The Power of Choice

Do you have a math learning target that you want to jazz up a bit to increase student engagement, joy and wonderment of a standard? Do you have a lesson coming up that you are dreading because it seems dry and you are looking for a way to get your students excited about it? By inserting an element of student choice into the lesson, project, or standard, you might be surprised at the outcome and the many benefits this can draw beyond learning the standard!

My students completed an activity that allowed them to take ownership of part of the work. The next area of study dealt with data representations. Students were learning to make different types of graphs, analyze them, and explain why we have access to so many different types of graphs. I started the project by having the students make up a data gathering question to ask their classmates. They then had to display the gathered data using six different types of graphs (Venn diagram, stem & leaf plot, histogram, bar graph, dot plot/scatter plot, pie graph).

This project took about a week to complete. I provided mini-lessons for each graph showing the students how to make and analyze each graph with an example. The intention of this project was to allow students to dive deeper into the content and determine which graph is best used for which type of data. Students made their graphs visually appealing and each presented their graphs to the class. During their presentations, students needed to share their question, show their six graphs, and share the graph that, in their opinion, best displayed their data. In our reflection today, I asked the students why they thought I let them choose their survey question for this project. Here were their responses:

Nolan – so it would be more interesting

Esther – so we could learn more about our classmates

Nathan – so we could see if we had common interests with other classmates

YES! YES! And YES!!!!

During this project some content highlights came up as an added benefit that I didn’t even expect. First, a discussion arose around biased graphs. One student in the class asked his classmates which subject in school was their favorite. His results were astoundingly obvious with most choosing math as their favorite. We had a nice discussion about why this was the case and if this would have been true if we had asked all of 6th grade. Many students recognized that being this was a math enrichment class, many students in the class enjoy math and this representation may not be the same for all of 6th grade. Second, a discussion around categorical versus numerical data kept coming up. Many students’ questions asked categorical data which made it difficult to graph in some situations where the graph needed numerical data. Many students with categorical data struggled to make a stem and leaf plot as well as the pie chart. I had many one-on-one teaching sessions with how to calculate this work and helped students turn categorical data into numbers.

I was so impressed with the level of discussion that came from this project; a happy accident! I am confident that this same conversation would not have existed if I had followed the lesson plan as the curriculum intended. During this project, my students were more engaged, more invested in the work, felt as though they had ownership in their learning and were able to hit the math standards deeper than I ever imagined. It might take a bit to put something like this together up front, but perhaps you can jazz up your next lesson by adding an element of student choice and see what happens!

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