Tag Archives: group

Random groupings

popsicle sticks

I recently had an epiphany. It came from Ilana Seidal Horn.

I was reading her book, Strength in Numbers, and she was addressing status in the classroom. Her definition is status is the perception of students’ academic ability and social desirability. Here’s an excerpt that blew my mind.

Unless we address underlying conceptions of smartness, we risk reverting to the commonly help belief that group work benefits struggling students because smart students help them. As long as we have a simplistic view of some students as smart and others as struggling, we will have status problems in our classroom. Students quickly pick up on assessments of their ability. For example, when teachers arrange collaborative groups to evenly distribute strong, weak, and average students, children will figure out that scheme and rapidly learn which slot they fill….If mathematics is rich enough, the strengths of the different students come into play, rendering the common mixed-ability grouping strategy useless. (p.29)

Truth. Talk about unraveling so many years of my teaching career in one paragraph.

A day later I noticed this tweet from Frank Noschese:

Bam. Just like that I was finished with strategic grouping.

Each seat in the room is assigned a number and every Monday students select a numbered popsicle stick upon entering the room. I’m coining them destiny sticks.

Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 3.14.06 PM

This week, after the first go around with the new approach, I immediately got lots of “this is a great idea” and “I love this!” from the students. Full steam ahead.

 

bp

Thank you hint tokens.

Steps

A few weeks ago I stumbled across the idea of a hint token. Think of it as a get out jail free card, but for the classroom. While working on a task, groups can trade one for a hint from me.

Loving this idea, I immediately went to implement it. This, I thought, would be a great way to give students more ownership over their learning and hopefully learn to rely more on one another. The first time around we were studying sequences and I gave each group two hint tokens in the form of Jolly Ranchers (thanks Sam).

What happened was something unexpected: no tokens were used.

They may have simply wanted to eat the candy afterwards, I’m not sure. I wouldn’t doubt it. That said, what was most impressive was how they worked interdependently to solve the problems. I was essentially ignored.

Afterwards, I realized how empowered I was. The kids need me far, far less than I think. Understanding something and feeling something are very different phenomena. I’ve always known that my students should need me less, but I now know how that feels. It’s incredible. I even communicated this to the kids and saw the realization in their faces. They felt the same way.

This experience has had a dramatic affect on my teaching. What’s ironic about this is that you’d think I would move to incorporate hint tokens every day. The thing is, I’m not. Instead, I ensure that students have the opportunity to own their learning and sit longer in each other’s thoughts. It usually consists of 10 minutes of focused, small-group discussion and productive struggle during every lesson (I have 42 minutes class periods). During this time, I provide no any assistance of any kind.

As a result, it’s common for me to pull up next to a group, watch and listen. Before, they would be inclined to ask me something simply because they could. Now, they forget I’m even there. I silently assess their thinking the entire time – which reminds me of a live version of video-based PD.

It’s a win for everyone. They purposefully and interdependently think through a problem, which spurs engagement and ownership, and I get valuable insight into their thinking that serves as a driving force for the rest of the lesson…and beyond.

Thank you hint tokens. Thank you for facilitating this change in the culture of my classroom.

I’m left thinking that this shift may be directly related the class chemistry I’ve developed this year – which has cultivated a willingness to learn and explore amongst the kids. In other words, the tokens could have simply been what I needed use in order to realize the new path that learning is taking in my class. I don’t know. Maybe next year I will need the tokens. We’ll see.
bp

One Step, Crumple, Toss

IMG_0221
The other day I did an activity that reminded me of both Kate Nowack’s Solve, Crumple, Toss game and Jon Orr’s Commit & Crumple activity, but it was slightly different.

I grouped students in twos and threes and gave each group one problem on a full sheet of paper. They struggled on a few concepts that we recently tested on, so the problem stemmed from those concepts. Each group completed the first step in their problem. That’s it. After, they crumpled the paper into a ball. After all the groups crumpled, I had them throw the ball at/to another group in the room. The receiving group would uncrumple the paper, check the work that’s already been done (correct it if necessary), and complete the next step in the problem. They then crumpled and tossed the paper to another group. This process continued until every problem was completed.

