Math Quest - A Problem Solving AdventureThursday, July 10, 2014
One of my favorite math units to do with upper elementary students is Math Quest! I very rarely repeat units in my classroom (there are too many great new things to try, right?), but Math Quest is one I have returned to year after year. So, I thought I'd share some of the ways I use this AMAZING Interact Unit with my 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students.
Math Quest is set up like a game to engage and motivate students. (See the game board below!)
Students earn “travel dots” for solving math problems; each travel dot is worth one space on the game board. As students work their way towards the treasure chest at the top of the board, they earn special "powers" and gold. The team of students with the most gold at the end of the unit wins! SO MUCH FUN!
Now for the math . . . ! The unit is designed to help students become competent, confident, and creative problem solvers. Throughout the unit, students explore six problem solving strategies:
- Guess and check
- Look for a pattern
- Work backwards
- Make a picture or a diagram
- Use Logical Reasoning
- Make a table or a chart
Students work in teams and then on their own to apply each problem solving method. The Math Quest unit provides all of the problems for team practice and individual application. Each set of problems is tiered to provide varying levels of challenge. I've found that levels A, B, and C correspond pretty well with grades 3, 4, and 5.
When introducing a problem solving strategy, I follow an "I do," "We do," "Y'all do," "You do" approach. With "I do," I introduce and model the strategy. I select a different problem for "we do" and the students and I solve it together; the students record their work in their math notebooks, while I write on the board. If all goes as planned (ha, right?), then we move on to "y'all do." In this stage, students work in their teams of 4 to solve the problem together. We use Student Learning Teams to ensure meaningful learning. In a student learning team, each student has a specific "job," which promotes individual accountability, equal student responsibility, and positive interdependence.
And then finally, "you do," where students practice and apply the problem solving strategy independently.
Due to the complexity of the problems, I require my students to use a problem solving mat to guide and illustrate their thinking. The work mat guides them through the important steps of understanding, solving, explaining, and checking the problem. Prior to using the mat, my students tended to RUSH, particularly through steps 1 and 4, which seriously compromised the accuracy of their work! I've found that the mat helps my students to navigate and solve complex problems with greater independence and accuracy.
You can find the problem solving mat here.
I then use a holistic rubric to score the completed mats. While it is not as descriptive as an analytic rubric, I find it more user-friendly for the purpose of scoring LOTS of math problems each week.
You can find the holistic rubric here.
When I designed the problem solving mats and rubrics, I wanted to emphasize the importance of the problem solving process. Therefore, I wanted students to be rewarded for showing their work and thinking. As a result, students can actually earn more points for an incorrect answer where they have shown their reasoning, then if they simply record the correct answer. With that said, there is a lot of value in accuracy, as well! That is why there is such a large numerical gap (4 – 10) between the two highest scores. I want students to participate in and value the problem solving process, but I also want them to recognize that accuracy is essential.
Putting an emphasis (and a score!) on the problem solving process is a new way of thinking for many students. I've found though, that once students understand and use the problem solving maps & rubrics that it dramatically improves the quality of their work and thinking.
In my experience, when my students take ownership of the rubric, they are more likely to understand and invest themselves in the process. Therefore, I enlist them to help me build the criteria. I provide the descriptors and we discuss each one. In the discussion we address the value of the problem solving process, the importance of accuracy, and our ultimate goal of accomplishing both! As a class, students then decide what point value each level of performance is worth. We record their decisions on paper and use this an anchor chart. It keeps the criteria clear and available and students can refer to it easily throughout the year.
At various times, we revisit the rubric and discuss. As a class, students may change the point values or even modify or add to the descriptors. It is great to hear them reflect on the problem solving process, what worked well, what they value, and how they want their accomplishments recorded.
OK PAUSE! If you've read this far, you are a total rock star and deserve a FREEBIE! hug, hug, kiss, kiss! Here's a link to download my "Guidelines for Team Work" for free.
Before I sign off on this incredibly long post, I want to share one more of my favorite aspects about Math Quest - FATE CARDS!
Students love fate cards because they add excitement and introduce the unexpected! At the beginning of each class, teams randomly select a "fate card." Each card provides a different scenario or task, which can cause teams to gain or lose points, gold, and/or their position on the board. Most importantly, they are hysterical! While some cards require academic thinking, (such as calculate the average height of your team or state one of Newton's 3 laws of physics), some cards are just silly and fun. For example, students can earn points for wearing a real shower cap, singing a song, or remaining silent for the entire math class.
Fate Cards take about 2-3 minutes of class time to complete, but are often the highlight of my students' day! They can not wait to get to math class so they can pull cards and earn points. I've even had students create their own fate cards - in their free time!! - to add to the pile. I LOVE my students!!!
So, what do you think? What questions do you have? Leave me a comment and let me know! I'd love to hear from you.