Ken Rawson, Secondary Math Coach, Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board.
With the challenge of self isolation and social distancing, and with the news of school closures, finding engaging activities for my own children became my new reality. In my current role as the Secondary Math Coach with the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, I have had many opportunities this year to dive into the world of Building Thinking Classrooms and the inspiring vision of Peter Liljedahl. With this came realizing the benefits of vertical non permanent surfaces #VNPS in making student thinking visible and encouraging active engagement in meaningful tasks.
THE SETUP :
I originally ordered my first Wipebook Flipcharts to allow a mobile option as I travel from school to school in my current position. They have definitely served their purpose, but I have also realized the benefits and the flexibility this particular product provides. Not all classrooms have the wall space for permanently mounted non permanent surfaces. Wipebook Flipcharts can be hung from walls, cabinets, windows, or essentially any vertical surface. Height can be adjusted to meet the needs of each learner. Students can also work on desktops, on the floor, in the hallway, or on any flat surface. In the last week, I have also discovered that this product allows you to transform any space into a learning environment, such as my own family room at home.
I secured two sheets to the wall with a few pieces of painter's tape. They were hung on either side of our television, which was intentional as I was able to display the day's task if required.
There are endless tasks that lend themselves to vertical non permanent surfaces, but the site I tend to return to most often is openmiddle.com. Students are provided with simple instructions to start, and the solution or end product will be the same or similar, but the middle is open. Generally, this encourages flexibility in strategies, and emphasizes a deeper understanding of concepts. Many students rely on mimicking the teacher as a strategy, and for many students, this becomes a concern when they are faced with a new or more challenging problem.
The added benefit of open middle problems in my current circumstances is that many tasks are “low floor, high ceiling” problems. This means that I was often able to assign the same problem to both my 8 year old and my 11 year old, and both could immediately engage. The strategies they employed were often very different, but this usually led to some great discussion during and following the task.
Working on the VNPS led to a very rich learning experience. Collaboration often occurred organically, as it was easy to observe each other’s strategies and thinking. Thinking became very visible, which provided me with some wonderful insight into my children’s mathematical knowledge and comfort level. With the wipebooks being hung vertically, the learning naturally became active as well. This was a huge benefit to my son who struggles to remain still or silent for any length of time.
Please visit, follow, dive in to a few of the following resources that have inspired me as a teacher, as a math coach, and as a parent;
Robert Kaplinsky (Twitter:@robertkaplinsky)
- Co-founder of openmIddle.com
- Related twitter search: @openmiddle, #whyopenmiddle
- Author of Open Middle Math Problems that unlock student thinking, grades 6-12
Peter Liljedahl (Twitter:@pgliljedahl)
- Related twitter search: #vnps, #buildingthinkingclassrooms
- Visit peterliljedahl.com for research related to VNPS and Building Thinking Classrooms, along with a collection of resources and good questions
In addition to these amazing individuals, I have found Twitter itself to be an invaluable tool for additional resources and information. Specific handles and hashtags include
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