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Monk Whiteboarding

Last spring, a large number of students at my school observed a day of silence. Since so many of my students wouldn’t be speaking in class, and since I don’t find it very productive for me to do the talking in class, I decided to come up with an alternate plan.

I decided to have a “monk class”, inspired by the “monk dinner” that I sometimes tried as a counselor at Girl Scout camp. Even though there were students who hadn’t decided to be silent that day, we were all silent (including me) during my classes. I happened to have all “regular” physics classes that day (no honors classes), and they were working on COEM (conservation of energy model).

I made up a quick slideshow to facilitate the work we were going to do. I almost never do anything like that (that is, I almost never put something up on the screen during class), but this occasion seemed like a worthy use of the technology. The blank slide in there worked just as I had hoped. When the groups were getting restless soon after beginning the problem, some hoped that they could just skip to the next one and cross their fingers that it would be easier to agree about their work on the next one. When one student went up and tried to move the slideshow forward, they assumed that there was only one problem, and went back to dig in more.

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The level of engagement and discussion was definitely raised as students struggled to find ways to communicate their disagreements without speaking.

Even more exciting was the enhancement it had on the whiteboarding process. The “power of the marker” is always evident in regular whiteboarding sessions as the one who is writing controls many aspects of how the board looks and the solution itself. In silent whiteboarding, though, the “power of the eraser” was visibly strengthened. Since they couldn’t simply tell their teammates what to fix, they had to take a more active role in creating their board. (See more on the “powers” of whiteboarding here.)

I definitely wouldn’t do this mode of whiteboarding every time, but it is a useful one to throw in on occasion to mix things up and reinvigorate the discussion happening at the tables.

Note: we did not do presentations of our work, just worked on problems at tables. I don’t think I would try to do presentations silently since it would be very difficult and time consuming to have classmates ask questions of the presenters. Since everyone worked on the same problem, and since I circulated around pointing things out for them, it wasn’t necessary to also present their work.

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About Kelly O'Shea

I teach high school kids physics at an independent day school in NYC. Less homework, more thinking. Follow @kellyoshea

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  1. Pingback: Revisiting Alan Turing and the Day of Silence with Radiolab « Quantum Progress - March 25, 2012

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