How do you choose to group students?

Discussion in 'Elementary Education' started by mrsammieb, Nov 4, 2017.

  1. mrsammieb

    mrsammieb Devotee

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    Nov 4, 2017

    I teach first grade and I am struggling with how to group my students. I guess when I say struggle the struggle is in my own mind but I am curious how yall choose to group. For my math centers I have student in a "family" this is a group of 5 or 6 students with varying abilities. I have high thinkers, on level thinkers, and low level working students. They stay with this "family" for a long time. I think last year I only changed family groupings once.
    But I was meeting with our Target (gifted and talented) teachers and they said that this is not conducive to really helping students. That if I really wanted to help push the high learner to think beyond they should all be grouped together.
    I am not sure if I totally agree. Sometimes students know a standard really well and they are the "high" student and so they move up and down in their ability? Just because they are labeled "gifted" does NOT mean they are always gifted? I like that they are available to help the lower student. But is this a good practice? Should I change groups each week depending on how they do on the pretest? I just feel like that is so confusing. They like the routine of knowing what station they go to each day?
    I should also add that I do have the work station differentiated and they all work on the same skill but at different levels.
    I am just curious of your thoughts,
     
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  3. mathmagic

    mathmagic Enthusiast

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  4. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Phenom

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    I prefer ability grouping, but if you can’t or don’t want to do that, then group them in quads (high, medium-high, medium-low, and low). What happens is that the high and medium-high students naturally help the underperformers when they are situated diagonally across from one another in islands.

    I hope this helps!
     
  5. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    I've taught first grade. My advice would be to use random or heterogeneous groups, but try to make sure all your low kids don't end up in the same group. It is a good idea to occasionally group your highs together for a project or experiment. Take advantage of the independence that they develop after November to pull on-the-fly groups to remediate or accelerate. Ability grouping can result in harm to your low kids.
     
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  6. Obadiah

    Obadiah Groupie

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    I'd also recommend continuing your cooperative learning "families". If you do decide to homogenously group, I agree with your thoughts of flexible grouping. I've taught 3rd or 4th grade for many years, and that's where the disadvantage of homogenous grouping tends to show up. The "low" group seems to actually become a permanently low group. If "gifted" students need advanced work, that can still be integrated into the classroom or even assigned as homework (not that I'm a fan of homework, either, but for some students, such homework is fun work).

    Now to get a tad bit controversial, I have questions about whether low performing students, especially in the early grades, are truly low students. They are assumed as low based upon objective performance on assignments, but in reality, some research (and my experience) indicates that they are just as capable as the other students, but they are learning at a different pace or in a different manner. Every brain is different and every child's environment is different. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Differences in learning, production, or thinking have resulted in countless discoveries, inventions, and other avenues of success in society.

    The research on cooperative learning indicates that all students benefit. One avenue I've explored, especially in my latter years of teaching, is that mistakes are good. Miss Frizzle of The Magic School Bus had it right when she'd tell her students to "Take chances, get messy, and make mistakes!" (Well, I found I did have to explain I'm not asking students to purposefully create a sloppy paper with wrong answers, but the idea is to learn from mistakes). All learning is the result of a corrected "mistake". Even if a student gets it right first try, prior to the learning, that student's thinking was incorrect.

    I have a problem with IQ scores, too. High IQ scores, in my opinion, are more trustworthy than medium or lower IQ scores. An interesting example, if I gave a Stanford test's Otis Lennon School Ability section at the beginning of the test, then my class would seem to be working at or below their potential, but if I gave the Otis Lennon as the last subtest, then my class would seem to be working at or above their potential. (We were allowed to choose when to give each sub test during testing week). The information I feel is still useful, but overall, each student is going to learn in the way s/he is learning.

    I recall some research that indicated that "low" students, when taught as one would teach "high" students performed better than when taught as "low" students. It seems in my experience that lower groups are typically withheld from progressing. Part of this reason is because they are in a group and the lessons are planned to fit the lower group, not each individual. The other problem I've seen is that the lessons move along at a slow pace and these students consequently never catch up. Sometimes students do need that slower pace, and of course that also needs to be kept in consideration, but overall, I find the more students are grouped heterogeneously the more all the students progress.
     
  7. TrademarkTer

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    I think it depends.

