I’ll skip the whole “sorry I never blog” line and get right to it.

In an effort to prepare for our workshop on Discussion at Twitter Math Camp 2016, Chris and I have decided to try out different discussion techniques and blog about them. He’s already done one, so now it’s my turn.

A month or so ago my co-planner and I had put together a practice day for some Exponential modeling questions. These were the really basic y = a*b^x that ask how many bacteria are in a dish if they double every 4 hours or some such nonsense. This is for my IB Math SL Year 1 classes so this was almost entirely review (or at least the students see it as review so they’ll only be half paying attention because obviously if they saw it for two days in Algebra 2 then they’re masters of the material…).

I wanted them to work in groups and present problems, but there’s only so much variation in how to solve a simple exponential. So I went to twitter, and Anna pointed me towards Kelly‘s “Whiteboard Mistake Game.” It was awesome.

What went well

- Even though students could do this problem, they had to analyze where they thought was the trickiest part of the problem, and then choose how to make a mistake in that part that wasn’t blindingly obvious.
- They were discussing with each other how they each solved the problem. They were arguing with each other about what was too obvious a mistake or what was too tricky. Even before the presentation the conversations were so much better than “How did you do part a?”
- They had to think about what questions to ask during a presentation that wouldn’t give away the answer but would lead the group presenting to a conclusion.
- They were doing error analysis and I didn’t have to fabricate student work ahead of time.
- They were all looking at the group presenting and not at me.

Improve for next time

- Despite my constant refrain of “It’s fine to make mistakes” my kids are still terrified of being wrong. They understood that the whole point was to have mistakes, but they still wanted to make sure that the only mistake they had was the one they chose to have. I had one group that completely missed the mark and they got discouraged even though I thought it was a great thing that was happening.
- I wish I had started the year with an activity like this. We started this year with Talking Points but then never went back to them, making it feel forced. This would have been a great set-up for class presentations, for question-making, for forcing independence and analysis.
- Because it was the first time doing it I think I answered too many questions from the kids. I tried to remain vague but it didn’t always work.
- I need more variety in problems, because I started to see the same mistakes over and over again, making the error-spotting easy for other groups.

Other thoughts

At our school kids spend a lot of time having discussions in all of their classes. Seminar is a huge piece of their work in History and English so our kids have been arguing and discussing since freshman year. While I don’t think this activity necessarily requires scaffolding, I think it might need more norming in some classes. But it’s totally worth it.

Since doing this activity, I also saw a post by Jennifer about playing “Two Truths and a Lie” about Quadratics. I think it’s pretty awesome and am looking to try it this week with my IB Math Studies kids.