The dreaded words.
You look the child in the eye and know that you can’t give them more of the same work. You can’t leave them with nothing to do. You can’t create something new while a handful of other students need help.
One of three things is possible when a student says “I’m done.”
- The student rushed through the work and will have to re-do at least part of it later.
- The student is a quick study. He or she truly understood the work in less time than most students.
- The student didn’t need the lesson in the first place. He or she already knew the material.
Giving students more of the same work does not address students’ needs in either of the three scenarios.
Yet finding new and interesting challenges is tricky. Challenges that seem interesting to you may induce eye-rolling or worse.
Resist the urge to assign more problems. Really. Resist. Keep a continuous list of “things you can do when you’re done” either on the board or in some other format. One of my favorite ideas is the “I’m Done, Now What?” board.
The key to a successful challenge: A choice of challenges.
Have a range of different problems available. Allow the quick learners to choose from a range of “extra” problems. Mark them on a scale from “some extra fun” to “diabolically difficult.” A fair amount of students really like working alone on worksheets. Give them the opportunity.
Make math games available. Everyday Math has a great boxed set of games for classes. Over time, create a drawer of game files. Ideally, some game options match the daily objective or overall goal(s) of the math unit. The social learners appreciate the opportunity to play learning games with friends.
Give students links to online games that match the lesson. Everyday Math has a list of games online. Challenge students to beat your high score. Students then begin discussing strategies – which gets them to authentically use mathematics vocabulary.
Let students consider entering math competitions. It may be worth the $39 fee to keep your extremely high math students engaged in an online math league challenge. A few students may want to work together to form a Math Olympiad team. Hoagies’ Gifted Education page has other ideas.
Intriguing Picture Dilemmas
Show students a picture that elicits questions. Ask pairs of students to formulate questions then work out answers to those questions. Dan Meyer has an archive of three-act videos that get students thinking deeply.
STEM Challenges (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)
Consider STEM challenges like the teapot challenge or the Pringle challenge. In these challenges, students create a container that can be used to safely transport a teapot or a Pringle by mail to another world location.
Video or Multimedia Projects
Challenge students to make videos that will help other students with a math concept. In this way, students are using their learning to contribute to the learning needs of others. Show students a wide variety of common mistakes. The video should address concepts, algorithms, and common misconceptions.
How do you find or create all these options?
Get a team of people together, ideally colleagues. Spend a grade level meeting searching for resources. One teacher looks through books of challenge problems. Another looks for games. Still another searches for intriguing images.
If you’re already hiring a babysitter for your children, offer them an extra dollar amount for every great game they find related to a particular math topic.
Search the Teachers Pay Teachers site. It is likely that some other brilliant professional has created a resource to meet your needs.
Add at least one challenge to a unit every year. Any other suggestions to add to math challenge collections?
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