Promoting whole class discussions with pre-written questions

I am starting the school year in precalculus having students develop both their collaboration skills and their ability to model real world scenarios with mathematics. It is the beginning of the school year and many learners are still a little uncomfortable with each other and with their confidence in math class. I wanted to have a productive class discussion, and to make students feel safe to engage in dialogue around the content. I decided to create a discussion that appeared natural as a gateway to get some of the less confident learners engaged in the content.

At the start of class I presented a scenario to optimize by modeling with mathematics. Learners worked in randomly assigned small groups to develop an optimal solution and then, in the last 20 minutes of class, each group was to present their solution and reasoning. I wanted the learners in the audience to ask challenging questions to learn more about the groups thinking after each presentation.

Here is what I did:

While listening to learners work on a task in small groups, I circulated, listened, and wrote questions for each group on separate index cards. I was also thinking about how to sequence their presentations based on their approaches as described in the book, 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Math Discussions.

When each group was setting up to present, I would discretely hand the questions written on index cards to a less confident learners. After the group presented their thinking, I would ask, “Does anyone have any questions for this group?”

The learners would look around nervously in an awkward silence while I glared uncomfortably at a learner with an index card. Eventually, uncomfortable with the silence, the learner would ask the question on their card. Then, the presenting group would respond, which led to genuine student questions, thinking and further discussion.

By the last groups presentation, many of the learners seemed comfortable to ask questions and engage in thoughtful whole class discussion!

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First days of school: Mindset discussion/survey with Plickers

I didn’t use Plickers much last school year because I don’t ask a lot of multiple choice type questions in my classes. Most are more open ended to expose depths of student understanding. This school year, I found a way to use Plickers to facilitate group discussions and I am so excited to use them more this year!

While I am effective at supporting small groups working in my classes, I am not always the best at facilitating whole class discussions. I knew I wanted to hear students thoughts and dispel myths on how to learn math early in the school year. I have started this discussion in past years using Bowman Dickson’s survey found here.

Then I saw Julie Reulbach’s recent post on her plans for the first days of school. She mentions using Plickers as a brief survey.

I discovered that when setting up Plickers, you do not have to select a “correct” answer. Instead I decided it would be insightful to make the multiple choice options into a Likert scale. Capture

This way after each question I could project the response graph. It was perfect to be able to just show students their peers ideas and allow discussions to happen with little facilitation from me!

For example, when I projected this question, and then the response graph, a student said,

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“How can you agree with this? We can always learn more and improve.”

Then students who agreed chimed in citing how their parents can’t do math, so they can’t do math.

To which the students who disagreed argued that you can change what you understand through learning and effort…

I let it continue occasionally asking probing questions. It was interesting to see how dispersed student responses were, and great to have this data to look at later.

I plan to complete this survey again later in the year to see if students move more towards a growth mindset with respect to learning math through the school year.

Another thought I had through this process was how Plickers could be used to facilitate Talking Point discussions too.