Teaching and learning Maths: learning sequence catering for diversity

This post is addressing the Year 6 content strand ‘measurement and geometry’, substrand ‘using units of measurement’ and content descriptor ACMMG137solve problems involving the comparison of lengths and areas using appropriate units” (ACARA, 2017), which were discussed in the previous posts on Maths unit and lesson planning process, rubric construction, multiple representation of mathematical concepts, and using Math apps. The achievement standards are mapped to the proficiency strands and include:

  • students are to understand and describe properties of surface area and length,
  • develop fluency in measuring using metric units,
  • solve authentic problems, and
  • be able to explain shape transformations

A short learning sequence of comparison of lengths and areas – major steps

Booker et al. detail the conceptual and procedural steps required to master length and area (2015). Applied toACMMG137, these include three major steps:

  1. Perceiving and identifying the attributes ‘area’ and ‘length’
  2. Comparing and ordering areas and lengths (non-standard units => standard units)
  3. Measuring areas and lengths (non-standard units => standard units), including covering surfaces without leaving gaps

This sequence is introduced using multiple representations, progressing from hands-on experiences with manipulatives towards abstract logical thinking and transformation tasks (see examples).

Activities to aid the learning sequence

The steps are mapped to a range activities that cater for diverse classrooms in alignment with the framework of Universal Design of Learning (UDL) (Fuchs & Fuchs, 2001):

  • Students cut their own tangram puzzle (with or without template) and explore how small shapes can create larger shapes
  • Students order tangram shapes by area and perimeter and establish base units: smallest shape (small triangle) as area unit, side of small square and hypotenuse of small triangle as length units
  • Students colour tangram pieces and puzzle range of objects (with and without colour, line clues), exploring how larger geometric shapes can be covered by smaller and making statistical observations on the number of units within each shape and corresponding perimeter. Non-standard units are measured and used for calculations.

(The activities are detailed with examples in the post on multiple representations of mathematical concepts)

Adjustments for a child with learning difficulties

Student with very limited English knowledge (e.g. EAL/D beginning phase). ACARA provides detailed annotated content descriptors (ACARA, 2014). The language and cultural considerations are specifically addressed by keeping discussion relevant to the tasks, offering alternatives to ‘word problems’ in both activities and assessment (as highlighted in the rubric design). Teaching strategy considerations are followed by explicitly teaching the vocabulary, making explicit links between terminology, symbols and visual representations (e.g. by pausing explanatory movie and writing out and illustrating on the whiteboard using colours (e.g. area = blue, equal sides = green, hypotenuse = red, labelling the count of units). The EAL/D student is provided with opportunities to develop cognitive academic language proficiency through mixed-ability group work. All content knowledge can be demonstrated by the student using physical manipulatives, charts and algorithms.

Adjustments for a child with advanced abilities

Children with advanced abilities can only develop their potential if provisions are made to deliver a challenging, enriched and differentiated curriculum, and a supportive learning environment
(Gagné, 2015). Maker’s updated recommendations on the four dimensions of curriculum modifications (2005) are applied as follows:

  • Content – content is framed in an interdisciplinary way, using tangram that connects to Japanese culture and art
  • Process – design emphasises self-directed learning, choice, variety and discovery of underlying patterns by offering a range of tangram puzzle options at multiple levels of difficulty to be explored in abstract terms (i.e. sorting by ratio of area to perimeter)
  • Product – high-ability students are encouraged to work on expert puzzles and transform learned concept knowledge by designing their own tangrams with constraints (e.g. tangrams with identical perimeter, sequence reduced by one length unit, …) and present their products to the class
  • Environment -high-ability students are provided access to spreadsheet software (e.g. for statistical observations, to graph relationships between area and perimeter) and allowed time to work independently