Open Ended Problem Solving: A Holiday Feast Problem!

My current unit in math starts off with a pretty detailed and methodical set of lessons on subtraction using the traditional algorithm.  It’s good–I like how it’s presented. In earlier grades, they did a TON of work with subtraction in a more conceptual way using number lines, manipulatives, 100’s charts, and other mental compensation strategies.  It’s time for them to learn the algorithm.
But here’s the deal.  A pretty good chunk of my class already knows the algorithm–and knows it really well!  The math program does FIVE lessons on it.  Is this really a good use of my students’ time?  
I don’t think so.
So…this week, I compacted the lessons for those students after teaching the first two lessons to everyone.  I watched, listened, and did a few exit slips and have sorted my class into two groups.  I am still having my “ready to move faster” group do the practice work (working on precision!), but I am freeing up a chunk of their time to spend on some 
Thanksgiving problem solving.  
So…for the next three lessons, I am splitting my class into two groups for the lesson.  I am going to have my students who need the lessons taught “as is” warm up with some problem solving and fact practice for 15 minutes while I meet with my “confident subtractors” to compact two lessons each day.  This will free them up to continue working on the Thanksgiving “Feast” open ended challenge we started Friday!  They were SO excited…and were eager to do the “extra” challenge part where they design their own feast…so I knew I needed to free up some time for them to work.
I LOVED hearing all the amazing math talk…the logic…the planning…the creativity.  Seriously–they were having hilarious discussions about how “no one likes stuffing anyway so let’s double the potatoes we make” and “Is one piece of pie really enough?” and “I think we better plan for enough sleeping hours so we aren’t crabby for Thanksgiving.”  It was awesome!
In addition, we have REALLY been stressing work quality, organization, and precision, and I love when students work together on a task and “model” for each other things I never would have thought to show them. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, right?
 Although I started this task with everyone, some students will only get through part of it and others will take it much much deeper and do the additional challenges.  We’ll see how far we get next week!
 What else are we doing in math workshop this week?  Precision practice with both subtraction and multiplication facts, some Thanksgiving word problems (using a few as an assessment as well), and a few new games I taught my students.  Stay tuned for more about those!
Hope you are all ready for a few days off with family or friends…or at least for a breather from school.  Have a wonderful Sunday!
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