Math = Love: Group Board Work Strategy

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Group Board Work Strategy

Some days I have random ideas that work out well.  Other days, my random ideas flop.  Big time.  The other day while doing last minute test prep review, I tried one of those random ideas.

Here was the scenario:

For the first forty or so minutes of class, we had been reviewing various calculator strategies.  We had been practicing entering tables, turning stat plot on and off, and sketching inverses on the TI-84.  I'm annoyed that I have to teach these things because it's tedious and using Desmos would just be so much easier.  But, my kids don't get Desmos on their test.  They get a TI-84.

After finishing the calculator review, I asked my students what else they wanted to review before their standardized test.  This was their last chance to ask questions.  They voted on doing a dividing polynomial problem that resulted in a remainder.  I taught this using the box method this year, and it has been AWESOME.

This post isn't about the box method.  Though, I do need to still blog about it.  If I don't, please hold me to it.  It's pretty much life changing.  

This post is about how I handled a dilemma I had.  There was less than 10 minutes of class left.  It didn't seem like enough time to justify dragging out the dry erase boards, markers, and erasers.  My kids can easily waste a few minutes trying to pick the perfect dry erase marker out of the bucket.  I knew that I could ask students to get out a piece of paper.  But, I think you know how kids are during the last 10 minutes of class on Friday on the last day before the test.  If I did this, a few kids would, but more would probably just sit there and "pretend" to follow along without writing anything down.

In a moment of brilliance/insanity/not sure what, I told my students that we would just do the problem together.  No white boards.  No notebook paper.  Normally this is the recipe for complete chaos and student disengagement.  One person does the problem.  The rest of the class watches.  Or not.

But, I had a plan.  My students had to do the problem together.  With no help from me.  On the SMARTboard.  The twist?  No student could write more than 3 terms on the board.  And, no student could have more than one turn at the board.  

Here's what the finished problem looked like:

The class ACTUALLY worked together.  The top students weren't working ahead.  The lower students weren't off the hook.  Because no student could fill in more than 3 terms, they had to communicate with one another.  They had to pay attention to what the person ahead of them was doing.

Different students wanted to take slightly different approaches with writing out the process (highlighting versus circling like terms).  So, they had to justify these to the class.  Students who were confused about where we were in the process or where we were going were asking each other for help.

It was beautiful.  Students working together.  Students engaged.  Students asking questions.  Students answering each other's questions.  Students doing math.  Students talking about math.

I definitely wouldn't use this strategy every day.  But, for those odd few minutes when you want students to work together without dragging out loads of supplies, this worked perfectly.


  1. OK, I am going to hold you to explaining this. I home school and also occasionally tutor in Algebra. My son and I have stared at the problem you illustrated, and we could figure it out, eventually, if we tried hard enough. I would much rather have you explain it to us.

    Thanks for an inspiring blog. Sometimes after reading your posts, I flirt with the daydream of going back to school after my kids are grown and becoming an Algebra teacher like you.

    1. It's on my list of things to blog about. Promise. :)

      And, thanks for your kind words! If teaching math is a passion of yours, you should totally go for it!

  2. Now this is what they call cooperative learning! Truly inspiring! :)