Last summer, at a conference for the California Acceleration Project, Myra Snell used a cool way to set up random groups of participants/students. I wanted to use it in my classes, but just didn't get around to it. It seems, after almost 30 years of teaching, that it has become hard to change the way I run my classroom.
But I did change one thing this past semester. I noticed, while sitting in on a colleague's Calc III class, that I really appreciated the notices he wrote on the board at the beginning of each class. So I began to do it too. Maybe I could implement a few more good habits by watching other teachers during the second and third weeks of class.
Coming back to those random groups... I recently read research that found two effective strategies for getting students to participate more. One is visibly random groups. 'Visibly' means that they can't suspect the teacher of manipulating the group memberships. Myra's method is clearly random, looks easy to implement, and allows for up to four different groupings per class day. You have a slip for each student, with a number, a letter, an animal, and a food on it (for example). Those slips are set up so that no one is with any of the same other people more than once. I've asked Myra for her slips, but last night I was eager to think about it, and created my own. I don't know if this is the best way to do it, but I think it will work. Myra's slips had the 4 terms in a square and mine will be all in a row. I don't think that's a problem.
The second strategy which made a difference in student participation was student use of vertical whiteboards. The researcher(s?) compared paper and whiteboard, used vertically and horizontally. [Unfortunately, I can't find the research I originally read, which mentioned both the visibly random groups and the vertical whiteboards.] I'd like to try this out with the class I'll be teaching for the first time this fall, a compressed version of beginning algebra (first half of the semester) and intermediate algebra (second half of the semester). It's officially the same courses we've always taught, but I get to use a different curriculum, and will be using something project-based. I'm excited about implementing this.