Monday, August 29, 2016

Instructional Routines

So I have become a little bit obsessed with instructional routines.  This is because I think they have great value to both teachers and students:

Benefits for students
  • knowing what to expect makes kids feel more comfortable and safe 
  • having a routine process enables kids to focus more on the math ideas and less about figuring out what the directions are
Benefits for teachers
  • planning is faster: can choose a routine that fits goal and then just slot in the particular problem
  • collaborating is easier: having commonalities in practice give a more narrow lens for focus

Inspired by Contemplate then Calculate, I am planning on using 9 routines in my classroom this year. Some of these are greatly inspired by others and some of them I developed. For each routine, I have a powerpoint template than I can adapt for each time I use the routine. For some of the routines, I have accompanying handouts that I will use, no modification necessary, each time we do the routine. All of these materials and a more in-depth description of each routine can be found in this google folder.

Longer Routines:

o   Goal: Build structural thinking in order for students to solve efficiently based on understanding rather than blindly following a procedure. Need tasks that have multiple shortcuts.
·      Desmos Activity
o   Goal: Various math goals. Also using a guiding question and technology to learn math and for me to talk as little as possible.
·      Homework Mistakes
o   Goal: Have students learn from each other in order to improve their understanding of the homework problems. Build the positive culture of mistakes in our classroom.
·      Refine A Strategy
o   Goal: To build students’ capacity to solve problems on their own through scaffolding by engaging in others’ ideas. This is for tasks where I expect students to already have a pretty well-developed strategy or strategies to solve the problem.
·      Whiteboard Task (4 versions, depending on launch choice)
o   Goal: For students to work collaboratively on a task that they probably couldn’t solve on their own. This is for tasks where I am not expecting them to have well-developed strategies, but instead to deepen or extend their conceptual understanding in order to develop new strategies. Also using Peter Liljedahl’s visible random groupings and vertical non-permanent surfaces to disrupt institutional norms.

Shorter Routines:

·      Estimation 180
o   What: Estimate a quantity
o   Why: Think like mathematicians by determining relevant information and a reasonable
·      Graphing Stories
o   What: Make a graph to match a video story
o   Why: Think like a mathematician by using math to represent something happening in the real world
·      Visual Patterns
o   What: Describe, continue, and generalize a pattern
o   Why: Think like a mathematician by looking at the structure of a pattern and using repeated reasoning
·      WODB
o   What: Figure out why each one doesn’t belong
o   Why: To “think like mathematicians” by comparing similarities and differences


  1. This is so great! I also can see how compelling questions and cognitive science are woven in. I am very intrigued to see your HW routine - I think it really does something new (for students' thinking) with HW, which I know you've been thinking about for awhile.

    I wonder in the Refine A Strategy -- how will you stave off boredom with the problem? Especially in the "final draft" stage. If I'm reading it right, are students doing an individual final draft, based on what they saw others do, and then also going back to their partner work and finishing the problem there? I worry that students might be "done with" the problem by the time they're back to their partnerships, unless there is a really compelling ask for that part. Or am I reading it wrong?

    1. You're exactly right about Refine a Strategy. I did a variation of the routine with my kids last year and there was certainly the least engagement during the final draft stage. However, I think it is important and useful for kids to be able to describe what they did to solve a problem--particularly to do so individually after solving together as a group. This is where students will do "write ups" of problems. I will also talk with kids about how being able to summarize what you did really helps you remember the strategy--for each step they write down, they should be asking "why did we do this" and I will encourage them to do it without looking at their group paper and only checking when they need to. Hopefully this reason/things to think about behind writing the final draft in combination with the formal write-up grade will keep kids engaged.