Using Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces to Encourage Collaboration and Grit




Kasey Howard, High School Math Teacher, J.T Foster School, Livingstone Range School Divison #68, Alberta, Canada. 



Math is not a spectator sport. To find success, students must put their skills into action and feel comfortable to make mistakes and ask questions. The use of vertical non-permanent surfaces in the classroom, such as Wipebook Flipcharts, has brought about effective student engagement with mathematical content.




Non-Linearity of Work  



Mathematics often used to be viewed as a completely linear subject having only one path to the answer. One way, one answer that’s either incorrect or correct. One of the ways I challenge this archaic model is with the use of VNPS and deep questions which have multiple points of entry



Questions may have students decide between multiple options, estimate, look for patterns, and decide how detailed of an answer they want to provide (special considerations, rounding, unit choice).



One of my favourite tasks with which to boggle young minds is as follows: Jenny, my cousin, is the same height as I am when I am sitting on a chair. The chair is 39 inches tall. How tall is Jenny? (Then allow them the use of metre sticks only in metric)



Delegating Tasks 



Students are then responsible for asking probing questions to obtain answers that will further their process. These types of tasks are less about the answer and more about the thinking process that lead to that answer. How students organize their work is their collective choice. 



Strong closure, where we do a gallery walk, allows students to share their process while also becoming exposed to the ways that their peers’ minds have engaged with the task.






Assigning students into small groups for these tasks allows them to share their ideas in a safe setting. This is especially important for some students.



I sometimes assign roles to each member of the group which allows for some stretching to occur. Perhaps I assign a strong student to only take the role of a scribe who does not speak. A student who is not used to being the leader then has to share ideas to be written down. Someone else may be a spy who can go sneak a peek at another groups’ process.



I can then choose a student to explain the work of their group. I often ask the student who directed the process and also a different member of the group to see if they can explain the work of their peer. Communicating mathematical ideas of oneself is a challenge, let alone explaining how someone else thought to approach the task. By seeing similarities and differences in each other’s process, students learn and become more comfortable with more strategies for success.



 Making Math Visual: Graphing drawing 



One of the most notable features of the Wipebook Flipchart is the grid on the reverse side! For students who are quick to find a process that works for them, I challenge them to represent their thinking visually. This could translate to a graph or pictures or something else creative.



Seeing math differently can assuage the anxiety of how mathematical language looks for some students. Algebra, for instance, may instantly cause some students to feel overwhelmed. By converting the algebra into a visual pattern or a graph, the information is imparted in a different, often more digestible way. Students can then decide for themselves which method makes the most sense. This may be contextual or a recurring theme depending on the question and the individual.



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