3.1 Demonstrating Knowledge of Students. To me, this standard means that I can recognize the need to differentiate lessons and content to help my students fully grasp the concepts. Throughout this school year, I have discovered that while my students’ mathematical skills are quite adept, their interest in the subject has been lacking. This year, I have found it particularly challenging to teach math to all 17 students when there is such a huge range in their mathematical abilities and skills. Therefore, I discovered and downloaded several concept-based math projects. After assessing all students during math lessons, I found two groups of students who had demonstrated a solid understanding of the concepts being taught in class, and I did not think it was necessary to have them sit through review lessons with the rest of the class. First, I had three boys expand their problem-solving skills with a project where they planned a trip together to the World Cup. Then, I had three girls work together to design a zoo to review and enhance their long division and multi-digit multiplication skills. All six students were engaged in the project while working on something that they were passionate about—either soccer or animals. But more importantly, it was an opportunity to see math in the real world, and it immediately pulled them into math.
Soon, all my students were working through a project. I divided students into groups of two or three to build and practice long division or multi-digit multiplication, depending on their individual skill and ability. Some students designed a resort, while others planned a movie theatre. Each one was working on a skill they were ready for, and the layout of the projects allowed me to differentiate as needed. Meeting with each group allowed me to teach more concepts, such as the area model for multiplying two digits by three digits, which was not a concept (or standard) I would have otherwise taught the entire group.
I could narrow in on the students who needed more practice with critical thinking and problem solving skills. I heard multiple students, including my lower learners, tell each other, “That’s not reasonable” when working through the problems in the project. The groups finished, and each one displayed their learning in a Sway (online power point presentation) to present to their parents. Now, we are reviewing addition and subtraction with money while planning a trip to Ireland. Each one of my students now looks forward to math each day and asks me constantly when they get to work on their project. Using real-world projects, I have discovered so much about my students—including how they learn, where they still need help, and what they are interested in—and how to keep each of them engaged in their own learning. I’ve learned how to differentiate my classroom to meet the needs of my low learners, my high learners, and my grade-level learners at the same time. Using the same or similar projects gives me the chance to differentiate without students knowing how the groups are different. Lastly, I can build the critical thinking of my high learners and build a love of math in each and every one of them.