As a full-time teacher I have a load of five to six classes to teach to. One of my classes that usually end up with is a support mathematics class. This normally contains several students who most would consider are 'at risk'. I guess what is meant by 'at risk' is these students are labeled as students who are disinterested with school and are in a state of disconnection from the school they attend. The support groups I have taught over recent years are around 15-16 years of age. The students end up starting either an apprenticeship or some other high level labour type job. Some of them I have run into outside school in the years after I teach them, and about half of them are still looking for their first job.
I actually enjoy teaching these students as there always a challenge, as their skill levels are much more vast than say a general group.
One of the projects I initiated with a support group I was teaching 3 years ago was titled 'Primary Level Board Games'. I would like to share with others how this project helped these so called 'at risk' students to engage with maths and also find a purpose for the maths they were working on.
step 1) Students were allowed to play a range of board games, such as snakes and ladders and monopoly. Then with the help of myself I talked to them about the possibility of designing math board games. Many ideas were discussed and eventually the idea of designing games that suited a particular audience. We established that it would be great to design games and then share the games with a group of local primary school children. There were 14 students in the class and by letting the students work in pairs they worked on their own board games.
I gave them heaps of examples of primary level maths to look at, so they know what type of math was required. In the end we had constructed 8 games, all suitable for the primary school audience.
I didn't realize at first how good this really was, but after watching the students, work together, design 3-D board games, take care to ensure their end product was constructed to the best of their ability. I soon realized that these students had engaged quite well with math work. They were doing math work and loving it.
step 2) The students designed boxes for their games. They made plans up so they knew what size to make everything. They then worked 2-3 lessons in a woodwork room, making their game boxes out of wood. This was shortly followed by them decorating their boxes with paint schemes. They really wanted to make something that would make them proud. Their level of connectivity to the school environment was on the rise.
step 4) We visited the local school once a week for a six week duration. The students, who worked in pairs, were given a different group of primary students each time, so they could expose the students to a different part of the project.
Surveys were completed by the students after the project had completed. All students indicated that they had really thought it a worthy activity. A general discussion was held to wrap the project up and it was agreed that it was great simply because the math work was showing them how it had its purpose. They also felt it was great that someone was getting value from the math they had been working on.
Some of the students who I meet today still comment on how that project alone changed their view about school, and made them feel like math was an important life skill to have.