It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 02 2011

My First Lesson

Today I got a chance to do a lesson that gets 6th graders to think critically about the meaning of multiplication.  I really think that if you just teach math as a rote mindless activity, it accomplishes nothing.  Maybe the kids will remember it long enough to pass a test, but they really won’t have ‘learned’ anything.

So I made an activity that enables students to explore the relationship between counting, adding, and multiplying.  So you take a question like #4, with 5 houses having 6 windows each.  They can count the windows to get 30, or they can do 6+6+6+6+6 to get 30, or they can do 6*5 (or 5*6 !) to get 30.  This way if a kid ever forgets 6*5, he can just add 6+6+6+6+6 and re-derive it.  That’s thinking critically!

There were a few kids who raced through the thing, just using their memorized times tables, but I made them also turn each question into the related adding problem, just to force them to think of the relationship between those two math concepts.

After answering the questions, they had to make their own examples.  Some kids got really creative with them, which was great.

Here’s the worksheet:

2 Responses

  1. Andrew

    Around here they call this CGI.

    Would you do this today? Why? Why not?

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Andrew,
      I might still do something like this from time to time. But the difference is that this was my entire lesson. Now, I’d make it a mini-activity as part of a larger lesson that would include ‘hard’ skills. The reason is that kids need to believe that they’ve learned something new that day, and when my assessment back then was to draw their own example, they left class thinking that I didn’t know what I was doing.

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The 'lost' blog of 1991 Corps Member Gary Rubinstein


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