December 31, 2010

To row or not to row

This year my precalculus class is in a room shared with another teacher, a teacher I hadn't shared a room with before... The classroom was set up with the tables in rows. Each table sat two students each facing the front of the room. I didn't like it, but also hadn't taught with rows for quite some time, so I gave it a shot.

I do a lot of collaborative work and the students work in small groups, but bigger than 2! They need to ask a lot of questions especially at the beginning of the year as they get used to the madness in my method... Yes, a math teacher is actually not going to tell you everything and yes that teacher is encouraging you to be social in class!

The students were crowded around tables and their stuff was cluttered all over the small tables. I struggled to get around the classroom to answer questions. It wasn't really working. I found that some of the students wanted to be social with students at another table and were becoming a distraction... I gave it a solid 8 or 9 weeks. I finally made the move to change rooms.

Both of my math classes moved into rooms with larger tables shaped into a "U" shape. I told my students my reasoning, they looked at me like I was on crack.... Maybe I was.

The clutter of stuff on tables started to get under control and the excessive socializing started to disappear. The change was a bit slow, at least not over night, but a few weeks in the changes were becoming apparent. I was able to answer so many more questions and do it quicker. The students were sitting next to more students and all the students they wanted to talk to were just a few chairs away and not separated by an aisle...

Before the move there was a discrepancy in performance between my two sections. The more social group was under performing by nearly three quarters of a letter grade. They struggled to get engaged and stay engaged. A few weeks after the move the difference between the class was all but gone... The under performing group had made up the difference while the other group stayed rock solid.

At the end of the semester a student in the under performing section who had greatly struggled to adapt to a new school and a new math teacher during the 1st quarter said to me, "I'm not sure what it is, but I learn better in this room." Ah... My madness, my crack pot idea is working out.