As part of my Educ 350: Teaching and Learning course at Trinity in Spring 2023, I designed and taught three inquiry-based math lessons for Grade 5 students at Expeditionary Learning Academy at Moylan School (ELAMS) in Hartford, CT. This workshop is named “Feed the Monster ” which was evolved by an initial thought to combine math, culture (in terms of cultural foods), and a game for Lesson 1 but instead turned into culminating two lessons to create a math game with questions made by the students. All three lessons were connected through learning mathematical operations and methods with decimals and fractions. Throughout the process of designing and conducting a curriculum, my main takeaways include understanding the necessity of student curricular options and choice, the essentiality of providing accommodations, and pinpointing ways to produce visible thinking.

In Lesson 1, I came into the classroom with a curriculum designed to have especially three things: vertical non-permanent surfaces, a space for knowledge mobility, and visibly random groups. These practices were taken from the book “Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics” By Peter Liljedah, and was prioritized because it evidently formed an environment where students are not mimicking work to complete the task. Furthermore, I also came into the classroom without having a grasp of the general level knowledge of the students. Due to this, my first lesson did indeed have the three implementations specified above but especially because my thinking tasks were the same for all groups with the same level of difficulty which students’ overall level of knowledge did not align, students were not able to collectively grasp the tasks and resorted to mimicking an example problem.

Due to this, in Lesson 2, there was a space to still implement practices for a thinking classroom but also a space for different learners to be challenged at appropriate levels (involving addition, subtraction, or division). To carry this out, I utilized a technique of keeping certain tasks with increased difficulty in my “back pocket.” By this, the lesson had one main task that had room to increase complexity when ready but was not collectively required. Then, in Lesson 3, I wanted to keep incorporating different levels but instead of the instructor holding the levels to judge if/when students are ready to have an increase in challenge, students had ready access to the different levels (word problems involving addition, subtraction, or multiplication) to choose their challenge. In the end, both in Lesson 2 and 3, students were able to work through tasks at different degrees of complexity due to recognition of and intentional curation for different skills.

With the same sentiment of options described above, without accommodations for skills outside of the academic curriculum, students have limited options to fully learn and participate in a classroom in which they are expected to do so. With this, I did not anticipate or prepare for Emergent Bilingual students in the classroom. These students were fully capable of completing the tasks but also needed the help of their classmates to translate instructions for them. This meant to me that there must be resources available in which these students can both independently and collaboratively work on tasks at hand. To do so, I prepared materials and instruction for both Lesson 2 and 3 in Spanish. I introduced Spanish material in Lesson 2 at which students were first grappling with how they wanted to utilize these different materials. Then by Lesson 3, there was a shift in who was giving instructions and leading the team. An Emergent Bilingual student, who has been highly engaged in all three lessons, was especially involved in Lesson 3 as he read and led his team through the game activities. This student additionally utilized both English and Spanish resources to best support his learning. Therefore, this part of my teaching experience showed me that having accommodations are just as important as having options for the range of math skills built into the workshop because students are not just different in academic skills but also will have differences outside of the subject. With recognition of the student as a whole, they are able to participate at a high capacity similar to the student described above.

Finally, with these multiple levels of skills, I have found that one of the best ways to achieve high level thinking is with effective use of visualizing math. Students in all Lessons were to use white boards to work through problems. Thus, in Lesson 2, one student found a way to use play-doh and the white board to show place values and answer decimal word problems. Through this, other students around the room used the same method to successfully solve the *Launch *problem and create their own decimal word problems. While this specific method was not crucial to achieve the learning objective in Lesson 2, this method of drawing out the place values could have been a way to see higher order thinking in Lesson 3. This is because in Lesson 3, students would evaluate different interpretations and approaches to solving problems but many were not able to completely explain their mathematical thinking. In reflection, with the practiced use of methods like visualizing place values through dots/play doh, for Lesson 3 and future teaching experiences, to achieve higher order thinking like evaluating, it is valuable to pinpoint, use, and/or teach ways students can make their math visible.

Overall, through this experience I have been able to learn how to elevate initial ideas of lessons to be inclusive in different kinds of skills to collectively reach higher order thinking. Although not all takeaways came from complete successes, the lack of success was how I was able to greatly enrich my teaching skills in just the span of three workshops. In the beginning, I found it especially difficult to design a lesson that can collectively challenge a group of 20 students who have such a wide range of skills. But with the feedback from classmates, Professor Jack Dougherty, and this experience, one of the most insightful lessons learned was that students can be challenged in their own way while still having a cohesive lesson plan by having options in “my back pocket” or openly giving students those options. Thus, techniques like these have strengthened my skill set and can better prepare me for my future.