Another one added to the toolbox

Just a quick post on a strategy I recently used so I don’t forget to use it again in the future.

We were working on law of sines (LOS) in trig. We spent one day deriving the law of sines and one day solving basic triangles. At this point, about 30% of the class was ready to move on to complex LOS applications (the next lesson) while the rest of the class needed more practice solving triangles using LOS. Without planning it all the way through, here’s what I decided to do.

The next day I placed students that were ready for the application questions together in two small groups. Let’s call this the “advanced” students. I provided them with instructions, materials, and let them go explore the problems in their groups. I provided minimal scaffolding. For the most part they were able to work their way through the first few problems, which was what I hoped for.

As for the students that needed reinforcement and more practice, I placed them together in a few groups and provided heavy scaffolding and detailed attention to their needs. I’ll call these the “developing” students. I floated, sat and worked with them individually, and clarified any misconceptions that came up. By the end of the period, I was pretty confident that almost all of them could solve a triangle using LOS.

The following day, I brought the groups back together by using the advanced students to teach the developing students the complex LOS problems that they had already solved. I placed 1-2 advanced members with 2-4 developing members, depending on their levels. I found it to be a pretty good proportion. Of course, I was around to help and answer questions, but the kids ran the show and worked independently of me. The advanced students reinforced their understanding of the problems while the developing students shared a private tutor. And because the developing group got to practice more of the basic stuff the day before, they were much more fluid with the new material. It worked so well that I had them continue this peer tutoring for a second day.

What I loved about this stretch of days was that it promoted independent thinking and allowed me to reach the kids that needed it most. It also incorporated peer tutoring and kickstarted some great discussion amongst the kids. To top it off, it all required minimal prep. It was a win across the board.

Although we were studying the law of sines, I don’t see why I couldn’t use this strategy somewhat regularly with other topics. It could work well with anything that starts off fairly straightforward and gets complex, but still is obtainable without much scaffolding. Even if it does require a bit more guidance, I could provide more detailed scaffolding to the advanced group to help get them off the ground. And, of course, the advanced students could change based on the concept so one would get too comfortable.

Another collaboration strategy added to the toolbox.

Boy, do I need them.

 

bp

Traffic Light


Traffic Light

I’ve seen and read about many “traffic light” strategies used in the classroom. In most instances, its a label we use for a strategy thats helps us gauge student understanding or receive feedback. Here’s another twist on it.

I’m using it as a formative assessment strategy that I fittingly call Traffic Light. (Very creative, I know.) I’ve laminated red, yellow, and green pieces of paper and slid them into another laminated piece of paper that I half-taped to the top of each desk.

During any given lesson, I mention “Traffic Light!” and my students hold up a color corresponding to their level of understanding at that moment. Sometimes I see a sea of green, sometimes a mix, and sometimes I see so much red that I myself turn red. Either way, I have found the cards to be an indispensable tool to keep a pulse on how things are going and, if need be, change things up on the fly. There are plenty of instances where I needed to re-explain something, regroup students, or change the approach to a concept. And, without this in-the-moment feedback from the kids, I probably would not have been aware that a change was necessary.

I must put out a disclaimer. When I first started using the cards, I found that some of the quieter students would hold up a green to avoid me eyeing their yellow or red card – essentially making them “stick out” to me. I had a talk with my classes about how their learning is dependent on their integrity. We also discussed honesty as it relates to their understanding and how this is a driving force of everything we do. I did find that all this helped encourage the kids to provide more accurate responses.

Besides the obvious benefit for me, their teacher, the students actually enjoy using Traffic Light. At the end of the first semester, I asked each student to provide me with one thing they thought went well and one thing they felt needed improvement in our class. I was surprised by this, but several students actually mentioned the Traffic Light cards.

Feedback Traffic Light

(“the new grading system for exams” refers to my shift to standards-based grading)

It could be the interactivity. Students get to, essentially, voice their opinion…and teens love to do that. It could also the message it sends: that I’m willing adjust any lesson based on how they’re learning – and then to actually adjust it. Who knows. I’m just glad they’ve taken to it.

bp

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.