Speed Dating

Speed Dating from Class

I’ve heard this strategy being used by several teachers in the MTBoS, but I most notably remember Kate Nowak being the one I heard it from first. It was a total success.

If you don’t know already, here’s the deal. Set up the classroom so that students are facing each other. Create a worksheet with problems you need the students to study/review. After handing it out, I gave the students a few minutes to become “masters” at one problem (I assigned them each a problem). I had 22 students, so I had 22 problems. After this, each student will “teach” their problem to the person across from them – for my problem set this was about 3 minutes (for both students to teach). After the 3 minutes, one side of the students got up and moved one seat to the left. Now they were across from a different classmate and the 3 minutes would start again – and each new pair would teach their problem. Each new pair now had a fresh start on explaining their problem and understanding a new one. (Sort of like real-world speed dating.) This process repeated until the end of the period. Oh, and I put out whiteboards on the tables to help with all this.

I floated around as they worked and assisted as necessary, but I wasn’t really part of the picture all that much. I loved this! I felt a bit weird in that I wasn’t doing much throughout the period. Then I came to my senses: it was the power of student-centered learning taking over me.

Because each student was only required to “master” one problem, they weren’t overwhelmed. And because they had to explain that question several times over the course of the class period, they really became well-versed on the concept that their problem related to. Conversely, because there was a student walking them through a problem they hadn’t seen before, I was able to incorporate peer tutoring and bring the learning to them in a more native way. They were talking about math all period – teaching and learning from one another – and hardly realized it.

It was totally my fault, but I didn’t get around to getting in an exit slip to gauge their thoughts on the activity. In fact, the bell rang as we were closing up. But if I had to guess from the looks of it, they really liked speed dating.

Friday Letters

This summer I got a dynamite idea from Rebecka Perterson at TMC14. The premise is that students have the option of writing you a letter on Fridays instead of doing the Warm Up or bell work activity. Then, no matter how short or how long their letter, you write them back and give it to them on Monday.

When I first informed the students about Friday letters, I could see a refreshing look on most of their faces. But things got even more interesting when told them I would respond to every letter I received. Without one letter being written, I could tell I had already made a lasting impression.

Friday Letter Box

So here’s my box. It was literally a 5 minute job. Literally. It’s a small lidless cardboard box with a file folder taped to the top wrapped in blue paper. In other words, it’s the saddest mailbox ever. The kids got a pretty good kick out of it. One of the kids said “it’s the thought that counts!”

Last week was the first Friday the students had the opportunity to write me. I provided the kids with 1/4 sheets of paper and post it notes for those that chose to write. I received 17 letters, which I was stoked about. For the most part they were light hearted, things like “I really like your class so far” to “What’s your favorite color?” to “The first Varsity basketball game is December 3, can you come?” I thoroughly enjoyed reading and responding to them all. I suspect the letters will get more intriguing as the year goes on.

Friday letters opens up a private line of communication with my students that I’ve never had before. I’d like to think that my communication was always pretty good, but Friday letters adds a new dimension. It allows students to communicate to me their questions, feelings, and thoughts in a way that is accessible, non-judgmental, and meaningful. They feel that their voice is heard while getting individual attention from me. Plus, I really get to know my kids, which I love…they’re all so unique. This will really afford me the opportunity to learn who they are as people and tap into their strengths.

How will this ultimately effect my classroom this year? Will students just eventually stop writing and be “over” it? We’ll see. I’d love to hear similar things that other teachers have done to open up this type of communication with their kids.


Classroom Economy

Dollar Bill

I have been meaning to write about a rewards/management system that I use in my classroom for the last couple of years. It’s math money. I have heard of other teachers that use fictitious money in their classroom, but mine has interesting and meaningful twist: students pay taxes and file tax returns for all the money they earn. I cannot remember who I got the idea from, but I remember it was an elementary or middle school teacher. If I can find who it was, I will post the link.

A few years ago, I had one of my (now) former students create some $1, $5, and $10 math money “bills” that I use for currency. He created it in Photoshop (they’re somewhat elaborate) and gave me the files. The little I actually know about Photoshop allows me to update them from year to year.

The students earn money for lots of things. It’s all about positive reinforcement. I especially prize participating in class and collaboration – and will usually pay students for these things. Attendance, homework, hard work, Student of the Week, exam scores, etc….these are also things that will earn a student some dinero. We also have various paid positions that students must be elected to (attendance taker, runner, etc.), each of which receive a weekly salary.

Students spend their money during auctions every two weeks. I auction off candy, dollar store items, homework passes, positive calls home, among other things. We even have 50/50 raffles every now and then. The possibilities here are endless, plus its where all the fun is! It’s crazy, students love to compete to be the highest bidder and spend their money.

As students earn their money, I keep a simple tally of how much they earn. Other than Student of the Week payments, all income is taxed. Students can choose to withhold income as they earn it – they simply give it back to me (i.e. the government). Each class elects a treasurer that will take my tallies and enter them into our class database (Google spreadsheet), which sums all taxed and untaxed money each student earns. At the end each marking period I take this spreadsheet and mail merge it into individual W-2’s for each student, which I print and give to them.

I have created a tax form that students complete on tax day. We literally spend an entire day doing taxes. They ask questions, get confused, and eventually learn (like most people who do their own taxes). Students itemize their deductions and compute their taxes using our tax rate table. I used to have adjustable tax rates, but it got too complicated. Deductions include high exam scores, donating to a class pencil fund, seeing me for extra help after school, and other “good” deeds. After they submit their income tax forms, the treasurer examines them to ensure there are no discrepancies. Some students will receive a tax refund while most others will owe taxes.

The whole process really does mock the tax-filing process. I like to think that after students take part in this process six times every year, they have a pretty good understanding of how the IRS does its thing. It’s also an effective way to promote positive behavior in my class. Using money in my classroom has afforded me loads of flexibility in terms of classroom management and allowed me to mimic the real world in countless ways. Plus, its just plain fun.