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Surprisingly Useful Collaborative Tool

posted Mar 5, 2013, 10:32 AM by Kate Petty
When I ordered the IKEA whiteboard easels through a PTA grant at the beginning of the year, I originally imagined the students using them in groups to brainstorm for major projects.  In a totally unexpected way, we now use them almost daily.
Let me preface with the fact that I don't do any direct instruction in my class.  I have an inquiry-based teaching philosophy in which my students are usually searching for information all of the time.  They are grouped in sixes around the classroom and are always working together to find solutions and demonstrate understanding.  For the last couple of years, they would generally take group notes as they discussed as a way to focus their attention to the task at hand.  While it focused most of them, the notetaking didn't do much else.
These whiteboards have really revolutionized group discussions in this class.  Instead of asking them to take class notes on a paper, they write the three most important ideas from a passage, or state their opinion on a controversial subject, or even take notes on a theme they are brainstorming.  This big white monstrosity next to them is impossible to ignore and they all watch as one student is writing on it.  (Honestly, I'm not sure why it works)  The whiteboards also hold groups accountable for what they are discussing and writing- no more jokes or immature answers.  Finally, they are forced to "own" what they are thinking.  The rest of the class can see what is written on that board- they will not write anything they cannot defend.
Class with group whiteboard easels generally goes like this:
  1. Groups will find ideas in a novel, textbook, online article, or take a position on an issue.
  2. Groups will write down their thoughts: usually 3 main/supporting ideas.
  3. Groups will shout out answers to the other groups.
That's it.  Really simple yet SUPER effective.  Who knew?
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