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How Can We Increase Participation?

May 17, 2023 | By Dave Burrows

How Can We Increase Participation?

We know that active participation can improve learning. When a student talks about their answers to questions or creates a new math question of their own, they learn more. However, getting high levels of participation is difficult. Some students feel that they do not wish to speak out for fear of being embarrassed. Even the strongest students can be reluctant to speak, sometimes out of anxiety over being labeled a “brain." I have experimented with several ways to increase presentation.

Lightning Round- A group of students are in a small group. I can present number questions, such as, "What is 8 x 9?” In the lightning round, each student has a turn. After giving an answer, they are asked to explain how they got the answer. Other students are encouraged to talk about how they might have gotten the same answer. Even the shyest students seem to be willing to participate, especially if the questions are geared to their level.

Playing Games and Generating Questions- As part of a game, I can present questions that get at number concepts indirectly by requiring mental computations involving number relationships. One example of a game involves giving a sequence of numbers, based on a rule, and then asking for the next number in the sequence. For example, 1,3,5,7 ___ . The next sequence might be 1,2,4,7,11___ Students are asked for the next number in the sequence and what the rule is. This engages them in thinking about number relationships. What is really useful is asking students to make up a sequence of their own, based on their own rule. The student then presents their sequence to the other students. One student created 1, 100,
1000, 100000___ Another, one of the most reluctant participants in the class, generated 500, 200,___? Never mind that the first student created a sequence almost impossible to complete mentally, or that the second started with a sequence that did not work well and stopped in the middle. The point is that they participated and created self-initiated sets of number relationships.

Teams- Games can be structured as competitions between teams. Divide the group into two teams. Each team selects a captain. Alternate questions are presented to the teams, using any set of math concepts, such as determining which of two fractions is larger. When a team has its turn, the members confer. The captain gives the team’s answer. If correct, the team gets a point. You can rotate the captaincy so that each person gets a chance to be captain. These formats increase the proportion of students who actively participate. They can be adapted to any material. It is also possible to combine their features. For example, in the team format, each team can create questions that are presented to the other team. I have found that students like these formats and prefer them to standard-style drills.