Last school year, I followed many great physics blogs (oh so unlike my high school physics class or the ones in college. Seriously, it was believed that a person without physics could come in and be successful due to the multiple guess format. Just buy the previous course packs and you’re set). Ok, enough digression. Physics teachers seem to be getting it dialed in through modeling instruction and the use of whiteboards. I ordered a pile of whiteboards for this school year and am working out ways to use them.
The whiteboards are roughly 2′ x 2.5′ and offer plenty of space for a few students to gather around and work together. I’ve used them with my sixth graders for a few problems during the first week. Student conversations about math are higher than when each student is busy scribbling in his or her notebook. They ache to yank the cap off of the pen and write on the board. Even quieter students seem to be more comfortable sharing with the pen.
I am fortunate to have extra space in my room so students move out of their seats to get to table clusters containing the whiteboards. At this point, they choose to carry their chair along or work standing. A few bring a chair though most stand, pace or shift around as they problem solve. A nice dynamic is created as the students sit or stand as desired and think in the way that suits them best.
Organization and display are issues. A majority of the students are “well-trained” to solely focus on an answer. The process seems secondary. My task is to slow them down. Bring the thinking out and have group members articulate their thoughts through words, graphics and mathematical expressions.
What about class notes? If a class revolves around in-depth thinking of a problem worked out on a whiteboard, what will the students look back on later? Well, I’m not sure how many sixth graders truly review their notes but the focus is on the process of mathematical thought. I can provide key elements to students for their notebooks and will offer time for them to capture the day’s ideas and/or work. It’s a start…The next step is to begin work on student presentations using their work. I’m hoping that this focus increases the need for thinking to be made explicit.