This past week I rolled out free-choice time in a more formal way to my fifth graders. On Thursday I handed out a list of different ways that they might spend their time after quizzing on Friday. Telling them about this was kind of slow going, as both of my classes seemed sort of scattered and unfocused that day. I described some of the activities that were more unfamiliar—including a brief demo of Khan Academy—pointed out some of the things on the list that I had made available to them more informally after quizzes last week, and answered a few questions.
Aside from the scatteriness, there was a lot of enthusiasm about the different activities and the prospect of trying them out. One kid said that he wanted to do them all the next day, and I pointed out that while that probably wasn’t feasible to take on in a single day, he could definitely make that happen for himself over the course of the year.
I also gave them the “present” of a math journal. Many of them were excited about the prospect of journaling about math. They dove into putting the nameplates on the fronts and decorating them. I expected to get maybe a little more skepticism or push-back about journaling in math class as too artsy-fartsy. There was just one question from a girl who asked if they were supposed to write about their “feelings” in their journal. She made it clear that she was anxious about talking about her weakness on paper. She also expressed concern about privacy and whether other kids would see what she had written.
I told this student that in her journal she could write about her goals, her progress, her feelings, her excitements, and her plans. Then I said that she should think of her journal as a safe and private place to record her thinking and that I would be asking her to share her journaling with me only—so that I could better help her to define and reach her goals. She seemed satisfied and comforted by this answer.
The homework on Thursday night was to prepare for quizzes using the packet of practice problems that I’d previously distributed, as well as to write a journal entry. I asked them to write about both their quizzing for the next day and the way there were planning to use their free-choice time. The entries that they made ranged from a few words to a solid paragraph. They all have room to grow in this regard, and I’m really excited to see how their thinking and their writing evolve over the year.
Quizzes on Friday went smoothly enough. Overall, the amount of time spent quizzing went down, as could be expected, what with the prospect of their free-choice plans. Only a couple of students really sped through quizzing. I figure that with some direction, this will even out in time. But letting them go and blow and weigh the importance of different tasks for themselves is what this whole adventure is about, after all.
The range of free-choice activities on Friday included a chunk of students trying out Light-Bot; some using the Geofix shapes again; a few doing logic puzzles; a couple playing Hex; and some metal puzzles here and there. A couple of kids looked into the Thousand Year Game Design Challenge.
This week is a short week—we don’t have school on Thursday or Friday—so the next quiz and free-choice day is a little ways off. I’m putting together a second practice packet to distribute—by student request. I think the idea of having resources that help you to prepare for quizzes is starting to sink in!