February 25, 2024

Building Math Teams

When math teams are working amazing math gets done. There are times where it almost seems like I’ve gone down the rabbit hole into some magical math land. All of my kids are up at their boards making charts, drawing graphs, sketching models and debating math.  I can’t express in words how amazing this can be and how hard I work at making it happen as often as possible. I wish I could produce some sort of special chart or make a five minute video that would tell everyone how to make it happen but the reality is its as complex as our students are. That being said I’ll try to document what I’ve learned so far.


The thing that constantly allows me to get better was when I accepted responsibility for everything that happens in my class. If my teams aren’t working its my fault and I have to find a solution. I’ve met literally thousands of teachers in my life  and I know that its really easy to let it go and blame the kids/admin/parents etc for things not going right. I’ve even gone down that path myself at times in my career. By the time I returned to the classroom I’d met so many super teachers that I knew it could be done and in the last four years I’ve been able to put together a program that makes it happen more and more often. If something is not working its because I haven’t figured out how to make it work yet.


I have tried a lot of different ways to build teams. Homogeneous, heterogeneous, same sex, same entry level, random, allowed them to choose themselves etc etc. Instead of wasting a lot of words on what didn’t work I’ll just tell you what I’m doing now.


I use teams of four. Due to our high absentee rate we often have teams of three or two as well but the goal is four.  I will even combine teams during a class in order to make fuller teams. Everyone does better math and learns more in a well functioning math team whether they believe it or not.


Teams should not stay together for more than two weeks and by the middle of the school year we change like clockwork. That being said, sometimes I’ll change them after a week. At the beginning of a school year I’ll change them weekly until I get to know the students and can start to build more purposeful teams.


At the beginning of the year I’ll use a lot of the fun selection techniques like playing cards, puzzle pieces, function cards, a, h, k cards etc but as I get to know the kids I’ll become more purposeful. I build the seating chart and have Aeries (our attendance software) randomly populate it. Then I’ll look at the teams and readjust them so that they’ll work better. By now I’ve got a good idea of relationships students have with each other and try to minimize conflict or distraction as well as keeping the teams heterogeneous on the mathematical progress level. Some of the things that I take into consideration are ELs (if a team has a Level 1 I try to include a 3 or 4 with the same home language), Cupcaking and friends that distract each other.


There is no perfect system or set of rules. It is my class and I am responsible so if something isn’t working I don’t hesitate to fix it. The more you use Math teams the better you get at spotting trouble and the faster you can correct it. I have made teams that I thought would be awesome only to have them be so disastrous that I had to switch them after only a couple of days. I have allowed friends to work together and it has been magic and I have had the opposite happen. The only hard and fast rule is: I haven’t figured it out YET!

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