If You Can’t Do it by Yourself… Crowdsource It! (How I handle Questions over assignments in AP Calculus)

Last year my AP calculus class ran like many math classes. There was a lecture and maybe an exploration or lab, then some independent practice time, and whatever students didn’t get done they took home as homework. Then the following day I would take questions from the class and answer as many as I could before the lesson had to begin.

Every year (or trimester for that matter) I agonize over how I should structure daily work and the grading of that work in my class. This summer was no different, especially in calculus. I wanted to strike a balance between gaining formative knowledge for me and allowing students enough independent practice, all while trying to incorporate more collaboration.

One of my professors in college took an interesting approach to assessing homework. Each day we would arrive to class and fill out our part of a spreadsheet. For each homework problem we would answer the question “Do you feel confident enough in your answer to present it to the class?” He would then select a couple students to present their solutions to certain problems to the class. This method was certainly different, and had a number of problems associated with it (for instance, I have no idea how he established a grade for us using this method) but I certainly thought the question that he was asking us was interesting.

So, in the middle of July as I am writing idea webs on a whiteboard in the bedroom my wife comes in and gives me the following idea. She said “Why don’t you ask the students that same question but, ask them before they come to class. Then when they get the class, have them teach each other in small groups.” From there, I looked at how technology could help me aggregate this “confidence data” And I worked out the details of how this would look in class. (You can see the flowchart that I made for my students here.)

It basically works like this: students have time at the end of each hour to work on their assignment. Once they finish their assignment they fill out a Google form that looks like this: Confidence Data FormThis gives me a big picture of how the assignment went as well as which specific problems were most difficult for students. When students get to class each pod is assigned a problem (Click for diagram). For instance, Pod 1 might be assigned problem #52. Then, for 10 to 15 minutes students are to go to whichever pod is assigned the problem(s) they struggled with, and work on that problem. If students fully understood the assignment they are to go around and help other students with the assignment. Everyone has something to do. (I should also note that I have several “mega” whiteboards that are laid out on each pod when students come to class.)

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