It’s the Soft Skills!

This trimester I don’t teach in a flipped classroom. Precalc is done for the year, AP calculus is not flipped, and Algebra II is taught by myself and another teacher and is typically done very traditionally. This being the case, my goal this trimester is to “inject” solid higher level thinking activities into my lessons. Last year when I taught it (the first time) was very traditional (Lecture, assignment, repeat). The catch 22 of this that I haven’t had these students all year. They are coming to me from traditional classrooms and are not familiar with the different format of my classes (mega whiteboards, relaxed deadlines, higher level thinking, collaboration, etc.). I wanted to reflect on a few things that I noticed in the last couple days that I may have taken for granted.

Collaboration

For some reason, in the back of my mind, I just assumed that juniors in high school knew how to collaborate. This is not true. At least it isn’t true for my students. As you can see in the image my class is set up in pods and each day they come to class with a mega whiteboard and a few markers at their pod. (This is to encourage collaboration on “normal” days, not just days in which we have special activities.) Today I gave them an activity to help them discover the connection between combinations, binomial expansion, and Pascal’s triangle. I prefaced the activity with an emphasis on the need to collaborate and to share ideas with each other. I noticed that even the “best” groups struggled with this.

There were several specific problems I noticed. First, students didn’t use the mega whiteboards very often. Even when I explicitly said, “hey, this would be a good problem to do on the board.” Second, there was minimal communication between group members that “got it” and those that were still struggling. Third, there was minimal critique of each others work. for instance if one person had the correct answer, in many case everyone else just copied down the answer.

Tomorrow I will be making a point to talk about the best ways to collaborate. I failed to recognize their lack of skills in this area and I need to do a better job of setting them up for success in the area of collaboration. I also need to continue to try to build a community in which wrong answers are not shunned but are view as just a step in the learning process.

How do you help your students to collaborate more effectively? What do you do to help your students feel like they can share without the fear associated with being wrong?

Communication

This is intimately connected to collaboration, but my students ability to communicate mathematics needs improvement. I think the more I help my students with this the better collaboration will be. How can I expect students to collaborate if they can’t communicate the math to each other?


 

I hope that I’ll continue to see improvement in these areas as the trimester continues. Please give me any ideas that you have to increase students’ ability to communicate and collaborate. I’d love to hear them! Image

Trig Verification through Collaboration!

Last year my good friend and collaborator, Steve Kelly,  came up with a phenomenal activity for trig verification. However, he implemented it a few weeks after I had already completed  that unit in my class. This year, as we approached simplification and verification I made sure to borrow his activity and it’s definitely worth sharing.

It’s difficult to share the materials for this activity but I will try to explain it as clearly as possible. Students break into groups of 2 to 3. They then choose one of six folders, which each contain a different verification problem. The folder contains all the steps to the problem on separate sheets of paper. The students then have to organize the the steps in the correct order to complete the proof. (This was done on the floor in order to have enough space to show all the steps.) Once they think they have all the steps in the right order, they must get it checked with the teacher. If it is correct, they go grab another problem and work through it in the same way. Once they complete all the problems they move on to collaborative whiteboard work, then independent work.

I put this activity right after my students got through simplification. This was their first exposure to verification. I liked that for their first exposure to the topic they had all the steps they needed and had to reason their way to the solution in a collaborative situation. This meant no students felt in over their head or completely stuck. Also, they were able to see some of the techniques play out, without a formal lecture on the common techniques.

Here are a few pictures from the activity. If you have any questions about how it went or any feedback please let me know! Also, if you aren’t following Steve on Twitter already make sure to give him a follow!  This is just one of his brilliant ideas!

UPDATE: Here are all the materials for the activity, including the instructions, whiteboard problems, and colored stations.

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