5 Tips for Middle School Math
The math homework dilemma – to give or not to give (IF you have the option in your district)? How much to give? To go over it all or only review some of it? What will be most helpful to your students?
Maybe your experiences have been similar to mine: I’ve adjusted my practices from year to year, sometimes spending a lot of time reviewing homework, but other times spending little; some years giving homework related to the lesson, other years giving homework that was basic skills practice; some years lots of problems, other years just a few. There seemed to be pros and cons to each.
Thinking about this topic yet again, I decided to look for some research to see how we can help students get the most out of the homework we assign.
Middle school students still like those fun seasonal activities! Many years ago (I have no idea how many) I used this pattern coloring activity with my middle-schoolers. I don't remember where the idea came from, and I had even forgotten that I ever used it! However, I was looking through an old "November" file to find some ideas for a fun activity for a sub day, and found the tracers and examples in my file.
Once I found it, I DID remember that the kids used to really enjoy this activity. They had fun creating the patterns and deciding what colors to include. So, I gathered materials (graph paper, tracers, colored pencils, thin black markers, construction paper) and left them for the sub, with these directions:
Using Your Time Effectively and Efficiently
Having the perfectly-run math class....that's been my goal, year after year. Somehow, in middle school, it has consistently tried to evade me!
In other posts, I've shared that I taught elementary math for years, and always had an hour for math class. That hour gave me the time I wanted to have good warm-ups every day (sometimes taking up half the class with one particular problem that led to additional discussion/extension!); the hour gave me the time to go over homework the way I wanted to. And it still gave me time for a new lesson and practice.
But when I got started teaching math at the middle school, with "44"-minute periods, that was all over. (They aren't really 44 minutes - the students get no time between classes for switching, so switching time comes out of the 44.)
Making them work in 40-minute class periods
I taught elementary school for 12 years and I loved my math centers! They were great. Math class was always an hour, and we had five computers in the classroom, so having a computer center was always an option.
Then I moved to middle school. Math was 44 minutes (minus time for switching classes.....so more like 40 minutes). How could I fit more than two rotations in a 40-minute period?? I longed for block scheduling (our district has never had it)...that would make it so much easier to complete center rotations! For the first year or two of middle school, I kind of gave up on the idea of centers...the activities I wanted students to complete took longer than 20 minutes. So, that would be enough time to finish 2 rotations, IF students started the second they walked in the door and then had no time to clean up/organize at the end of class. But eventually I needed to get my centers back, so I experimented with a few different set-ups before I landed on a structure that works.
Surface area is a such a fun topic to explore in the middle school math classroom! To really understand what surface area means, students need to interact with actual three-dimensional objects. Before we talk about the math formulas or how to calculate, we spend time discovering how to find surface area in our own ways.
I give students every-day items to work with. Typically, we use product boxes (rectangular prisms) with different dimensions, and I ask the students to visualize and then draw what the boxes would look like if they were taken apart and laid flat. Most students take about 5 minutes to complete their drawings, depending on how detailed they choose to be, and for the most part, they do a very good job drawing the nets of the boxes. Next, I have them spend a few minutes comparing their nets with group members, deciding whether those nets are reasonable representations of the object (even if they are drawn a little differently), and determining whether anyone appeared to be missing anything (some students will draw only five sides, and their group members are able to help them figure out what's missing).
Box-and-whisker plots are a brand new concept for my 6th-graders, and when students are first introduced to them, they seem a little scary. However, with some structured directions, students catch on very quickly.
I break down the box-and-whisker plot into 5 steps, in order to plot the 5 points needed to create the box and whiskers:
1) Order the data set from least to greatest.
2) Identify the smallest and largest values; place those points on the number line (above the number line).
3) Identify the median and place that point on the number line.
Students need to remember that if there is an even number of numbers in the data set, the median will be the mean of the two middle numbers - even though they've found median in the past, many students tend to need this reminder.
What skills to middle school teachers need to have? The first skill many people think of is the ability to work well with preteens, as well as a degree in education. That's definitely a good start. But, I’ve discovered that to be successful as a middle school teacher, you need a certain skill set. While I learned some of this in school, most of it I learned through experience.
After all, working with middle school students for years teaches you a few things.
Honestly, I think this is a key skill for every single teacher, no matter what age group they teach. Students aren’t always happy to be in class or eager to learn. This means I have to be persistent and keep working with my students, no matter how stubborn they might be. Of course, sometimes persistence also means taking the time to figure out why a student’s having problems.
Hi, I'm Ellie! I've been in education for 25 years, teaching all subject areas at both the elementary and middle school levels.