New things in Ms. K’s classroom: WODB and Plickers

This is my third year teaching the same 6th grade curriculum. This is the first year that we’re trying block schedules at my school. This brings up my time with my students to 76 minutes per day instead of 45 minutes. I’m excited to be able to do some of the things that I’ve wanted to do in years past, but was reluctant for a variety of reasons. Feeling like a newb and time among them.

Which one doesn’t belong?

We’ve been having 3 day weeks due to holidays. Even though school started September 9th, my first actual math class (where we weren’t doing advisory or giving benchmark assessments) was on Thursday, September 17. I decided to allot the first 20 minutes of class to have students determine which one doesn’t belong? I first learned about this website at TMC15 and was eager to use it throughout the year.

I posed the following set to my students. My classroom is set up as quadrants, so I had students move to the quadrant that corresponded with their shape. I figured that most students would gravitate towards quadrant 4 (bottom right), but I was shocked that almost all of them chose that shape. In my first block all, but ONE student chose the pentagon. What was more surprising, is that some students refused to accept the reasoning of the sole student who chose the top right shape as the one that didn’t belong. His reason that it was the only shape that “had designs” inside was not mathematical enough for some of the students. Other students responded by going back to the original question “which one doesn’t belong?” and gladly accepted his reason. Thinking back, I wish I had them pause and reflect on what it means for evidence to be “mathematical enough”.

I changed the task for my second and third block. First I gave students 5 minutes to independently decide which one doesn’t belong. Then I assigned quadrants to them. When they moved into their groups, there task was to come with as many reasons why the shape did not belong. The groups that moved to the top and bottom left struggled the most to come up with reasons, but someone eventually was able to share that the top left was the only one where all the sides weren’t of equal length.

We reflected on the this exercise for a bit after everyone settled back in their seats. I asked them what there take away was from this exercise. Students in all my blocks shared that each could have a reason for not belonging or that there was more than one correct answer. There were still a few students who were convinced that there was only one lens through which to look at these shapes and that there was only one right answer. Others acknowledged reasons why the other shapes didn’t belong, but believed there was one shape that didn’t belong more than the other, (the pentagon in this case). I didn’t push too much because that is a notion that has been reinforced for much of their math experience and one exercise was not going to change that. I’m eager to try this again next week with another set and see how it goes.


I’ve decided to use plickers for a quick midpoint check-in. Plickers are essentially “paper clickers” that can be scanned through a mobile device. I tried them once last year, but made them mistake of laminating them with glossy pouches and they were a total waste. This year, I had them laminated on matte and so far I’m happy with them. I was a bit nervous it would take a while to scan them, but here is what I learned the few times I used them:

  • I can scan them by standing in one spot as long as students don’t block each other. To make this easier on me I’ve asked my students in the back to raise them up high, the ones in the middle to cover their face, and the ones up front to hold them low so I can scan in one or two swipes across the room.
  • It scans so much faster than I expected and the students are really excited to get the immediate feedback. I use the graph to reveal the answer.plicker2
  • Yes, it’s multiple choice, but having this immediate feedback is a kick off point for math discussions. In the above example, it led us into a discussion analyzing student error.
  • Use “live view” (love live view!) to keep track of which students have been scanned. As soon as their card is scanned, their name is checked off. Now I know after my second swipe, I need to focus on scanning student #14’s card.


I learned that there is a class set of electronic clickers somewhere in the building, but I like the fact that I don’t have to pass/collect the plickers. It saves time. The students put it in the flap of their binder which never leaves the room. I’m able to give every student their own plicker which I wouldn’t be able to do with the electronic clickers. I’m planning on using a sound cue that indicates, “It’s plicker time – take ’em out” and another to tell students to put them away. We’ll see how this goes and if it doesn’t work out…I guess I’ll have to try out the electronic clickers.


Taking Risks with Student Independence: Being Okay to Let Go

So this year my middle school is using the Connected Math Project 3 curriculum.  It has three phases: Launch, Explore, and Summary.  The lauch, lauches the lesson. Duh. Then students explore the activity and answer questions. Then, we summarize at the end.

Out of the many questions that are attached to each CMP lesson we’ve decided to pick 1-2 or to come up with our own rich question that students can explore for a significant time and so that we can have rich discussions afterwards.

