How To Best Measure Learning: Rigorous IBLs By Front Row

Hi, Teachers!!

Have you been setting goals for the New Year? I've been reflecting on my math instruction lately, and more specifically how I can deliver the most effective lessons for all learners. I've been wondering...

How can I reach all of my students at their level during math workshop?? How do I know if students can truly apply essential understandings to real life problems?

How To Best Measure Learning: Rigorous IBLs By Front RowDo you find yourself worrying about these things while planning your math lessons like I do? I bet you that Front Row is going to be a HUGE help to you. I'm beyond excited about my new, favorite app and website: Front Row. Have you used it before? If you haven't, go sign up now. You'll thank me later (and so will your students)! There is a free version and a paid version, so there's no excuse not to sign up. Front Row's incredible, adaptive program helps teachers to differentiate and personalize their instruction by providing challenging and individualized problems for every student, inquiry-based lessons for teachers to use with the whole class or small groups, and tons of student data.

I've been using Front Row in math for a month now after some amazingly awesome colleagues introduced it to me, and I already see it making a big difference with my kids. The app serves as a great early-finisher activity for your students if you have access to computers or tablets in your classroom. I'm lucky enough to have 5 iPads and access to laptops, so a LOT of my kids get to use Front Row when they are ready to build problem-solving skills and fact fluency. It's always the first choice early-finisher activity in my room--the kids LOVE it. I actually had to implement a sign-out system for it because I wanted to make sure everyone had a fair chance to use it. In short, the students get to earn coins by solving different types of problems. If they need help, they can watch a video to help them solve the problem or they can find a recommended student peer to help them solve the problem. Then they use the coins they earned in Front Row's Piggy Store to personalize their own pig! It's so funny how obsessed with the pig store my kids are! Are these pigs awesome, or are they awesome?

How To Best Measure Learning: Rigorous IBLs By Front Row How To Best Measure Learning: Rigorous IBLs By Front Row
Anyway, what I don't think a lot of teachers know is how insanely useful Front Row is in helping you plan meaningful, rigorous lessons for YOUR WHOLE CLASS. In the rest of this post, I'll be discussing how to use Front Row's Inquiry Based Lessons (or IBLs) to really see if your students have a handle on what you've taught in a unit. In place of a boring, meaningless topic test during my study of telling time, I used Front Row's Great San Francisco Earthquake IBL. If I'm being honest, I hate grading tests, but more importantly, I don't think they are a true measure of whether students can transfer knowledge to a new task. That's what learning is, right? So, I'm going to walk you through my experience of using one of Front Row's IBL's in my classroom.  When I first clicked on the "Group Lessons" link on my Front Row account, something on the Front Row website IMMEDIATELY caught my eye:

Front Row Lessons are cross curricular activities that let your students explore mathematical topics. Use these lessons to create a dynamic atmosphere in your classroom that lets you help your students truly grasp and effectively argue their learning in math.

WHAT! If you know me, you know I'm OBSESSED with the Math Practices Common Core Standards because they focus on innovative problem-solving skills rather than just memorizing operations. And cross curricular lessons which help kids build their TALK!? I already had a feeling I'd be hooked on the IBLs. I was right!

Each thoughtfully crafted lesson includes:

  1. a meaningful objective
  2. a clearly and logically written procedure
  3. reproducible materials 
  4. a list of Common Core standards addressed in the lesson

Translation? Your lesson is already written for you! Honestly, it saved a lot of my sanity a few weeks ago. As I mentioned in a previous post, a family member of mine is going through a really difficult time in the hospital right now. Being able to depend on this incredible 3-day IBL made my life a lot easier, because there isn't enough time in the world to get it all done. We can all relate to life getting crazy, and it's so nice to be able to rely on lessons that are so thorough and hold so much value for our students. This is not the place to go if you want to give your kids busy work.

