There are many benefits to pairing students up to practice math.  Previously I’ve written about positives such as peer teaching, increased confidence, increased class engagement, break from direct instruction, and face-to-face communication.  (You can read the original post here.)  Face-to-face communication??  With the rise of Covid-19 and remote learning, I really want to address the role partners can play in math class for the new world we live in today.

Students benefit from hearing ideas from other students, and using that information to further their own understanding.  It’s too easy for that communication to be lost during remote learning when everything is digital.  However, we can establish a version of classroom discussion using various platforms.  At the beginning of distance learning my district used Moodle, which happened to have a discussion platform built in.  One way that I utilized this forum was to post a video and have students respond to some prompts.  Then they were required to come back and provide meaningful responses to their peers.  For example, I posted a video demonstrating the Pythagorean Theorem.  (It’s actually really cool!  Check it out here.)  Students were then asked to explain how the video demonstrated that a2+b2=c2 using vocabulary like hypotenuse, legs, right triangle, squares, etc.  Then students commented on at least one other post with a question or specific comment to keep the conversation going.  Not one student alone used all the vocabulary and grasped every part of the key idea; however, together they build on each other’s ideas enough to come up with something grand.

You probably don’t have access to Moodle (yay if you do!). There are plenty of other resources out there that will allow you to establish a similar online discussion.

Kialo is a free website established for educators to facilitate logical, compelling debate arguments.  I can imagine this would be great for debating ideas such as: “Does 0.999...=1?” or “Why is any number raised to the zero power 1?” or “Can you take the square/cube root of a negative number?”  These are interesting mathematical ideas that students can present their argument with evidence and contradict others’ points using counterexamples.  Engaging and dynamic!

YO Teach! is a free backchannel tool that facilitates discussion between teachers and students in an online classroom environment.  Once you’ve established a teacher’s account you can set up different “rooms” for your classes or small groups to hold discussions.

GoSoapBox is another free backchannel tool that is awesome for gauging student understanding.  It includes a feature that gives teachers real-time information about student comprehension.  It also allows for discussion posts and polls.

Google Drive is an awesome resource for partner collaboration whether students are in the classroom or are distance learning from home.  It is very easy to share documents through the website by using email.  I was very lucky to gain access to Google Classroom while remote learning through my school district.  However, even without Google Classroom, teachers can share an assignment document that can be completed online.  Students can “share” the Google Doc to work together.  All changes that either user makes can be seen immediately by all parties on the document.  Best of all, Google Docs is a free app that can be accessed from any device with internet and web browser.  This tool is very intuitive and really easy for students and teachers to learn.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find 1-on-1 Zoom calls a little awkward.  I’m sure students feel that way too. Providing support 2-on-1 can make everyone feel more comfortable.  The pressure is taken off each individual student because they can rely on each other to ask questions and respond to feedback.  If two students are struggling with the same concept, teachers can address concerns of both students at the same time.  If two students are struggling with different topics, then the student who is struggling has the benefit of learning from both the teacher and the peer.  This is an awesome opportunity for the student to hear an explanation more than one way.  Also, the student who is helping to “teach” or address a misconception is developing a stronger understanding of the topic themselves just by going through the process of explaining.

Things are different now.  Whether you are distance learning, in the classroom, or embracing a hybrid model, peer teaching is still important.  It can feel very isolating to be learning from home or from six feet apart.  Finding ways to incorporate discussion helps with the social aspect of learning.  Having the ability to discuss assignments with peers before submitting leads to increased confidence (and probably better answers!)  Trying some of these apps will lead to increased class engagement and a break from direct (remote) instruction.  And I am so thankful for Zoom bringing us face-to-face communication.  Hang in there, teachers!

Here are some related posts you might enjoy: