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60-Second Strategy: Pass the Marker

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Getting students up on their feet and solving problems together helps build engagement—and stronger math thinkers.

In Beth Blissett’s middle school math classroom in Eminence, Kentucky, there aren’t any desks in rows. Instead, are often found standing in groups of three, chattering excitedly, working on math problems together. During an activity inspired by Peter Liljedahl’s thinking classrooms, Blissett divides her students into small random groups, then gives each group a rich math task to work on and a single dry-erase marker. She then sends the students off to collaborate on vertical nonpermanent surfaces—in her room it’s whiteboards and windows—so they can make their thinking visible. One student starts calculating, using the marker, while the others offer ideas and encouragement. As if in a relay race, periodically Blissett calls out “Pass the marker!” and the next student builds on the work of the previous one. Working collaboratively and being able to easily erase can reduce anxiety and make the students more willing to take risks. By the end of the lesson, they’re thinking like mathematicians.

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