When math mini-lessons turn into mega-lessons and your small-groups seem dull, photograph-based stories are the perfect way to ‘hook’ learners and connect your learning to the real-world! Today I’m sharing some of my favorite strategies for engaging students during our mini-lesson and small-group times.
Why Use Photographs?
Growing up in the digital age, our students are inundated with thousands of images, graphics, and photographs every day. It also means that we, as teachers, have access to so many real-world connections to learning. Math is being represented all around us and our students! So, why not use photographs in math class?
- Photographs are real-world and have real meaning. They give students an easy way to make a math-to-self or math-to-real-world connection. When our learning has meaning, it makes all the difference!
- They offer a great link and connection to word problems. As we embed more photos and stories into our math teaching, our students become flexible problem solvers who are willing to try a variety of strategies. Great problem solvers are willing to be wrong!
- Students who struggle with math (and reading) often have problems “seeing” their learning. Photographs provide students a perfect visual for learning and is a great scaffold for students, especially ELLs and SPED friends.
- Routinely using photographs in the math classroom encourages students to ‘see’ math all around them! As students become more comfortable with this idea, they’ll start suggesting and sharing their own photograph ideas.
- Using photographs in the math classroom requires me, as a teacher, to be creative in my thinking and teaching. From finding the just-right photos or taking my own, it keeps me on my toes. Plus, crafting stories and situations that connect to our learning, allows me to explore my imagination and the content I’m teaching!
Providing Concrete Learning Experiences
When we use photographs, we are trying to make math more concrete to students. As I craft situations and stories, I also offer many different manipulatives and math tools for students to explore and explain their thinking. From unifix cubes to base ten pieces to counters, students need concrete materials to make sense of the math and show flexibility in their thinking!
John, David, and Cameron were playing on the basketball court. It was a really hot day and the sun was high in the sky. As they were playing, the boys noticed that they all made different kinds of shadows. They were trying to see who could make the tallest shadow. After trying for a while, all three boys decided they were as tall as they could get, but now they needed to know how tall they were. How could they decide? If David is the tallest, how much taller is he than John who is the shortest? What about Cameron who is in between the other two boys?
The Art of the Untold Story
Our little learners LOVE stories. We spend so much of our reading and we want students to fall in love with it. Channeling their love for storytelling makes the perfect hook for awesome math situations. When I spin a tale using a photograph, I will use a traditional plot line (beginning, middle, and end) BUT I will leave out one of the parts. Then, students use manipulatives to figure out the missing part.
Below is an example of a story that includes a beginning and middle, but it is missing an end. Students work in partners to determine the missing ending! This is one of my favorite stories for determining the meaning of the equal sign and it sounds a little like this…
Friends, Last night I was at the park and I saw a father and a son playing together. [show photo of father and son] They were having SUCH a great time. They were laughing and playing on the slides. Then, the son got bored and walked over to the see-saw. Well, I watched the son get on the see-saw. Then, the Dad got on a see-saw and something VERY funny happened.
Right now, I want you and your partner to talk about what do you think happened when the Dad got on the see-saw. [students talk and share] Okay, so you all think that when the boy got on the see-saw when down [put weight on 4] and then, when the Dad got on the boy when up [put weight on 10 on other side of the balance].
Wow! You all are right but that looks so unsafe. It makes me nervous – eeek!! Right now, I would like you and your partner to explore and see how you can add one weight to the balance so the boy and his father are even/flat. [students work in pairs with their mini-balances, exploring correct and incorrect answers]
Okay friends, who can tell me where they put their weight that did NOT make the see-saw balanced? [collect answers on whiteboard or easel under “False” heading] Okay, so these were combinations that were not the same as 10. Now, who found a way that was the same as 10? [record answer in true column]
At this point, you’ve ‘hooked’ your students and they are ready to practice! From there, you have done enough talking and it’s time to get students practicing and modeling and talking.
