6 ideas for infusing choice into the math classroom

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Tuesday, September 29, 2020

6 ideas for infusing choice into the math classroom

6 ideas for infusing choice into the math classroom

6 ideas for infusing choice into the math classroom
Mandi Tolen

This post is written by Mandi Tolen a math teacher from Missouri. You can connect with her on Twitter @MandiTolenEDU and check out her blog infinitelyteaching.com.

I love the idea of giving students choices in the classroom. I like to give choices in topics, choices in timeline, and choices in activity when possible. Research supports the idea of allowing students to choose how to demonstrate their learning.

For many math classrooms, choice is not an option, not because teachers don’t want to give choice but because they don’t know how. We have specific standards we need to assess and we think a written test is the best, and sometimes, easiest way to assess and see misconceptions. 

So how do we provide choice in our math classroom?

I first dove into choice with differentiation days. My students tracked their standards on a conditionally formatted spreadsheet after each assessment. They could see the areas to work on and during differentiation days, they could work on those standards.

My next step on my choice journey was to level the practice for a lesson. We have three levels for each practice set with the first level as the easiest problems, the second level increasing difficulty by combining skills, and level three is application of the concept. Students can choose 3 from the first level, 2 from the second, and 1 from the third. Students seem to like this idea AND they have the additional problems to work as a review if needed.

But this wasn’t exactly what I envisioned for student choice. It was better than no choice but I knew I could do more.  See, when I taught ELA (I know, strange for a math teacher!) I had AMAZING choice boards, circa 2008. I’d like to point out that this was before teacher Twitter and just the start of Pinterest. I had choice boards before anyone suggested it because I thought it would make learning more fun and interesting. 

ELA Choice board example

I loved the student involvement from these choice boards and I wanted this for my math students. So the gears started turning. What activities COULD I give them choices on? How could they demonstrate their knowledge? 

Here are 6 ideas for infusing choice into the math classroom

1. Show Me

Can students take a picture of something and demonstrate their learning? Of course!  We provided this choice during our surface area and volume unit. We allowed students to take a video (more on this in Tell Me) or photos measuring an object and using those measurements to calculate the surface area and volume. Check out the example below. Real life application of basic geometric vocabulary.

Show me example

Other ideas I’ve used include finding an image in the school (or home) that looks linear then laying a transparent graph over it and writing the equation of the line (Google Slides, Desmos, or Geogebra)

2. Tell Me

When I created choice boards back in 2008, Flipgrid was not an option. WHAT A GAME CHANGER!!! Now, I can post the questions in Flipgrid and students can respond, annotating on the split screen if they need to. I have also used this if students needed to explain MORE (during virtual learning) if they choose a written assessment.

tell me example

3. Digital or Paper

Some students would prefer to just take a quiz or test. I provide this as an option in Google Forms, Canvas, or Quizziz, whichever platform you prefer. If we are in person, I also give a paper assessment as an option. I love technology, but I prefer to do math on paper.

Make Math Not Suck Book cover

Make Math Not Suck is a guide, an idea book, and a challenge to make math better for all students. By making math meaningful, applicable, hands-on, and personal, students can develop a love for math and find success they might have not experienced before.

4. Escape Rooms

Many times I will give students the option of completing an escape room as their assessment. The benefit of the escape room is knowing you have the answers correct because you can’t submit until you do. It does require students to practice perseverance.

Learn more in this post! 30+ FREE digital escape rooms (plus a step by step guide for creating your own)

5. Choose Your Own Math Adventure

Whenever possible, I provide a performance event. One of my favorite activities is having students create a Choose Your Own Adventure story, an idea I got from Ditch That Textbook. Through self and peer evaluations, students are creating and working MANY problems. It’s also fun to share these out with other teachers and students in different schools. 

6. Math choice boards

This year, I plan to add the choice board or choice matrix like I did in ELA.  Below is the first one I’ve prepared. Ready to go for our next unit. You can get this math choice board template here.

Giving students choices allows them to choose a path that best suits their learning style, allows them to use their strengths, and makes math more fun and interesting for them. 

Even MORE math resources!

I share more ideas to make math more fun and meaningful in my book Make Math Not Suck. From building relationships and meeting the needs of diverse learners to teaching in a remote setting, you can find ideas, activities, and stories to help.  Not sure how to incorporate technology in your classroom math classroom, I have many activities to get you started. Make Math Not Suck is full color, full of QR code and URL links, and many tech and non-tech ideas to engage your students and help them think and create.  Check it out to Make Math Not Suck for your students!

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