Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Marrying Zoom to VNPS

I've been very keen to adapt Peter Liljedahl's vnps to my live online classroom (which is in Zoom), and I've come up against a lot of obstacles, but today it felt like it's finally taking hold.

The fantasy, or the ideal situation for a vnps class session (which I experienced and fell hard for at OAME 2019):

  • The students are put into random groups of 3 and stationed at whiteboards around the room.
  • The teacher gives each group of 3 one problem to work out on the whiteboard.
  • Only one person in each group writes on the whiteboard, and does not speak, and the other 2 speak and do not write.
  • Once they're done, they call the teacher over, who gives feedback and another question for them to do, but this time the roles shift.
The benefits are astounding, and for a much more complete list see Peter Liljedahl's or anyone's writing about #vnps (vertical non-permanent surfaces). For example, students feel safe in their group because it doesn't fall on any single person to know what to do. They also feel safe within the room due to the low-level hum of talkers talking, which is somewhat noisy but not chaotic. They're more physically active than if they were working things out sitting down. The nature of the whiteboards and pens makes it easy to write/discuss/change their minds about what to do. The teacher can see all of them quickly and deliver just-in-time feedback.

The reality of my online environment:

I meet my students at the same time everyday, but not in the same physical space as any of them. They're scattered all over Quebec, mostly in the computer rooms of their schools, most of which are in somewhat remote parts of the province. Some of them are completely alone in their school when they're with me, and some of them are with other students at their school. Others are home schooled.

Anyway, in my Zoom setting, there are BIG challenges to this. Not all of the students are in the same room with other students. Even if they are, they have to leave their computer (and hence the Zoom room) to go to the whiteboard in their actual room, so we might not be able to see/hear each other anymore. And how do I see their work and give feedback?

At first I had to check with all the schools to see if everyone had access to a whiteboard. Most but not all did. Then I had to think of how they'll show me their work. I had thought of Rocketbook or Twitter dm, but today the answer turned out to be SO MUCH easier. They just turned on their webcams and aimed them at their whiteboards!

I cannot express how exciting it was to see my students gathered around the problem, talking, erasing, checking back with me. I know f2f teachers are probably thinking - we call that Tuesday. Or everyday.

There is still an issue with communication between me and them when they're at the board - at one school all the students could keep their headsets on while at the board, but others couldn't.

At any rate, for those students who are not alone in their school, who do have a whiteboard and webcam, things are moving. Next - to find the closest approximation for students who are alone in their setting and/or don't have access to a whiteboard or a webcam. For now, they've been using the Zoom whiteboard, which means struggling to write legibly with the pen tool, typing their wonderful math thoughts in the chat tool, all the while sitting in front of a computer screen - in other words getting virtually none of the benefit.

But this was a truly awesome start.


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