Here is a random offering of some successful and not-so-successful activities I've done in my classes recently:
1. Algebra is studying the Fundamental Counting Principle - a.k.a Permutations, Combinations and Outcomes. First, I introduced outcomes. Then, I added Permutations. I gave them 10 minutes to complete a practice set in class - it included both outcome and permutation problems, and I had them decide which type it was before solving each problem. Somehow this 10-minute worksheet had kids thinking, talking, sharing ideas and getting it. It was eye-opening for me. I want to do more of that - quick exercises in class to give kids time to practice. Unintended consequence: A bunch of papers with P-O-O-P written down the side. Awesome.
2. In Geometry, while studying sum of interior angles, I printed up a sheet with a variety of problems related to the topic that kids might come across. For some kids, it worked really well. They were able to use the knowledge they had and apply it in different ways. Most kids, though, were stuck because they didn't have any example to follow. While I don't want to have to teach kids how to solve any and every problem they come across, that's what I ended up doing. My goal is to work on helping all my kids apply their knowledge in new ways. This wasn't the way to do that.
3. Today was one of my first attempts to through out a problem to the class, have them work in groups to come up with a solution method, and then share what they got and how. (I showed them a 4x4 grid, with the border shaded, and asked how many squares were shaded, without counting. Then a 10x10, then an nxn). I think this type of lesson can be super valuable, and I think I still have a lot to learn about how to make it so. A more in-depth post on this coming soon. I really want to reflect on today, and because I want those types of lessons to be central to my teaching. (You know, the kind where I ask students to think, and talk about ideas, and listen to and think about other's ideas?)
4. I gave students a sheet with a set of review problems. They worked on slates, with their group if they choose, through each problem. For some, I told them where around the room the answer was posted. When they finished, they were to get up and see if they did the problem correctly. For some problems, I told them to show me their work, instead. I added those because I actually wanted to see how they were doing, and be able to clarify any misconceptions I saw. Also, I just don't trust all of my students to do anything about it if they got the answer wrong! The day I did this went pretty smoothly. Walking around the room, I saw all of my kids working on slates, and getting up and checking answers. I would see students looking at the back side of the door, and say "Yes!" or turn back to their group and give a thumbs up. I also noticed that many students, who later on I determined didn't know the material, would just use their group to get them through the worksheet, and not do much, if any, thinking on their own. I haven't decided yet how much I can do about that. I want each student to take their learning into their own hands, and stretch themselves, and try things out and ask for help (not answers) when they need it. But I can't force them to do that. What things can I do to encourage it?
5. One day, I gave my students an in class assignment, and then pulled about 3 kids at a time over to the side to do a "skills check." I just gave them one problem to work on, on a slate, right in front of me. It helped me immediately know who really got it, who needs prompting, or kinda got it, and who was totally lost. That part I liked. Not sure how worthwhile it was though. For one, it takes a surprising amount of time to get through everyone. Secondly, while I was working with a few kids, I got mixed results with the rest of the class. The kids who generally work hard anyway, worked hard that day. The kids who generally don't work, didn't work that day. I didn't like that.