How to Make Open Up Resources More Engaging

by Jennie Webb

If you’ve taught Illustrative Math Open Up Resources (OUR), you know it’s rigorous. You know it is thoughtfully pieced together. You know it contains high quality tasks. But you also know it can be boring. That’s what I (and my students) thought my first year teaching OUR. It was, after all, a workbook.

But I have learned some ways to add engagement while using the curriculum. Here are a few.

1. Don’t “teach” it. The most important thing I’ve learned is that you have to change your mindset from a traditional mindset of teaching math. This curriculum is not meant to be “I do, You do, We do” lessons. It is a problem-based curriculum full of tasks meant for students to think and actual problem-solve. If you tell them “how to do it,” you are taking away from them the wonderful opportunity for them to figure it out themselves (and therefore actually learning it). When you allow students to think through and work through the tasks on their own first, you are inviting multiple strategies and real, authentic learning to happen.

Remember, if you are doing most of the talking, you are doing it wrong. You should be there to help students with clarifications and modifications. Your role is to help everyone come to an understanding during the “Lesson Synthesis” part of the lesson. This is the most important part, so don’t skip it. It may feel awkward at first. You may feel like you’re not ‘teaching,” but when you give students opportunities to figure something out, they will. And they will learn more figuring it out than from you telling them.

2. Set a timer. OUR gives you time suggestions for each task. Use them. I sometimes spent half a class period on a warm-up. No wonder students were bored and I couldn’t get through a lesson! When the discussion lingers too long, that’s when the mind-wandering starts to set in. Use your smartwatch or display your timer for students to see and stick to it. When students know they have a time limit for completing a task that they’re accountable for, they have a greater sense of urgency to begin the task and remain focused. There should be no time for boredom if you stick to the time suggestions.

3. Change student grouping often. If you’re like me and you’ve found a seating chart that seems to be going well, the students will stay in those seats until the complaining starts to get to you. But do your students a favor and change those groups often. OUR suggests group sizes for its tasks. I often had kids complete tasks on their own because the class isn’t behaving well. This lead to frustration, giving up, and ultimately me explaining the work. Please use the group suggestions and encourage students to work together and share their thinking. You can use apps like Flippity Random Name Picker to help make it easier for you.

4. Get students up and moving. Sitting at a desk completing challenging math tasks is some people’s idea of torture. Get students out of their seats using some of simple these ideas. *Don’t forget to give the quiet think time first.*

  • When sharing responses to a Which One Doesn’t Belong, assign each of the 4 corners of your room as a choice. Have students go to the corner of the room that matched their choice. They can then share with the group who chose the same as them and then the rest of the class.
  • When responding to a True or False, have students go to parts of the room. For example, if students thought something was true, they would move to the left side of the room. If false, then right.
  • For a Poll the Class activity, have students line themselves up from least to greatest with their estimates.
  • Have students get up and point to what they notice in a Notice and Wonder.
  • Do a Gallery Walk during Group Presentations.
  •  Place some cards from a card match on the wall around the room and only give the group some of what they need. Have them get up and go find the match they need.
  • When appropriate, ask students to “find another group with a similar strategy to yours.”
  • During a synthesis, ask students to “stand up if you agree” or “stand if you solved it a different way.”
  • This may sound simple, but have students bring their work up to place under the document camera. Why was I always doing it for them?

5. Make it personal. If you have a Jada, Elena, or Noah in your class, you may find it easy to make connections with some students. But, even if you don’t, some of your students might adopt those names as nicknames and get a special feeling every time they hear their name in a problem. Build confidence. While recording students’ findings during a synthesis, add the student’s name on the board next to their thinking. It encourages students to hear others refer to what they said as “Kylin’s way” or “Daniela’s strategy.”

6. Have some seasonal fun. Is it someone’s birthday? Draw those triangles as party hats. In October, make those circular grids look like spider webs by adding legs to the points on them. Maybe in December you pretend the volume containers are filling up with eggnog instead of water. Perhaps those lines you draw on your grid in February are actually Cupid’s arrows rather than just simply linear graphs.

7. Change it up. OUR offers online applets for different tasks. There are also sample Desmos lesson that are aligned with OUR lessons you can use for free. Whether you are a one-to-one classroom or not, completing tasks using both digital and non-digital versions keep things from being so monotonous.

I hope these little things can add a lot of engagement to your math class!

Have other ideas on how to increase engagement using the Open Up Resources curriculum? Share your ideas in the comments!

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