Narrower pond, deeper pond

I am a fan of Common Core math standards, I must say.  I feel the cringe-inducing viral pictures of parents going to town on their first grader's math homework are the perfect illustration of why we're desperately in need of improved number sense in this country.  (Did anyone else notice that the guy who wrote the check in "common core" wrote two different numbers?  I assume he was trying to make a ten frame, but he only had eight boxes on the numeral box...)  By and large, it's not the kids having a hard time with the concepts.  

One big benefit of the Common Core standards, in my opinion, is the view that grade-level math should be a narrower field that goes deeper.  I feel like it forces us as teachers to take precious fewer concepts and push our students to the limit.  Gone is the over reliance on strictly using algorithms.  The standard problem solving techniques are definitely there - they are, after all, the fastest ways to get accurate answers - but students swimming in the concept's "deep pond" gain a much better understanding of the "why" of a math concept, not just the "how."

The big question for a classroom teacher is "How DO I go deeper with this?"  I've been asking myself lately, "What constitutes challenging work?  How do I best serve my students who are already excelling at math, and need enrichment?"  I'm lucky to work in a school with a high-achieving, high-readiness population, and every year I have students who aren't the least bit fazed by grade level math.  My goal this year has been to develop high-quality enrichment activities that push grade-level math to higher-levels of thinking and practice - or at least, give students an opportunity to practice a concept in a way that isn't the same-old stuff.

My recommendations for preparing and/or seeking out enrichment materials are as follows...

  • Get wordy: Rely on reading and writing with math.  Let students read their way through interactions and/or information, to determine its importance.  Find the relevant information in the problem at hand, and determine the operation needed to solve the problem.  Have students write out explanations for how they came to their conclusions as well.  Expository writing to "prove" their process is invaluable, and a great tool for understanding your students' thought processes.
  • Incorporate other concepts into whatever you're working on.  For example, today my second graders focused on quickly recalling addition facts, as well as using expanded form to build three digit numbers.  For both concepts, we incorporated least and greatest numbers to add an additional step for students to look out for and incorporate into their finished products.
  • Rethink how the end product looks.  Take Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, for example.  Some kids will succeed by involving a process in their math that isn't strictly logical/mathematical.  Look for opportunities for kids to move around and build models.  Draw pictures.  Talk it out with a neighbor, or write the results down in a paragraph format.  If the end goal isn't necessarily a math problem, then there are many opportunities to draw a conclusion that will appeal to a variety of kids with diverse interests and strengths.

For my kids who benefit from enrichment, I usually have them start by signing a contract agreeing to their responsibilities, including but not limited to working independently, being responsible for their own materials, and being self-motivated.  I fill a file folder with additional challenges that they can work on at their own pace.  The challenge activities are related to what the class in general is concentrating on.  Enrichment students are free to work on their own, or are free to stay with the rest of the class at their choosing.  They are also free to develop their "own" materials - last year, a bunch of kids made a terrific math board game that I copied off.  The kids who made the game led groups and taught the rest of the class how to play!  I've purchased some great materials from Teachers Pay Teachers which I've used as enrichment.  Jillian Starr's Math Journal Prompts (2nd and 3rd grade) are great, because they're very open-ended and require a lot of problem solving on behalf of the user.  Digital Divide and Conquer has some great no-prep enrichment mini units.  Core Inspirations by Laura Santos has great 2nd grade math enrichment activities that are perfect when you're looking for something that isn't typical problem solving.

What about MY 2nd grade math enrichment materials?  Why, I never thought you'd ask!  Check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store!  Currently, I have challenge activities for 2 and 3 digit addition and subtraction with regrouping, place value and number sense for 2 and 3 digit numbers, and addition and subtraction facts within 20.  All of the packets have 20 no-prep, totally printable math activities for enrichment on the go!  Currently, I'm working on a money packet as well.  My goal is to have a packet for every second grade math standard within the next few months, for a year's worth of just-hit-print math challenges!  Happy enriching!