How to really empower students


Denise Cowdry, TVDSB, Head of the Mathematics, Lord Dorchester Secondary School


Welcome to Wipebooks’ podcast series, hosted by Felix Thea, where we interview educators like you to get their thoughts and experiences on how they transformed their classroom to get their students more engaged in problem solving.


 “So de-fronting the classroom and basically having non-permanent surfaces around the perimeter of the classroom really does help empower the student” 



Empower your students

In this PODCAST, Felix sits down Densie Cowdry, who has been teaching math for over 18 years with Thames Valley District School Board, London, Ontario.


Have a listen to Denise’s thoughts HERE on:

  • How to build trust and rapport with your students;
  • How to physically design a more engaging classroom; and
  • The benefits of the #thinkingclassroom model.


Building a solid rapport is the first step to successful teaching

Denise is adamant that before any productive learning can take place in a classroom, particularly a mathematics classroom, there has to be a foundation of trust – then teaching can come after. Denise says that students have to know that as a teacher, you wholeheartedly have their best interests in mind -- all the time. And that you truly care about their well being. This trust provides a safe learning environment. And once established, students are free to be comfortably engaged, to take more chances, make mistakes, and are MORE WILLING to participate in classroom activities, particularly problem solving.



A Simple Model to help build a more engaged classroom

Denise attended a workshop at an Ontario Association for Teachers in Mathematics conference, OAME, about 5 years ago, where she stumbled upon Peter Liljedahl’s Building a thinking classroom model. She attended the session and was hooked. Since then, Denise, has been employing Peter’s strategies. She started out gradually, by utilizing his concepts of visible random groups, #VRG , and vertical non-permanent surfaces, #VNPS.

  • #VGR: students work in random groups of 3s, in every class, at a respective #VNPS station;
  • #VNPS: employing a myriad of vertical non-permanent surfaces stationed around the perimeter of the classroom.




Benefits of the #thinkingclassroom

Teachers are always on the lookout for strategies to help their students get more engaged with problem solving in math. Denise says that a cool feature of the #thinkingclassroom approach is that the classroom is FLIPPED, and is no longer teacher-centric. Denise adds that students are encouraged to own the problem AND are no longer watching her do math; conversely, she is now watching them. And as a result, information disseminates throughout the classroom in a very efficient and rapid manner. Students can observe each other’s work because they are working in a vertical, as opposed to horizontal, environment. And because they are working vertically with #VNPS, they are more willing to TRY, and care less about making a mistake: The classroom is now DE-FRONTED and the students are no longer passive observers in math class; instead they are active participants that really own the problem and the task at hand.




Easy path to get started with #thinkingclassroom

Denise adds that the best way to get information on the #thinkingclassroom model is by following some thought leaders on twitter, namely:

  • Peter Liljedahl @pgliljedahl ‏
  • Alex Overwijk @AlexOverwijk
  • Mary Bourassa @MaryBourassa


And 2 very simples steps to get you are your way are: implementing #VNPS in your classroom; and by using the de-fronting approach to make the classroom student centric, as opposed to teacher centric.


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