Sunday, March 1, 2020

How We Structure Our Multi-Age Math Classes for Upper Elementary

One of the big things changes I have made over the last few years but have had very little time to write about here on  my blog is our shift from teaching math to one grade at a time to a multi-age math approach.  We went to a multi-age model due to declining enrollment and after 5 years, we have really figured out how to differentiate and personalize learning for kids in a multi-age classroom.  The big surprise is how it has changed the way we approach our single grade classrooms as well.  The things we have learned from multi-aging have helped us differentiate and personalize learning for all learners.  Differentiation and personalizing math class are the things that I can talk about all day right now.  In the next few months, I will be working to share some of the things we have learned while multi-aging that will help differentiate and personalize in all math classes.

Today's topic is the structure we use for math classes.  We currently have a 3-4 multi-age and a 5-6 multi-age that follow this structure


We start math class with a whole group warm up.  This almost always includes all learners and is a great way to fit in cumulative review and lessons on mindset.  It is also the perfect opportunity to engage kids in low floor high ceiling tasks, do a whole group number talk or introduce a game that will be part of our math menu later.  Some of our favorite resources include

Main Lesson

Our main lesson time is the problems and investigations times.  It is when we do a mini lesson or problem launch followed by kids working on that problem.  This is where we implement what we know about math workshop.  Sometimes this is done as a one whole group and other times we split into 2 groups for this portion.  We use a co-teaching model in math several days a week so there often is 2 adults who can do 2 different main lessons if needed.  If only one adult is available, they can do main lesson with one group and send the other kids out to math menu and then switch.  

How do we know when we can do one whole group lesson and when we need to offer 2 or more different main lesson options?  It all comes down to what we are working on.  Near the beginning of a unit, we often do one main lesson.  As our formative assessment adds to our knowledge about what kids know and are able to do we sometimes get to a point where we need to offer more than one main lesson. 

Ready for an example?  Right now our 5/6 class is jumping into an algebra unit.  We have kept these kids together for main lesson a lot this year partly because we have gotten better at differentiating our main lesson and partly because our fifth graders have had several years with a more differentiated math class which has allowed them to access more challenging problems from an earlier age and has put them in a place where they are happy to take on challenging problems.  For the past week and for the next several weeks, they will have main lesson together.  When our formative assessment shows us that some kids really have it and others start to struggle, then we may break into 2 groups for main lesson.

Another example: Our 3/4 class is in the midst of working on fractions.  We are about halfway into our fraction unit and have decided to break into 2 groups for main lesson for the rest of the unit.  We do not put the third graders in one group and the fourth graders in another group, rather we put kids in whatever group they happen to be ready to be in based on formative assessment.  We currently have a smaller group of mostly third graders working on part whole and equivalence and magnitude.  They are working on placing fractions on number lines and comparing them and noticing things about equivalence and magnitude using models.  They are working on the traditional third grade standards.  Our second group has these fraction skills down and is working on the next level of fraction stuff.  They are noticing things about adding and subtracting fractions.  They are using models to find sums and differences.  They are connecting fractions and decimals.  These kids are working toward traditional fourth grade standards.  This group has a lot of fourth graders in it but it also has some third graders. 

Math Menu

What started out as math stations or math games 10 years ago morphed into a guided math type set-up about 6 years ago and has now landed on a math menu style intentional practice period.  We end almost every math class with about 20-30 minutes of math menu.  Kids transition to math menu when they finish their main lesson.  For us, math menu is a selection of games, problems and activities that are offered at multiple levels that kids can play with a partner or independently.  We offer students choice and voice during this time.  They do not have to do every activity or problem we present but get to choose from a selection and within each selection, there are often multiple levels.  I have a lot more to share about math menu in the coming weeks and months so stay tuned.

What questions do you have about how we structure our multi-age math classes?  Please respond in the comments below or head over to our Facebook group and join our community as we explore ways to differentiate math class!

Preview of a great opportunity! 

From March 3-9th there will be a special opportunity to add to your collection of differentiated resources for grades 3-5.  I have teamed up with some other math educators to bring the Bundle of Bundles which gives you access to 14 different math bundles for grades 3-5 all worth at least $15 each.  You get it all for under $20.  This deal will only be available for seven days! 

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