Math = Love: Traffic Light Cups Strategy

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Traffic Light Cups Strategy

I'm currently on workshop overload.  4 days of workshops last week.  5 days this week.  I keep learning more and more stuff, but I can't seem to find the time to reflect here on all that I'm learning.  I'll have to make that my goal for next week.

So, this week, I'm at OGAP - the Oklahoma Geometry and Algebra Project which is being hosted at Northeastern State University - Broken Arrow.  Yesterday at lunch, I was telling some of the other workshop participants about an idea from druinok who blogs at Teaching Statistics.  When students are working in groups, she gives them 3 cups to keep in a stack on their desk.  One red cup.  One yellow cup.  One green cup.  You know, just like a traffic light.

I picked up my cups at Party City for $2.99/package.  I could have probably looked around and found them on sale, but I wanted to make sure I bought them before I forgot.  This has only been on my list of things to buy and try out for MONTHS!

If students are working and everything is going well, the green cup should be on top.  If students have a question but can continue working, the yellow cup should be on top.  If students have reached a point where they cannot move on without help, the red cup should be on top.

Is it ironic that I'm using a traffic light strategy with my students who live in a town that doesn't even have a traffic light?

I'm excited about trying out this strategy in my classroom for multiple reasons.  When students are working in groups, I sometimes have difficulty figuring out where I am needed most.  If one group has a red cup up, I need to be there.  If all of the groups have their red cups up, that means we need to pause the group work and come back together as a class.  I obviously need to clarify the problem or reteach a certain concept.  Plus, it forces my students to think about their own levels of understanding.  They have to ask themselves, "Okay.  We're having trouble.  Can we still keep working?  Or are we completely against a brick wall?"

You can read about druinok's experience with trying this out in her own classroom here.

I'm going to combine this strategy with some of the strategies and group work norms that I've learned about from reading Strength in Numbers: Collaborative Learning in Secondary Mathematics by Ilana Horn.  The author emphasizes that groups need to make sure they have discussed their questions in their groups before asking them of the teacher.  It needs to be a group question - not an individual question.  So, when a group puts up a red cup, I need to make sure that the group agrees on the question before I even consider answering it.  One way I can do this is by choosing which student in the group to ask for the question.  I shouldn't just ask the student who has their hand up.

Though, I guess if groups have the cups, they won't have their hands up.  This should help keep groups from distracting one another, right?  Actually, I'm thinking of doing away with hand-raising all together in my classroom.  I want to move to a popsicle stick strategy for calling on students.  I have a tendency to just call on the same few students.  These are the students who are engaged and want to participate.  But, I need to be holding all of my students accountable for the information.

Lots and lots of changes in store for next year!  I'm hoping that year three of teaching will be the best yet!

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon Affiliate Links.


  1. Hi Sarah! I've been perusing (okay... reading every single post of) your blog for the past week or two and I just wanted to stop in and say THANK YOU for all of these amazing resources and ideas you share! I am a fairly new teacher - I taught for two years, took the past two years off while my boyfriend and I moved around from state to state, and now am going back to teach Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 next year. I am so excited, but slightly overwhelmed! I am using this summer to prepare as much as possible, and your blog has been so helpful, especially those last couple posts regarding common core standards.

    Thank you again - I look forward to all of your posts!

    1. Glad you're enjoying my blog! I realize that at 300+ posts that can be a slightly overwhelming task! If you need any help at any time, please let me know! I'll be glad to be of assistance.

  2. Great idea! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hi Sarah,
    I am preparing for my first year of teaching Algebra I and Geometry. I am thinking of going the route of 0/100 for grading the IAN. Just wondering what percentage of the total grade you suggest assigning the IAN (You said earlier, I think, that it was hard to pass your class without keeping up with the IAN). Something like 20%?? I was thinking of keeping a log of weekly notebook grades and walking by on Fridays and giving 0/100 for the week, hoping to avoid a pile up of problems at the end of the grading period and to give the student a push to keep up. I would appreciate your insight. Thanks.

    1. My first year, I made the notebook 25% of their grade. This year, I just did a total points grading scheme. Notebooks were worth the same as a test grade (100 points). I try to grade notebooks at the end of each unit, but I kinda like your weekly grading idea. It would encourage students to keep their notebooks up to date ALL the time instead of putting it off until the very end of the chapter!

  4. Thank you as always for your posts. Would love to read an update on how the popsicle sticks are going. We have been working on different participation structures in our class and are thinking of something like popsicle sticks. At the same time we don't want students to feel anxious/unsafe about being put on the spot. Any ideas on how you've gotten beyond that in your own classroom?

    1. I use the popsicle sticks more with certain class periods than others. I find them more useful with my bigger classes than with my small classes.