90 Days of Getting to Know you Questions for Visibly Random Groups 🤔#ThinkingClassroom

In my classes, I use a strategy called “Visibly Random Groups” based on the research of Peter Liljedahl. In short, every single period students are greeted at the classroom door with a random playing card from a set I’ve made for each class. The number on the card tells them which group they will sit at for the day (groups of 4 desks are clustered under hanging group numbers from 1-8). Students may not trade cards and I may not choose which card they get. Students sit with different classmates daily.

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Discussing the question of the day “Where is your favourite place to go for a walk?”

To help break the ice, we begin each day with a “getting to know you” question with our new group mates. Most importantly is that I stress they must start with “My name is . . . ” before answering the question of the day. I insist on this even if they think their partner knows their name. Too often I will notice half way through our group work that someone in the group of 3 does not know their partner’s names which can make group work awkward and/or difficult.

So I thought I would share my most recent list of getting to know you questions in case you might find it useful for your class also. There are 90 questions because we have 90 classes per semester here in Ontario. It starts with 26 of the “36 questions to fall in love” list. Then it’s a mix of questions by myself, my students, colleagues, or that I’ve seen online somewhere:

  1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
  2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
  3. Who’s the last person you made an actual phone call to? What about?
  4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
  5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
  6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
  7. How do you think you will die?
  8. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
  9. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
  10. Take 1 minute and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
  11. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
  12. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
  13. What is something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
  14. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
  15. What do you value most in a friendship?
  16. What is your most treasured memory?
  17. What is your most terrible memory?
  18. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
  19. What roles do love and affection play in your life? who are you affectionate with? who is affectionate with you?
  20. Tell your partner about your relationship with your mother
  21. Tell your partner about your relationship with your father
  22. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
  23. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
  24. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
  25. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
  26. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
  27. Do you pour your cereal first then milk or milk then cereal?
  28. Do you prefer rainy or snowy weather? Why?
  29. Apple or Android? Why?
  30. Tell your partner about something you learned how to do from YouTube or the Internet
  31. Tell your partner about a time you felt included here at this school (like you belong).
  32. What is the last movie you watched?
  33. What is your favourite TV show?
  34. What is your favourite book?
  35. What website/app do you spend the most time on?
  36. What is the last book you read that wasn’t for school?
  37. What do you consider one of the best inventions in the world? Why?
  38. Tell what you did this weekend in 30 seconds.
  39. What’s the last song you listened to?
  40. What is your favourite season (spring/summer/fall/winter) & why?
  41. If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
  42. If you invited a friend over for dinner this weekend, what would you cook for them?
  43. If you could be an animal, which one and why?
  44. Complete this sentence: “math makes me feel _____” & explain why
  45. What are the qualities that you look for in a teacher?
  46. What are your strengths?
  47. What Canadian city would you like to visit? Why?
  48. What is your favourite sport to play?
  49. What are you passionate about?
  50. Name one of your hobbies & say why you enjoy it
  51. Who is your favourite actor/actress?
  52. What pets do you have at home? If you don’t have any, what pet would you get if you could?
  53. What is your favourite meal to eat at home?
  54. What is your favourite activity to do with friends?
  55. What is your favourite thing to read?
  56. Would you prefer to play hide & seek or tag? Why?
  57. What has been your most rewarding experience getting your 40 volunteer hours so far?
  58. Would you rather: live inside your house or outdoors forever?
  59. Where are you from?
  60. What do you want to become in the future?
  61. What is the first thing you do when you get home after school?
  62. What is the last thing you do before you go to bed at night?
  63. What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
  64. Tell about a goal you made & achieved
  65. Chocolate or candy? Why?
  66. Sweet or salty?
  67. What is the scariest thing that you’ve experienced?
  68. What is your favourite fruit to eat?
  69. Favourite grade/year of school to date?
  70. What is something you’ve done that you regret? Why?
  71. When is your birthday & how do you celebrate?
  72. Do you walk/bike/drive/bus to school? Why?
  73. Teach your favourite stretch to your partners
  74. If you were making a playlist to make you happy, name 3 songs you’d include
  75. Where is your favourite place to go for a walk? (or what’s the best spot you’ve ever walked/hiked?)
  76. How do you help encourage your friends when they are stressed or nervous about something?
  77. How would not having your cell phone with you for 24 hours change your day?
  78. Describe the last time you had a real conversation with someone you didn’t know very well.
  79. Describe the last time you played in the snow.
  80. What space (locker, room …) is your most messy? Name 3 things you should probably clean up or throw out there.
  81. If you were to send an encouraging text to someone right now, who would it be & what would it say?
  82. Describe the last funny video you saw
  83. If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
  84. How many hours of sleep do you get a night? What time do you go to bed? … Wake up?
  85. What’s your favourite piece of clothing you own/owned?
  86. What hobby would get into if time & money were not an issue?
  87. What fictional place would you most like to go to?
  88. What job would you be terrible at?
  89. What is the most annoying habit that other people have?
  90. What’s your favourite thing to drink?

