Can an activity be a success and failure at the same time?

The short answer – YES!   Now for the longer answer….

Anyone that’s taught Algebra 2 knows that the rational functions unit can be a challenge for students – “WHAT Fractions with letters in them!  You’ve got to be kidding me, Ms. Burke!  Do you really hate us this much?”   So we’re in the middle of that unit…. and kids are, of course, avoiding the “home math enjoyment” I’ve been sharing with them.  They were in desperate need of some practice that didn’t involve me showing them or explaining.  THEY needed to practice and explain.  So enter @k8nowak and her speed dating activity.

Now full disclosure here – even though I had the great privilege of working with Kate last year at CHS, I never tried this activity.  For those that might not have heard about the activity it goes something like this…..  Each student is given a problem on a small card to work.  They work their problem and check their answer on the back.  If they need help, they ask the teacher for help.  Once they are done, the students are split in half and seated across from each other.  The students exchange problems and work each others problems.  If they run into a problem, they consult the “expert” sitting across from them for help.  Once they have each completed the problems they exchange back, stand and all shift one student over – change partners.  Exchange problems and it keeps rolling.  Here’s Kate’s much more detailed explanation.

I just didn’t go there….It seemed like a lot of work – setting up the room etc.  This year, it dawned on me that I could use the counters in my hallway as our desks (saving the rearranging of my room ) so I decided to give it a whirl and I was desperate for something other than a worksheet.  I was smart enough to try it first with my easiest class.  You know what I mean – the class that just goes with whatever and won’t fly off the handle.  Thank heavens!

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Lessons learned – 

  • Don’t turn 20 teenagers loose in the hall count on them dividing themselves up evenly.
  • Don’t wait until you go into the hallway to have them work their first problem.
  • Remember to encourage the students to become “experts” on their problems – think about what their classmates may ask.
  • Be persistent about NOT helping once they start working in partners.
  • Don’t believe that your students have any idea how speed dating works (thank goodness!)  You will need to help them shift the correct direction the first time.
  • Gauge the difficulty of your questions carefully.  You probably want to try to find problems that are of somewhat equal difficulty so students will finish about the same time.  I just grabbed the problems I set aside from last year and some were definitely harder than others.
  • Don’t necessarily think you’re going to get through a lot of practice.  Especially the first time or if your problems require more steps.
  • Create an answer sheet for them to record their work – hold them accountable (I actually did do this!)

So… you can tell what didn’t go well. (Gosh… that list looks long!)  Some of those were …DUH…of course that went badly.  What was I thinking?   What did go well?  Well, we had some productive struggle!  The students worked hard to get those answers on the back of the card.  They weren’t complete experts at their problems so they had to work hard to get through.  I was pretty persistent though – I made them help each other and only gave limited suggestions.

The verdict – it was successful!  An even more successful with the other two classes where I fixed a few of these things!  The kids felt accomplished and got that practice I wanted them to get.  And even more successful, because as I have told my kids, we all learned something, even me!  We all grew some synapses in our brains because we all made mistakes!

Thanks Kate for sharing – we’ll speed date again soon!!



    • Meg C on March 5, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    Holy cow, it’s like you were in my classroom the very first time I did this (and it was with rational functions, too!). Some things that have helped me make it run smoother…(a) do it in groups instead. ( (b) if you have different levels of problems, put 2 easy ones on one card to even it with one hard one (c) also, depending on the type of problem, sometimes you know the kids won’t be making it all the way through the whole rotation (if you’re doing it in pairs). So I did 2 sets of the same problems and split the kids up into two different “trains.” Less problems to make = happier teacher (d) I’ll sometimes ask for volunteers for the “level three” challenge problems rather than just randomly passing them out and hoping that one kid doesn’t get the one where you have to factor out a negative to make the factors match.

    I like your accountability sheet! (Normally we do it on whiteboards, but it would be nice for them to have a record at the end!) And I’m glad you grew some synapses. 🙂

      • lbburke on April 7, 2016 at 12:14 am

      Hi Meg!
      Thanks for the ideas! I actually did split my class into two groups but my kids definitely struggled more with the problems than I thought they would. I took out a couple of the harder ones and spent a bit more time explaining to the other two classes and it went much better. I had them work on their problem in class (we used the counters in the hallway for our “desks”) before we went out. It ran much more smoothly. All of the classes reported feeling that they learned a lot from the activity. A definite win! I really liked the activity – especially for problems that require more work. We didn’t get through a lot but I can see it going much more quickly with problems that don’t require as many steps.
      Live and learn!!

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