Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My Favorite: Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces (#VNPS) aka - Whiteboards!

Two things have drastically changed my classroom this semester: 1) VNPS and 2) Spiraling my homework.

There has been a lot of discussion in the past year about the research behind whiteboards and how to implement them in the classroom (a la Alex Overwijk). I hope this post can highlight some of the nitty-gritty "how can I do this?" to make your implementation go smoother.

First, should you do this? Yes!!! You wouldn't believe what a change it will make. Some reasons to do it:
1) I teach on block so I have kids for 90 minutes/day. You'd be surprised how long they will work at the boards (I'm talk 40+ minutes on task in a normally rowdy class).
2) The kids BEG to do whiteboards and get excited to do math on them (Yeah, you need to see it to believe it)
3) It gets them up out of your seat.
4) You can immediately identify who needs help or if the whole class needs to pause and receive a mini-lesson on something they are all missing.
5) Use random grouping to get students working with others they don't normally work with
6) It dramatically increases student talk.

Here are my #VNPS hacks:

1) Buy 4'x8' white tile board and get it cut in thirds at the store. Should be pretty heavy - not flimsy. Ran about $14/board for me and I got 5. I only had room for 14 pieces though.

2) Decide how to attach. My walls are really annoying and have been painted over with the wrong type of paint, so I had issues with falling boards at first - fun stuff. See if your school will let you drill into the wall to attach. But I like to fly under the radar so here is my method:

3 strips of velcro command strips along the top of the board and two command hooks on the bottom to support the weight from below. Bonus tip: AC Moore has a slew of them, use a 40-50% off coupon to save some $$$.

4) I had students taking push pins off my posters to put up the problems they were working on which annoyed me to no end. Solution: Duct tape a binder clip to the top of the whiteboards that can hold whatever the prompt or problem is they are working on.

5) Doubles as a holder for Expo Marker!

6) Cut pieces of felt and add a book ring to the end. Superglue a hook to the board to hand it on. Now kids have the supplies they need at the boards already.

7) Add numbers to the boards. Then if you use a random generator for groups like the one at My Instant Classroom they go straight to the board number that is generated.

I hope that some of these hacks will help you! This is a great and relatively inexpensive (<$200) change to make in your classroom that will radically change the level of talk, communication and quality of work you see just by getting them up out of their seats and at the boards. What are you waiting for? =). 

PS - 

Cleaning: Just use water. When you need to get a more thorough clean use Totally Awesome from the Dollar Tree BUTTTT....rinse the board off with water after using it so the expo's don't stick to the residue. #liveandlearn. 

#onegoodthing: When Students Come Back for Help

Amidst the hustle and  bustle of the end of semester and all its craziness with finals, I had several opportunities to stand back and celebrate #onegoodthing but this is the one that stands out the most.

I had an opportunity to tutor former students before their Pre-Calc state exam. I had several students who wondered if they could stop by after school one day to get my help on PreCalc. I have only done student-teaching in Precalc, but they knew I loved the topics and wanted to get some help to review. We had a great afternoon and I loved getting to delve into a class I hope to teach some day. I particularly loved the moments when I talked about how the other trig identities come from sin^2+cos^2=1. They hadn't made those connections and seeing those light bulbs go off is why I love doing my job. We also had some fun looking at patterns in polar equations to help remember what the graphs look like. Overall it was just a great chance to spend time with some lovely former students in a relaxed way and talk about some awesome math. What gets me the most is that a couple of the students weren't always super responsive in class (i.e. I didn't get the vibe they totally loved my class), but they were practically gushing about how much they missed my class, interactive notebooks, and the way I taught overall. They also talked about various things they still remember learning (!!) and that a lot of the beginning of Precalc was review from what we talked about. There were also shout outs to dividing polynomials with the box ;-). All in all - a win win and something to celebrate.