Recently I have been reading quite a few educational articles and listening to the Mr Barton Maths Podcast, and these have really opened up my eyes. In school I have been blogging a bit about the key insights I have taken away from these, including, but in no way limited to, John Sweller's Cognitive Load Theory and the excellent strategies for learning from the Learning Scientists.
However, in recent weeks, when planning a unit on volumes and surface area, I had to make a decision which seemed to put two of these ideas in direct contrast to each other.
My dilemma was whether to teach all the formulae first, and then do practice building in interleaving, or to teach each individual shape one at a time with practice, in order to reduce cognitive load. The problem is that by using one of these, I am actively avoiding using the other! So which to choose?
I am not sure I have come up with a response to this problem that I am confident fully addresses this issue. What I went for in the end was to teach individually so as to reduce cognitive load, but then build in plenty of time afterwards to do mixed practice questions which make use of interleaving. I decided this based on further reading and thought which suggested that for the initial stage of learning reducing the load was more important, and thus allowing students to focus on understanding the concept better for each shape. This also allowed me to make some use of retrieval practice in subsequent lessons when students had to think back to the individual shapes in the interleaved activity.
Unfortunately this is the last unit of our year, so I have not been able to build in much spaced practice into this learning, and I would have preferred to have some more time to come back to an interleaved activity later on.
How do others teach units like this where there are lots of individual bits that fit together? Such as Circle Theorems, areas of shapes, different percentage questions, HCF and LCM?
I am a maths teacher looking to share good ideas for use in the classroom, with a current interest in integrating educational research into my practice.