More Mad Minutes

4/10/2005 12:22:00 am

I've been working my way through the 9th Carnival of Education which pointed me to Mentor Matters exhibit. She wonders "how and why do teaching strategies common to the first grade classroom get blacklisted?" She goes on to say:

We got to this discussion because in meetings with upper level grade teachers, it became clear that our students’ basic math facts skills are weak. The idea about conducting daily Mad Minute timed practice tests came up as one intervention strategy. One of the veteran teachers remembered several years back teachers were told not to time kids; timing caused a stir among parents and therefore, some school leaders. So no more Mad Minute.

Brian J. Beck, an Engineering student, comments: "The problem is that you need that basic arithmetic as a stepping stone to understanding higher level concepts, and also for use in science." I couldn't agree more.

In all the classes I teach I explicitly tell my students we begin each unit learning the algebraic massage necessary to solve more interesting problems. Some examples:

  • »Exponents and Logarithms .... "Y'know how scientists say one dinosaur lived 1.5 billion years ago but this other one lived 2 billion years ago? Well, how do they know? Were they there?"
  • »Probability .... "Y'know how when you go to the doctor for a really important test and you call him up for the results and he says: Well, we have to do some more tests. Why are doctors so cagey?
  • »Differential Equations .... "Y'know how on all those police shows the coroner arrives at a murder scene and says to the detectives: The victim was murdered yesterday between 2:00 and 2:15 am. How does she know that?

These questions and more are answered at the end of each unit. But in order to get there we first have to learn the basic skills. Work through the blood, sweat and tears of manipulating the numbers and learning the basic calculations necessary to answer those questions. Students need competance and confidence with basic skills before we can even discuss sophisticated concepts and applications in more interesting problems.

To all of you teaching kids in the younger grades. Please, please, please don't give up the Mad Minute. You're giving them one of the special gifts only a teacher can give: the tools for success in the grades that follow; you're making a difference.

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  1. I appreciate your expert advise. I especially like the hooks with which you lead off your units: I am going to do this myself this week as we start the unit on fractions!
    I will share your words of wisdom with the first grade team this week.