Thursday, September 18, 2014

Every Math Teacher in the World Should Do This...Right Now!

Yesterday, I was teaching students how to find the greatest common factor of two numbers. We start this lesson by using easy numbers to work with (like 10 and 14), list all of the factors, circle the common factors, then determine which of these common factors is the greatest. No big deal.

Next, we moved on to bigger numbers (48 and 84), and it became much more challenging. Some students just don't know their times tables that well, especially past ten. 3×16 equals 48? Even I'm a bit sketchy on that one.

I showed the students how to write the prime factorization of 48 and 84 using factor trees (which they've already learned), how to identify the common prime factors, and finally, to multiply them to find the greatest common factor. I then immediately sent these students to the whiteboards surrounding my room, so that they could practice finding the GCF for a different set of numbers. As you can see in the picture below, every student has their own space to work.

What happened next? Only the greatest damn thing ever! When students are working on the whiteboards, I can see everything happening at once. It's like I'm looking at the freaking Matrix. With a quick glance, I can see which students got it, which students are making minor mistakes, and which students have no idea what's going on. I can quickly identify errors for students. I can ask a stronger student to help a struggling one. Once a student has the correct answer, I yell, "Great! Erase it! Next problem!"

And the kids love it. As soon as the kids walk into my classroom each day, they ask "are we working on the whiteboards?" As soon as I say, "Go to the boards!", they rush out of their seats potentially harming each other as they make their way there. As soon as I put a problem up, they quickly get to work, Even the students that I know would typically struggle in math class, love the whiteboards and are learning much more because of them.

Now imagine what would happen if these same students were doing this work in their notebooks at their desks. Would they be enthusiastic? No. Would I know how much my students understood about the lesson? No. Would I be able to help students in a timely manner? No. Would they learn as much? Probably not.

I cannot stress enough how much these whiteboards have transformed my students' growth. If you do not have enough whiteboard space on the walls in your classroom, install them as soon as possible. It is the most important thing you could possibly do.

If you'd like more information about this, visit Alex Overwijk's blog post on it (who I give credit for teaching me about Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces). I believe Peter Liljedahl deserves credit for bring the research on VNPS's to light.