Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ideas for the new school year

Alrighty, summer is over and students are back in school next week. These few days/weeks at the end of summer and very early start of term is my favorite time of the year because now there is so much energy, and so many possibilities to experiment with when the students finally arrive. So here's what I'm trying this year:

1.  Do more mistakes. Last year, I tried "my favorite no" but felt that it took a bit too much of class time. This year we will continue trying to improve "my favorite no" and also we will analyze the mistakes  at Finally, we're definitely going to try the Mistakes Game, in which students collaborate to create and present problem solutions that contain realistic mistakes.

2. Get into whiteboarding. 10 mini-whiteboards sized 30x42 cm are on their way to my school, and I think they will be suitable at least for pair-work. I'll try to make my own larger whiteboards later on for larger groups. What are we doing with the whiteboards? Here are some ideas, many borrowed from Bowman Dickson:

  • Mistakes game
  • Rotating during a solution: groups finish other groups’ solutions during a gallery walk, or students take turns writing the steps to a solution within their group.
  • Using color: chain rule, highlighting mistakes, rotating 
  • Guess and Check: one person guesses an answer, the other checks if it’s right
  • Solve and justify: one person writes the steps of a solution, the other justifies each step.
  • Each group comes up with their own problem: then gallery walk with each team solving each other group’s problems.
  • Each group comes up with an example of a concept, then shows it to the class.
  • Each group writes an answer to a teacher-driven question – shows to the teacher
  • Polling for multiple choice questions: can be summarized on the board
  • Groups create multiple representations of the same idea: good for functions!
  • Groups create different solutions to the same problem.  
  • Groups create several problems related to the same information (information is given, or is asked for, or can be an intermediate step)

3. Let go of homework. I'm not giving up, exactly, on getting kids to do homework. It's just that this battle is one I've been fighting and losing for the past four years, so rather than continue to frustrate myself and the students I'm going to let go, lick my wounds, and take some time to build new strategies (which might involve the whole school culture rather than just my own classes). There is only one thing I'm going to try this year, and it's based on a suggestion from our physics teacher (thanks, Johan!). Students will receive one small quiz weekly, and this quiz will be on just one of perhaps 6 "model solutions" demonstrated during class the week before. So students will always have a very limited number of questions and solutions to understand or in the worst case simply memorize for the quiz. Not ideal, I know, but for many students even if all they do is memorize 6 questions and solutions then that's a huge improvement on their previous efforts.
What I'd like to add to this approach is to either include a question on the quiz asking students to justify a step of the solution, or to finish each quiz with a group/whole-class discussion of why the solution is appropriate.


  1. My students are going to love hearing that the Mistake Game is going to be played by students in Sweden this year. I'd love to hear how it goes in your class! :)

  2. Thanks for sharing the great whiteboarding ideas - I can really see this getting the hands and minds engaged. Have been feeling sad that we can't afford one for each child, but this way it should be possible...

  3. Kellyoshea, yes I'll definitely let you know. :) So far still waiting for them to arrive though!

    Mindbodymaths, I think there are by now several suggestions out there on how to make cheap-o whiteboards using household construction materials. I'm planning on making some later this year, or at least the next, because the larger ones that would be more suitable for larger groups are too expensive to buy ready-made in Sweden.

  4. Love your whiteboarding ideas! I'm using the big ones for the first time this year and am excited by the possibilities. I see a lot of potential for more meaningful, student-centered discussions and opportunities for productive disagreement. I'm curious to hear more about your homework difficulties. What exactly seems to be holding students back from completing assignments?

  5. Anna, yes whiteboarding seems to open so many possibilities! learning to use them effectively won't happen overnight, but hopefully slowly but surely...
    Homework-wise: students express the will to do homework, but then they just don't. I think many of my students prioritize other courses homework (they definitely have a much higher homework completion in psychology) as well as just other activities such as hanging out with friends. Also, once they don't do the homework I expect, we get into this boring cycle of me going "you should do homework" and them going "yes, sorry, but this time I...". Yuck, I don't even want to think about it anymore.