How are those whiteboards coming?

The first quarter of the school year is in the books. Some things are going well but there are a few items that I need to process through. In general, whiteboarding added a strong dimension to class discussions. Particularly for my math students, whiteboarding moved group problem solving and whole group discussions to a new level. Student inhibitions to write something down or to share seem to diminish when equipped with a marker and an erasable slate. I can quickly assess where a group of students are on an idea as I circulate around the room. I’m loving it.

But…In my physical science class, I haven’t found a good recipe for whiteboard use. A goal of mine is to place more of an emphasis on discussion of data and what students observe during experimentation. I’ve tried to use whiteboards as an experiment command center with limited success. I feel that class is getting bogged down during experiments and and students are left with data on the whiteboard, unable to continue work. I believe that part of the problem lies in the amount of time that it takes this group of students to accomplish tasks. Compared to previous years, we are moving much slower that I have in the past. (Unfortunately, this rate is not accompanied by amazing class discussions that magically make time disappear.) Speed bumps:

  • This bunch of students is quite chatty and transitions take a long time.
  • Lack of outside work. I generally avoid much work outside of the class but at times ask students to prep for an upcoming class. This could mean creating data tables for the upcoming experiment. Many students come to class empty-handed.
  • Off-task behavior + a general slowness- Even when groups appear to be working on the task at hand, items are completed at a snail’s pace.

Looking forward, what am I going to do? Math class success with whiteboards stems partially from the fact that problem are relatively short, especially if compared to a lab. Students process a video, image or text on the whiteboard and then develop solutions. Conversations are focused to the problem at hand. Lab experiences involve much more – students need to create a procedure, decide how to collect data, run the experiment, record data and then process. With the second quarter, my whiteboard focus will be limited to processing of data when the activity is finished. Using the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning framework, students should have a focus (similar to the success in math) and adequate space to provide a claim and include supporting evidence. Round table discussions can then be used to flush out each group’s reasoning. It’s a continuous process, right?

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