I’ve been teaching remotely for the past two weeks and continue to notice that students aren’t able to work together in groups as much anymore. I’d like to change that. I’m finding that breakout groups are one way in which to do this during Zoom sessions. In order to make them more effective I’ve started to find ways to structure the sessions so students are engaged in mathematics and they need to work with their partners to find solutions. I try to get students in breakout rooms once a day and usually that happens. This past week I used a Google Slides technique that I found on Twitter. I discussed this a bit in my last post, but will go into more detail here.
My first step is to find a math tasks that involves some type of collaboration. One of my classes is exploring data landmarks. The question is placed on a Google slide. There are three examples below.
Depending on the class size, I make 6-8 duplicates of the slide. I add “breakout room # ___” on the top to indicate who’s working on a particular slide. I’ll review the task as a class first and then answer clarifying questions. Students are then off to the groups to work for around 5-10 minutes. They return and each group discusses what they created and the strategy behind their solution. This technique has worked well although my learning curve during the past two weeks has been steep. I’m hoping to put together a few tips or considerationsbefore using breakout rooms and Google Slides.
First of all, make sure to create your Google Slide in Edit Master. The reasoning is that you don’t want students to drag, drop or edit unnecessary items. I learned this as students were changing the size of the text and moving around the question off of the slide. I want students to focus more on the problem than the formatting.
Use fields to show where students should place their work. Again, this is so students don’t feel like they need to put their effort into formatting. Having a place for their names and work lets them concentrate more on the task.
Ensure that permissions are set correctly. I made the mistake of not allowing editing rights and it was a disaster as students were able to view the activity, but not write anything on the slide.
Make sure to duplicate the slide and put the breakout group # somewhere noticeable on the slide. Students should be able to easily navigate to their groups slide to begin work.
Create a plan on how you want students to share out their solutions. This will help eliminate some of the awkward silence that sometimes happens when the teacher asks “so … who wants to discuss how you solved this?” questions. It will also help students create a plan before they exit the breakout room.
Limit the time students spend in the breakout rooms and pop in frequently. I’ve found that spending more than 10 minutes in the rooms isn’t necessarily. It depends on the task though, but for my students 8-10 minutes is the sweet spot. I give a minute warning for students to wrap up what they’re discussing and we had back to the class Zoom session
These are a just a few guidelines that I’ve been following this past week. Similar to the regular classroom, not every breakout room has been a success. I’ve made tweaks over the last few sessions to improve the experience. Overall, I’m seeing progress and students are engaging with each other and the math in positive ways. This may even be something I use as my students start making their way back to an actual face-to-face classroom.