Visibly Random Groups

Peter Liljedahl‘s work on Building Thinking Classrooms has been extremely influential in the education world. In his research, he discusses a collection of high-yield strategies that teachers can employ to help learners engage with work in the classroom and become better thinkers. They are sorted on a continuum of ease of implementation and “bluntness” (requiring less/more fine tuning).

When I first stumbled upon his research (hat tip to the Global Math Department), I immediately began to experiment with the two moves that were the easiest to implement: Visibly Random Groups and Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces.

I created Seat Finder cards that I would hand out to my students at the beginning of every class as I greeted them at the door. The Seat Finder cards had various algebra problems on them whose solution corresponded to their group number.

Students must solve for x to find their group for the day.

The idea behind this is to help build a classroom culture where students are working collaboratively, and not just with the same people the entire year. In theory, this works great, however, I hit a few kinks along the way. The first kink was that I was not beginning my lessons with “good tasks” at the time (see here for some examples). Second, it quickly became exhausting and time consuming for students to find their seats in this manner each day. I also noticed that students would try and surreptitiously swap cards so they could sit with their friends. Rather than building that culture of community and collaboration, I was battling my students about compliance issues.

So, to alleviate some of these problems, I switched to weekly seat changes, and eventually settled with a change once per unit. Rather than assigning each student their individualized Seat Finder problem, I gave each student a playing card instead that corresponded to a group number. Rather than writing the group numbers on the tables, I opted for math problems whose solutions corresponded to group numbers instead. I created a set for different units of study that we looked at in our classes, which are meant to be solved relatively quickly.

I found that having one problem per table helped students get into their seats more quickly, and they often helped each other if some students were unsure of how to solve the problem.

Polynomials seat finder (Table Version)

Note that while students seats stayed the same for the course of a unit, they were still expected to work with others on various tasks I assigned during class. This gave them the comfort and consistency of knowing where they were sitting from day to day, but also the ability to interact with a variety of classmates.

For a link to my downloadable Seat Finders and templates, click here.

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