Sunday, August 31, 2014

Circles and Dry-Erase Boards

This summer, at Twitter Math Camp (TMC), I met Alex Overwijk, the World Freehand Circle Drawing Champion. Check out his video on youtube. It's amazing.

Alex is a great guy, and while this circle thing is a pretty cool gig for him, he knows a lot about good teaching. He (and another great friend, Mary Bourassa) did a great presentation at TMC on spiraling curriculum. He also gave a presentation on Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces (which is just a fancy way of saying chalk- and dry-erase boards). The research comes from Peter Liljedahl, and Alex does a great job summing it up in his blog post.

It was clear to me that I needed more dry-erase boards. Big ones. All over my room. Wherever I could put 'em. So I made a trip to Lowe's, got a bunch of white panel boards cut up, and fastened them to my windows and to one of my bulletin boards.

With so much white board space, I can have every student working on the boards at the same time. With a quick glance, I can see what every student is doing. I can find mistakes faster. I can see who needs the most help. If a particular student has some great way of organizing his work, I can take fifteen seconds to point this out to all of the other students. We can share more easily and compare different solutions.

Compare this to how I typically had students working over the past eight years. They sat at their desks, working in their notebooks. I would walk around, constantly trying to check work one student at a time, struggling to see what they scribbled on their paper. It might take five minutes for me to make my way around the entire room, only to find one student has nothing on his paper because he spent this entire time trying to fix a mechanical pencil.

After just one week, I am convinced that installing these boards was the right move. I can't wait to see how this affects my students' learning this school year.

Side note: I mentioned Alex to my students and tried to demonstrate how he drew his circles. Here's my first attempt:

So I started practicing a little bit throughout the rest of the day, and before I left the school, I was able to produce this:

I still have some practicing to do. The upper left parts (of both circles) extend out a little too far. Maybe someday I'll be good enough to challenge Alex.