FAIRFIELD—“What is the distributive property of a multiplication statement?” fourth-grade teacher Lauren Korres asks her students at the beginning of a structured Personalized Learning math class at Assumption Catholic School.
“In the past, we taught as if every kid were the same,” says Principal Steve Santoli. “Kids would have gaps in their information, and as they went on, those gaps would give them a problem with more advanced topics. By personalizing our approach, we identify their weakness and work on it directly. More than that, it increases their independence and their interest.”
At Assumption, Personalized Learning is implemented in math, reading, writing, science and social studies.
Introducing this math session, Korres makes the multiplication statement “nine times four” (9×4), and she draws a rectangle of “X”s on the board to illustrate the concept. She asks her students to divide it into two uneven, smaller sections. They quickly work out that 5×4=20 and 4×4=16. The two sums add up to 36—the same number as the original nine times four solution (9×4=36).
“We use this strategy to help us break an equation down into smaller groups,” Korres explains to the class. “It will be helpful when we begin to multiply larger numbers.”
After that introduction, students break into smaller study groups. Groups of four or five use flip cards, graph paper, scissors and glue to make their own multiplication boxes, cut them into smaller arrays, and work out the equation to see that, in each case, the sum of the arrays is the same as that of larger numbers.
While laughter and conversation circle the room, the small groups take charge of their own lesson, helping each other when necessary, collaborating and comparing results. They are no longer passive learners; they are active participants in their own instruction.
At other stations, students work individually on a computer math program. “It’s kind of fun,” says Julie as she works through a set of problems showing the connection between addition, multiplication and division. “At the end, it gives you a score.”
Julie has a perfect score this session. If students don’t do well, they can—just as they might on their video games at home—go back and do it again to see if they can do better.
Each mini-session runs about 20 minutes, and students rotate through each type of learning. The computer keeps track of each individual’s session, and those working in groups will sign and turn in their worksheets. Korres will know right away if any student needs extra work before moving on.
The Personalized Learning format also gives Korres a chance to work with students in groups of two to five, depending on their needs. “Let’s see what we know,” she says with one group. “I’m going to give you a multiplication sentence and you’re going to build it for me.”
The students work with small Lego-like blocks and a wipeable workboard. They translate a sentence, like three times two, into an equation (3×2) and each one places their blocks on the table to reproduce the equation.
As they work through sets of numbers, looking at her blocks Zoe has a revelation: “So times is like adding! There’s more than one way to do the same thing!”
Her insight is exactly what Korres, and the Personalized Learning Initiative, had hoped. Zoe has explored multiplication in a number of different ways, and now the knowledge is solidly hers.