I like this activity for several reasons:

  • Firstly, students must put focused effort into starting a problem. Teachers, and math teachers specifically, know that the first step of a problem can often make or break a student.
  • Secondly, the bite-size chunks that they work on after each throw make long, multi-step problems easily digestible and accessible. They’re not stuck, sometimes haphazardly, on a single problem for extended periods of time. The students, without even knowing it, scaffold one another.
  • From a problem solving perspective, the idea of emphasizing the completion of one step at a time could be useful. The students themselves must decipher the procedural “steps” of a problem and also relate them to a peer’s work. This may help to develop the skill of breaking down a large problem into a series of smaller ones. I’m not completely sold on my reasoning here, but I feel there’s something meaningful on this front.
  • This activity affords kids the time to analyze and challenge each other’s work. It’s weird, but I’ve noticed, even with other activities, that students are highly engaged when analyzing a peer’s work. Maybe this is because teenagers are so judgemental of each other already, who knows.
  • On the teacher side of things, it’s never a bad thing when an activity gives you the opportunity to walk around and assess all period. It was so helpful to provide loads of individualized feedback to them on concepts they previously struggled with.
  • Lastly: who doesn’t like to throw things?! This was by far the best aspect of the lesson.

I’m still wondering about how things ended. The exit slip did show improved understanding of the concepts, which was good, but the conclusion of the activity could have been stronger. I posted the solutions for each question (they were numbered) and groups checked to see if the problem they ended with arrived at the correct answer. Most did. I also opened up a class discussion about common mistakes that were found as they checked work. That said, there still may be something better I could have done to wrap it up. Hmm.

 
bp

Two-Stage Exam

 

My kids have been struggling this spring and their exam scores have been pretty sad. Its been one of those years. To help matters, I began adjusting my pace, but I also wanted to implement some sort of structure for collaborative learning. Idea: group exams.

Sadly, I’ve never really used group exams. To be honest, the collaboration aspect of my lessons is usually pretty lackluster as a whole. I may have used group exams once or twice before, but it wasn’t significant enough for me to remember the experience. So, I had no idea on how I was going to structure it now. Brian Vancil mentioned that I try a two-stage exam.

It was amazing.

During a two-stage exam, you first have students take an exam independently, like they normally would (this is stage one). Immediately after you collect it, you get them in groups and give them the same exact exam  (this is stage two). They collaborate and submit one document with everyone’s name on it. Their final grade: 80% stage one and 20% stage two. These percentages can certainly be adjusted.

Student discussion during stage two was rich and completely focused on the mathematics. The kids were consumed with sharing their ideas, strategies, and misconceptions. Even my more introverted students were voluntarily sharing their thoughts in the groups. As I was walking around observing, part of me felt like I was dreaming. It was that good.

Their scores didn’t disappoint, either. I’ve given these exams a few times over the course of this spring and, overall, the results have been better than my traditional exams. But their scores are the least of my concerns. And two-stage exams do way more than merely inform me about how well my students understand something.

Students actually LEARN from these exams.

They’re driven by the students, reduce anxiety, and afford the kids a great opportunity to communicate their thoughts in a meaningful way. I’ve polled my kids after each of the exams and their attitudes towards the experience were overwhelmingly positive. The kids loved the immediate feedback and the ability to learn what they did wrong (and right). They were teaching and learning from each other in ways I’ve never seen. There were so many “ah-ha!” moments during stage two that they were hard to count. The groups were reflecting about what they did and didn’t do and unifying these thoughts to really learn from each other.

My kids are looking forward to the next exam. I’ve never heard that before.

 

bp

 

P.S. There’s also some introductory research on two stage exams conducted by Carl E. Wieman, Georg W. Rieger, and Cynthia E. Heiner. A good read!