This week in math class was a like riding a roller coaster, while I had some good times I am not sure I want to ride it again. I teach 2 sections, an advanced math class for 7th graders – we learn the 7th grade & many 8th grade standards during one year. The other 3 classes are regular 7th grade math. Both classes were working on a performance task from smarter balanced to start the week. You can read the entire problem here

The middle school I teach at has four 6th grade, two 7th grade, and two 8th grade math teachers. We work well together and decided this last summer to all complete the same smarter balanced performance task each quarter. We would then use our professional development time to talk about trends, problems and how we would score them. The first one we did was a 6th grade task, we also decided no calculators and students could work in groups. Other than that teachers were free to choose how to set up the lesson and how kids completed the task.

I started mine later than I wanted to, because students were finishing their chapter 1 test. So instead of 3 days to complete this task, I had 2 class days – both of which were shortened periods. I started it with the advanced kids first. The task has an intro piece that teachers are supposed to do about field trips to help guide the kids in thinking about all the things that teachers think about when planning a trip – cost, distance from school, etc. However, all it did for my adv. kids was get them jacked up about the possibility to go on a field trip. Then I had to spend a ton of time calming them back down and refocusing on the task at hand. I explained to the students they were to do tasks 1 and 2 today. I knew they would not finish 2, but figured they could get a good start. I let them work in groups of 2 or 3 and they could chose their partner(s). There were a few questions about the first problem, but most groups did good with it. The 2nd question however was more challenging . While most of the advanced students understood the math they needed to do, very few remembered to change the miles to round trip and their organization skills were a disaster. There were random calculations all over their papers. They did not label any of the calculations and just did them willy-nilly on their paper. So I stopped class and reminded the groups that the bus also needed to come back and demonstrated how to label their work. I would love to say that my suggestions were immediately taken into consideration and the students all started over creating beautiful tables, charts and labels; Let’s be real, these are middle school kids, who think mathematically and assume that everyone thinks like them, so they don’t need no stinkin’ labels. The period ended, I collected their work and began to reflect on what I would do differently with the “regular” kids.

I skipped the entire teacher set up with the regular classes. I showed them the table of student votes and then gave them a sentence frame to help them answer the question. Next we went over the information for task 2. We discussed the need for the trip to be a round trip rather than one way and how we would calculate the miles for round trip. We looked at how many students were going and the entrance fees. We starred the fact that the school was giving us $200 and discussed that we would need to subtract that from our total. Finally, we noticed it wanted the cost per student. Someone said we would need to divide. YEAH!! So we put a division symbol next to that part of the problem. I was feeling great and turned them loose to work in their self selected groups of two or three. As I walked around I reminded the students to organize their thinking. I even went so far as to demonstrate with one or two groups that were really struggling. This lead to a couple of really well done student papers that I used as examples for the other classes. I even showed them to the advanced students the next day, so they would see what I was expecting.

I had already used up my two class days for this task, so I took my half finished projects to the group and we shared. We all ran into the same issue of organizing, but different teachers handled it differently. Some scaffold even more than I did, while others provided no scaffolding at all – here’s the work kids go for it. Because this is something new and we want kids to be successful with it I think we need to model it and scaffold it so we can get them to be able to do it independently in a year and half on the smarter balanced test. I also found it interesting the amount of writing teachers were having their students do. Here are a couple of student papers. What are your thoughts?

So after a long weekend I returned to my room and told the kids today was it. We were going to finish task 2 and I wanted them to complete task 4 also. We were skipping task 3 in the interest of time, but if they finished 2 & 4 they took do 3. Day 3 did not go as I planned, kids who were totally into the problem on Thursday were off task and chatty on Monday. I am not sure what the problem was, but only a few groups finished task 4. It was very frustrating. Since I did not want to spend another day on it, I collected them and we moved on. Is that wrong? Should I have given them another day to finish? It is a great problem and the math is at a level that was accessible to my 7th graders, but the time it took seemed excessive. What are your thoughts?