New whiteboards encourage student engagement

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Walk into any classroom in the math hall, and you might see bright fluorescent lights reflecting off all four walls — until you realize they aren’t walls, but whiteboards.

Math teacher Dan Kumprey came up with the idea to incorporate whiteboards into his lesson plans after attending a Global Math Department (GMD) webinar. Through watching the discussions, he found a research paper published by Simon Fraser University that explores how best to foster learning through activity and discussion, particularly when it comes to getting students out of their seats and collaborating. 

“I think we all understand that students do a lot of sitting in desks … havings students solve problems together on whiteboards seemed like a really cool way to get them moving and engaging,” explained Kumprey.

Certain aspects of working through proofs or tough questions make the task of solving them better suited for the boards rather than the average sheet of notebook paper, as senior Lance Pancoast remarked, “I think that the best part about the whiteboards is that you can walk around the classroom and see what others are doing — how they got past a roadblock you’re on, or how they pursued different solutions altogether.” Additionally, he found that  “You can really easily erase things, which allows you to switch approaches quickly if something isn’t working.”

Students often work in randomized groups. An advantage of this system, senior Zoe Kolics noted, is how “being able to work with others who are also thinking creatively inspires me to rewire the way I approach difficult problems.” Math teacher Brad Woebke senses that when his students sit in desks, they are “more lethargic,” but when his students stand up to work in groups, “they seem to have more energy.”

The social aspect of working in groups also brings a sense of community to the classroom. As Kumprey explained, “In some of my classes, I wouldn’t be surprised if out of a group of 28 students, only five of them really knew each other well. I want to encourage them to introduce themselves at the very least — to say, ‘hi, my name is ….’ In the real world, we need to know how to work with a diverse group of people; working in groups with the same people every day isn’t conducive to a very good learning experience.”

The next step, Kumprey observed, is to help students who are quieter during collaborative activities. “We want to put the marker in that person’s hand … to get people involved who are normally just standing out and encourage them to participate and communicate with each other so that everybody’s learning together.”