Want more? I found this list of 200 questions to get to get to know someone today & their website has several other question lists also.

Do you have a getting to know you question you love that isn’t on the list above? Leave a comment in the section below!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

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Groups of 3 with a 4th Desk Free #VRG

Yesterday,  my students were working on their independent practice problems on solving similar triangles on Khan Academy. As I reflected at the end of class, it was so obvious to me how important it is to have a seat free at each group’s desks so that I can sit with them to help them one-on-one. And while that seems obvious, I’m sure I’m not the only one that lets myself be lured into the temptation of sitting at my teacher desk while students work & saying “come over to me if you have any questions!” meanwhile I can shoot off an email or two that need sending. And of course a couple of students will come over to ask me something. But so many others will not leave their seat. Might not even get any work done at all & I won’t notice. Some just can’t get started because they have no idea where to start. So they’ll make it look like they’re working, but at the end of 75 minutes they haven’t done a single practice problem.

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Each group has either 4 desks or 3 desk + a stool.

Even on independent practice days, I have students sit in “visibly random groups” by giving out playing cards as they enter class. New partners, new seat every day.

So yesterday as my students started on their practice problems, I moved from group to group, helping students that asked for help. I also sat down to work through a question together with students that hadn’t even started yet (not because they’re being oppositional – but they just don’t know where to start!). Here’s a short video with my reflection on that 4th seat at each group:

Or you can view the video here also.

How do you make sure your quiet, reluctant learners get the same one-on-one help from you as those that self-advocate a little louder?

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Captive Audience: #LearningInTheLoo

Do you ever read a great article or blog post and think I HAVE to share this with my colleagues! So you email everybody the link & say you have to read this. And then maybe 1 or 2 people actually read it?

I find so many great things on Twitter & blogs (#MTBoS) that I want to share with my colleagues, but they often don’t have (or make) the time to check them out. So when I happened upon a tweet about Learning in the Loo I thought it was genius – a captive audience!

So I have made it a habit to create & post a new Learning in the Loo 11×17″ poster in each staff toilet in our school every 1 or 2 weeks this semester. I curate the amazing things I learn about online & turn them into quick read how-tos or ideas to read while you … “go”. And it just occured to me that I should have been posting them to my blog as I made them. But now you can get a whole whack of them at once and next year I’ll try to remember to post them as I make them.

The whole collection so far can be found here with printing instructions.
Feel free to make a copy (File –> make a copy). Also the sources of images & ideas are in the notes of the doc above too.

Here they are:

Learning in the Loo Assessment FeedbackLearning in the Loo Cell Phone Work Life BalanceLearning in the Loo EdPuzzleLearning in the Loo Adobe Spark VideoLearning in the Loo TwitterLearning in the Loo Google ClassroomLearning in the Loo Grouping StrategiesLearning in the Loo KahootLearning in the Loo Google Docs

What would you share in your school’s first Learning In The Loo poster?

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Building #ThinkingClassrooms

[update: There are now 14 elements in the Thinking Classroom framework – an updated sketchnote can be found here]

Almost 3 years ago now, some math teachers in our school board returned from a conference with two concepts from the research of Peter Liljedahl; vertical non-permanent surfaces (VNPS) & visibly random grouping (VRG). I was blown away by these 2 strategies & implemented them in my classroom immediately after learning about them.

