3-Acts: Using Digital Tools to Give Every Student a Voice

  • 3-Acts: Using Digital Tools to Give Every Student a Voice

     By Cathy Yenca, posted February 29, 2016 –

    NCTM’s position statement regarding the use of technology in teaching and learning mathematics includes the following:

    Content-neutral technologies include communication and collaboration tools and Web-based digital media. These technologies increase students’ access to information, ideas, and interactions that can support and enhance sense making, which is central to the process of taking ownership of knowledge.

    2016-02-29 art1In my experience, the most useful digital tools aren’t always math-content-specific. Tools that showcase student thinking, help facilitate rich discussion, and hold every student accountable have a positive impact on students’ mathematical sense making. Combining a task with such technologies prevents students from having an “out,” while providing the teacher with student work samples that can be considered during class as well as revisited after class is over.

    One example that I have used with students came from a silly photo in my travels to the NCSM Annual Conference in New Orleans two years ago. Since many of us have perpetual access to a camera on our smart phones, it’s simple to capture math when we see it, even if it shows up in unexpected places. My moment happened at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.

    Using my photo, I captured Dan Meyer’s elements of a “3 Act Task” in a Nearpod lesson for my students. For those unfamiliar, Nearpod is a digital presentation tool that enables teachers to present slides to students on their own devices while providing students with opportunities for assessment. Rather than simply pose the elements of a “3 Acts” experience to students, I like to use a tool like Nearpod to truly capture student thinking through their answers to open-ended questions, polls, quizzes, or even through drawing out and sharing their mathematical work. This format makes it easy to hold every student accountable, while empowering me to share anonymous student responses with the whole class along the way.

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    To start, students are presented with the photo and asked, “What’s the first question that comes to mind, if any?” Next, students are given the opportunity to write and submit their question to me, knowing that their responses will be anonymously showcased to the class. This gives students an opportunity to have some individual think-time. Some students may think about math, and others may not. Allow students to be “kids” here. In a mathematical modeling session at the NCTM Regional Conference in Nashville this past fall, Mike Wiernicki and Graham Fletcher emphasized the importance of encouraging students to form questions without crushing them in the process. Nearpod provides a format for this to be sure. Here are some sample responses from my classroom. As you can see, not all of them are “mathy”:

    Now it’s time to coax students to explore one particular question. Here’s the one I chose, followed by student responses. Again, I’d like to emphasize that all of these ideas might be lost if they aren’t collected in some manner. Without a tool to gather student responses, it’s too easy to simply call on a few willing volunteers, and as a result, possibly miss interesting student thinking!

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    Next, students are presented with the dimensions of the tank and cylinder. Using a “Draw It” slide, they work together in teams but submit their individual mathematical work to me. I can share it anonymously with the class for authentic on-the-fly error analysis. Here are several interesting work samples, all of which contain errors in student thinking that provided opportunities for immediate student discussion during class.

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    In the Nearpod lesson, I reveal the final volume, in which we consider why the volume we calculated is still an approximation. Students then answer a series of follow-up questions. The entire Nearpod lesson is available here if you’d like to explore more. I hope you’ll consider combining math tasks with technologies that capture every student’s voice in your own classroom.

    For another “3 Acts” using Nearpod example, visit this blog post.

    2016-01 Yenca picCathy Yenca, cathy@mathycathy.com, is a math teacher in Texas. She tweets at @mathycathy and blogs about teaching mathematics in a one-to-one iPad classroom at mathycathy.com/blog.


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