Series: Ideas at Work

Intentional Teaching Comes to Life with Big Shoulders Project

Math can be intimidating for many students, because it appears to be abstract and detached from the real world. Ms. Sheila Houston is among a growing group of teachers who are attempting to individualize their lessons to connect with each students’ unique interests and abilities.

Ms. Houston is a first grade teacher at St. Margaret of Scotland School. She has been attending our workshops in partnership with the Big Shoulders Fund, which works with the Office of Catholic Schools.

In the first cycle of these after-school workshops, they spent one 3-hour session intensively planning how participants could tailor a lesson plan developed by the Early Math Collaborative to help their students understand growing patterns.

The lesson revolved around the book The Napping House by Audrey Wood.

The research lesson was designed with preK-K students in mind, but it is always important to be able to “scale up” such lessons for primary. While Ms. Houston’s first graders loved The Napping House and the activities in the research lesson, Ms. Houston realized that they were ready and capable of going further and digging deeper. She pondered on how to use ideas that came up in the planning session. She was particularly attracted by the idea of having children write their own books showing a growing pattern, as in The Napping House.

When Ms. Houston invited her students to write their own books, several didn’t want to create a “napping house” of their own, so she asked them what they might want to do instead. One little girl, who probably had fashion in mind, suggested shopping. However, the boys in the class were more interested in what might be tasty for a Super Bowl party.

Ms. Houston immediately saw an opportunity to reinforce another very important lesson she knows the children in her class need to think about: nutrition and the importance of healthy diets. So together the class developed a list of healthy foods—Google research gave them a long list of foods—complete with pictures so each child had plenty of individual choices.

Ms. Houston knew there was more differentiating to do as the children’s number sense covered a broad span. She gave each child a different number of items to start from and then asked them to create a shopping cart of healthy foods, with each subsequent child adding 10 pieces of another healthy food. In the end every child in her class at every level of ability will have their work “published” in a laminated and bound edition.

While the story Nilah wrote (available to download below as a PDF file [6.1 MB]) is surely a sign of a future award-winning author, let’s not forget that Ms. Houston’s intentional teaching and differentiation means every child is given the opportunity to learn and succeed.

Growing Pattern Example