If you’re like me, you absolutely abhor “review” time. I’m not saying review of key material isn’t important, but trying to differentiate instructions to meet the needs of individual learners in large classes, while also differentiating across a fairly wide range of proficiencies can be a challenge. Sure, doing it for a single class isn’t too bad, but accomplishing it over several days and several units of material is not only difficult, it’s also downright dull.
Of course, we try to mix things up to keep our review sessions as fresh as possible… we’ll work individually some days, in groups in others, attempt various types of problems, use computers, use clickers, use whiteboards, all with varying degrees of success. Yesterday I thought I’d try something a bit different though… nothing drastic by any stretch, just several small tweaks that put together made for the highest level of engagement I’d seen for a review activity.
To begin with, I rearranged the room and all the student desks and lab tables to make a total of six massive tables, with chairs and stools around each. One of the table was designated “belongings,” and students were asked to place all of their bags, books, etc. on the belongings table at the beginning of class, keeping only a pencil or pen with them.
At each of the remaining tables I placed a formula sheet, a few calculators, and a problem set of about 15 problems. Each of the five tables had a problem set from a different unit (Kinematics, Dynamics, UCM & Gravity, Impulse and Momentum, and Work/Energy/Power). I also placed an answer key at each table.
Once everyone had huddled up, I provided each student with a blank sheet of paper and asked them to rank the topics we’d covered so far this year from strongest to weakest (we’ve been working on building meta-cognition skills sporadically throughout the year). Once that was completed, detailed instructions were given. Students were to travel to each “station” and complete five problems on the blank sheets of paper, showing all work as demonstrated in class, and checking their answers using the solution sheets as they went. Once five problems were successfully completed, they could come to the front of the room, grab an M&M reward, and move on to the next topic.
Students in need of help had two options… they could ask their cohorts at the same station, or come to the “help desk” (aka teacher), who would provide help, but only by asking more questions. Out of 100 students, only two came to the help desk all day. Instead, they taught each other.
Our goal was to complete all five stations in our 42-minute period. Many students succeeded in the goal, and a small contingent made it through several extra stations. More importantly, I had students working diligently on problems for a solid 90% of our class time. I saw students teaching each other patiently, explaining concepts and notation in detail, and checking for understanding as they went. And as they left the class, a number of students mentioned how helpful an exercise this had been as they prepared for their mid-term.
I don’t know what was so magical about the lesson. We’ve done practice problems with answers before, individually and in groups. We’ve rotated through stations before. We’ve re-arranged the room. Maybe it was the M&M’s – I’m not usually a fan of external motivations, especially something so simple and benign as a single M&M for each five-problem set done correctly. Whatever the reason, it appears the combination of changes did the trick, and not only did the students get extra practice in their areas of greatest need, I also gained valuable feedback by watching which stations had the greatest “pile-ups” during the lesson, allowing me to focus our next class on the areas of greatest need.
So simple, yet so effective… I’ll have to ask the kids why they thought the lesson worked so well!