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3 Question Strategy

September 24, 2011

This week I tried a teaching strategy to promote more collaboration and independence from the teacher.  I have not tried this strategy since I was teaching in the arctic and I was not sure what would happen and how the students would react. I call it the 3 question strategy and while not revolutionary it has had interesting results with more to follow.

The premise of the 3 question strategy is simple. Provide students with an assignment, instructions for doing the assignment and plenty of time to complete it. Once all 3 of these conditions are in place  the class is only allowed to ask the teacher three questions related to the assignment. What can the 3 questions be? Anything that relates to the assignment. For example, “Do I need to write my name on the assignment?” would count as one of the 3 questions. Is this a good question to ask? Probably not in my opinion as it borders on the obvious. Is it one a teacher would get asked? Yes! Should I really have to answer this question? Not in my opinion. I think the students in my class are very smart. I think the students in most classrooms are very smart. In fact I think the combined brain power in anyone of my classes (or almost any other classroom) is much smarter I am. The goal is to tap into this brain power and have it would as a cohesive unit when needed. So far I am finding, as I did in the past, that this strategy helps to move closer to this goal.

As we move through the 21st Century it is important to promote group work and collaboration therefore, I think it is important to promote activities like this so students get used to talking to each other, asking each other questions, solidifying their understanding by explaining solutions to each other. In this particular assignment I made it even more open by providing time for students to draw upon sources outside of school such as parents, the internet and anything else they could think of. In this respect, the 3 question strategy works for me in developing these skills. Is this not how we all work everyday? Calling on colleagues for the majority of our work and only going to the “boss” when absolutely needed.  (I don’t like using the word boss in a blog about education but it seems to be appropriate in this context no matter the reader)

So what are some of the pitfalls?

  • I have found that students spend almost as much time figuring out which 3 questions to ask as they spend trying to finish the assignment. I think this can  be turned into a positive as well if you redirect as it provides a good way to talk about time management and first things first.
  • Students WILL consider this cheating if they have not done it before. This is the point when a good “real life” story about hoe mathematicians work is very helpful.
  • It can be scary … some of the students are nervous that they will not hit the target for the assignment. I don’t consider this a big issue as those who collaborate will create a better assignment by talking it over with peers. Those who don’t collaborate will not do any worse than they would have in the past working alone.
  • The right type of assignment is needed. I have chosen geometric constructions for my first one and since the work must be original the opportunities to “copy” are minimal at best.

If anyone else gives this a try I would appreciate knowing how they make out. I look forward to the results on Monday.

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