In April 2017, in conjunction with Redesigning Pedagogy International Conference organised by National Institute of Education, Singapore (NIE), Marshall Cavendish Education organised a contest – How Creative Are You in Teaching Your Classes – inviting all educators to showcase creative, engaging or innovative teaching methods using any of its Maths, Science or English Materials.
4 winners were selected and won themselves an all-expenses-paid trip to Singapore to attend the conference organised by NIE.
This week, we have a look at one of the winners’ (Gloria Leng) approach to teaching mathematics in a creative, engaging and innovative way.
How creative am I in teaching my class?
– by Gloria Leng
Engaging young minds creatively is my goal and I believe, is the goal of every educator. As educators,
we strive to open the window of learning, to inculcate a sense of wonder in the process as well as the
satisfaction in learning applied well. In this, even as we strive to perfect this art of teaching, it is and
always will be a work in progress – and rightly so, for educators should never stop learning and keeping up with the changes in our world today.
Language barriers do not limit creativity in teaching in the classroom
The language limitations of teaching in Thailand have challenged me to look into creative ways of engaging students who might not understand Mathematics concepts easily through the use of words. Most of our students do not speak English as their first language so illustrating a problem and giving them concrete examples has become the most effective way of overcoming the language barrier. The physical limitation of being in Thailand is also something that has pushed me as a teacher to find alternatives to create or search for resources in non-conventional ways.
Teaching Mathematics is close to my heart and I believe that teaching creatively to engage students is necessary especially in teaching this subject because students need to be given different opportunities to train their brains and change their mentalities toward problem-solving to be effective in the workforce of the future. Mathematics is an unparalleled means to train problem solvers and is the by far the best training medium I have come across in my years as an educator.
Games do the trick
I believe in purposeful creativity; every activity or fun game must have a learning objective that is clearly defined. For example, in my Primary 1 class, we play Mathematics games before the formal lesson begins to reinforce basic concepts. Students play a subtraction game, where they subtract the number on a dice (or 2) from a set of numbers ranging between 12 and 20.
This game, I believe, can strengthen their understanding of number facts within 20, which is vital to their success in mental Mathematics. In this game, students need to strategise a subtraction strategy (take away from tens or take away from ones) and verbalise it to the class. To help weaker students in visualising the problem, the base 10 blocks are placed in front of them to illustrate the number they are subtracting from.
As they progress, we play our “It all makes number sense” game which basically is a 120- number chart. Students take turn rolling a 12-sided dice and moving that number of spaces without counting on in ones (counter-hopping is forbidden). Students observe patterns when adding 10 and subconsciously come up with strategies to add numbers. Adding 7 (by moving up 10 and back 3), adding 10 (moving down a space) or adding 12 (moving 10 and adding 2). Once they reach 120, the game reverses and we move into subtraction! It is a great way to have them familiarise with numbers up to 120. Although we play this game often in class, they are still always excited when we play this game.
Give students space to think
Getting students off their seats is also one of the best ways to get them learning more effectively, we engage them kinesthetically with activities in different areas of the classroom – on the floor, in our tent, on smaller round tables, on lower stools, on our foam mats. I find that when students are moving, their brains are moving too!
Moving around the classroom to find clocks to tell time
In this lesson on the concept of time, students sprawl on the floor and get busy with constructing a clock. They are also given a visual to help them understand that there are 5 intervals between each number on a clock. They are required to count in 5s and put 5 blocks in between each number. In this activity, the aim is to get them to verbalise new vocabulary learnt, for example, calling out a time (e.g. half past 6, 7 o’clock) and having their friends show the time. They are given opportunities to peer-check and explain why an answer is correct or incorrect. It gets even more exciting when it is a competition because there is nothing like some positive peer pressure to get them motivated! Although learning to tell time by the minute is not a required learning outcome for Primary 1, giving them exposure to how an hour equals to 60 minutes will set a foundation that will be built upon when they progress to the next academic year.
Problem-solving is part of creativity and engagement
Student engagement happens when they are thinking hard about ways to solve problems (metacognition in action). In another lesson, we learn about digits and created the greatest or smallest number using digits. Students compete in groups and race individually to the table to choose a specific number of digits. They discuss and decide what numbers to pick before they run to the table but most of the time I hear them shouting to their teammates, “Pick a bigger digit!” or “Pick a smaller digit!” when the race begins.
They reason with one another on where the digits must go and it is so satisfying when I listen to them trying to convince their friends how the digits should be arranged. In this process, self-correction also occurs – Learning at its best!
Differentiated learning also encourages creativity
In my class, differentiated learning at different levels forces me to be creative to meet the needs of all my students. As a new school with lower student numbers, we combine classes (P2s and 3s), which in reality is not the best arrangement for learning. However, it is inevitable and we try to make the best of this. The good thing is that our Marshall Cavendish Math books are consistent in building upon what was taught the previous years and so it is easy to revise the foundation using the Primary 2 content for the Primary 3s and then push the Primary 3s further. In this lesson, students throw bears into place value baskets. Each bear in a basket represents a value that is stated. After a turn, the player walks up to the basket and reads out the total value thrown. We mess the order of the baskets and students get to think harder on which should be read first. They had great fun and it reinforced the place value chart I had in class. Active learning is what I strive for in every topic I teach. It keeps me on my toes and constantly challenges me to do my research and come up with new ways to engage my students.
Creative teaching methods train our students to think critically, to come up with different ways to get to the desired outcome. In our case, we think of different ways to teach a Mathematics concept. During our lesson on the concept of Money, we had a lot of fun from the activities in the textbook by Marshall Cavendish Education. Students use money printouts to make a dollar in as many ways as they can. Money is a tricky topic to teach in Thailand where their currency runs into the thousands. Our Primary 2 and Primary 3 students had no idea what dollars and cents were and so we had to start from the basics, using Marshall Cavendish’s guided practices from Primary 1 to lay the foundation. I particularly love the activities and questions from Marshall Cavendish books that have more than one way to solve a problem because I get to ask my students if there are still other ways to show me a solution and they scramble to find more. I do hope that in time that they will automatically tell me “there must be more than one way to do this!”. In the picture above, they are exploring different ways to make a dollar using money printouts.
Money is a tricky topic to teach in Thailand because the value of the currency can get as high as the thousands. Our Primary 2 and Primary 3 students have no idea what dollars and cents were and so we had to start from the basics, using guided practices from the Primary 1 textbook to lay the foundation. I particularly love the activities and questions from books by Marshall Cavendish Education because it usually shows students more than one way to solve a problem. I do hope that in time that they will automatically tell me “there must be more than one way to do this!”. In the picture above, they are exploring different ways to make a dollar using money printouts. We do our best to attempt all the fun activities from the textbook. In another activity, students choose Singapore supermarket advertisements that I printed out from the internet to create their own advertisement – practising writing the prices in words, in cents and in dollars and cents. We practice making the sum to match the advertisements and also writing down on our individual boards how much money is put on our plate.
Gloria Leng is one of the winners of our “How Creative Are You in Teaching Your Classes?” competition. We will be sharing works from three other winners over the course of next few weeks. Stay tuned!