Rearranging and the Harkness Method

Four years ago, several of us were "talking" on twitter about getting together to work through some of the Exeter problem sets. There's an intrigue to how they run their math programs there and we wanted to try some of the problems.

The rest is history.
(If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out Twitter Math Camp and I'll hopefully see you in Minnesota this summer!)

Anyway, the method of instruction that they use at Exeter is called the Harkness Method, and there's a local teacher that has adopted it for both his Honors Precalculus and Algebra 1 courses (his name is Johnothon Sauer and he blogs about it here). I heard Johnothon speak a few weeks ago at OCTM and then had the opportunity today to visit his school with several of my colleagues to observe. We were split among a couple of different teachers and I didn't actually get to his room, but I was able to see one of his coworkers and his Honors Precalculus class.

The students were getting ready for a "Checkpoint" (aka, a test) and were leading themselves through review problems in their groups. From what I could tell, the problems dealt with rational functions, logarithms, the difference quotient, and sequences and series. The kids were moving from one problem to the next on white boards, working together, instructing, and asking each other questions. The teacher observed and jumped in to clarify as needed. Tomorrow they'll take a practice test (individually), then Johnothon was telling us that he has his kids grade each other's work before Thursday's Q&A session. Friday is the 5-question (with multiple parts) checkpoint.

It was very interesting.

The kids were active, involved, and interested.

Converting to using the Harkness Method would mean an awful lot of work this summer; the teachers made a ginormous packet of problems that the kids work their way through during the school year, 6ish problems a night. These problems spiral in difficulty and jump from one topic to a next, which keep the kids fresh on everything at once. I'd imagine that reviewing for a semester exam is a breeze!

Anyway, I headed back to school this afternoon pondering what to do next. At minimum, I need to get the kids working together more and discussing more. I wanted to create more white board space for them to work on (and make them work on it).

So I went back to school and talked about it with a colleague who had also observed. She had just gotten 2 dry erase-type things on wheels (that look more like shower doors) and offered me one. We ended up putting a tape grid on them and are going to use them to write our weekly agenda, which frees up a big white board in each of our rooms. I also ended up moving my desk to the other side of my room because it was halfway blocking another white board.

It feels like a completely different room!  The kids are going to be so confused when they walk in tomorrow.