Monday, October 12, 2009

52 Teachers, 52 Lessons #33: Sorting and Classifying

This week's entry comes from Carol Hynes, a retired math teacher and curriculum coordinator from Leominster, MA. Her example uses math, but like most of what I post here, it's easily adaptable for any subject.

Throughout most of my career, at the start of a new unit or topic, I felt the need to review what students were supposed to remember from previous years. I never was happy with me “telling” the students what they should have learned. There had to be a better way to build on their prior knowledge…

More than 10 years ago, I made copies of an old worksheet on linear equations, and had the algebra students cut out the equations (there were 16) and work in small teams to sort the equations into groups of three or more that shared a common characteristic. It was slow going at first. When a group came up with a category, we shared it with the whole class. But, after a while, they got really excited and sorted in more ways than I would have expected them to. As an example, some groups sorted according to slope: negative, positive, zero, and no slope. Once they’d recorded their categories, they rescrambled the equations and sorted in a different way. We ended up reviewing concepts and math vocabulary. I even included a picture of a set of sorted equations on the chapter test and asked students to tell me what criteria I might have used to sort the equations. The results were great!

I encourage teachers of all content areas can think of ways to incorporate sorting and classifying into their instruction. For math teachers, you will find lots of examples of sorts on the University of Massachusetts Science Resource Center web site. Here’s a quick link to the materials: with directions for downloading. The first folder contains the Sorts and several other strategies.

Read more about this project here, then email your entries to teachforever AT gmail DOT com. Week 34 is scheduled for next Monday, October 19th. There are no entries for next week yet, which means my special offer won't be available next Monday:

As promised, the PDF version of Ten Cheap Lessons: Second Edition will be available for free all day today! Thank you to Carol for making this possible! The book is available here.