First, the kids spend a few minutes working on some daily review problems. I loved these! My kids did too, and of course it was great to have them engaged with something to work on as soon as they transitioned to math. There's usually a few problems, and I LOVE how the kids are meant to talk about the many ways they can solve these problems. It's SO important to talk about this, which I've discussed in a previous post here. Below you can see a few ways my kids tried solving a daily review problem.

How To Best Measure Learning: Rigorous IBLs By Front Row

Next, the kids watched and discussed a short video introducing and outlining the problem for them. We watch the video twice and really pick apart the important facts, what the question is, and what we'll need to do to solve the problems the task is asking of us. This is crucial to do because it really addresses the Common Core standard that students need to be able to make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. I really feel that this is one of the best parts of the Front Row IBL's. Front Row includes really wonderful possible questions you might ask your students to help them determine what the problem is asking them to do. It also includes useful reminding language (shout out to my Responsive Classroom lovers!) that will help them be ready to tackle the academic content.

How To Best Measure Learning: Rigorous IBLs By Front Row

Here we're on the second watch of our Front Row video which sets up the problem for us. In this problem, we're fire chiefs involved in planning for San Francisco's relief efforts the day after a major earthquake. The kids were talking about this all week... at lunch, at recess, between classes. They were totally into it!

After the kids finished watching the videos and discussing the problem, I broke them into groups and reviewed positive discussion guidelines with them. Generally, I do this before all group work as it's a best practice, but I love that Front Row includes a slide in their IBLs about this. The kids then had independent time to go off and complete the day's inquiry lesson.

How To Best Measure Learning: Rigorous IBLs By Front Row

I had to cut my kid's faces out of the picture, but you can see that the kids are clearly talking about the problems they are solving if you pay attention to their body language. 

How To Best Measure Learning: Rigorous IBLs By Front Row

When the kids finish their inquiry projects, they then have to PRESENT their work. I could NOT love that any more than I already do!! The group selects a spokesperson, and then one group's spokesperson shares their group's answer and how they arrived at that answer. Then, the rest of the class participates in a discussion, debating about if they are in agreement with the group's proposed solution. This discussion framework is something I regularly practice with my class during literacy instruction (think book club debates) and Morning Meeting, so I was really excited to see how applied in math. WOW, I was amazed.

With the conversation starters that Front Row provides in the IBL slides, my kids didn't even need me. I sat back and listened to my kids talk about the problem, the best solution to find the answer, and more for 10 minutes. I did NOTHING but listen. My hands could barely keep up because I was writing anecdotal notes the whole time! The more you practice your kids, the better this will become. It is so clear how powerful this was for the kids; they drove their own learning. Personally, I didn't have students raise hands, but I regularly model how to jump into a discussion at the right time without interrupting and I emphasize how important listening is. Those are choices you'll have to make. The discussions will blow your mind!! The one thing I suggest doing before the discussion is giving each group a chance to discuss what their spokesperson should share so students come prepared to the discussion. Here's a group preparing.

How To Best Measure Learning: Rigorous IBLs By Front Row

After our discussion, we reflect on the day's lesson, which is an integral part of the learning process. Some of the reflection questions are academic questions, and some are more thoughtful about social growth (like what the group did well that day or how they might improve next time). Then, with leftover time, the kids can work on individualized Front Row practice by logging onto their personal accounts. That's it!! It's so easy, but SO. MEANINGFUL. It only took me about 5-10 minutes to prep for three days of lessons while using the IBLs. I have never been very interested in many educational software or apps before, but Front Row is clearly made by educators for educators. My kids love the IBLs and the independent practice on apps. I've been checking my kid's accounts over winter break, and several of them have been using their accounts while they are home! I'm one happy teacher.

Can you tell I love Front Row? So since you're going to be as obsessed with Front Row as I am, I suggest that you sign up for a free account to get you and your students started. Head to the group lessons tab and figure out which inquiry-based lesson you'll use first! If you love the IBLs as much as I do, you will probably be talking to your principal to see how you can get your hands on a paid account.

Which IBL do you think you might try with your class first? Do you already use Front Row? If so, what do you love most about it? Comment below!

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