Problem Solving Through Communicating

"This was the first time this group of students had worked together. It was amazing to see this group of students come together and share strategies with each other. The Flipcharts allowed for students to access the work at the same time."

 

One of the biggest challenges students are faced with in mathematics classrooms is their ability to problem solve. Sure, students are able to follow a list of instructions, or solve questions based on similar questions modeled in class; but when it comes to applying their knowledge to a set of problems they quickly become stuck. My colleagues and I have spent some time brainstorming how we can improve our classrooms and instruction to better foster our students’ needs. The Flipcharts by Wipebook creates a space for students to learn and take risks in their learning. 

 

The author of this blog, Ms. Kohler

 

Taking Mathematical Risks 

Students are most comfortable following a set of step-by-step instructions to solve a problem. This hinders their ability to work through a problem independently and collaboratively with their peers. This year, I have integrated Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces (VNPS) through Wipebook into our math classroom and it has transformed the way students collaborate with each other. Students are willing to take mathematical risks knowing that their work is not permanent on a surface. They have the ability to wipe the slate clean, literally, and continuously try the task until they find success. In the picture below, the students are working together on a patterning problem. The task required students to find the pattern rule and complete the pattern when given the beginning and ending terms in the pattern. At first, students were hesitant to get started, in fear they would choose the wrong pattern rule. After a few minutes, the ease and flexibility of the Flipcharts allowed the students to make mistakes and make corrections easily. 

 

Students show off the pattern problem they've been given

 

Accessibility to Work and Sharing Unique Strategies 

For the most part, I use visible randomized groupings which allows students to interact with students they don’t usually group themselves with. In the picture below, you will see that this particular group of students were grouped by the red pencil in the top corner of their cards. 

This was the first time this group of students had worked together. It was amazing to see this group of students come together and share strategies with each other. The Flipcharts allowed for students to access the work at the same time. They were not cramped together or looking at an upside down paper (which typical chart paper on the floor lends itself to happen). Having an accessible workspace is essential to engagement as each student feels responsible for the work produced in front of them. This type of work environment also lends itself to sharing unique strategies that may not have been shared otherwise. In the next picture below, you can see a student working backwards with her pattern. 

When another student asked, “Why are you working backwards?” Her response was “It’s easier to count forwards then backwards; if I start this way then I don’t have to subtract!” This interaction was enlightening for both students; one felt validated in her work, the other, taking away a new strategy they hadn’t thought of before. Together, the students are able to find success in a low-risk environment, while establishing friendships and sharing new strategies with each other. 

 

A student shows how she solves a pattern by going backwards

 

Opportunity for Extensions 

My favourite part about using the Wipebook Flipcharts in the mathematics classroom, is the ability to give students low floor, high ceiling and open middle problem solving questions. This means that there is an entry point for all students no matter what level they are working at. Students are able to, and strongly encouraged, to ask their peers for starting points. This is made possible by setting up the classroom with multiple VNPSs set up around the room. Sometimes this is the only push they need to get them started. This workspace setup also lends itself to guided small group instruction. Although each group was given the same task, there were a variety of discussions occurring around the classroom. The following picture shows a group of students extending their pattern into negative integers. This was not something previously taught in the classroom and because of this work environment, the conversations naturally provided an extension for this group of students. 

 

Jessica KohlerHillcrest Elementary SchoolHamilton Wentworth District School Board 

 

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