“Giftedness is not what you do or how hard you work. It is who you are. You think differently. You experience life intensely. You care about injustice. You seek meaning. You appreciate and strive for the exquisite. You are painfully sensitive. You are extremely complex. You cherish integrity. Your truth-telling has gotten you in trouble. Should 98% of the population find you odd, seek the company of those who love you just the way you are. You are not broken. You do not need to be fixed. You are utterly fascinating. Trust yourself!”

Linda Silverman~Gifted Development Center Denver

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Math Survival Guide

Let me start this post by telling you that I do not use regular math textbooks or math work books.  I realized after trying to use the board approved text book for one year of teaching gifted students that it just didn't work...for them or for me. 

I use a variety of hands-on, minds-on teaching strategies such as those found in the Ministry of Education's Guides to Effective Instruction in Mathematics.  I find these activities to be much more engaging for the students I teach.  I also use the dynamic geometry software Geometer's Sketchpad (GSP) for teaching the majority of the geometry concepts I cover in grade six.

That being said, I do think that students need to record their learning, so I created the Math Survival Guide.  Students use these throughout the year as we cover each of the strands.  I started my first math class by having the students make their own "survival guide".  I gave each student half of a file folder...I try to be environmentally conscious and reuse ones the main office doesn't want any longer.  I cut the file folders in half using a paper cutter.
Start with an old file folder.

Cut the file folder in half.  Now you have TWO covers.

Open one half like this with the "fold" in the middle.
Each student glues a large piece of quad paper face up to one half of the open file folder.  You may need to trim off the holes and a few rows from each side of the quad paper to make it fit.
Students fold the paper into eighths.

Make sure all the creases in your fold are nice and "crisp".  Students can use a straight edge such as a ruler to get nice, clean folds.
Students continue to fold until they have the right fit.

Add a cover.  (My students do a much better job than I do!)

Students use four squares of the quad paper for each entry.  They must include the word/concept, a written definition and a picture, diagram or symbol.

I use this technique to activate prior knowledge.  I put the math vocabulary for the task/unit/activity we are exploring on the overhead, or I make up cards with the names on them.  I ask the students to copy each term onto a four by four box.  After they have copied all the terms and concepts, I ask them to try and write something in each box.  They are to use a variety of words and pictures/symbols.  If they do not know a term or concept I allow them to talk with their "elbow" partners and see if they can add some ideas.  If they are unsure about their idea, I recommend that they use the small size Post-It notes to write on.  Gifted students often don't want to record something if they don't KNOW for sure it is correct.  The Post-Its allow them to "guess" and then "check" as they go about completing the task/activity.  These notes fit perfectly, and students can then "confirm" or change their initial thinking and put a final entry in the box when they are satisfied.

This activity is great for me at the beginning of any new unit/task/activity because I get to walk around and see what the students know and don't know.  It is not as intimidating as always giving a "diagnostic" pre-test.  Students seem more willing to show what they know, and I am not sure they even realize that I am collecting diagnostic data at this point.

As the unit/task/activity continues, students go back to their survival guides and revise/edit their initial entries or they confirm their thinking.  At the end of the unit/task/activity the students can use the information to help them study for any quiz or test I might administer.

By the end of grade 6 they have a complete math dictionary divided into the five strands of the Ontario Curriculum. We also add a section on problem solving strategies as we work through our Problems of the Week each week.  The teachers in grades 7 and 8 often tell me that my students keep their survival guides and bring them to junior high school with them. 

This is only part of how I run the math program for my gifted students, but it is a great way to start the year, and to start any new unit/task/activity!


  1. I really like how you have clearly illustrated this idea! It really shows how to give students power over their own learning in the math classroom. I think this would be a good strategy for all students.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Janet Lee

  2. Thank you for your feedback. I have doing this with the students for the past couple of years. I really think we need to create "numerate" students and one way of doing this is giving the language of the discipline.