Reluctant Participants and Board Meetings

As I start my 3rd year of Modeling Instruction, I’m happy to be in a place where I can start tweaking rather than making sweeping changes to my courses. My primary goal this year is to give more help and attention to students who struggle, and one of the ways I plan to do this is to pointedly seek methods for engaging them more during class. My first plan of attach on this concerns board meetings.

If you are not familiar, a “board meeting” is loosely defined as having students form a large circle so that they can observe each group’s whiteboards. I typically use this method of whiteboarding to have groups compare data from the same lab in order to induce aspects of a particular model. 

Despite having 25 students in a class, I noticed last year that board meetings tended to be dominated by less than 5 people. I want to try to get all the students involved; I want them all contributing and wrestling with the data. This year I’m going to have board meetings start by giving students 1-2 minutes to simply look around and make at least one observation. I want them to do this silently, individually. I think that sometimes there are students (like me) who are comfortable word-vomiting immediately about what they see, which then overwhelms students who prefer to sit back, take in info, and process before speaking. I want to give that second group time to process. After this time period, I’m going to have them turn to share their observation with the person next to them. Again, I want every single student in the room interacting about the data. After that I think I’ll have them go around the circle to share with the whole group. I thought about letting groups volunteer or cold-calling on groups, but by going around the circle I can step out and simply record their thoughts with minimal guidance and intervention.  As groups report in, I think I’ll stick with my observations/claims approach to help students organize the information reported out. 

I think throughout the year I will slowly remove the scaffolds like turning to partner or going around the circle in favor of more organic approaches, but I’m thinking I’d keep the 1-2 minutes of process time. I really want to help the processors engage before the vomiters get in their way. 

I know this isn’t new in general (yeah, yeah, it’s basically ‘think pair share’), but I think applying the idea specifically to a board meeting has some merit. I’ll report back with how it goes. I’ll also hopefully be posting with other possibilities for getting *all* students engaging in the various aspects of a modeling classroom. 

UPDATE: I did this will all my classes and I believe it was very successful. In addition, we had finished collecting data in one class period but didn’t have time to whiteboard it, so I had them put it in their lab notebooks (sketch a graph, record the equation in words, write the slope and intercept with units and uncertainties), and then to write a couple of sentences summarizing what the results meant. When they came back the next day, I had them take 2 minutes to discuss their paragraphs with each other. I like that this both helped them think about the data first, and then also incorporated some writing, which I hope to do more. After discussing their summaries, I had them gather in a circle and do what I described above. I really believe that this process helped get more students directly involved in wrestling with the data than only doing a standard board meeting. 

I want to thank Patrick Briggs, who keynoted for our all-district kickoff yesterday, for explicitly pointing out  that many students need time to think and prepare before they are willing/able to have an academic conversation.  

4 responses to “Reluctant Participants and Board Meetings

  1. Things are undoubtedly different in your classroom than I see at university but here’s something you might want to watch out for. Instructors orchestrate unstructured activities to give students room to explore. In your activity, you give the students a minute to observe others’ boards. But there might be students who don’t know how to observe. We, the experts, sometimes forget that observing is a skill, one that takes scaffolding and practice. In other words, at the beginning of the year, you might have to give the students a lot of guidance about what to look for on the other boards. As the year progresses, you can fade the guidance.

    (In #highered, I see profs asking students to read journal articles. The students struggle to figure out the content of the article because they struggle reading the format.)


    • Good stuff Peter. Students definitely struggle at the start of the year with what to observe, and I hadn’t thought that piece through. I’m gonna have to ponder it a bit, but my inclination right now is I want to know what kinds of observations they make initially, so I may leave out the guidance for the first part of the board meeting just to see what they say. Also I’ll be listening to their conversations and can guide students individually. That said, I think I’m going to modify the activity by not stating we are going all around the circle so that if I realize after a couple of groups that they are struggling with the observations I can intervene. Thanks much for the comment, very helpful!

    • That’s a good point. I also start with students taking a moment to look around—with the guidance of looking for what’s the same about all of the boards and what’s different among all of the boards. So for example: in the CVPM lab—all the boards have graphs that are linear; all the boards have graphs with different slopes and different intercepts (and some slopes are positive vs negative). Then they can talk more about why the similarities exist (what was the same about everyone’s experiments) and why the differences exist (what was different about everyone’s experiments).

      I look forward to hearing how it goes, Casey!

      • I like the idea, Casey, of first seeing what the students observe – we shouldn’t underestimate their incoming skills. Kelly’s suggestion, “Find things that are the same and different” might be all it takes. Without any guidance, I can easily imagine a student looking at a board and saying, “Huh. They have a graph.” That’s what we’re trying to avoid 🙂

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