## 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.

1. One of the greatest improvements in our face-to-face pedagogy school-wide was when we redesigned our main building we made every vertical surface we did writeable -- and now, as it becomes possible and affordable, interactive. So another up-vote!

1. After making this change, I feel like, if you had a choice between one interactive whiteboards or a bunch of non-interactive (?) whiteboards, go with non-interactive.
Glad it's working well for you!

2. I was still giddy over the poster-sized whiteboards instead of the handheld ones and now you throw this gem into the mix. Sweet!
The classroom is transformed into a formative think tank by immediately enabling the teacher to group students once a common misconception is identified.

VNPNs...Probably the only thing worth covering up Starry Night with.

1. It seems that this definitely has an advantage over the smaller whiteboards because the teacher can see what's happening at all times.

3. Yes, totally agree! I have also been extremely impressed with the impact it has had on my teaching. Also inspired by Peter Liljedahl, and now use this method almost exclusively in my classes. It is great to be able to see what everyone is doing, but it is equally great for students to see what their peers are doing. A great way to move knowledge and ideas through a class.

1. I'm becoming impressed with how many other people already do this. I feel like I've been living under a rock. Better late than never. Thanks!

4. Love this. Just build a new school a year ago and used white board paint on one whole wall. Wish I had done the whole darn classroom! Write on - wipe off desks as well. Student willingness to write, problem solve, and tinker is very high.

5. Well said, my man! So, what I hear you saying is that size matters.

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7. You can also use dry-erase markers on windows :)

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