Written by Lindsey Gallas published 1 month ago
As another new school year starts, we’d argue the most important thing you can do as a teacher is spend time with your class establishing norms. But what does that look like? For many years we created a social contract as a class where students created a list of ways that we would act in class. While this usually started off well at the beginning of the day, students in 6th hour were fatigued after making these in every class. At that point the social contract basically just listed Respect with 18 check marks behind it. #iykyk
We started thinking about how we could make norm setting more engaging and meaningful. Mirroring our Experience First, Formalize Later math lessons, we decided to use tasks that would allow students to identify helpful group work practices on their own–to generate meaningful norms based on their experiences, not ours. The norms should belong to the students. We have found that using short non-curricular tasks has been just the ticket! During the first week of school (or any time they need a refresher), we take some time during the class period to have students work in groups to complete an engaging task that is not related to math. Students get time to work in their groups to complete the task, and once they’re done we talk about what was helpful and what was unhelpful about how they worked together. At the end, we agree upon one or two student-generated norms that we will take with us into math class this year.
That’s a big overview, but what does it look like in practice? Let’s watch Sarah lead a class through the task Lots of Dots, which is an activity we adapted from Stanford's set of skill builders.
Activity: Lots of Dots
Getting Started: To use this activity you’ll need to print and cut out a set of Lots of Dots cards for each group. There are 16 cards in each set. We recommend printing each set on a different colored paper so the cards don’t get mixed up. Explain the task to the class and distribute the cards to the groups.
Instructions: There are 16 dot cards in each game. Each group member will receive their own set of 4 dot cards. Each card has one or more duplicates, but there is one card that has NO duplicates; it does not have a match. Your job as a group is to find the one dot card that doesn’t have a match.
- You may only look at YOUR cards.
- You cannot show your cards to another group member.
- You cannot draw pictures or diagrams of the designs.
- The number at the bottom of each card is irrelevant, and should not be considered as part of the dot card.
- You may talk any way you choose.
If your group thinks they have identified the one card without a match, call me over to confirm. The task ends whether or not you are correct, so make sure your group is confident before calling.
Watch Sarah intro this activity with the class.
After you check with the groups to see if they’ve selected the correct dot card, tell the groups to discuss what was helpful about how they worked together. When all of the groups have finished the task, ask the groups to share out about what was helpful or unhelpful. Watch this clip of Sarah leading that discussion.
Finally, we want to have students generalize their experience into a norm that we can carry forward with us into math class this year. Have the groups share out norms that will be helpful when we’re working in groups this year. For the Lots of Dots activity, we usually settle on some variation of Everyone Participates/Talks/Listens, but let your students help guide the phrasing. Watch Sarah lead her class in that process in this final clip.