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Math Alternate Task Provides Choice

I have talked before about the importance of providing choice for students. This is especially important for students in subjects where there are multiple answers or strategies to solve the problems.

Let's look at math. Very often, a problem is posed for children that is open-ended. This allows for students of all abilities an opportunity to enter into the lesson. For example, "The answer is 11. What is the question?" This allows a student to say 10 + 1 = 11, or 77 divided by 7. There are an infinite number of answers, and children often become really focused on developing a pattern to provide a number of solutions, or start using different operations combined to get the answer of 11.

However, for some of our students, this open ended type of question is a source of anxiety. Where do I start?

So, some scaffolding may be necessary. Of course, using counters, or other manipulatives are always recommended. This works well, if you record the strategy for the child, as he/she works. The teacher may have to provide some other types of scaffolding:
1. Only use addition/subtraction/multiplication/division.
2. Start with a number between 2 and 5.
3. Start with a multiple of 11.
4. Start with 12.
5. Try an even number between 7 and 9.
6. Model how to solve it, and have have the child follow the pattern. For example, 20-9=11, 19-8=11, etc.

Some of these strategies can be written down on a "tips sheet" that the child can use. "Tips to Help Solve Problems."

It is also important to comment on how other kids are trying 2 or 3 different numbers.
 "Laura tried 2 x 5. It didn't work. She left it and tried another number. She is using a good strategy: Guess and check. Try again. That is patient work, Laura."

If all else fails, or you have worked on one solution, or the anxiety is escalating into a meltdown, then it is important that alternative, and more structured problems or tasks are provided. Have a workbook of familiar problems or math facts that can promote calm. No one learns well when they are anxious. That doesn't mean you don't try again another time, but pick and choose how to approach these more open ended math lessons, by following some of the strategies I outlined above.