    I teach high school. Sometimes I do heterogeneous (I usually assign groups by having them pick Dum Dums from a bag, and whoever picks the same flavor is in a group---they LOVE this), sometimes I do homogeneous, and sometimes I just let them pick their groups. That said, my department's policy is that if it is for something that will be graded, then the groups MUST be homogeneous so that the stronger students don't have to carry the weaker students (which leads to parent complaint emails from the parents of the stronger students), and so that it better assesses the actual student understanding for the weaker students. If it's not graded though, I mix it up. I'm sure things are different in first grade, but just my 2 cents.
     
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  8. SpecialPreskoo

    SpecialPreskoo Moderator

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    I have HS SPE self-contained ID now and I group by ability. My para works with the lowest 2. The others are grouped by boys and girls until I think they need mixing up for whatever reason.
     
  9. mathmagic

    mathmagic Enthusiast

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    There are certainly some individual circumstances that look different, but by and large, ability grouping is not seen as effective -- I highly suggest all read the articles at the link above.
     
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  10. Been There

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  11. SpecialPreskoo

    SpecialPreskoo Moderator

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    It works great in my room.
     
  12. mathmagic

    mathmagic Enthusiast

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    Hence the first sentence in my post.....
     
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  13. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Phenom

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    I agree with this.
     
  14. Tyler B.

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    If you expect a student to perform poorly, he won't disappoint you. Avoid ability grouping. Obadiah gets it.

    You have several high school teachers telling a first grader teacher what to do. Ignore them.
     
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  15. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Phenom

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    Nov 8, 2017

    Just because we are high school teachers does not mean that we can’t offer our advice. Our classroom management strategies are not applicable, but learning strategies can be implemented across the grade levels.

    Ability grouping, when used appropriately, produces moderate to strong results. My students have the option to be fast-tracked if they master the material. In my classroom, this entails them sitting for a mock exam that covers the standards for that subject area. If they answer all the problems with at least 80% accuracy, then they can move up. I’ve had countless students that got the reinforcement and interventions they need in the low group and then immediately move up into either the middle or high groups. The norm is that they move into the middle group.

    Ability grouping with a purpose can be used to great effect. Doing it just for the sake of forming homogeneous groups is harmful. That’s where I agree with you. I challenge each group, regardless of their individual level of understanding, I scaffold, and then I delve deep into the subject matter when I feel the students are ready.

    I agree that heterogeneous grouping has its merits — it’s certainly a great learning tool, but it’s not the only effective way to learn.

    Ability grouping was used when I was in elementary school, middle school, high school, and in college. There were students placed on accelerated or fast-tracks and almost all of us did extremely well, as did the middle- and low-level performers. Most of us passed the state tests and achieved mastery eventually. It just took longer for some kids than others and that’s okay.

    Please don’t be so dismissive of other teachers’ advice. I’ve shown you several studies conducted by very reputable institutions and organizations which show ability grouping can be very beneficial, IF it is done right. This runs counter to the studies you posted from the 70s, 80s, 90s and the one from 1936 (really?) that mainly talk about psychological issues rather than student performance.
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2017
  16. Been There

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    I think it's fair to say that just about any type of grouping scheme can beneficial. Perhaps the critical factor is what both teacher and students do within the group (large or small, hetero- or homogeneous) that determines its effectiveness. Give ten teachers the same group of students to teach a lesson and depending on their respective levels of expertise, there will likely be a range of different outcomes (even greater range if the teachers are from both secondary and elementary!).
    I agree with futuremathprof that the IF-factor plays a major role.
     
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  17. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Phenom

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    Thank you and I agree.
     
  18. mathmagic

    mathmagic Enthusiast

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  19. Tyler B.

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    I remember my daughter coming home from first grade near hysteria because she thought she made a mistake in reading class. The teacher would put her in the bluebirds group - low group. The idea of being in the low group caused her a great deal of anxiety. To calm her, I called her teacher the next day, and Mrs. Green assured me that the kids didn't know which was the low group.

    It caused me to think about the way I was teaching reading. My low group had 5 students. Each of them were "low" for different reasons. After that, I changed my reading program to a whole class structure where I only grouped kids by skills and not by ability. I assumed my students could handle the work and intervened only when I saw struggling. The results were vivid. Suddenly "low" kids loved the literacy block.

    I've never looked back.
     
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  20. TrademarkTer

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    What do you mean by "skills"? Wouldn't that technically be by ability, but just varying it from skill to skill? Just seeking clarification.
     
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  21. mathmagic

    mathmagic Enthusiast

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    Well, it depends on your interpretation, certainly - lots of semantics involved, I guess. You could consider it hyper-flexible ability grouping in a sense...

