Things to Keep in Mind
There are a few inevitable side effects of operating on a block schedule. I always try to keep these in mind when planning a lesson:
-- You will always need more review on a block schedule. It may have been more than a year since a student last had math (for example if he took Algebra 1 the first semester of Freshman year, then does not have Geometry until second semester of Sophomore year) I like to meet this need by tossing extra review into my warm-ups. Include a few Algebra review questions each morning before starting Geometry class. They will have forgotten a lot!
-- You will always need more variety to keep students engaged for 80 or 90 minutes. I love the way Leah Cleary describes this:
This quote from Leah gave me some great non-math perspective on a block! I like the idea of using a graphic organizer or playing Kahoot. Also, an ongoing project is a perfect way to optimize those last few minutes of a block period. Check out Leah's blog here for more great ideas on teaching History, Psychology, and more.
-- You will have to keep in mind that the overall course map for a student may look different than a typical high school course of study. A block can allow for more math classes throughout the four years. Since a student can take two classes in one year (one per semester) while still maintaining the correct sequence, you may have a student take 5 or 6 math classes total. (example: Algebra 1 as a Freshman, Geometry as a Sophomore, Algebra 2 during the fall of Junior year, Pre-Calc during the spring of Junior year, and Calculus Senior year). This can be a big advantage, but may result in more mixed classes. Be prepared for a discrete math class that has Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors all together.
An Inquiry Approach
Block Advantage #1 - Ideal for Inquiry:
Try a discovery-based lesson with the following format. Your students will have plenty of time to explore, internalize the properties they learned, record notes, and then even do a practice activity or application.
This particular example focuses on a High School Geometry lesson for introducing Circle Theorems.
During the "Split End," students divide themselves into two groups based on their own needs. Read more about this at the end of the post.
Materials featured (check these out if you are interested in trying this particular lesson):
Circle Theorems: Inquiry-Based Discovery
Circle Theorems: Always, Sometimes, Never
Circle Thoerems: Angle Puzzles
Fitting it All In
Block Disadvantage: not as many class days
You will sometimes have to fit two lessons into one day in order to get through all the content. Here is how you can make it happen.
This sample lesson is for middle school math - an introduction to the coordinate plane.
Coordinate Plane Mini-Unit (coming soon! - Be sure you are following my TPT store.)
Coordinate "Planes" Paper Airplane Activity
What About Assessment?
Block Advantage #2 - Time Before & After a Test
I love being able to take those few extra minutes of review before a test. The kids like this too. You can either format it as a last minute Q&A or you can use a review game if there are no specific questions.
An even bigger advantage can sometimes be the time after the test. You can cut down on wasted time heading into the next unit. Try a "hook" activity or a quick lead-in to the upcoming content.
In this Algebra sample block, the ending "treasure hunt" partner activity seems like just a fun review of graphing lines, but it actually is leading the students smoothly into the next concept: systems of linear equations.
A Different Twist
Block Advantage #3: Formative Assessment
This particular sample packs in a ton of variety, which is so crucial in a block schedule. But what I love most about it is that the quiz is right in the middle of the lesson. This was contributed by Leah Cleary, who teaches history on a block.
Her lesson features the Age of Exploration. I love how she uses quiz responders to get immediate feedback. She also does a "split" for easy differentiation, but places this a little before the end of the block to allow for everyone to come back together for the video clip and culmination of the lesson.
I love how many different activities she is able to fit into this block plan!
European Explorers & Exploration Lesson
Triangular Trade Foldable
Vocabulary Task Cards
Foldable Organizers for Interactive Notebooks
The "Split End"
Ok, so let me tell you a little more about the split end. This is a strategy I discovered by accident, and am still trying to perfect in my mind. But it REALLY works!
It seems to always be the case that a few students need only 5 minutes to go over just the one tough question on last night's homework, and another group of kids needs an intensive review of all of it.
There were a few times where I would finally just say, "Ok, only those who need it, we will go over the rest of this homework at the end, while the others start tonight's work." I did not love this, because some kids would choose to start tonight's homework even if they were not ready. I really prefer to optimize class time for everyone.
So.... I tweaked this over time to become a great way to differentiate instead!
A group of kids who need MY help for the last few minutes of class would come up to the board and work together with me. Sometimes it might be last night's homework, sometimes it is a guided version of the same activity that people are doing at their seats.
The great thing about this is that the kids started learning to self-differentiate. I was pleasantly surprised to see that for the most part, they grouped themselves based on what they needed. It does not really bother them that some need extra time, and some are ready for a challenge.
The kids who need help consider it a privilege to get a little more guided instruction, while the ones who are ready to move on consider it a privilege to be allowed to move on independently. Everyone wins!
Check out the video I put together about this differentiation strategy.
If you want to try the "split end" approach at the end of your class period, here are a few options you can use (Pick TWO or THREE for each lesson). Mix & Match!
Also, be sure that your students do not get into set groups. These groups should be flexible and fluid (see video link above). A student should get to decide each day whether that particular topic is something that she still has questions about or if this is a day that she's ready to move on.
No portion of any of the above sample lessons is longer that 20 minutes (aside from the Test). Be sure that you are spicing it up. Get the kids up and moving around. Try a different location or a different format for each transition. If notes are done with students in rows, facing the front of the room and sitting quietly, then the next activity should be done spread throughout the room with partners.
Variety is the key to making a block work well.
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