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April 18, 2010
Linda the Math Coach
Author, Consultant, Speaker & Master Coach Go Beyond the Theory. Apply the Research. Make it work!
Math Wor ksheets
Kiss them Goodbye and tr y a Mini Unit
Ok, I promised last week to give you detailed directions for a mini unit, and here goes. This week we will look at how to set up a mini unit that uses stations for the students to move through. First, I’m going to give you the steps to follow and briefly explain them. Then later, this week I’ll show you how to apply the steps with an example of a mini unit that I’m in the middle of creating right now. (Remember, mini units are high interest engaging sets of activities around a topic or theme. You can use them to review, introduce, enrich, or practice. They can be used any time of year, but they come in especially handy at times when students might otherwise balk at having to work, before a break, during testing, at the end of a school year, etc.)
Steps for Creating a Mini Unit with Station Activities
Step 1 Brainstorm For this step, begin with a folder labeled with the project name. This folder will be the file for storing all your ideas on this unit as you work. You will also need 3 or four blank pieces of paper and a pencil. I prefer unlined paper because it allows you the total freedom of thought without the implied restrictions of lines. At the top of the first paper write the words, ‘Product, Choice, Fun, Relevance, Movement.” This is to remind you that an engaging mini unit will incorporate those five elements. You are now going to make lists. The titles of your lists might be: Learning objectives I want to cover Creative themes Materials I need Stuff I have to buy People who can help Activities Games Handouts Resources Opening/Introduction Closing /Finale As you begin to think about your unit, start jotting down all the ideas that come to your mind under
your list headings. If you come up with an idea that doesn’t fit a heading, make a new heading. Keep going until you feel you have enough ideas to work with. You will keep your brainstorming lists throughout the process to refer back to for more ideas or to add new ideas.
Step 2 Organize a Plan and Set Timelines Now, you take your brainstorms and organize them. If your school requires a specific lesson plan format, then fit your brainstorms into that format. While you are organizing your ideas, create a timeline with deadlines for completing the following steps. The first time you create a mini unit, you may not be great at this step. It gets better. Just relax and have fun making the mistakes and learning something new. As you select the activities to include, keep in mind the five elements at the top of your first brainstorm page. Choose the activities that are the most engaging. It’s funny how students will play a card game that requires them to solve 105 problems, yet moan, groan, and refuse to do a worksheet with 10 problems! A critical part of this stage is also to consider how students will move through the stations. For example, can they start anywhere and move randomly, or do they need to progress through the stations in particular order? Random is easier. It also works more smoothly when you have at least one more station than you have groups. That way, faster groups don’t get backlogged waiting on a slower group to complete a station.
Step 3 Research and Fill in Activities In this step, you will look at the activities you listed. You might have listed activities you have done before or seen somewhere else. You’ll also probably have topics or skills that you listed for which you do not have activities. So head for your favorite professional books, check out your own school library, and be sure to do some google searches. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the wealth of free activities that you can find online. You may even find a complete mini unit posted online that is similar to your own! Depending on the size and length of your unit, you can use either large index cards or separate folders to house the ideas and materials for each activity. Pay special attention to your opening and closing activities. Go for totally cool and engaging. You want to wow them at both these stages of the unit. Brain research indicates that we tend to remember best the material introduced at the beginning and end, so we want impacting beginnings and endings within each activity as well! Step 4 Create the Handouts and Collect the Materials For this step, you take each activity and write and photocopy the handouts you will use. Keep the materials in separate file folders, or boxes if you have large game boards or props. Make a list of the things like crayons, glue, scissors, etc that you will have to get out at set up time. If you are creating games with little pieces or if you are using manipulatives, zip-lock bags are your best friends. Think ahead. If this is the kind of unit that you will want to do again, laminate everything that students will handle. This includes things like game boards, game pieces, instructions, etc. Step 5 Set Up Give yourself time to set up the day before. I can tell you from experience that last minute rushing to get everything out leaves you frustrated and worn out. You want it to be all very orderly set out for students to enter the room and see it waiting for them. The ideal situation is an area in the middle of
the room where students gather in chairs or desks at the beginning and end of the session. Then set up your stations at individual tables surrounding the perimeter of the room. Each station needs its own area for students to work and where the materials are stored. If your classroom does not allow this kind of space, you have other options. You can store the materials in one area and have student desks arranged in groups. Then selected students can go get materials and return to their group to work. Another option is to borrow an appropriate space for the day, such as the library or a meeting room, or swap out for the gym on a day when those classes might be outdoors or watching a health related video. Maybe your activity is suited to outdoors! But if this is the case, have a plan B in case of rain. When setting out your materials, remember that you do not need to have one of everything for each student. Usually for things like calculators, scissors, glue, etc., you can just put out one for each group and plan for students to share. This is just another way of setting up the circumstances for students to cooperate. A good way to keep the work areas neat is to use dollar store plastic baskets at each station. Before a group moves on, they have to put everything back into the basket. Post directions you want students to follow in each station. Directions should tell students what the task is, what to do with it when they are finished, and how to leave the station when they are finished. Directions should also clearly state how many copies they are to use so that you do not run out of copies before the last group completes the station. (Keep extras on hand at your desk, just in case.) Try to make the directions similar in format at each station. Use brightly colored paper or tag board with positively stated directions. Smiley faces always lend a nice, friendly touch. Step 6 Guide the Student Through the Stations Welcome your students and introduce the stations. Give general directions for how you want them to move through the stations. As sign them to groups or partners. Send them to the stations one group at a time. When everyone is at a station, tell them they may begin. Now is your time to circulate and answer questions. Make sure that each group is following directions and completing the tasks. Bring clipboard with you and as you circulate make notes to yourself about the problems students are facing, what are their common questions, what clever solutions do they come up with that you want to share with the whole group. Don’t rush students through the stations. Give them enough time to do the activity and process their thoughts about it before they have to move on. Be prepared for the stations to take more or less time than you originally planned. Have optional bonus activities or areas where early finishers can read or do individual work on their own. Step 6 Follow Up Discussion After all the groups have completed the stations, you reassemble them for some follow up discussions. You can discuss each station one by one using the notes you wrote while circulating. Another way to get the discussion going is to let students think pair share around the “Ahas” they discovered and ask them what they think are the big ideas of each station. This is a good time to have students share their strategies for completing the stations and how well they think the strategies worked for them. If this is a first time for stations, you may also want to focus in on strategies for working together and dividing the work as a group. Step 7 Reflect and Revise This final step is done by you, the teacher. This is where you take time to put the unit away, repair and replace the parts that are missing. Add your notes you wrote as you circulated to help students to the file. Get everything back in order to pull out for use again with another class. Before you pack it all away, though, take time to reflect and write what went well and what you want to do differently next time. (How often do you take this step?) Sometimes I involve students in this activity by asking
them to write me a two paragraph evaluation. Paragraph one begins, “The parts of this unit I liked were……” The second paragraph begins, “The parts of this unit I think should be different are….” They know of course that they need to elaborate and support their answers with examples and details! As I said earlier, I’m using this approach to create a mini unit this week. I’ll post it on my blog as soon as it is completed and set up. I’ll include examples of how it looked at various stages of development. In the meantime, why not put together your own mini unit?
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