    The key difference is that many consider abilities to be "low", "middle", or "high" (or some combo), when in reality, kids don't just "fit" into those categories.

    Skill-based grouping is looking at particular attributes within that topic that they need some extra help with. For example, instead of saying one person has strong ability in math, medium ability in math, or low ability in math, it might be looking at the different needs for grasping basic facts or basic number sense. Within that, the key is that a student who is often considered to be "high", might actually have the exact same struggles; it'd be otherwise hidden and not necessarily addressed.
     
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  22. yellowdaisies

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    I get this, I really do. CAFE and all that. But I have fifth graders with reading levels ranging from 1st-8th grade. My reading groups are arranged by level. We are often focusing on several skills in a particular unit, using a particular leveled text. (FWIW, I do not level my library or use AR, but I absolutely use pre-selected leveled texts for small groups.) Much of my class is below grade level, and I am doing everything I can to see them improve. At the same, my above grade level kids need a chance to excel and be pushed.

    I know the OP teaches 1st - I've also taught 1st, and used leveled reading groups there with Daily 5 very successfully. Clearly my anecdotal evidence isn't the be all end all example, but I just wanted to present another point of view.
     
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  23. Been There

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    It’s amazing what can be accomplished when one is willing to take risks and try a different approach that goes against conventional wisdom. Not only did I switch to mainly a whole class format, but I eliminated my use of extrinsic incentives including frequent praise (Good job!) and used technology to the max. Much to my surprise, behavior problems vanished as the entire class progressed up an accelerated steep learning curve. In these trying times, teachers should not be so quick to dismiss and debate new ideas before trying them out first, especially if what they are doing isn’t working. I know that such a contrarian viewpoint may be unpopular, but the potential rewards are beyond expectation for those who willing and able to depart from the status quo.
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2017
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  24. Obadiah

    Obadiah Groupie

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    A problem is occurring with math and reading, and my research keeps pointing to sources of the problem that are beyond the classroom. As teachers, we are doing a marvelous job at combatting the problem, but the problem goes even beyond homogenous, heterogeneous, or flexible grouping.

    The problem: Kids are not practicing reading or math in daily life outside of school. I'm not talking about homework, either. I'm talking about normal, everyday use of reading and math. When I was growing up in the 60's and 70's, math skills were ingrained in my brain. Despite the fact that I struggled in calculation, I still got it because I used it. I counted money in my piggy bank and saved up for toys. I was with my parents watching as store clerks counted out change. My dad would assist me in figuring out the state tax of a purchase. But more than that, my brain was prepared for mathematical thinking. I practiced the piano and made up songs. I played in the woods, built forts, rode my bike around the neighborhood...life was full of mathematical processes that developed the appropriate areas of my brain. Then there was reading. I checked out books from the school library, the church library, the public library, and I was read to. Even kids' TV shows emphasized reading aloud to viewers.

    Today, the kids' section of libraries are practically empty. The side of the book stores with kids' books ais usually vacant. The streets and woods are considered unsafe for kids (and in many places in my area, they are)! Do kids still count money today? Or do their parents charge it on a card? And what has replaced math and reading activities? Click, click, click. Up to 7 hours of digital media or TV.

    Here's the problem. You can't learn a new skill unless you practice. And you can't use a new skill unless you use it. Practice produces progress. The key is, kids need to use it or lose it.
     
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  25. TrademarkTer

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    Some interesting points here.
    Will the skills we were taught still be useful to students today? Or should we then teach them new skills?

    I wonder this everyday as a math teacher. The calculator and computers can do SO much of what we are teaching students to do. As such, should we be focusing on a different skill set instead, or do we insist they learn things that can be done with technology? I'm really not sure.
     
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  26. Tyler B.

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    My first graders and I were playing a predicting game where the last word in a sentence was covered up. The cowboy rode his ______.
    We guess what could logically fit into the sentence. Then I uncovered the first letter, an h. We made more predictions and crossed off any that didn't start with an h. It became clear to me that two students, Roman and Nop didn't understand beginning consonants. I ear marked them for a series of mini-lessons. Roman got it right away, but Nop, an ELL student, needed lots of repetition before catching on.

    I only made up groups to target something I noticed was holding back a student based on observable behavior, not intrinsic ability. The groups were not static, but often made up on the spot.

