Reflecting upon my many years of teaching gave me the idea to spotlight strategies for differentiating in a three-part series. Over the years, I have been fortunate to teach in a self-contained special education setting and a regular division setting with collaboration (students with individualized education plans included in regular division classroom). My experience in these setting has spanned 2nd to 5th grade. In each setting, differentiation has been at the heart of what I do, and I have used oodles of wonderful strategies for differentiating. SO I decided I would spotlight some differentiation strategies I am using this year with my second graders to explore and strengthen their mathematical understanding. The strategies will be as follows: cubing, choice boards, and menus.
What is cubing?
Cubing is a differentiation strategy where students roll a cube that has different activities/tasks printed on each face of the cube. When a student rolls a cube, he/she does the activity that appears on the face. When using cubes with fifth graders, I always allowed them to roll a second time, if desired. I have also allowed students to simply select an activity of choice from the cube without rolling. How you do it depends on your preference. The number of times students roll the cube (the number of activities/tasks you want them to complete) will depend on the setting and time allotted. Students can work independently, in pairs, or in small groups depending on the desired outcome.
When do I use cubing?
Ultimately, the answer to this question depends on your students. I typically use cubing after students have explored a concept or skill and I want to assess their understanding on various levels or provide students with additional practice. In fifth grade language arts, I created cubes that required students to respond to literature in ways that used different levels of thinking. Cubing is one of many strategies for differentiation, and I did not use it on a frequent/weekly basis. As with anything, I had to decide when it was a “good-fit”. It is also important to remember that students MUST understand exactly how the cubes are to be used. Model their use and allow for guided practice when using cubing for the first time.
How are cubes designed?
The designing of cubes is where differentiation comes in. First, you will design each cube to contain activities/tasks at varying levels of thinking (Blooms Taxonomy, Webb’s Depth of Knowledge, etc.). Second, you will create more than one cube–each cube designed according to student readiness (a student’s entry point in relationship to a particular concept or skill), interest (a student’s preference for a particular topic or skill), and/or learning profile (how a student learns best) (C.Tomlinson). You decide on the number of cubes. I usually created 2-3 cubes, no more. Most of the cubes that I created for use with fifth graders were designed according to readiness, yet the options on the cube took into account various learning styles as students were asked to illustrate, construct, write, talk, act out, etc. I would begin creating cubes by making a list of 6 questions/tasks I wanted students to answer/do, as related to the concept/skill. The first question started at a low level and each progressed to higher levels. The number of questions/tasks you create at each level depends on your students. Back in my days of teaching 5th grade, Blooms Taxonomy/Blooms Taxonomy Revised was what I use as a guide in creating questions/tasks at different levels. Today, I refer to Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. You can download the Webs Depth of Knowledge Wheel here (PDF). Visit eductopia.org for a helpful discussion of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge.
How do I construct cubes?
There are several great options for constructing cubes. Here are some ways I have done it in the past:
Paper Cubes: Using a cube net template, type or write questions/tasks on each face of the cube. Print each cube on a different color of paper. Print on card stock for added durability. Cut and glue or tape cubes together. Feel free to download a Microsoft Word (with text fields), Microsoft Publisher (with text fields), or PDF template. While this is the least expensive option, some time needs to be spent putting the cubes together.
Box Cubes: Purchase cube shaped boxes. This is the option I used most. I purchased white cube boxes online from Nashville Wraps and Uline. You can type questions/tasks and print them out on colored paper (a different color for each cube), cut, and glue on each face. I preferred to use Avery labels (label size depending on box size). They were easy to format, print, and stick on each face. If using the label option, make sure to color code or mark each cube somehow so you can tell which cube is which. I removed one label and deconstructed the cubes so they could be stored flat for future use.
Purchased Cubes: These are wonderful, yet they are less cost effective and larger. What is nice about these cubes is that they are sold in different colors and can be used over and over. I recently purchased some to use with my second graders. Create a 3″ x 3″ template, type questions/tasks, print, cut, and slide into the plastic sleeve on each face. Questions/tasks can be easily removed and saved for future use.
How do students record their responses?
You will need to create student response sheets to accompany each cube. Sometimes response sheets can simply be a piece of paper, with six boxes where students can write their responses, or a piece of notebook paper/journal. It may also be necessary to create a more customized response sheet that relates to each question/task on the cube. You can download two generic response sheets here (lined and unlined).
Cubing in Second Grade
I recently created cubes to accompany our exploration of fractions in second grade. I designed three cubes for students at high, mid, and low levels of readiness based on the standards for second grade and the big ideas I want my students to understand about fractions (see paper cube photo above). There’s a possibility that I will change the questions/tasks a bit, as I continually assess my students’ needs. You can feel free to download the paper cube version of my fraction cubes here! Students use the cubes for independent station work while I am meeting with small guided math groups. The cubes provide extra practice as well as serve as an assessment of student understanding at the end of a unit of study. I have also created inserts for my purchased cubes with tasks that can be used with any number (kind of like a number of the day but with more options such as writing math stories and riddles and plotting on an open number line–see photo purchased cube photo above). These cubes can be used all year long!
I hope you will consider trying cubing with your students, if you haven’t already!
As always, we would love to hear your thoughts and comments. Using cubing already? Please feel free to share your experiences!
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