Let’s take it to the walls

Cori Orlando

3rd grade teacher, Ventura County

At the beginning of the year, my third-grade students had a lot of fear about many things, but one of the biggest was wrapped around math.


They rattled off these big concepts that they were worried about mastering: fractions, division, multiplication, ALGEBRA!


On top of that, they had me as their guide, someone they had never seen before. Someone who may do things a bit differently than what they were used to.




Critical Thinking, Communicating, Collaborating, Creating

During the first few months, they didn’t quite know what to do with me OR my way of teaching math. They requested workbook pages and asked me when they were going to start MATH. You should have seen their faces when I not only told them that they probably wouldn’t be receiving workbook pages, but that they, in fact, HAVE been doing math since day 1!


You see, I am a big believer that in order for students to understand and solidify learning, they need to grapple with it. I also believe in the power of the 4 Cs (Critical Thinking, Communicating, Collaborating, Creating). Because of this, I was asking them to work together to come up with solutions to rich tasks. I’m not going to lie, the first few months were brutal. I wanted to throw in the towel a few times.


But I believed in them and I believe in this way of teaching.


And guess what? Magic happened.


They rose to the challenge (and in turn every challenge thrown at them in class).




Take it to the walls

One of the big game changers for these kids was allowing them space and the opportunity to have that productive struggle - together. One of the ways we did this was in what I call “Take it to the walls”. Three of our four walls are covered with some sort of whiteboard space #VNPS.


Two of the walls are covered in Wipebook Flipcharts. This seemingly small change in the classroom has reaped huge gains. For whatever reason, when students are out of their seats and writing on the walls, they take more risk. The fact that they now have visible representation of their thinking, is quite empowering.


They are able to articulate their thinking in multiple ways by creating with others. Wait- Were they accomplishing ALL of the 4 Cs in doing that? Absolutely! And it is magical!


We have done so many tasks using vertical non-permanent surfaces #VNPS that now they just naturally stand up and start writing when ever they are grappling with a problem -- whether it was part of the planned activity or not.


Their math is our ever changing room decor in our classroom.


Incredible equations

One activity that we do about once a week is called “Incredible Equations (I.E.)”. The students are given a number (for us it is the number of days in school), and they are given about 8 minutes to come up with as many equations as they can to reach that number.


The equations started out very simple at the beginning of the year, but I have challenged them to stretch themselves and now we talk about “complex equations”.


After their allotted time, I give them about two minutes to share their three most complex equations with their table group. They then vote on the most complex equation and that student writes it on their designated Wipebook. The next step is critical. Groups then go to the walls and solve those equations.


They are owning the math

They have learned how to write each step to visually show their thinking. My role as the teacher is to just walk around and listen in. Sometimes I ask questions to stretch their thinking or explanations, but for the most part, I watch.


Then we discuss.


The beauty is that all of the work is on display for all to see. Students are finding errors and helping to correct them. They are pushing each other for more complex equations but most importantly- they are owning the math!


And now they find math in everything we do.


They want to solve problems that come up and even if their work has been erased and replaced by new work, they still point to the walls (VNPS)  when connecting back - that visual is in their head.


What a difference a few months make when we empower our students to take control of their own learning and give the place to do so.


BIO: Cori was formerly a TOSA (Teacher On Special Assignment) that worked with JK-12 grade students, teachers and administrators on pedagogy, mindset and educational technology. She shares her educational ideas and passions in professional development within her district, county and beyond. Most recently, she as presented for CUE at various events on various topics. She was the author of CUE’s blog, ONCUE as well as on her own blog site “Leading In Limbo”. You can connect with her on Twitter @coriorlando1 .


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