It’s been a long time. I’ve been really busy with my schedule and I haven’t been able to write as much because of fatigue or (I’ll admit it) feeling like I got nothing worthwhile to post. This blog is more about my reflection than anything, but I feel like I haven’t done anything special that was worthy of a lengthy exposé. Then again, I think I’ve been noticing more of the small things that make or break lessons as this year has progressed. In that spirit, I’m going to begin posting about the little things in my classroom that have been saving my sanity and (hopefully) making my students think more and take more ownership of learning.

Today’s quick post: Crowdsourcing Notes.

I’ve used this strategy in the past, but I’ve barely mentioned on this blog. It’s not the most creative practice in the world and it’s definitely not meant to be used with every concept. When I use this activity, I like how it promotes clear communication from students and gets everyone involved in creating notes. Beyond the benefit to students, I like how I can focus on asking questions as students work through problems as a class.

For my set up, I use SMART Notebook and an IPEVO interactive whiteboard pen system. One could use a document camera and paper, but the technology makes it easy to print copies of notes for the class (which is the product of the activity).

Basically, I think up some examples of a topic that progress from what students currently know to what’s going to be new or require some reasoning. For example, my 8th grade math classes were working on solving multistep equations last week. After a few days reviewing two step equations, I wanted to work ease students into multistep equations with variables on one side. Students settled into class and I projected the following sequence of equations on the board:

Only the first equation was visible, since I did not want students to blow through the problems without describing their thinking (or avoid contributing to the class).

I asked, “What can I do to simplify the left hand side of the equation?” for the first problem. A student mentioned combining like terms, so I gave her the interactive whiteboard pen and had her write down what she was thinking. Other students in the room gave nods of approval or looks of confusion, so I asked the student to explain why she combined 8x with 3x and 6 with -2. After her explanation and general agreement from the class, I had her hand off the pen to another student to complete one additional step in solving the equation.

The activity continued in this fashion for about 25 minutes. I questioned the class throughout and students even jumped into the questioning when they noticed errors. When mistakes happened, we discussed the errors and identified how we could prevent them in the future. For instance, we changed -x to + (-1x) in the third equation when multiple students added an x. Overall, it was a good flow of students posting work and me questioning student reasoning.

By the end of the activity, we made the following notes:

It’s definitely not not the most spectacular series of notes, but it’s awesome to point out to students how much of the math and the thinking they did as they crowdsourced the work for the problems. Beyond this success, my 8th graders were pretty stoked about not having to write anything down and gluing a copy of the notes into spirals the following day. Most importantly, I liked how the activity stresses verbal communication for everyone in the class. I need to be specific in how I word questions so that students are able to make progress when they get stuck, but students also have to be specific when I question their reasoning or ask them to describe what they are doing for the rest of the class.

It’s not the greatest thing in the world, but crowdsourcing notes is one the small things that make some of my lessons better than average this year.