Student Agency and Optimizing Opportunities

"Students loved the opportunity to get up out of their seats and work through the problems on the vertical non-permanent surfaces, instead of sitting in their groups. Students were challenged to present the work in legible and understandable ways and they rose above the challenge to create learning experiences for themselves."

 

Pictured is this blog's author, Mr. Ellingson

 

Coming out of the pandemic, students have not been communicating in groups effectively and presenting opportunities for students to effectively do this is increasingly important. We were reviewing for an upcoming test, but just didn’t have the time to work through all of the problems on the review. So, what should we do? How about having student groups take a problem or two, and make a poster out of them, and then do a gallery walk to compare answers and ask questions? This provides the opportunity for the groups to talk more and improve their collective understanding of topics, work collaboratively, and provide a student led approach to review. It’s all about their expression of learning and leaving the teacher to just be that “guide on the side.”

 

Addressing the 8 Standards for Mathematical Practice

A small group of students work together to solve a problem using Flipchart's vertical non-permanent surface

 

The 8 Standards for Mathematical Practices are not only great skills for mathematical learning, they are good for learning in general. The standards addressed in the proceedings of the day include SMP 1: Making sense of problems and persevere, SMP 2: Reason abstractly and quantitatively, SMP 3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others, and SMP 6: Attention to Precision. Finding activities that address multiple standards in a way that keeps engagement high and the information pertinent to learning is a value added activity. Students have the opportunity to initially reason in the safety of their team, supporting second language and special education students in a manner where they can practice explaining and questioning the work. Such a powerful experience for all.

 

Opportunity for Student Success and Positive Experiences

Groups of students all working together to solve a math problem before a class gallery walk

One of the greatest challenges in a mathematics classroom is encouraging students to take risks. This activity allowed me to choose problems from the review that students had a high probability of being correct before having them go to the Wipebook Flipchart and put their work up there. It also became my responsibility with this newly defronted classroom to move throughout the room. I would look at all of the posters and asking leading questions of each of the groups to help them get the correct outcome to be presented to the rest of the class. The conversations among the students was key, especially since they are still learning how to have those conversations due to being on distance learning so long and not having those experiences. The students in the presentation groups had in depth discussions based on the problems they were presenting if they did not agree. This was possibly the most meaningful part of the activity.

 

The Feedback

 

Another group of students working on Flipcharts to solve math problems

The feedback from the students is a factor for the continued use of the introductory activity. Students loved the opportunity to get up out of their seats and work through the problems on the vertical non-permanent surfaces, instead of sitting in their groups. Students were challenged to present the work in legible and understandable ways and they rose above the challenge to create learning experiences for themselves. There was laughing, great explanations, and students wanted to find more ways to continue to use the flipcharts.  

 

On this particular day, there were teachers from the Junior High that came by. They loved getting the students up and using the vertical non-permanent surfaces around the room. Seeing how it was managed, the teachers were not as intimated to try the approach, as long as they could get the flipcharts to make it happen. They love the conversations between the students, and how I was able to redirect and ask reflective questions to help the students make the progress needed.  

 

All in all, a very successful day for the students and visiting teachers.

 

Scott Ellingson, High School Math Teacher, Fowler Unified School District

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