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.