Peter tells a great story about a Math teacher saying upon meeting him “Oh, you’re the vertical surfaces guy!”. While he’s happy that teachers are finding benefit from implementing VNPS in their classrooms, he hopes those teachers will be inspired to go even further and delve into the 11 conditions Peter says will help us build “Thinking Classrooms”. A thinking classroom is . . .

“a classroom that is not only conducive to thinking but also occasions thinking, a space that is inhabited by thinking individuals as well as individuals thinking collectively, learning together, and constructing knowledge and understanding through activity and discussion” (Liljedahl, 2016)

In his chapter titled “Building thinking classrooms: Conditions for problem solving” Peter outlines 11 practices teachers can adopt in order to build a Thinking Classroom. Actually, I think that chapter proposes 9 of them, and Peter has an upcoming chapter to be released that details all 11 practices that his most recent research has unveiled. Here is my sketchnote summary of those practices:

Thinking Classroom.PNG

Building a thinking classroom:

  1. Begin with problems/tasks
  2. Visibly random groups
  3. Vertical non-permanent surfaces
  4. Oral instructions
  5. Defront the room
  6. Answer “keep thinking” questions
  7. Build autonomy
  8. Hints & extensions to maintain flow
  9. Level to the bottom
  10. Student-created notes
  11. Assessment

That last one is the one I am the least clear about what it entails. I heard Peter say in a talk that it would take him another 3 hour session just to cover that piece alone. I’m hoping that the more I explore his publications, the more I’ll learn about what he proposes for assessment as I am keen to get away from tests & make my assessment match my classroom time.

For more of my posts on Peter’s Thinking Classrooms work, click here.

Peter’s Thinking Classroom research can be found here.
He provides some “good problems” so you can start with the 1st step, here.
You can watch a 1-hour archived webinar by Peter on the topic here.

Update: I wrote an article for Edutopia about the first 3 elements of the Thinking Classroom – good tasks, VRGs & VNPSs – that you can read here https://www.edutopia.org/blog/student-centered-math-class-laura-wheeler

[update: There are now 14 elements in the Thinking Classroom framework – an updated sketchnote can be found here]

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Studenting & Visibly Random Groups: #Sketchnotes #ThinkingClassroom

A few years ago I started using visibly random groups & vertical non-permanent surfaces in my Math classroom. I got so excited about these strategies when some colleagues brought them back from a PD they had attended and immediately changed my classroom routines & setup. These strategies come out of a body of research by Peter Liljedahl on the Thinking Classroom.

Peter came to Ottawa last week for our Math PD day. He keynoted our event as well as offered workshops, both beginner & advanced, on how to apply his research findings in our classrooms. I tell everyone I can about how much Peter’s research has changed my classroom for the better, and so after his recent visit I decided to work on sketchnoting & sharing his research.

Here are my first two sketchnotes:

Visibly random groupings:

visibly-random-groups-vrg

Studenting behaviours around homework & studenting behaviours in the “now you try one” teaching model:

studenting-homework-now-you-try-one

Stay tuned for more sketchnotes about the Thinking Classroom!

Update: I wrote an article for Edutopia about the first 3 elements of the Thinking Classroom – good tasks, VRGs & VNPSs – that you can read here https://www.edutopia.org/blog/student-centered-math-class-laura-wheeler

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Video clip of students at work

Today while Ms. Fahmi, my student teacher, was teaching I went to take a photo of the students at their boards solving in their groups. Then realised that I should try taking some video since there are several of us in the room & I can take the time to do so (I had parents choose at the beginning of the year whether or not they were comfortable with me including photos & videos of their child in class on my professional learning network platforms)

Here is a quick (1 minute) video clip of my students working on a visual patterns 3 act math task on vertical non-permanent surfaces in their visibly random groups:

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

When Technology Isn’t the Best Tool for the Job

I am considered “techy” by my colleagues. In my class we make use of my students’ own devices or a set of 6 chromebooks they can borrow from me on an almost daily basis. We use Pear Deck & Kahoot a lot.

