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.


Using “I Notice, I Wonder” for the First Time

Last week, I wrote about the general structure of my classes anchored in the “discussion protocol”. One thing that I mentioned was that prior to students exploring a particular question, we give them a couple of minutes to read and understand the question.

The questions have been pretty short that I feel pretty comfortable not having a teacher guided section where we make sense of the question as a class.  Having a co-teacher for all my classes also ensures that when we make our rounds, my co-teacher and I can make sure that students actually have a good sense of the question.

However, I’ve had my heart set on using  “I notice, I wonder” after I read about it on a few blogs since delving into the #MTBoS.  I was so happy excited, no, no…I’ve got it: EXUBERANT when “I notice, I wonder” would fit wonderfully in a lesson I was preparing, especially since I do have so many students who are not on reading level or are beginner ELLs, do not have confidence in their math abilities, seem lost when longer questions or situations are thrown at them and don’t know where to start.

Goal of the lesson: I wanted students to be able to describe describe different strategies for finding the GCF.  Up to this point, students had been listing the factors and finding the common factor. I expect students to continue doing this, but at the very least I wanted them to be aware of other approaches.

I had students do a series of quick 2 minute think-pair-shares and then jotted down their thoughts on the board.

Analyzing Strategies


So much stuff

The Results

I really wished I had saved my chart from the smart board!

  • I had a lot more students than usual participate voluntarily. I had to resort to the Bowl of Destiny very few times.
  • The “I wonder” questions naturally led to the students delving deeper into the prime factorization strategy which was really foreign. (Example: I wonder why Derrick thinks prime factorization will help him find the GCF? I wonder why 2 x 2 x 3 is written differently  than the other numbers?)
  • In fact I used those last two questions as the focus questions for the rest of the period so they could really make sense of the prime factorization strategy before answering “Does this work for other numbers?” It also forced them to go back into the text because they don’t read everything!!
  • Students came up with their own questions and I had them answer them. There seemed to be more “buy-in” to explore the question of a peer rather than the “questions the teachers ask me to explore.”
  • This also made me realize how selective the students are towards reading in math. As I went around I asked, “I wonder what Derrick and Sasha trying to do?” So many of my students had skipped over the first part that explains EXACTLY what Sasha and Derrick are doing and just focused on the numbers and making their own hypotheses about what those numbers meant.  So I wonder if reading aloud together would help?
  • I learned just how valuable talking about a problem/situation can be to make sense of it.

I’m currently working on my next unit plan and I’m looking forward to using this frequently in my classroom.