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December 29, 2013

Multi grade classroom (IA school)

I have been working with the seventh grade kids at Isai Ambalam (IA)since Jun 2013. Its a small class of 6 kids (actually, one kid is in 6th grade). Though IA is presently bottom heavy it is steadily changing with the strength of the kids in fourth grade onward jumping to 16. I had started working with the oldest kids in the school. This gave me a chance to work with kids as they were getting into abstract concepts in Math and Science. It also give me a chance to identify potential areas that teachers can provide support with in earlier grades.

I worked with these kids for a good part of the first term and we built a good learning environment even with the large variation in the skill levels in Math and language within the class. The Vth grade teacher was also supposed to join my class, but she was unable to find something for the kids to do and do so. Given the small strength of my class and the rapport I had built with them I merged the class with he Vth graders for this term. I had handled larger classes in Udavi and the ITI and so a multi grade classroom with 11 kids seemed possible.

Eevery activity we did together now needed to be graded so the fifth grade was able to follow and seventh could build on it. When this was not possible we split the classes through projects or separate activities. But, I'll focus on the journeys we were able to take together as a class and what I found.

Word problems:
The fifth graders had been doing multiplication and division 'sums', but 4/5 had difficulty in putting it in a story or understanding if a story was for multiplication or division. There was also a general discomfort to English which is an escalating problem as the grades progress. The first thing we did was work on a vocal discipline.

We told stories of multiplication and division. I quickly noticed that kids stick to the script of Rs.5 for one pen and cost of many pens. Money stories were quickly abolished. Its amazing how kids can't think of multiplication without money! 
It took some time, examples and prodding for the 2 pens in one box, how many pens in 5 boxes or the stuff they made up about 5 stones in one round how many in 10 rounds. We had already gone through this exercise with 7th grades and they started to get a little smug till I upped their level and asked them to tell such stories using speed, distance and time.

We didn't put pen to paper for these classes and this save enormous time. We just told stories based on who I pointed to and what I asked for division/multiplication. The mental stamina of the children who are not doing well in school is quite low and kids generally zone out in classes so the idea of picking up kids at random (not really  :)) kept them guessing who was going to be next and got them into the groove and pay attention to what was being said.

Within 3 days the 5th graders had moved to speed. distance and time and the 7th graders had graduated to stories of  mass, density and volume; power, time and energy and then to stories involving fractions. 
The 5th graders seem, to look forward to what was going to come next. The kids who were struggling in 7th grade got a chance to revisit the ideas and everyone started getting comfortable  with speaking English and the structure of word problems. 
The kids no longer blink an eyelid when a story is told and I have only one 5th grader who still is confused between multiplication and division stories.
In two weeks the English teacher informed me that the sentence construction of 7th graders had suddenly become much better in general.
They also got good at units. They heard and made so many stories that the speed was now automatically km/hr. They also finally started to get dimensional analysis using the units.

Of course, we kept making the games more complex, one person told a story and another inverted it (changing a multiplication story to a division one) by using the result. Then we started to record the stories with just numbers which essentially is the process of abstracting a story into math. The inversion was understanding the basic dual nature of multiplication and division (apparently, not so obvious to kids).

Another set of classes that worked very nicely were fractions. I had already done fractions for the 7th graders in the first term and this was a refresher though we focussed on decimals and conversion of fractions to percentages (using 50% and 10% of the denominator) and creation of pie charts to understand the proportion of various objects. This helps kids who struggle with the whole LCM and other process of adding fractions.

I was able to let the 5th graders explore fractions with games and San and Ani really wanted to know how to add fractions. I asked them explore it with the games themselves and find every fraction they could add using the game. They found 10 things they could add already, they wanted more and I led them to equivalent fractions. They did that for some time and then said that they wanted to do it faster like the 7th graders and that led them to using LCM. Seeing them the other kids got into it and even Var our 6th grader 'one who shall not learn how to add fractions' decided that she would do it. It was interesting that adding fractions with LCM figured as the first thing for all the 5th graders in what they learnt well (even though it wasn't the last thing they did).

Before everyone jumps on me for initiating Vth graders to algebra. I should clarify that I realized that at least a few puzzles that are solved using algebra can be solved without it as well algebra. Its just that you need to think of a new logic/methodology for each new kind of puzzle and it would have been easier to have just learnt algebra.
I also taught kids how to make their own puzzles and the fifth graders could make some to give to seventh graders.

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