Target – Flexible Learning Environments. FWSU will maximize learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.
Action Steps – (1) Increase access to resources for all students using digital tools making learning more accessible for diverse learners. (2) Develop opportunities for students to collaborate, innovate, create and conceptualize in all learning settings (flexible classroom settings/schedules/groupings).
Indicator of Success – The school calendar and definition of the school day changes to become flexible and responsive to the needs of students.
Imagine yourself sitting comfortably in your favorite restaurant. The server smiles politely and hands you a menu bursting with the evening’s drool-worthy food offerings. You open the menu and scan each of the scrumptious options. What will you pick? That beckoning burger? The pleading pasta? A summoning sirloin? Will you top it all off with the tempting tiramisu? One of the highlights of eating in a restaurant is the choices we have of how we satisfy our hunger. (And not having to do the dishes afterwards, of course! Who doesn’t love that?)
Now, imagine being that excited about – and engaged in – MATHEMATICS. It’s not only possible, but actually happening in several Fletcher classrooms through a concept called Math Menu. In fact, satisfying students’ hunger for a flexible learning environment, individual instruction, personalized learning and being empowered to make choices about their math instruction are not unlike the rush of ordering off a fancy restaurant menu.
In his book, Solving for Why, University of Hartford Assistant Professor of Education John Tapper, who has been working with Fletcher teachers to support high-quality mathematics instruction, suggests that daily math lessons includes four main components: the launch, the main lesson, the menu lesson, and closure. The menu is key.
The launch has children activating what they already know from previous lessons and experiences so that they can apply it to new learning. It also serves as a transition to the main lesson. During the main lesson, all students in the class work to learn the core skills and concepts of the day. The skills and concepts are revisited repeatedly over time as children of all levels of understanding work individually and in groups to solve related problems. Sharing of ideas and learning is essential.
The menu portion of the lesson typically lasts 25 to 30 minutes and brings with it all of the anticipation of fine dining. Students select from a number of math activities from a “menu” (literally!) provided by the teacher. In second grade teacher Jan Murphy’s class, for example, during the week students pick from a menu of soups (math word problems), appetizers (math journaling), entrees (skill of the week, such as subtraction) and desserts (math games, often using online technology.) Within each option, Murphy “serves up” differentiated learning opportunities based on individual students’ learning needs.
“Math menu has allowed me to give my students a sense of independence and choice for personal learning,” Murphy said. “They are able to choose the order in which they complete their activities and they complete their menu by Friday each week. Activities are differentiated by providing two levels of difficulty.” By meeting with small groups and individual students during the lesson’s menu component, Murphy is able to guide students’ menu selections so that they are appropriately and individually challenged.
During the closure component, the class assembles to share their learning, work and experiences. The conversation often focuses on a question that allows students to end math time with specific strategies that they can apply to the next lesson.
In Solving for Why, Tapper writes, “A main lesson – menu lesson plan is especially effective for supporting struggling learners because it deliberately connects new concepts to prior knowledge, offers opportunities for students to work together in an inclusive environment, provides a large block of time for differentiated instruction to meet individual needs, and allows time for students to share their work and reflect on their learning.”
Most of Fletcher’s teachers took a course taught by Tapper last summer that focused on differentiating instruction using the math menu concept. In short, the group focused on how to meet the needs of every student in math by offering choice through the lesson structure described above. In addition, Tapper visits Fletcher classrooms monthly and consults with teachers about their implementation of math menu.
“Fletcher is doing a pretty thorough job of beginning to implement differentiated instruction through (math) menu,” Tapper said in an email Friday.
“The menu portion (of our math lesson) allows us to work one-on-one and in small groups with all students throughout the week,” STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics) Teacher Leader Denette Locke said in a letter to first grade parents in August. “We will be able to give students the support they need at their level, as well as enrichments and added challenges.”
Locke works closely with teachers to support the menu approach school-wide. According to Locke, “Math looks different in each class, but the general (menu) ideas are there for all. It addresses the ideas of conceptual fluency and maintenance of skills, problem solving, technology, math journaling, and time for the teacher to meet individually with students.”
“Math menu is a great way for students to keep track of the activities they do during our math block,” first and second grade teacher Cathy O’Brien said. “When it goes home, it can be used for conversation between students and families.”
John Tapper will continue supporting Fletcher teachers with the implementation of math menu for the remainder of the year. Read more about him here.