“Out of the Box” or “Out of my Mind”?

"...Getting students up and out of their seats, walking around, writing on walls, and writing on the same shared document, was the main factor missing from my own learning environment."


This is my tenth year in education. I spent my first two years teaching juniors and seniors math at an alternative education high school, and my last eight years teaching primarily math (and computer fundamentals) to middle school students. In all of the classrooms that I was fortunate enough to observe, I noticed that many teachers certainly brought their own flair and character to their classrooms and lessons, and students were definitely engaged, but there was one factor that remained constant with a majority of these classrooms: they were all… the same. Students worked either in isolation or in group configurations, but they each had their own paper that they worked on, and it just didn’t feel like a truly collaborative environment. I thought this was the normal thing to do in classrooms, so my own classroom mirrored this type of environment as well. It wasn’t until I attended a workshop called “360 Math” with Ed Campos, Jr. (@edcampOSjr) that I realized that getting students up and out of their seats, walking around, writing on walls, and writing on the same shared document, was the main factor missing from my own learning environment. It was at this workshop that I learned more about VNPS and the role Wipebook products play.


Student Collaborating on different problems


Out of the Box


I’m not an expert on using Wipebooks routinely in the classroom, and that’s something that I’m working on, but there are many occasions when a strategy or idea pops up either in a conference or during a lesson that I think “Hmm… a Wipebook would be perfect here.” 


Recording Conversations

One of these strategies is something that I learned from Lisa Jilk and Kristina Dance, and that’s to write down students’ conversations (thoughts, questions, opinions) on a Wipebook Flipchart next to their group. When the task is done, I can reference the different groups’ Flipcharts on the wall to point out some great questions or comments that students had during their task. Setting up thinking classrooms is a fantastic way to highlight student collaboration and put a positive spotlight on students (and it’s always awesome to hear students say “Hey! I said that! That’s my question!”)

Using Flipcharts to solve different problems


“Gallery Wall” involves them all!

Another strategy that I’ve used the Wipebook Flipcharts for is review for state testing. I’ll print out sample performance tasks and hand them to groups of students who then need to work on them as a group on the Wipebooks. The students initially start their work on their printed paper, but then quickly transfer their thoughts onto the Wipebook because it’s a much larger surface, and all of their group can engage at once. I feel that the Flipcharts somehow allow the students to be more adventurous in showing their work because of the reusable aspect. It is easy for an error to be simply erased with a quick “swipe”, which then allows students to move forward in their thinking. As the students get closer to a solution, I’ll notice some of them glancing over at another group’s work to compare - this type of “gallery display” seems to have both “resourcefulness” and “community building” factors to it.

The Gallery Wall view in the classroom


Analog Solutions to Digital Problems

My last example involves a scenario that screams “Warning! Danger! Red alert!” in any computer class: there’s no internet access! Oh boy… It's the beginning of the school day for my Computer Fundamentals classes, and we cannot connect to the internet! Immediately, my mind is racing about how I’m going to incorporate my coding classes where I’m relying on Chromebooks with an internet connection. It didn’t take long for that lightbulb to go off: Wipebooks. In the end, students worked in collaborative groups to create a maze (a collection of zig-zag lines) for which they needed to write an algorithm (go up, go down, go right, go left, etc.) It turned out to be a really fun day because some students were drawing the maze while others at their table were creating the algorithm.


Students collaborating together by working out their ideas on the Flipchart



Students helping each other out while working on different problems


Out of my Mind


I have noticed a trend with many educators and their classrooms: many environments seem to be heavily reliant on obedience, rules, and routines. There’s nothing inherently “bad” with having these in a classroom - in fact, there needs to be some sort of order within the classroom so that it doesn’t fall into chaos. I feel, though, that many educators rely on obedience so much that that mindset completely overpowers any hope of true mistake-laced explorative learning. The act of having students get up out of their seats, talk freely with one another - trusting them to do this - is a piece of power that some of us aren’t ready to give yet. There will most definitely be people out there saying that I’m completely out of my mind and that some of these ideas won’t work with “their kids”. It’s true that I have to remind students to stay on task and redirect conversations - I feel like this will always be the case with any classroom (they’re kids!) But I would not cast an idea aside because I think a specific group of students will not properly engage with it. Never throw away an opportunity for fear of it being a disaster. The true disaster is no opportunity at all.



 A group of Happy students!


Paul Dietrich, Teacher, Fairview Middle School


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