Sunday, September 06, 2009

My current experience with Algeblocks

This student finished all of the simplifying expression problems on paper (correctly), and then used the algeblocks for the following:

But can I blame him? Why would a student who can already do a procedure well bother trying to figure out a slower, less portable method?

But then, the students around him who really do need to use manipulatives to help them understand the difference between 2x and x^2 don't want to use the blocks either. They feel stupid and they want to do it the faster way too.

This seems impossible without fully differentiating instruction in the classroom. Which also seems, you know, impossible.

We have our Numeracy class, in which students spend time working on ALEKS. The Numeracy teacher this year is doing small group pull-out during that time to work on specific skill building. I am starting to think we should use the manipulatives in that setting only.


Mrs. Fuller said...

Hmmm, I am a big believer in manipulatives, but I certainly don't think that students should be forced to use them once they have grasped the concept abstractly.

I start out with everyone using them, then as each student is ready they may draw them rather than use the blocks, and at some point they have internalized it well enough to not need the sketch anymore. Like any tool, they should be used when needed.

(Although they are a fun way to create art when used, um, unconventionally!)

Dan Greene said...

I am too. When I taught our Numeracy class, I used integer blocks and fraction circles heavily, and I found them very helpful. But it was much easier because all the students needed to learn the concepts. In algebra, the level is a lot more mixed, and I think that is where my difficulties are coming from.

I agree that students should not be made to use the manipulatives any more once they have abstracted a concept. But in a social classroom, students are watching each other all the time. How do you make it feel "safe" to keep using blocks for some students, when others around them don't need them?

Mark at ETA/Cuisenaire said...

Great question, "How do we make students feelsafe" in any learning environment. I think that's a whole other issue. I think its important that kids understand the differnet learning modalities and that some of us are visual, auditory, kinestetic, verbal linguistic,... Helping kids understand these differences I think is a start.
When using manipulatives, we don't want the kids to rely on them to perform the abstract skill, but they are intended to help them make sense of the concept. When they create their representation of what is occurring is where the success comes from. Giving kids time to explore with the manipulatives before the guided instruction is also important. I could certainly see students creating the above prior to working with the manipulatives. Let them get it out of their system so to speak.