Creating Problem-Based Situations
While creating a story with a missing part is one approach to using photos, another favorite strategy is offering a problem that needs to be solved. Using this strategy, the teacher provides students with a problem and ask them to solve it using manipulatives or mental-math strategies. Students will have a variety of strategies, so it’s the perfect opportunity to get students talking and collaborating! (Note – This example is a little more abstract but is a situation perfect for exploring defining and non-defining characteristics of shapes.)
Elijah had an entire box of blocks and was working on building the tallest tower he could. He was almost finished and only had a few shapes left. Which shapes do you see that Elijah has left? [students respond] Which shapes should he use to make the tallest tower? Will he have any leftover shapes? Why? Has Elijah really built the tallest tower he could? Use the shapes we have (the same ones Elijah has). Can you build a taller tower than Elijah?
Where to I Get My Photos?
- I Take My Own: Math is ALL around us and once you start looking for it, you can’t miss it. I keep a folder of photos called “Math” on my iPhone. Anytime I “see” math in the real world, I take a picture and put them in the folder. Then, when I need them, I can print or display them!
- Google Search: As long as you are using the photos for your classroom (and yours alone) feel free to snag photos from Google Search. There are millions of photos that cover so many different topics!
- Facebook Friends: We’re all on social media so often. As you are catching-up with friends and learning about their lives, you might see a photo that reminds you of math class. If you do, send your friend a quick note about using the photo in your classroom! Hi _______! I saw a picture of _______ and it reminded me a lot of _______. When I teach about _______, I would love to show my students this photo. Would that be okay with you?” #boom
- Wikimedia Commons: A Wikipedia for photos, Commons is a HUGE data base of photographs that are free for personal and classroom use. It’s easy to search and filter photos that you need!
Ideas for Printing Photos
- Display Them: Save your ink and your card stock. Instead of printing the photos, display them using a laptop, iPad, iPhone, or Interactive Whiteboard.
- Black & White on School Copiers: Using a school printer, you can print the photos in black and white. Although I love having them in the photos, this is a cost-effective way to share photos with your students.
- HP Instant Ink Program: HP Instant Ink is an AMAZING program that tracks your ink usage on an HP Printer (Amazon affiliate link) and sends you new ink when you need it, automatically. You pay for monthly subscription ($10/month is my preferred plan, but there are lots of others) that gives you a ton of copies in color and black and white. When your ink gets low, the system will automatically send you new ink in the mail – it’s that simple and awesome! With HP Instant ink, I don’t have to worry about the ink I use because it’s always there!
Other Photograph-Math Connection Ideas
Due to copyright, I’m not able to share many of the photos I’ve used in class (#whompwhomp), so below are some of my favorite lesson ideas I’ve used with photographs, as well as, some ideas teachers brainstormed on Facebook Live! Please know below are the examples with no frills. It’s up to your creative teacher mind to add all the details that make the story come to life (kid names, team names, weather, days of the week, dialogue, movements, etc.)
Watch it LIVE!
I’ve shared more about this idea and modeled an example lesson in this Facebook Live video! You can watch below or at my Facebook page
So friends, do you use photographs in your classroom? If not, can you think of any ideas for math lessons that could use a photograph hook? I’m always looking for new mini-lesson ideas and would LOVE to hear your ideas.
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Laura Randall says
This is an amazing idea!! This will be my second year teaching and I have to say I found your blog half-way through my first year, last year, and fell in love!! The way you engage your students and how well you describe the strategies for other teachers to read is very inspiring! I will be trying out this strategy to hook my students this year for sure! One thing I might do is ask all my parents to do is send 1 photo in of their child that we could keep in the class to use with this strategy. I believe it will help make an even bigger connection with some of my “less interested” mathematicians
Vee Yen says
Awesome idea! Totally relates to the real life context! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Josephine Funk says
Thanks for the ideas! I’ve used pictures before for a hook in LA. I think this is an awesome way to share math with pictures. thanks for sharing.
Love the ideas. I actually select my word problems then look for or take a photo to illustrate some part of it. I started doing this to help my students practice visualizing written word problems.
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Mary Lou Cheney says
This is my 15th year teaching; my 4th year teaching 2nd grade. I’m learning every day. I absolutely love your photograph idea! Thank you for sharing.