Thursday, August 23, 2018

Getting Kids Talking with Talking Points

I'm teaching AP Chemistry this year for the first time in a very long time. Since many of the students in AP Chemistry are my former students, I had the benefit of knowing almost everyone on day 1. Rather than start with a traditional icebreaker activity, I decided to use a strategy called Talking Points that I learned about at TMC18

Talking Points is a strategy that is designed to get students involved in discourse about a topic. The teacher creates a short list (10ish) of statements that have some built-in controversy or at least differing interpretations. Using words like "most," "best," "worst" help create statements that are easy to argue about. In groups, students read the statements and tell their tablemates if they agree or disagree and why. They tally up the agrees and disagrees for each statement and then share takeaways with the whole class. While they discuss, the teacher can circulate and eavesdrop on the interesting discussions that ensue.

Where I can see myself using this to address chemistry content this year, on day 1 I used the strategy to learn more about what my students think about AP Chemistry. Since I am designing some of what we will do based on my agreement with some of these items, it felt like a good way to introduce the rationale for what we do. My statements are pictured below:

It was fascinating to listen to their ideas as they discussed these statements. Every students participated in the discussions and many were very lively. Here are some of the takeaways:
  • Everyone agreed to some extent that a major focus of AP Chemistry should be preparation for the test.
  • Everyone agreed to some extent that we should practice tasks that are similar to the test this year and that we should become proficient at solving a certain number of problems in a certain amount of time.
  • Most students disagreed that earning an A in AP Chemistry ensures a 5 on the test. 
  • There were mixed reactions on whether or not we should practice calculating without a calculator (and most did not realize that you cannot use a calculator on the multiple choice part of the AP Exam).
Some of the trends and takeaways they identified included:
  • "We really want to practice the test."
  • "Although the test is important, the class and material is most important. The score is not necessarily definitive." 
  • Our agrees and disagrees were split in half.
 Here are reasons I will use Talking Points again:
  • In small groups, every student spoke. Without having to guide the discussion, I could just listen to the interesting things they said. 
  • It wasn't like pulling teeth to get them to share ideas.
  • When I described the AP Chemistry Exam and the types of tasks we will tackle this year, I think my vision made more sense to them. I think the activity did lay a foundation for the rest of our work.
I'm looking forward to using this in a more content-specific way the next time. Perhaps to compare answers to a lab or methods to solve problems or  review essential questions. I'm also planning to use this same activity with parents at Meet the Teacher next week. I hope they will embrace discussing these statements, too!

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