    Some of the big problems with ability grouping is that students see themselves as dumb when their teacher puts them in a low group. This blow to self-esteem can cripple learning. It harms the teacher because students placed in a low group have a teacher who expects less of them. Low groups get less reading and more skill packs. More than anyone else in the class, these students need to read, and they need to learn to love it. Skill packs will not teach a struggling student to love reading.
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2017
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  27. mathmagic

    mathmagic Enthusiast

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    A couple random responses to previous posts...don't have time for a full-fledged response right now:

    • Practice at home: I agree -- and that that does get practiced at home is often just worksheets that don't necessarily promote growth. This is where you can approach reading from a non-grouped perspective: the core of my reading work with the kids is their independent reading. For some of the kids who are reading at a lower grade level successfully, it's helping them find texts that they're interested in, and having conversations regularly about what they're reading / working on comprehension tools. For kids who are already wild readers, it's helping them learn how to take chances as a reader in reading a variety of genres. That being said, both of those conversations are not solely limited to the two aforementioned levels: I have extremely strong readers who tend to just randomly glance through graphic novels, and readers who are still growing who immerse themselves in plenty of texts
    • --> the key to the above is driving them to see the love / benefit of reading and math...which simple rote teaching for either won't do.
    • The ability grouping doesn't necessarily just affect those who are grouped "lower", but also those grouped "higher". I can speak to that.
    • Math skills needed today? Plenty of problem solving skills and number sense. Often times those who are grouped "higher" actually just have a bunch of memorized procedures. Again, I can speak to that myself. I've grown tons since the start of college in getting my K-8 cert and math endorsement / math degree: I've thought deeper about mathematics instead of just memorizing more formulas.
     
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  28. Been There

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    I believe the question should not be restricted to which skills should be taught. Even if we were able to teach them all the skills in the world, there seems to be a greater problem that will prevent our students from reaching their full potential and becoming contributing members of society. The proliferation of "PBIS schools", the continuous flood of postings related to misbehavior and consistently low achievement levels of American students all point to this underlying problem. Do you think students who lack mental discipline, a deep sense of personal responsibility, respect for authority and a social conscience will be able to put whatever skills they learned in school to good use?
     
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  29. Obadiah

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    This thread is becoming exciting to read with such insightful comments from all sides of the fence and from various grade levels. Concerning the above post, several of my workshops have caused me to think about this, too. Although I feel algorithm emphasis is what hindered my own mathematical development, and I strongly would endorse emphasizing mathematical thinking, I do see the importance of learning the calculation algorithms and even memorizing basic facts (personally, I would endorse memorizing multiplication/division facts through 10 or 12 but no higher and addition/subtraction facts through a sum of 18). The workings of the algorithms lead into algebraic thinking and mental/pencil paper arithmetic is still sometimes preferred over a calculator. Just tonight at dinner, we were having a discussion that needed a quick calculation. My sister had her phone handy, but it was faster and more conversational to just give the obvious calculation mentally and keep the conversation flowing. Or today in the market, I just quickly estimated to ensure I was buying the best sale of Metamucil; from the size of the jars, it didn't look feasible that I'd be saving money, but it turned out to be such a fantastic sale, I bought extra. I could have pulled out my phone, but it was faster to use my head. So how does this apply to grouping? Some kids are grouped according to their memorization/calculation proficiency but might be very comfortable in cooperative learning groups contemplating more advanced mathematical problems and/or using technology in the process.

    Another thought, I've experimented in finding spreadsheet applications for my own personal needs. Not only is a spreadsheet more proficient than pencil and paper, to develop a spreadsheet requires a certain amount of algebraic thinking. When applied in the classroom both advantages are also achieved. The students not only learn technology but they use their mathematical thinking in a different manner than they would with paper and pencil. This enhances mathematical learning in two ways. First, it climbs up the ladder of a learning taxonomy of objectives. Secondly, it incorporates other areas of the brain. When technology is integrated within a cooperative learning group, metacognitive learning is also integrated. Although, as with any learning tool, caution must be taken not to overemphasize technology, but overall, I see technology in the math class as a win-win situation.
     
  30. Obadiah

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    Looking at what I just posted, I've got to add a quick comment. When I was 7, Batman (the live version) was first on TV. I was fascinated with Batman's gadgets! Would I ever have a device like the Bat-computer? Or would I ever have a mobile phone? And what about the episode when the Batmobile drove itself to rescue Batman and Robin! Someday that might be what my car can do! And what technology will today's 7-year-olds be using when they're adults? Back on topic, this is why how we teach, and what we teach, is crucial.
     
