## Posts filed under ‘community’

### Creating a Community of Learners – TCCTA (1/2011)

-George

*I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. If there’s a particular topic you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website – http://georgewoodbury.com.*

### Group Resume (Community of Learners)

At AMATYC in Boston I had the chance to preside over a workshop given by Mark Colgan from Taylor University in Indiana. The title of the workshop was “Ten Cooperative Learning Techniques for Building Classroom Communities”. Over the next few Thursdays I will be sharing some of these techniques, with my own spin on them.

As I have said so many times, Day One is the most important day of the semester. You either create the learning environment that you desire or you fail. The class “is what it is” after the first day, and it is quite difficult to change it after that. I am trying to create a community of learners from day one, and everything I do on that first day is designed to get students to connect to a group of classmates and to connect with me as well.

Mark Colgan uses a “Group Resume” activity on the first day of class. Each student in the group fills out their name on the sheet. Then students fill in special characteristics about themselves that are unique from the rest of the group. Finally, the group lists 3 things that they all have in common.

Once the resumes are filled out, the instructor asks each group to list the item from the special characteristics that they feel is most interesting or unique. He also has each group share the 3 things they all have in common. Once he has recorded all of these ideas on the board he has the class vote for the list that they feel is most creative. (I believe there may be some sort of candy prize for the winning group.)

The thing I really liked about this activity, and I did get to see it modeled in the workshop, is that it encourages discussion between students on the first day of class. If you can get students to talk to each other, you can get them to work together, and learn, and succeed.

I usually have students fill out a personal information survey on the first day of class and then put students together in a group. The way I get them to talk is by having them choose a group name. Next semester I plan to include a group activity that is similar to the Group Resume activity. I think their are lots of other options besides those that Mark used, for example I might include some questions on what it takes to be a successful math student.

Let me know what you think of this idea, and let me know if you have tried something similar to this in your classes, by leaving a comment or reaching me through the contact page at my web site – georgewoodbury.com.

-George

*I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. Each Thursday I will be blogging about the importance of community in the classroom. If there’s a particular topic you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website – http://georgewoodbury.com.*

### Helping a Struggling Student – Community of Learners

In this blog I will share a strategy that I have employed several times in the past. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I form groups of 4 students at the beginning of the semester in nearly all of my classes. Occasionally, when the upcoming test is historically difficult for students, I offer an incentive that will encourage a collaborative effort in preparation for that exam. This incentive is based on the improvement made by the student in the group who had the lowest score on the previous test.

*For each point that the student improves by, I will increase the scores on the current exam for the entire group by the same number of points.*

For example, suppose “student x” got a 65% on Test 4. If that student’s score increases to 80% on Test 5, I will increase the score for each member of the group by an additional 15 points.

This refocuses my groups on making sure that each student in their group understands what is going on. It helps the student who had the lowest score, because they are getting support and advice from their group members. It helps the rest of the group because the process of explaining topics to a classmate increases retention of knowledge for the student doing the explaining. It also helps the entire group because all of the students feel more pressure to keep up with the material so they can be helpful. Finally, the opportunity for receiving a bump up in their test score is tremendous motivation as well.

**A Twist on This Idea**

If you are worried that some of your students will give lesser effort, you can change the conditions and require that each student must score at least as high on this exam to be eligible for the extra points.

You might also want to set a maximum increase. (By the way, I never announce this before the previous test out of fear that a student will “take a dive” on purpose to maximize the points they can earn on the next test.

Let me know what you think of this idea, and let me know if you have tried something similar to this in your classes, by leaving a comment or reaching me through the contact page at my web site – georgewoodbury.com.

-George

*I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. Each Thursday I will be blogging about the importance of community in the classroom. If there’s a particular topic you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website – http://georgewoodbury.com.*

### Group Warm Up – Community of Learners

A few weeks back I blogged about a new testing strategy I used in my elementary algebra class. Students completed 4 word problems with their group before taking the individual portion of the test. The group portion was worth 20% of the overall score and the individual portion was worth 80% of the overall score.

My students told me that the chance to warm up together, and ask each other questions, was more important than the grade they got from the group portion. (Again, only 3 students improved their letter grade on the test because of the group portion.) So I decided for the most recent test (on exponents and polynomials) to give the students a warm up period of 20 minutes with 8 problems to work on and discuss. I put the answers on the board after 10 minutes so the students could determine if they were doing them correctly.

This went really well. OK, that’s an understatement. I had 36 students that took the test and there were 21(!) A’s, 8 B’s, 3 C’s, 3 D’s, and 1 F. The class average was 87.3%, and the median was 91.5%. One type of problem that traditionally gives students a hard time is polynomial long division, and this class seemed to breeze through this topic with few difficulties.

We talked about this warm up during the next class session, and the students told me that it was helpful in many ways. For students who usually have test anxiety, it helped them to relax before the test because they are so comfortable with their group members. Some reported that they had questions about some of the problems, and the help they received was very helpful.

The class I am teaching meets twice a week for two hours a day, so I do have plenty of time on test day for this approach. I am thinking about replacing the review session in my daily classes with this sort of warm up activity next semester because it has been so successful in this class.

