Group quizzes for remote learning

Much of my teaching boils down to a handful of trusted, go-to activities and structures. Group quizzes (and exams) are one of them. When we were in-person, I did them all the time. The set up I had worked really well to get students talking about math and hold them accountable to the their group. But when remote learning hit last spring, I forgot about them (just like I did with traditional exams, of which I haven’t given one). They just didn’t seem feasible.

That changed in the fall when I asked my cogen about their other classes. I was interested in what things their other teachers were doing that worked well for them as students. One of the members mentioned a group quiz that their physics teacher did. Intrigued, and remembering my love affair with group quizzes, I followed up with a series of questions. I also asked the rest of the cogen what their thoughts were. I gave my two cents and, in the end, we decided that it would be a good fit for our class. I had to make it happen.

It took a couple of weeks — and another conversation with my cogen — but we uncovered a structure that we liked. Fundamentally, it’s very similar to how I structured my in-person group quizzes. Here’s how it works.

It involves Desmos Activity Builder.

Compared to options like Peardeck, which a lot of other teachers are using these days, Desmos is a great platform for my group quizzes because of the mathematical backdrop it provides. It hosts a suite of mathematical tools that are priceless when it comes to helping kids learn and also helping me to assess where they are. And, as any teacher who uses it knows, Activity Builder goes well beyond graphing. I can ask students to annotate a given graph or worked example to highlight a particular part of it, for instance, or I can have them type out an explanation of why secϴ<0 in quadrants III and IV. I can see all of their work in real-time and capture particular responses to showcase. I haven’t even fully tapped into Desmos’s capabilities, but there’s no way I would use any other platform.

Probably the most important aspect of the quizzes is how I grade them (which is the same way I graded them when we were in-person). For the quiz, each student receives two grades: a math grade and a teamwork grade. It is this dual-grade system that really makes the group quizzes come to life and promotes engagement.

The math grade is pretty obvious, but there’s a wrinkle to it. At the end of the quiz, I only grade one random student’s quiz from each group. The score that person receives on the quiz is the score that everyone receives. The kids don’t know who that is until after the quiz is over. To “end” the quiz, I use the pause feature in Desmos Activity Builder (which is incredibly smooth, I must say). I typically end the quiz with 5 minutes left in class so students will have time to complete the teamwork grade.

For their teamwork grade, each member of the group gives every other member of the group a grade from 1-4 based on how engaged they were, their communication, and how much they contributed during the quiz. Each student does this using a google form.

On the form, each student chooses their group members’ names from a dropdown and assigns each of them a teamwork grade (they complete the form separately for each group member). Along with a grade, they must also provide written feedback to each group member. After class, I average all the teamwork grades a student received and that becomes their overall teamwork grade for the quiz. I also copy and paste all the feedback a student received from their group and email it to them. The feedback remains anonymous, of course.

[Side note: I think placing on an explicit grade on teamwork sends a message to students that it’s not just about understanding the math. It shows that the ability to work together is valuable — or at least valuable to their teacher. Our grades reveal what we think is important. Our students discern this.]

Let me tell you, my breakout rooms are usually dreadfully quiet. I suppose they’ve gotten better in the 5 months since the school started, but they’ll still not great. But anytime I do a group quiz, they’re buzzing. Almost everyone is unmuted, there’s always a screen being shared, and some groups even use group texts to communicate. Not knowing whose quiz will count for everyone’s grade while also getting graded by their peers for participation creates a culture of collaboration — at least for a day. I hide it when I visit their breakouts during the quiz, but I’m blown away with giddiness at how much they’re activated and helping each other. It’s really something.

I’m grateful to my cogen for helping group quizzes manifest in a remote setting. Without their ideas, confidence, and encouragement, I’m not sure I would have worked to find a way to make this useful assessment a reality.


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