- Found problems that connected directly with the content material that was already part of the course.
There are many problems that lend themselves to the content found in traditional MS and HS classes. For example, many of the problems in the Interactive Mathematics Program, Years 1 and 2, lead to students creating rules for specific scenarios or functions, including linear, exponential, and inverse ones. The Mathematics in Context and Connected Mathematics series have some great problems that can be integrated into traditional Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1 classes. The drawback with trying to connect everything back to the traditional content is that there's lots of material for which I have not found good problems, such as factoring, operations with rational expressions, and radical functions and expressions. Back when I taught Algebra 2 and Pre-Calculus, I had similar difficulties finding rich problems for much of the content. There's also the issue of time - I'd like to ideally have at least one rich problem every week or two, which eats up a lot of my class time if done well. Finally, using only problems that have a clear connection to the traditional curriculum leaves out a lot of rich, awesome problems that I still want to include.
- Assigned problems to be completed outside of class. Some were connected to the traditional content, some were not.
This gave me a lot more flexibility in terms of good problems to use and took up much less class time. But I never found a good way to support struggling students, develop the writing and problem-solving skills that are at the core of this type of work, and make explicit the connections between the assigned problems and the rest of the curriculum. The problems gradually petered out as both I and the students lost steam and assigning the problems became stressful and unproductive. If I do this again, I will need to spend some class time teaching students how to wrestle productively with open problems and will probably need to do some ramping, with easier problems at the start of the year.
- Provided problems to interested students outside of class. Not required, problems were usually unconnected to the content.
This was definitely the approach that involved the least amount of work. I had a pretty straightforward system: a folder with copies of the current "Problem of the Week" stapled to the wall outside of my classroom and another folder stapled just below that where students put their completed write-ups. At the end of the week, I would read through the submitted work, write feedback, and award candy to those students who demonstrated good work on the problem. I had a spreadsheet where I kept track of students who completed these. Some positives were that I got kids who weren't even my students to participate, just because they thought it might be interesting, and because it was not required, it was very stress-free and emphasized the "fun" aspect of figuring out math problems. The cons were that there was little connection to the curriculum and the students who participated were those who already enjoyed math and the students who could stand the most to gain from this type of experience avoided it altogether.
So, my thoughts for this school year are that I would like to do all three of these options (hooray for overachievers!). A mix of #1 and #2 make the most sense for my class - doing those problems that have a clear content connection in class & spending more time on them, while reserving those awesome, random problems for the times when I can't find anything good that connects to what we're studying. Option #3 can co-exist as optional, more challenging or more "fun" type problems for students to do just because they want more. My biggest enemy right now is time: time in class for students to discuss and time outside of school for students to think and do math and write up their thinking and mathing. Oh, and did I mention that my students only have math for 45 minutes four days a week??? Clearly, I can't just add on more stuff without cutting anything, so I'm wondering how others have found time to do this - what do you cut?