**Summary**

Have you tried having a warm up group period before giving a test? If so, please share your experience by leaving a comment or reaching me through the contact page at my web site – georgewoodbury.com.

-George

*I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. Each Thursday I will be blogging about the importance of community in the classroom. If there’s a particular topic you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website – http://georgewoodbury.com.*

### Mathematician in History Assignment

This semester the theme of my Thursday blog posts has been “Creating a Community of Learners”. One key to building a sense of community is having assignments and projects that encourage groups of students to work together. One of my favorite projects is the Mathematician in History project.

I have my students create a poster about the life of a famous mathematician. I provide my students a list of questions that must be answered, and all of the answers are easily accessible through Internet searches. I tell my students that they must also include a picture of the mathematician, and their poster must be visually appealing.

Do you want to see a sample assignment? Reach me through the contact page on my website – georgewoodbury.com.

One benefit of this assignment is that it gives me some art to put on the wall at the back of the classroom.

Another benefit is that my students learn through the life stories of these mathematicians that mathematicians are real people. So many students perceive that mathematicians are part wizard, part computer. When they read about the self-taught Indian genius Ramanujan, the movie-like life and times of Galois, the struggles for acceptance faced by Hypatia, or the know-it-all third grader Gauss, they can relate to these stories on a human level. It makes mathematicians, and hopefully mathematics, seem more accessible to them.

Students love to be creative, and this assignment gives them their chance. One group of students chose to make their poster into a t-shirt. Another student, Murleen Ray, was disappointed that there was only one photo of Ramanujan and decided to paint one herself. She did such a great job that my publisher commissioned her to do a series of paintings for my textbook. Here are a few of them.

(c) Murleen Ray

Another option, by the way, would be to have your students make their “poster” on Glogster. It’s a great way to share your students’ work with the rest of the class. Here’s one I put together on Ada Lovelace.

**Summary**

Do you have any questions or comments about these assignments? Do you have projects that accomplish similar goals? If so, please share your experience by leaving a comment or reaching me through the contact page at my web site – georgewoodbury.com.

-George

### Community of Learners – Group Test Results

Last Wednesday I gave an exam to my elementary algebra class on systems of linear equations in two variables. The exam had two parts: a group portion worth 20 points and an individual portion worth 80 points.

Groups had up to 20 minutes to complete the group portion which consisted of 4 word problems. Most groups finished in approximately 10 minutes, and spent the remainder of the time reviewing the key points of those problems, discussing things to watch out for, etc.

The individual portion had 12 questions. There were two quick graphing problems worth 5 points each – draw the graph of a system that is inconsistent, draw the graph of a system whose single solution is (7,2). There were 10 additional problems worth 7 points each. There were 6 systems to solve, some set up for the substitution method, others for the addition (elimination) method. One of the systems was inconsistent and another was dependent. One system had coefficients that were fractions. There were also 4 word problems – perimeter of a rectangle, interest with 2 accounts, coin/mixture, and one “find these two numbers” problem.

The results were very good. Of the 40 students there were 23 A’s, 5 B’s, 6 C’s, 3 D’s, and 3 F’s. That’s 57.5% A’s and 85% passing, and those are strong results. I looked at the results of the individual portion compared to the combined totals and noted that only 3 students received a higher letter grade due to the addition of the group portion – 2 students moved from a high C to a low B and 1 student moved from a high F to a low D.

I interviewed students about the group exam this Monday and they reported that the period they spent working with their group had an impact on their performance more than the points they got directly from the group portion of the test. One student reported that it was nice to be able to ask questions of other students in the group. Another student mentioned that they were still struggling with interest problems and had a chance to get direct assistance from their group members. Another mentioned that their group had a chance to discuss strategy for deciding between the substitution method and the addition (elimination) method, and go over the overall strategy for each method.

I know some are skeptical of group tests, or even group portions of a test, but in my experience it has a positive effect on students without compromising the integrity of the assessment.

On the next exam, rather than having an official group portion I will try having a “group warm-up”. It will follow the same format, but will not count directly to their grade. I’ll let you know how it goes.

**Summary**

Do you have any experience with group exams, or any questions for me about this semester’s community based approach? If so, please leave a comment or reach me through the contact page at my web site – georgewoodbury.com.

-George

### Testing – Creating A Community of Learners

This week I tried a different testing technique in my elementary algebra class. I had spent only two class days covering systems of two linear equations – one day on using the substitution and addition (or elimination) methods and a second day on word problems involving systems of equations. I knew this was a little on the quick side, but this is often the case when a class meets only twice a week for 2 hours a day.

I began the class with a group portion of the exam. There were 4 word problems for each group, and I gave them 20 minutes to complete the problems. By design this was more than enough time, most groups were able to finish in 10 minutes or less. The groups were to take the remainder of the time to make sure that each person in the group completely understood these problems.

Then the class then had 1 hour to take their individual exams. The exam also had 4 word problems on it. It will be interesting to see how the individual performance will be on those problems compared to the group problems. I had a chance to talk to a few students after the exam and they told me that the group portion really helped them. They felt that it was a great warm-up, and it allowed them to get their questions answered. I’ll let you know how it goes.

**Summary**

Do you have any experience with group exams? If so, please share your experience by leaving a comment or reaching me through the contact page at my web site – georgewoodbury.com.

-George