Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Teaching Tip: Dr. Sherrie Serros on Snowball Activities

These last few gorgeous days have tempted even the most cynical Wisconsinites to believe that winter is finally over (for those that remember last year, however, cynicism might still be fully present). But if you don’t want to embrace the warmth like the myriad of college students in shorts now (it’s still only 40 degrees, people) try introducing one or both of these “snowball” activities that Dr. Sherrie Serros, Department of Mathematics, provides below:

Snowball fight:  This activity enables students to anonymously participate in a process-oriented problem and ensures 100% participation. I put a couple of different solutions on the board that provide the same answers, but structurally are very different. Students have to decide which one demonstrates valid mathematics. If I were to just openly ask the class, I wouldn’t necessarily get a lot of eager responses: student are often afraid to raise their hand and assertively declare which one is right and which one is wrong.  So instead, I have each of them take a slice of paper on which they have to write out what solution they think is correct and their reasoning behind it. Nobody else knows what they’ve written; I instruct them not to write their names on the piece of paper. Then, they crumple up the piece of paper into a little ball and throw it across the room. Students then pick up whatever “snowball” is nearest to them and they read what it says. In this way, I get to hear everyone’s thinking process and I can focus on the misconceptions present in the classroom without ever putting a single student on the spot. Additionally, when we do focus on the misconceptions, people can hear that others had the same thoughts and feel that they were not alone. Students really like this activity (who doesn’t like throwing snowballs?) and I benefit by hearing everyone’s thought-process in the classroom.

Rolling Snowball: This activity is useful when you want to generate a big idea based on a small core. My example for this comes from my education classes when I want the students to work on lesson design. I separate them into groups and start by providing them with the content of the lesson, and then have each group add an additional facet to the lesson (i.e. the diversity of learning styles, or the diversity of learning abilities, or assessment). By the time we go around the room and gather everyone’s contributions we have a big unit formed that addresses many crucial facets of lesson design. The metaphor I use for this is that of a snowball rolling down the hill because as each layer is added our lesson design becomes bigger, more fleshed-out, and more involved. 

Interview by: Jon Pumper

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