  31. Tyler B.

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    My daughter had trouble with arithmetic. In fifth grade, she would struggle when you asked her to calculate 7 times 8. Her teacher put her in the low math group. "I suck at math," was her view of herself. In high school, she was fascinated by science and learned she would need to take AP math classes to get where she wanted to go. She was one of only two students who got an A in AP calculus. Now she's a professor at a major university, but don't ask her what 7 times 8 is. She still takes too long to figure it out. She's still sucks at arithmetic but rocks derivatives.

    Holding back students by putting them in the low math or reading group can prevent them from finding what they're really good at.
     
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  32. TrademarkTer

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    Thanks for clarifying. This makes good sense, especially in the context of reading instruction.

    Great post! I do think you've brought up many great examples of the use of math in the real-world for topics the students learn up through algebra. My district has this rush to get everyone to take calculus, or at the very least, pre-calculus, when many students I see would be better served hammering down the basic algebra (and earlier!) skills, and perhaps tackling more meaningful real-life problems. We do offer a statistics class, which I think is more meaningful for certain groups of students to take, but unfortunately our guidance department discourages students from going that route as they say pre-calc/calc looks better on transcripts for colleges.
     
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  33. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Phenom

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    I teach mathematics at the high school level (Pre-Algebra through AP Stats/AP Calc BC) during the regular academic school year and collegiate level (advanced calculus, linear algebra, differential equations, abstract math, complex analysis, etc.) during the summer time, and what you say is just not true. And while I was pursuing my Masters I TA’d at my college for physics, so I’ve taught a wide range of mathematics courses and students from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Finally, you keep saying your daughters feel this way, but their experiences do NOT speak to the majority. That is too small of a sample size. It is statistically misleading to extrapolate beyond that.

    At UC Davis, for example, you are required to take a math placement test before you can even sign up for your classes. The score on your exam determines what math class you can start in. Do you know why? It’s because if you can’t answer basic math concepts, then you are NOT ready to start at Calculus I, and so you are put in Trigonometry or Pre-Calculus before. Those students take longer to finish their math courses, but they get the foundational help they need. This ensures that they are able to work at the same level as their peers and are not left floundering.

    Case in point, I once had a student who insisted he be put in the advanced group but he failed both the first and second semester placement tests and had trouble handling basic addition. I refused and put him in the lower group. He was upset but later said he was glad I did because he realized just how much he didn’t know.
     
  34. Tyler B.

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    Calm down. We're in the elementary school forum. We're talking grouping strategies for first graders.
     
  35. futuremathsprof

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    My message may have come off as abrasive. Sometimes my typing gets the best of me. Hopefully, my tone seems more neutral now. :)
     
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  36. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    This one always makes me stop and think, too.
     
  37. Tyler B.

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    You sound great now :)

    What got my attention was that you thought I was telling you how to run your AP classes. That was not my intention. I'll go over the secondary board to do that. :)
     
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  38. TeacherGroupie

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    A small hijack:

    As to 7 • 8, I owe the following trick to the great-aunt who dragged me kicking and screaming through the times table over one memorably long weekend. She wrote out the digits:
    5 6 7 8​
    Then (though she didn't put it this way) she inserted operators:
    56 = 7•8​
    And she pointed: "Five, six, seven, eight."
    Unlike the fives tricks and the nines tricks, this one is mathematically indefensible, by which I mean that the order of the digits 5, 6, 7, and 8 has next to nothing to do with the actual properties of the numbers 56, 7 and 8. But, by golly, the five-six-seven-eight trick has stuck with me all these years.

    End of hijack.
     
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  39. TrademarkTer

    TrademarkTer Groupie

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    Nov 10, 2017

    I was always just taught "My dog Fido picks up sticks, seven times eight is fifty-six."
     
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  40. yellowdaisies

    yellowdaisies Fanatic

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    Nov 10, 2017

    ::deleted::
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2017
  41. Obadiah

    Obadiah Groupie

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    Nov 11, 2017

    I've noticed that sometimes, rather than homogenous grouping, some students just need an insightful experience or an alternative procedure. I still recall the day as third graders we were told to memorized all 110 multiplication facts (with the 110 division facts upcoming). I don't recall how I learned some of the patterns, but I do recall how I learned one pattern. I was watching the old black-and-white Dennis the Menace. Dennis's father was helping him with his times tables, and he showed Dennis that once you know one fact, you know the commutative fact, (i.e. 7x8=8x7). A light bulb went off in my 8-year-old head!
     

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