But technology isn’t always the best tool for the job. A lesson plan should always start with a learning goal in mind, and then you should select the best tool to get you there; be it a digital tool or not. Allow me to share an example of when technology was NOT the best tool for the job.

In spring of 2014, I learned about Peter Liljedahl’s research and started using Visibly Random Groups in my classroom the very next day; each day students are placed in different random groups – visibly (no rigging the groups ahead of time by the teacher). Being the techy sort that I am I found a website in which I could paste the names of my students & it would make groups for me; Team Maker.Capture

But I quickly noticed a number of drawbacks to using a digital team making tool:

  • I had to have a class list of names saved in notepad, had to open up the list in notepad & then copy & paste the list into the team maker site.
  • Sometimes the majority of one group would be absent that day leaving one person there (I like groups of 3).
  • I could wait ’till the bell & delete the names of absent students but that means having everyone get up & change seats after the bell rings.

I stuck with it a week or two but wasn’t loving the system. So I decided to go old school & bought a deck of cards for each class at the dollar store. The table groups in my class are numbered from 1 to 8. So I would take out 3 of each of those card numbers from the deck – these are what I hand out to students as they enter. I place them in order A(1), 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, A, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on …. As students arrive they get the next card in the deck – no arguing – and proceed to that group of desks. If only 2/3 of my class is present that day then each group gets 2 people. This avoided the problem with the website where I’d have some groups of 3s and other groups with just 1 person there & then have to shuffle people around manually. I’ve been using the playing card system for a year and half now & it still works great for my students & I.

There are many times when technology can help us get to our learning goal more easily. For example, having students explore the parameters of m and b in the linear equation using Desmos sliders is phenomenal; way better than graphing calculators or paper & pencil graphing. Less time spent drawing graphs, more time exploring & drawing conclusions about the parameters in question. But let’s make sure that we are always starting with our learning goal in mind first, and choosing our tool second. Because sometimes old school “technology” (paper & pencil, blackboard, etc) might be the better tool for the job.

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

What I Did Differently This Year

A roundup of things I did differently, or that I continued to evolve with, this year in my Math classes:

Visibly Random Groups

Groups of 3 students sitting together. New partners & new desks every day. I used playing cards given out at random as students entered class to assign students to tables – with hanging numbers indicating which tables made which group. More details about VRGs here.

Kahoot!

2 to 3 days per week I used Kahoot as our bellwork. Kahoot is an interactive quiz that the kids answer using cell phones/tablets/laptops. I have created a bank of basic skill-based multiple choice questions for each of my courses and we often start class by playing 10 randomly chosen questions. Correct answers get points & the faster you answer, the more points it’s worth. The kids really love this & it’s a great way to practice basic skills.
What’s especially cool about Kahoot is that they have pre-made question banks for lots of different topics and courses, so you can play this with almost no prep work required. Julie Reulbach does a nice job of outlining her experience with Kahoot this year in a blog post here.

Problem-based Learning

As much as possible, I try to start with a problem to solve, instead of starting with a lesson. Sometimes this is a hands-on activity in the style of Al Overwijk & Bruce McLaurin. Sometimes it’s 3-act math in the style of Dan Meyer. Other times it’s a word problem from a textbook stripped down to make it more open (like here & here) and solved on vertical non-permanent surfaces (see next). Students always started by estimating the answer (too low, too high, best guess), collect data/measurements if needed, and then solve. And at whatever point students get stuck, or need to learn something new, that is where I go to the board for a mini-lesson before having groups return to finish solving the original problem given their new knowledge/skills.

Vertical Non-permanent Surfaces

In our visibly random groups of 3, we solve the problems on whiteboards & blackboards. This gets students up out of their chairs, working together, thinking. They try out different ideas because they know it’s easy to erase whatever doesn’t work. It allows me to see everyone’s work all at once and give prompt feedback on their progress. Students can also look around at other boards to get ideas if they’re stuck. More details on VNPSs here.

