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April 15, 2015 Practical Differentiation With Fractions Mosaics By Alycia Zimmerman
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    Let’s face it, it’s impossible for every single lesson we teach to include meaningful differentiation for student skill levels, learning styles, and interest levels. At least it’s impossible for me. Which is why it feels sweet-spot amazing to teach a lesson like this “Fractions Mosaic Challenge,” with so much built-in differentiation. With a low entry threshold, high challenge ceiling, hands-on manipulatives, and a technology option, all of my students can engage with a wide range of mathematical practices while tackling rigorous fractions content. It’s one of those times when I step back, listen to the fervent math talk circling the classroom, and enjoy a few seconds of teacher nirvana.

    Here’s the entire lesson, complete with directions, differentiated task cards, and a video of my students in action. The activity is open-ended enough that it can work for any upper elementary grade. Just choose the task cards that are at the right level for your students, and decide whether to do more or less modeling before they tackle the challenge.


    Lesson Materials and Preparation

    For this lesson, students simply need a bunch of square tiles in at least four colors (red, yellow, green, blue), or small square pieces of paper. I posted the lesson directions on chart paper, as well as focus questions for small group discussions during the project.


    To record their completed mosaic designs, students can either photograph their designs and the accompanying task cards with a camera or iPad, or they can draw their design onto a recording page. “Saving” their designs to share with the class is important, since so much of the learning happens during the “math congress” class discussion at the end of the lesson. I like to give students the choice about how they want to save and present their work.

    Download the Fractions Mosaics recording page as a PDF

    The task cards for this lesson come in three leveled sets with eight tasks per set. I printed each set onto different colored paper to make it easier to keep track of my group levels without having to name the groups. I divided my students into teams of three, and each team received a set of cards that matched their ability levels. I also kept extra sets of cards on hand, so I could adjust the challenge level during the lesson based on my kid-watching.

    Note that the task cards for Level C require both square tiles and pattern blocks.

    Download the Level A task cards (pictured in yellow)

    Download the Level B task cards (pictured in green)

    Download the Level C task cards (pictured in orange)


    Fractions Mosaics in Action

    You can download a full lesson plan to accompany this activity although with lesson plans, I often find that images are the most helpful. Here’s a video of some of my students explaining their fractions mosaic designs.


    Students build an understanding of common denominators without explicit instruction on the topic.


    Art Connections

    To further enrich this lesson, I connect the students’ math mosaics with actual mosaic artwork. My students are familiar with mosaics from the public art decorating many of the subway stations in the city. Where else do we see modern day mosaics, and what is the history of mosaics as an art form?

    In a related art lesson, my students created tile mosaics using a class kit like this one.

    For another artsy approach to teaching fractions, check out my last math blog post, "An Improper Fractions and Mixed Numbers Menagerie."

    For updates on my upcoming blog posts, please follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

    One year ago: "Test Prep With Pizzazz: Part 2"

    Two years ago: "Eight Books for Earth Day and Beyond"

    Three years ago: "Using Series to Support Middle-Grade Readers"


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Susan Cheyney