I'm a fan of self-checking math activities. These activities give students immediate feedback and help them to find and correct errors. Many students will be able to correct their own computational errors, especially if students are working in pairs or small groups. When students are unable to fix their errors due to more serious misconceptions, the teacher can step in to help develop understanding. This helps the teacher use their time efficiently and focus on students facing challenges.
I've recently seen one math activity used in a number of classrooms in a variety of forms. I'll call this activity a "question chain" although I've seen it referred to using lots of different names. This activity starts with a set of questions and associated answers. Students start by solving one of the questions. The answer to this first question leads the student to the next question. This process is repeated until the student arrives back at the starting question. The answers form a "solution bank." If the student can't find their answer, they know that they've made a mistake and need to find and correct their error. Below are three different ways that I've seen this activity implemented in classrooms.
Questions on Cards
Questions Posted on the Wall
Questions on a Worksheet
Selecting a Method
During a recent professional development session with math teachers, we tried this activity using all three methods. Participants were split into three groups and each group was given a different method. All three versions of the activity included the same ten questions (see the files below).
After completing the activity we had a discussion to compare the three methods. All of them took about the same amount of preparation and could be quickly created using questions from a textbook or other problem bank. How would students record their work in each method (on paper, mini-whiteboard, etc.)? How would the teacher assess students work in each method? Would each method work better individually, in pairs or in small groups? How might this activity be used in a combined grade classroom? Which method might be most culturally relevant for your students and how does your knowledge of your students inform your selection of a method? Which method is the most engaging for your students? We had a very productive and rich discussion.
Have you used this type of activity in your classroom? Another variation of this method is the "I have/ who has?" oral classroom activity. Have you used a different variation of any of these methods in your class? Do you have a favourite method? Why is it your favourite?
A few colleagues and I recently initiated a bit of self directed professional development. We decided to watch a selection of math ignite talks as a focus for discussion regarding mathematics instruction and educational practices. In preparation for this, I reached out the the #MTBoS on Twitter to ask for suggestions. I was pleased to get some valuable feedback.
We took the feedback we got from our Personalized Learning Network (PLN) as well as sharing our favourites with each other to create a playlist of math ignite talks. A big thanks goes out to The Math Forum at NCTM for having such a well organized and easy to access YouTube channel containing math ignite talks from numerous conferences. What are your favourites?
Has watching these videos inspired you to create your own mathematics ignite talk? If it has, and your looking for advice, look no father than Robert Kaplinsky's web page. He has a post titled, "How I Prepare for an Ignite Talk" that will provide you will lots of tips and ideas.
Update: I've added a part 2 playlist of six additional math ignite talks here.