Khan Academy

Now hold on with your booing & your hissing … Math teachers love to have a hate-on for Khan Academy. It’s not a replacement for a math teacher, and it has it’s disadvantages, but they have some good exercise sets that can be used as homework instead of problem sets from the textbook. At the beginning of the year the homework on KA was optional as I explained here, but in the 2nd semester the homework for my grade 10 academic class was mandatory and tracked daily.
The students sign up with you as their “coach”. You can set a certain exercise as homework with a due date. The site then summarizes who has and who has not finished their homework. You can also see how many problems they have attempted to solve and whether or not they got the correct answer. The advantage for the students is that if they get stuck, there is a “hint” button (which isn’t so much a hint, as the next step explained) and a link to the infamous KA-created video related to that specific problem.

Spiralling

Instead of teaching unit by unit, I have continued spiralling the curriculum. This means teaching every expectation in the curriculum over the first few weeks, albeit in an introductory fashion. Then we cycle through all the material for a 2nd time, delving deeper. And then again a 3rd or maybe 4th time through depending on time. Mary Bourassa has a good explanation here of spiralling.

There are a few smaller things I introduced also such as the wireless keyboard, a “tech tub” with 5 chromebooks for students to borrow when needed, posters of course expectations & mathematical processes on the walls, etc.

For next year:

  • Make my evaluation tools match the group-work, problem-based learning we do in class.
  • Work on recording the observations & conversations that can inform a student’s final grade in addition to the products they create (tests, tasks, projects, etc).
  • Improve my Link Crew class that I taught for the first time last year.

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

VNPSs to the rescue!

This month I have a student teacher teaching my two grade 10 classes each morning. He’s been doing a great job trying out the spiralled curriculum & activity-based teaching approach that I use. He’s also continued using the visibly random groups (VRGs) & vertical non-permanent surfaces (VNPSs) that I have set up in my classes. Today we had a moment that really cemented for us why the VNPSs are so powerful:

A bit of background first. This year I’m teaching the primary trig ratios using trig trainers & a trig table. The trig trainer provides the sine & cosine values for a right triangle with a hypotenuse of 1. Students then use similar triangles to solve for missing information like this:

Screenshot 2015-04-15 at 10.50.27 AM

So far we had covered how to find missing sides, but not yet how to find missing angles using this method. The students had all the knowledge they needed to do so, there was nothing new to teach them besides how to apply their knowledge in a way to find a missing angle.

So yesterday my student teacher started his lesson by putting this problem on the board:Screenshot 2015-04-15 at 10.46.12 AM

He asked the class questions about how they used the trig trainer to solve for missing sides (activating prior knowledge) to elicit ideas about similar triangles and scale factors. He then asked them how they might use the same ideas in order to solve this problem.

Crickets.

Nothing.

No answer.

There were a few awkward minutes while he waited for them to figure out how to apply their prior knowledge to this new example type. He tried rephrasing his question but they weren’t giving him anything. They weren’t willing to venture a guess out loud. He was hoping they would suggest to him the method to solve for the missing angle & he would solve it on the board for them (direct teaching).

But I suspected that if asked them to, most of the students could solve the problem based on what they’ve learned so far, even if they couldn’t verbalize how to do so (or weren’t willing to verbalize it). So from the back of the room I piped up & suggested sending the groups to their assigned vertical surface (each group has a blackboard or whiteboard space assigned to them). My student teacher obliged & sent them to their boards.

Within one or two minutes a couple of the groups were solving the problem – using the exact method that my student teacher hoped they would explain to him in the earlier discussion. The groups that didn’t figure it out right away looked at the boards of those groups that had & quickly caught on to the idea and started solving themselves also. Here is the solution from one group:IMG_8438

Once most groups had solved it, my student teacher asked them to return to their desks & consolidated their learning with the whole group and then assigned some practice problems.

This experience really drove it home how beneficial the vertical surfaces are. When asked to explain orally how to solve the problem, students were not able. But working on the problem at their boards, most groups solved without having to be taught how to do this specific type of problem. And those that didn’t get to the final answer were still able to see the full solution presented, and done so in multiple ways by different group.

So powerful!

