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.)
I tried to use the same kind of warm-up I used in elementary school (a word problem to practice a particular problem solving strategy, including a written explanation). Sometimes these took 20-30 minutes. So, that left only 10 -20 minutes to review homework, teach a new lesson, and practice.....but that didn't work well. So I cut these warm-ups down to once a week and let them take the whole class period. But I felt like warm-ups once a week wasn't enough.
Then I bought a warm-up book (because I really wanted warm-ups each day - it's the best way for me to start my classes). These were shorter (though not always as challenging as I wanted), but so short that some students who got to class first finished before others even arrived (and some of the problems were just too simple). Others just took longer to get done.....so those who were done needed something to do while they waited for the others to finish. Eventually I wrote all of my own warm-ups, so I was very happy with what we were covering, but still not happy with the how. (One step in the right direction!)
My next issue was reviewing homework. I wanted to go over all (or most) of the problems. I wanted to be sure that I answered all the questions anyone had (and discussed certain problems even if no one asked the questions). So homework often took a long time to go over.
I struggled with the best balance of warm-ups, homework review, lesson, and practice for a couple of years, I have to admit. And no one that I taught with seemed to have the same issues as me. Part of that was because they weren't using warm-ups like I was, so they weren't losing that chunk of time at the beginning of class. But I knew the warm-ups and our discussions were beneficial to the students in the long term.
Here's what I've finally landed on that allows us to use our math classes as efficiently and effectively as possible:
1) Warm-ups are homework. My warm-ups are only 2-3 questions per day, so is isn't a long assignment. Even when it's added on to other homework, it doesn't take that much extra time. There are times when students don't have the knowledge to answer a warm-up question (because we may not have learned the concept yet), but they have to at least give it an attempt.
2) Warm-ups are discussed in groups for the first 5-7 minutes of class. Students get to class and immediately take out the warm-ups and review the answers with their group members (my students sit in groups of 4-6). This allows for math discussion (love it!); students help each other if someone didn't understand a certain problem. I circulate during this time to listen in, check answers, and help any groups that need help.
3) When the warm-up discussion is done, students self-check homework (another 5-7 minutes, depending on # of homework problems). I put all the answers on the board before they come to class, so that as soon as they finish the warm-up discussion, students can start checking their homework. This again gives me time to circulate, check for homework completion and help students that have questions. I normally pick out one or two of the more challenging problems to discuss as a class.
4) Students prepare for the day's lesson. For those who get done with the warm-up and homework checking before others, I'll have a question on the board or an activity to begin that pertains to the new lesson for the day. I make it something that isn't necessary to the lesson so that those who took longer with the warm-up and homework won't miss something necessary to the lesson.
5) New lesson and practice. Now that warm-ups and homework are down to about 10-15 minutes per period, we have 25-30 minutes for the new lesson and the practice:-)
Do you have 40(ish)-minute math periods? What does your class structure look like?
Hi, I'm Ellie! I've been in education for 25 years, teaching all subject areas at both the elementary and middle school levels.