Math Breakout Rooms

I was introduced to Zoom breakout rooms last March when my district went remote. Breakout rooms were novel and many teachers started to use them during the last couple months of school. It was one way to get students into smaller groups where they felt more comfortable sharing. They were awkward at first for students and staff but most were able to get their breakout room sea legs by May.

Fast forward to the 20-21 school year. Like many around the nation, my school started the year off completely remote. Having a head start in March helped most teachers get into a routine quickly. Most teachers started to use breakout rooms immediately and were able to see the benefits. The social interaction that usually occurs in-person can’t be exactly replicated, but a form of it can in a breakout room. I’ve been part of some amazing student math discussions in breakout rooms this year. I’ve also been in other rooms that were full radio silence. Some this year have had detailed agendas that students follow while others are more student-directed.

Most of my elementary math breakout rooms consist of 2-5 students. Since we are using a hybrid model I try to match students in-person with those at home. I found early on that partnering up kids in the classroom over Zoom causes major audio issues. Less students participate in the breakout room when there are more than five participants. Generally, students in the breakout room have a specific task or activity. Sometimes the assignment comes from their consumable journal and other times it might be a prompt. Students are usually in the their breakout rooms for 5-15 minutes. We have a 45 minutes block for math. While students are working I pop in and out of the rooms with my camera and sound off. I observe the conversation and ask questions if needed. Most of the time, I visit a room and listen to what’s happening, add something in the chat for that room and then move to the next room. After the breakout rooms close the class has a debrief sessions and I try to have each team discuss their solutions. This strategy has worked out well this year, but I’ve had inconsistent success.

I still have questions.

  • What makes a good breakout room?
  • What’s the ideal room size and time?
  • Does camera on/off matter?
  • How do you manage breakout rooms while teaching in-person and elearners at the same time?
  • Should students share their iPad screen?
  • Do you find annotation through Zoom helpful?

I don’t believe there’s a perfect formula for a breakout room, but there are better practices. Feel free to let me know what has worked in your classroom.

Uncharted Waters

I’m expected to report back to school this Friday. I received an email last week indicating a packed full week of professional developing that’s divided into synchronous and asynchronous sessions. One part of me is glad that teachers have six (we usually have less) days to prepare, but there’s another part of me that knows that this year will be unlike any other. As I review the detailed agendas I’m starting to mentally put together how a schedule will look once my school starts to meet face-to-face. As of right now (and this could change), my school will start on 8/24 with elearning for everyone and then transition to a hybrid AM/PM model at some point in September. The hybrid model emphasizes the need for face-to-face instruction for language arts and math instruction. I was given a sample elementary plan and it’s in draft form. The sample plan indicates that there’s approximately 50 minutes designated for math daily and my classes will most likely be split ideally with around half the students in the morning and half in the pm. I feel like the stars will have to be aligned to get exactly half of the kids as I believe the plan for AM/PM depends on bus routes.

I’m trying to make the best of this unusual situation. My classes will be much smaller and it looks as though I’ll be teaching the same lesson to my AM and PM classes. I’ll also be responsible for teaching students that have opted for elearning. I’ll have less time with each class than I usually do. During a usual school year I teach my math students for 60 minutes daily. That time will be reduced so I’m wondering how that’ll impact the structure of my classroom.

Generally, I start all of my math classes with some type of math routine. That usually eats up a good 5-10 minutes of class time. It’s a high-quality math appetizer in my opinion so I’ll probably keep this structure or transform it into a digital activity. After the routine students are introduced to some type of math task where they work in groups or partners. The class then reviews the results and I work through a few guided problems with the document camera. By that time the class is just about finished and we have a closure activity that involves some form of an exit card.

I’m assuming significant changes as my school moves into a September hybrid model. I’ll most likely be using Nearpod for synchronous lessons so the elearning and face-to-face students can all be on the same page. I’ve been an avid Nearpod user for the past few years so I’m familiar and have already tinkered with a few of my lessons for the first couple days. I’ll also be incorporating more Desmos tasks this year. During elearning I was able to leverage Desmos as one of my main tools to help offer students ways to show their thinking and to review past concepts. This year I’d like to introduce concepts through this platform. I’m excited with the steps that Desmos has taken over the summer to help teachers prepare better math lessons with feedback and check-in options. I’m also planning on using Google Quizzes (also known as a Google Form) more this year. Near the end of elearning I was having weekly digital quizzes as a replacement for paper pencil assessments. The auto grade feature was a win and I was able to provide specific feedback to students.

There are also some platforms that I still need to learn more about. Most of my students will be using Canvas this year. This is a shift since my entire school used SeeSaw last year and I had mixed results with that platform. There’s scheduled PD for Canvas next week and I’m hoping to come away with better ideas of how to use it to organize my classes and give students a better picture of what’s expected. I also want to dive into Edpuzzle. The #Mtbos community has had nothing but great things to say about the platform. From what I’ve heard so far you’re able to take a video and place questions in specific parts to help with comprehension. You could even embed sample questions related to the topic being discussed in class. I’m assuming these will be completed asynchronously. I need to also explore Loom a bit more. Similar to last year’s emergency elearning, I’d like to create instructional videos. My students found the videos useful when I introduced a new skill. Loom allows a small circular picture in the corner where students can see my wonderful face as I create the video. I think this is beneficial and adds a bit more of human element into the video.

I have a big picture view of what’s going to happen at the beginning of the school year. I’m sure the details will be fleshed out in the next few days, but I still have questions. My questions are more related to how to safely come back into school to meet students face-to-face and how to engage students simultaneously online and in the classroom. This has caused some anxiety over the last couple weeks. This will be answered in time and may even be decided for us as the county health department directs. I’m looking forward to teaching students math, whether that means seeing them in a Zoom session or face-to-face. This Fall won’t be like emergency elearning in the Spring, but it’s still uncharted waters. Let’s set sail.