Visibly random groups & Vertical non-permanent surfaces

I have been trying to shift my Math classes toward activity- / problem-based learning. We still have individual practice days, but as much as possible I want them solving new, complicated problems in groups. Two ideas that I heard about at a meeting of the OCDSB Mathematics Department Heads have really changed how I do things in class lately:

  1. Visibly Random Groups
  2. Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces

Both ideas come from the work of Peter Liljedahl and have been gaining traction amongst OCDSB teachers lately, particularly in Mathematics classrooms.

visibly-random-groups-vrg

Visibly Random Groups (VRGs):

Original research available here.

Every day I make random groups so that my students work with different partners each day. Students are learning from ALL of their classmates this way, getting a chance to hear different viewpoints, different strategies each day. To make these random groups, some teachers use a smartphone app such as “Shuffle Names, Dice” while others use websites such as “Team Maker”.

When I first started using VRGs in my classes, I used the Team Maker website. You paste in your class list of names & it makes however many groups you ask it to. But I would have to go through the list & delete any students who were absent. This meant the groups could only be created after the bell had rung. I wanted a system that would tell students their group for the day as they arrive so that they can sit right down & get started.

So this year I have been using a deck of cards (low-tech & old school!). Here’s how I do it. I post their bellwork assignment on the screen/board before class starts. The desks in my classroom are arranged in 8 groups of 4 desks, each with the group number hanging from the ceiling above them (which you can see if you look closely in this photo).

IMG_5935For a more recent photo of my room check this post.

I stand outside my classroom door during the travel time. As my students arrive I hand them a playing card (with a number from 1 through 8 on it) indicating which group they are sitting at that day. This method for VRG has the added bonus of giving me the chance to personally greet each student as they arrive to class as well as monitor student behaviour in the halls during transition times.

The conversations I hear between students while problem solving this year are far richer than previous years & I believe it also contributes to a positive culture of collaboration & sharing in my classroom.

Peter Liljedahl’s research shows the following benefits for VRGs:

Vertical NonPermanent Surfaces VNPS.PNG

Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces (VNPSs):

Original research available here.

After we finish the bellwork activity to start class off, I usually present the problem or activity of the day (often done in Dan Meyer’s 3-act math style). Students solve the problem in their small groups (I try to limit each group to 3 students – which works when my class has 24 students or less). They get out of their seats & proceed to a section of blackboard or whiteboard assigned to their group in order to solve the problem together.photo

The vertical nature of the surface:

  • gets students out of their seats which seems to activate their thinking
  • allows students to see the work of other groups which gives them ideas of things to try or perhaps what not to try
  • allows me as the teacher to see the work of each group at a quick glance, which prompts me to offer feedback & question their thinking as they work

The non-permanence of the surface is important too. Students seem willing to get to work faster and are willing to make mistakes because they can be so easily erased. Pencil & paper can be erased too, but there’s something about the whiteboard or chalkboard that makes students more willing to just try something. As Peter Liljedahl’s research shows in the data below, students get to work faster, they work longer, and are more engaged:

I have two walls w/ blackboards in my classroom & the third wall (which already has a DIY whiteboard for a projector screen in the middle) will be getting fully covered with DIY whiteboards in the coming week. My 4th wall is windows, although I know other teachers that get DIY whiteboards cut to size & lean them up against windows to create student work stations there as well. (Update: I now have the 3rd wall covered end to end with whiteboards & a small “station” set up in one of the window wells on the 4th wall as well).

The rules of working on the VNPSs in my class:

  • One person has the chalk at a time.
  • The person with the chalk can only write down what their partners tell them to (if they want to explain the next step, they hand the chalk to a different partner).
  • The teacher can say “switch the chalk” at any point & a new partner needs to become the writer.
  • I also tell them that if one person does the solving & writing without partner input, I’ll erase their work.
  • No sitting down.
  • No working things out on paper before using the board.

Have you tried VRGs and/or VNPSs in your classroom? Leave a comment below!
Check out some other teachers’ experiences with these ideas like Mr. Overwijk’s:
http://slamdunkmath.blogspot.ca/2014/08/vertical-non-permanent-surfaces-and.html

Update: I wrote an article for Edutopia about the first 3 elements of the Thinking Classroom – good tasks, VRGs & VNPSs – that you can read here https://www.edutopia.org/blog/student-centered-math-class-laura-wheeler

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)