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Responsive Math Classrooms: Balancing Structure and Flexibility

environment math community math workshop Jan 03, 2024

Delving deeper into our reflective journey, term one was dedicated to laying the groundwork for routines in the math classroom. This involved establishing the math workshop structure, instilling the mindset of mathematicians, and fostering spaces for collaboration and communication. As we transition into term two, our focus remains on reinforcing these routines, but with a greater depth of understanding and experience. Term 2 provides an opportunity to reflect on the strengths in our classroom routines and habits as mathematicians, and to further enhance those strengths, through math workshop structure. Children now have shared lived experiences to bring a new depth of understanding forward with them. 

Rebuilding Routines for Deeper Understanding

Math Workshop Structure: Now is a great time to review the math workshop structure with students, emphasizing the significance of each component. Mini-lessons serve as opportunities for communal learning and sharing of thoughts, while investigations foster collaborative skills and opportunities for differentiated support. Sharing not only provides an authentic audience for mathematical thinking but also allows the community to collectively build knowledge. 

In Action: Develop or revisit an anchor chart illustrating the math workshop structure. This serves as a reference for students, providing predictability and a sense of security in their routine. The children will have their own contributions and understandings of each component to add to this discussion. 

Educator questioning to guide discussion:

  • What are the components of our classes math workshop?
  • What do we do during mini-lessons? Why are these important? How do mini-lessons help us grow, as mathematicians? (repeat for investigations and sharing)
  • What is your favourite part of math workshop? Why? (Use as a turn and talk prompt) 

Responsiveness in Structural Dynamics: While recognizing the pivotal role of routine and structure in classroom success, as educators we also understand the importance of flexibility within these frameworks to meet the diverse needs of learners. Math workshop, ideally encompassing a mini-lesson, investigation, and sharing in a cyclical nature, often does not follow this neat model due to factors such as scheduling, age group variations, student responses and interest. It rarely fits neatly into a one day math block. The duration and flow of each workshop component can vary unexpectedly, causing us to adapt on the fly.  Sometimes, a mini-lesson can surprise you and last for well over a half hour! Other days, we have to cut it off quickly as we realize it is not going in the direction we hoped. The same can be said about investigations and sharing. Some days, like when planning on introducing a new type of routine or problem string, we can plan for our mini-lesson to last significantly longer. Check out this graphic I created to represent the variety of forms math workshop can hold within classrooms. 

Considerations for Reflection:

  • Are you consistently adjusting one part of the framework, but not others? For example, do you often skip sharing and not come back to it the next day? 
  • How do you know when it is time to transition from each of the components? 
  • Do you plan for longer mini-lessons when introducing new ideas or routines?
  • Are you trying to fit in all in one day? Is there any flexibility to stretch sections longer, or do two mini-lessons in one day, or linger with an investigation?
  • Do you have some ‘in your back pocket’ mini-lesson and and tasks for investigations that allow you to increase your flexibility through low prep and meaningful thinking tasks? 

As we embark on term two, let's embrace the opportunity to not only reinforce our existing routines but to deepen our understanding, creating a more enriched and collaborative mathematical learning environment, in response to our learners. Of course, my favourite way to do this is the same way we started term one- Games, Games, Games! Especially as we rebuild our stamina from all of the holiday festivities!

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