Students were asked to solve the multiplication problem 24 times 36 in Geniel Joseph’s fourth-grade Accelerated Math class in Palm Beach County, Fla.
Joseph wrote on the wipe board one way they could solve it: by breaking apart 36 into 30-plus-six and 20-plus-four.
Then, she said, they could use the distributive property to multiply 30 times 20 and 30 times 4, and then 6 times 20 and 6 times 4 to get the answer.
She then stepped away from the wipe board and asked students to discuss among themselves how best to come to the answer.
Instead of choosing the method Joseph modeled, students began thinking of other ways that they could come to the answer.
One student theorized that instead of breaking apart the 20 and 4, they can focus on adding two 10s plus 4.
Joseph remained available if students needed help, but she urged them to find the answer on their own. And the students found many ways to solve the math problem with their classmates’ help. They explored their own methods to reach solutions to complex problems. In the process, they took ownership of their learning.
School officials in Palm Beach are learning that when they give students choice, students become animated and focused. At schools like Seminole Trails Elementary, where Joseph teaches, they often excel academically. The district’s new accelerated math program gives them the freedom to decide how they will solve math problems. It also lets them pick up the pace, so they’re constantly doing challenging work.
The hope is that eventually, they’ll complete more than a year’s worth of math coursework in a year’s time, setting them up to take algebra classes in middle school, and, if they’re up for it, multiple years of college-level math in high school. Continue Reading →