Math and Gallery Walks

My fourth grade students are exploring exponents this week.  Students are learning how to write numbers in exponential form and covert the numbers to standard form.  For the most part, students have had a productive week learning how to write very large and small numbers.  Later in the week, I decided to have students complete a team task enrichment project. Students were asked to compute large numbers.  Here’s the Freight Train Wrap-Up prompt:

Brianna loves freight trains.  She learned that in 2011, there were about 1,283,000 freight cars in the United States.  Brianna wondered whether all those train cars, lined up end to end, would wrap all the way around the Earth.  Help Brianna answer her questions.  Could a freight train with 1,283,000 cards wrap all the way around the Earth?

I reviewed the criteria for success with the students and then placed them in teams.  Students were asked to use an anchor chart to show their mathematical thinking.  They could use markers, and other materials to showcase their solutions.  Students were given around 20 minutes to work in their teams to find an answer.  Some students drew pictures, while others decided on writing out equations.  I heard a number of groups argue about the solution and what to compute.  After about 15 minutes, most groups were close to finishing.

After the time was up, I brought the students to the front of the room.  I briefly communicated all the different solutions that were evident.  Students were asked to participate in a gallery walk.  Gallery walks are used as a standard default activity for district meetings so I decided to try it out with my own class.

Students were then given three different Post-it notes.  Each note was intended to ask students to indicate whether the chart that they were viewing answered these questions: 1) Did the team show their work? 2) Was there a solution? 3) Was there a visual representation?  The note also indicated a question or an agreement.

Students efficiently traveled from group to group.  They gave feedback and mostly agreed with what the other groups came up with.  Students weren’t allowed to give feedback on their own anchor charts.

I then brought the students back to the front and we went through the problem together. We discussed the numbers, operations needed, and possible solutions.  Students then went back to their original charts to read the feedback.  Some students were surprised at the comments while others wanted to debate them immediately.  I was able to touch base with each group and discuss what the constructive criticism might have meant.  Students spend a decent amount of time talking with one another about their chart and process.  Afterwards, students went back to their seats and prepared to leave.

This type of activity went well.  After thinking about it I might consider doing something like this once every month or so.  Also, I might need to think about how to get my hands on more anchor chart paper.

Education and Flow Charts

Image by:  Sujin

Students often thrive when given responsibility.  Sometimes students even ask for responsibility in the classroom.  At every grade level student responsibility can be utilized to improve and contribute to the overall efficiency of a classroom.  Student jobs are often found in the elementary classroom.  The idea of assigning student jobs can be termed as assigning responsibility.  I prefer using the activity, My Job Your Job Our Job, but jobs in themselves are an interesting way to teach and encourage responsibility.  Unless explicitly told, students are often unaware of the quality of work that is acceptable during their student job activity.  Modeling and setting classroom expectations for all jobs is necessary to gradually release responsibility to the student.   Accountability and follow through are also necessary components.  Expectations are vital when gradually releasing responsibility to the student.  Students need to understand what is expected as soon as they enter a classroom. Including students in the creation of these expectations via a flow chart may encourage accountability on the students behalf.  I found this template to be useful in having a conversation about flow charts with my students.

For the past few years I’ve used a process flow chart to help guide my students in taking responsibility for their actions.  As soon as the students enter the room they are asked to follow an arrival flow chart.  Likewise, when students are asked to leave the classroom, they follow the dismissal flow chart.  The flow chart clearly explains what is expected as students arrive and leave the classroom.

When students understand these expectations, they are more willing to become accountable for their own actions relating to their arrival/dismissal from my classroom. I believe having an arrival and dismissal flow chart may improve classroom efficiency and productivity.  As a result of implementing the flow chart, I’m spending more time teaching for learning in the classroom rather than losing the first five minutes of class to social hour.  In any activity, modeling is vital, this is no exception.  During the first week of school my students actually self-assess their performance following the arrival/dismissal flow chart.  I’ve even used a plus/delta chart to help during this process.  After the “trial” period has ended, the students become comfortable with their new environment and proceed efficiently when an arrival/dismissal flow chart is utilized regularly.  Visual learners may appreciate how the flow chart is displayed in the classroom.  Using a flow chart might also be a way to introduce graphic organizers to the class.  Students can even create their own flow charts using graphic organizer templates.

I’ve had experiences working in a variety of teaching capacities.  Teachers have an enormous responsibility to improve student learning in the classroom.  When the teacher and students understand the expectations of each other, both parties benefit.  This could also be said about the community and teacher.  I’ve found flow charts to be useful in other academic content areas, such as in math when explaining the problem solving process.  Process charts can also be used to clarify behavior expectations.  Utilizing process charts may enable students to become more responsible for their own actions in the classroom.