But we also wanted to do something that would make students interdependent and wean them off of calling us over every time to understand what the question is about or asking for an entry point into the problem.

So the math team decided to structure the explore section with a specific protocol that we’ve called our discussion protocol. It consists of timed steps (usually step A-D or as many as needed). It’s easier for me to explain what we do with a specific lesson. This is Problem 2.2 in the CMP3 book Prime Time. The big mathematical idea is finding the lowest common multiple and recognizing that the LCM of relatively prime numbers is the product of the two numbers.

We launched the problem by having the students watch a short video on cicadas from the connected math website which essentially explains what cicadas are and that they come above ground either after 13 years or 17 years. At the end of the video they are asked, after how many years will the cicadas return if the 13 and 17 year cicadas return together if they came together this year?

Explore/Discussion Protocol
This is where our protocol actually begins. We’ve assigned 4 roles to each group.

Student Roles

  • Facilitator: The facilitator is the person who will read all the instructions for each step. This is the only person we give the actual task paper too. Students in my classes call this the facilitator’s paper.
  • Manager: The manager needs to make sure everyone in the group is on task and that the group is completing the steps before the timer goes off.
  • Speaker: The speaker will share the discussions that happen in the group with the entire class or be the group representative in other groups (semi-jigsaw).
  • Recorder: The recorder is the person who writes down the group’s ideas on the paper.

The students have really been taking the roles of facilitator and managers seriously. The facilitator’s paper is quickly becoming a sacred paper in the groups.  The managers also love the power–we’re still working on the speaker and recorder as those are less sought out roles.  

Teacher Role

We’re monitoring and observing students. We’re also thinking about which groups we want to do a group share out so we can highlight misconceptions, multiple approaches, multiple answers, etc. We’re also conferring with students. At times we’re also sitting with groups, especially if they need more of a guidance.

The “Steps”

Each step that contains a question begins with, “Read and make sense of question (insert question # here). (90 seconds)” For this step we expect students to make sense of the question together. At first I thought 90 seconds is too short, but it’s been working well.

Then students have 5 – 7 minutes to think about the question and to take notes. They can conference with others, but the expectation is that they are forming their own thoughts. At this step, we’re also doing a quick check to make sure that the question was actually understood by the students. We initially planned 2 questions, but then just stuck with question #1 only.

Question #1 – If they appear together this year, after how many years will the 13 and 17-year cicadas appear together again?

Question #2

a) Imagine there are 5 and 10 year cicadas.  When will 5-year and 10-year cicadas appear together again?

b) Imagine there are 2 and 3 year cicadas.  When will 2-year and 3-year cicadas appear together again?

c) Imagine there are 4 and 10 year cicadas.  When will 4-year and 10-year cicadas appear together again? 

We usually have one step that is a group check in. The students share their findings and strategies. Then at the end each member is expected to either:

  • make a comment
  • give a complement
  • or pose a question

I haven’t implemented this yet, but I’m thinking of giving students a graphic organizer where the recorder will record these comments, complements, and questions which would be collected at the end. Only because I want more accountability for this phase. 

The last step is usually preparation for a class or small group share out. Some things we have done:

  • Students create posters with an explanation of their strategies.
  • Students create posters with 4 quadrants in which one is a “comments” section. Here we ask them to write down what they struggled with, if there were any disagreements in the group, what they liked/disliked, etc.
  • Reflecting on the work done in the group by completing statements like: “For me, the most important idea that was discussed in my group was …. because….”

Further Developments to Consider

The sharing/summarizing after we’ve done all of this is what we’re struggling with.  I’m not sure what is the most effective way to share out what the groups have been taking about in their small groups and facilitating a student led discussion as opposed to being a back and forth between teacher and students, which is what is happening more or less right now. There are some things that we have been doing, which I will post later on. 🙂 

We’re also continuing to work on the pacing and timing and we understand that the time will always be the enemy, but that’s why we’ve chosen to focus on key questions.  

Here is another lesson that we did recently on finding the greatest common factor. Students had colored tiles as manipulatives to work through the problem.  Click on the following link to see the facilitator’s paper that we handed out:

Problem 2.3 Student discussion protocol

Wow that was a long post.