Stand Up for Math
Trevor Ellis, Grade 6 French Immersion Teacher, Jackman Avenue Jr PS, Toronto, ON.
Yes, you read that correctly. Stand up, please. Grab a Wipebook, a dry-erase marker, and a partner and put your “team name” somewhere on the page. My Grade 6 students spend much of their time during mathematics instruction on their feet, often in partners, with a non-permanent surface and a couple of dry-erase markers. My students and I agree that math is better when you can stand up, use a Wipebook Flipchart, and tackle an interesting problem. There are a few reasons why doing math this way is fun and effective.
Active and Tactic Engagement
The first reason why using vertical non-permanent surfaces (VNPS) is effective is that is engages students on multiple levels. For one, standing up and moving helps engage the brain. Also, my students often work in pairs on math problems, and have to explain their thinking to their partner. They also prefer using dry-erase markers and the large surface of the flipcharts to pencil and notebooks, because in a tactile sense it is smooth and more pleasing. My context is 11 year old grade sixes, but I think that students of all ages prefer an active learning experience that is more dynamic than traditional mathematics. Simply being on your feet makes a big difference.
Low-Floor High Ceiling Problems
The second ingredient to foster excitement and participation in my math class is often a rich problem for the students to solve. The best are “low floor, high ceiling” questions, meaning that everyone can participate but there is room for students to challenge themselves and go further. In a recent lesson students had to design the most cost-efficient and practical fence around an imaginary school garden, with different prices for different sections of fence. Students had to think about perimeter, area, and cost. The grid side of the Wipebooks was was very helpful for students’ scaled diagrams and measurements. The Wipebooks also afforded the students a large surface to identify what they know and what they need to solve, and still have plenty of space to work through the problem on the rest of the Wipebook.
Get Started and Take Risks
Perhaps the best part about VNPS math with Wipebook is that it encourages students to get started and take risks. Sometimes I have students write a team name with their partner so that they are getting something down right away. Being able to write with a dry-erase marker means mistakes are easily corrected. Or even better, I love it when students identify an error, circle it, and then carry on with all their thinking visible to themselves and peers. Doing math in this way, with all students’ work visible to each other, lessens our focus on the answer and instead emphasizes multiple ways of getting to an answer. The students can check each other’s progress, and maintain their drive to complete the task themselves.
Getting students excited about math: VNPS and Wipebook Flipcharts
“Yes! I found the answer!” exclaimed one of my students during a recent math lesson, her sense of accomplishment palpable. Pairs of grade six students, spread throughout the room with Wipebook Flipcharts and other vertical non-permanent surfaces (VNPS), had been working away on a measurement math problem for 25 minutes already. A high-five was exchanged between the student and her friend. But it was me, the teacher, who had the biggest smile of all because I was so pleased there was genuine excitement in my math class. To all teachers reading this, I encourage you to give mathematics on your feet a try. When paired with rich problems and VNPS I have found that it increases students’ risk-taking, participation, and learning.
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