarket Analogy) (Teaching Tip #53)

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The Teaching Tips will focus on the topic of Math Problem Solving Menus during this six-week period.

Week 1: Math Problem Solving Menus: An Introduction
Week 2: Problem Solving Solution Sheet
Week 3: Sample Problem Solving Menu
Week 4: List of Problem Solving Strategies
Week 5: Scoring Rubric
Week 6: Checking System (The Supermarket Analogy)


 Checking System (The Supermarket Analogy)

Effective classroom management is a necessary precondition for quality learning to occur. This is especially true when my students are working on their problem solving menus because in a typical math period, students will focus on one primary activity and then immediately proceed to their menus after they get their work checked. About halfway through a typical period, the potential exists for mass chaos to ensue due to the fact that some students have moved onto their menus and need help or need to be checked with these problems, others need their primary activity checked, and still others need help with the first activity.

Even though I am strongly committed to providing instant feedback to each of my students, there is simply no way I can do all this checking and helping by myself. Even with a parent volunteer in the room, it is still very difficult.

To keep everything functioning smoothly, I use a system inspired by well-known educator Sandra Kaplan, an expert in differentiated instruction. The basic idea of this system is that students assume a majority of the responsibility for checking one another’s work, and that frees up the adults in the room to help the kids who require assistance.

Here’s how it works. The first student to finish the main activity gets checked by me. If there are mistakes, the student makes all necessary corrections. Once everything is correct, I initial that child’s paper, and that student becomes the first authorized checker. Assume the child is Karen. Our class has a set of cup stacking cups, and I give Karen a cup to place on her desk. If you don’t have these cups, any bright, visible object will suffice. The next student who finishes (let’s say it’s Dante) looks around the room, sees that Karen has a cup, and goes to her to get checked.

The cups indicate that a student is open for business, just as the lights above supermarket check-out stands indicate that a particular aisle is open for business. If Dante has any errors in his work, Karen will point them out, and Dante will go back to his seat to correct them. If his paper is correct, Karen initials the work and Dante shows it to me. I only need need to inspect it briefly since Karen already checked it carefully. Once I sign off on Dante’s work, he then takes a cup to his seat. The pattern continues until all twelve cups have been distributed. It is important to have several cups in use so that no lines form as more and more students need to be checked. All the kids who have cups are working on their menus, and they only pause from their work when a student visits them to be checked, a task that usually takes only a minute or two.

While the kids are checking one another, I am available to help the students who require assistance with the day’s main lesson focus.

It normally takes only a few days until the kids are comfortable with this system. In addition to freeing me up to provide help, I also love this system because it affords my students with valuable opportunities to develop the habits of character that form the foundation of our classroom. Specifically, kids learn to treat one another with grater respect, value one another’s opinion, show kindness toward others who may have made mistakes with their work, take responsibility for finding an open checker, seek assistance when they need it, and develop the self-discipline needed to make sure that they are in the right place and doing the right thing without anybody reminding them.

New Teaching Tips appear every Sunday of the school year.