Encouraging Student Collaboration and Instilling Confidence in Mathematics
Cristina Moscillo, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School, Toronto Catholic District School Board
As educators, we are constantly seeking ways in which to promote collaboration amongst our students. This is a difficult feat at the best of times, and this challenge is even more pronounced in the mathematics classroom. The majority, if not all, teachers can attest to the fact that group work in mathematics consistently results in the more confident students taking the lead while the others remain disengaged or fearful of contributing. This is primarily due to, from my observations, lack of confidence in their own mathematical abilities and the fear of making a mistake. How can one boost confidence and promote collaboration in mathematics classrooms?
Mistakes are Key to Success
Students are generally consumed with finding the end result or simply the ‘answer.’ As their teachers, we need to ensure we are regularly instilling the value in the process; included in that process is making mistakes. It is evident that a concept has been learned once a student is able to find and correct any errors in their work or that of their peers. It is difficult for any individual, however, to share work that is potentially incorrect or has been visibly worked over a number of times. When working with pencil and paper, one is able to simply erase any sign of corrections or start over and present a seemingly unedited response. How can this concept be transferred to a group setting? How can we promote an environment that encourages mistakes in a collaborative setting?
The Freedom to Make Mistakes
Students were put into groups and tasked with solving an area problem which included metric conversions. Traditionally, students had been accustomed to using chart paper and markers while collaborating. With this method, students were hesitant to put down any work on chart paper as they did not have the ability to erase their work in the event of an error. With the Wipebook Flipchart, students began to immediately attempt the problem because they had the ability to freely erase and start over; the freedom to make mistakes unbeknownst to others. Furthermore, students were able to present a clean display of their work when sharing responses with the class. Students who typically were disengaged were now very much participating and contributing, at times even arguing over who would write or erase.
Displays and Discussions
Upon completion of the problem, students were invited to put up their Flipchart around the classroom. They then proceeded to move throughout the room and visit other group’s responses which allowed them the opportunity to compare different solutions. This exercise facilitated our discussion around similarities and differences when arriving at a solution, as well as further analysis with regards to types of strategies used. In addition, it allowed for differentiated instruction; especially appealing to visual learners.
Using a non-permanent surface during a collaborative setting is inviting students to explore the trial and error method with one another. It truly increases students’ self-confidence, thus also increasing collaboration. It is imperative to foster an environment in our classrooms that allows students to grow in all aspects, but especially in self-confidence.
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