I wish you could hear my kids laughing today. Nearly every team was laughing and giggling as they worked on their team challenge. Every Tuesday I start class with “Team-Building Tuesday,” an activity that is usually not math related but gets my students talking and working together. Despite the time it takes and the fact I have so little, we do a 5 to 10 minute activity every single Tuesday and I feel that we make up the time spent in spades. More than that, my students work together, laugh, and are more comfortable in the classroom. Dare I say that they feel more psychologically safe?
For the past three years, I have had the grand opportunity to work with CPM and the Teacher Research Corps. Each year I have looked at some part of my practice and worked to make it better; this year, I am looking at how safe my students feel psychologically. While this is a challenging topic to take on and document, the general idea behind the action research is: How can we help our kids feel more psychologically safe in the math classroom? One of the ways I am trying to answer that question is with “Team-Building Tuesday.” My thought is that if I can get students comfortable, talking, creating, and maybe even laughing together, they will be better math students. While I am not sure I am completely successful in this endeavor, “Team-Building Tuesday” has become an enjoyable staple in my classroom that I feel is worth every second.
The team-building activity that brought out this laughter was a simple one: I started with a rubber band with short pieces of string tied onto in, then wrapped the rubber band around a marker. On blank printer paper I lightly wrote the word “MATH” and “i heart math” in pencil on another piece of paper. The teams had roughly five minutes to trace the writing with each person holding onto a piece of string. Students had to talk to each other to move the marker in different ways and to hold the paper down. They had such a good time! Their creations will decorate my room for a while, transforming my high school classroom into something more like an elementary room. This particular activity worked out even better as we were learning imaginary numbers that day (the i) and it was great! While I am not confident what it is about this exercise that the students enjoyed so much, I will continue to do something like this every Tuesday. The kids were having such a great time. For that matter, so was I. My students were leaning forward, talking with each other about the plans they had created to complete the task. If the team disagreed, other ideas were listened to and new ideas were discussed. As trial and error changed those plans, students spoke up and adjusted their efforts. Every student was involved, no matter what baggage they brought in with them that morning, and every team was laughing together. When I asked them to tape them up onto my cupboards, there was a joint feeling of pride and amusement as teams displayed their work to each other. They laughed again as they compared their results and strategies. It was a beautiful moment.
A few things to note:
- I am at a high school and I do team building with all ages. The students tell me how much they enjoy doing the team challenges and their age does not seem to play a part in how much they participate or like to do the challenges.
- The students I am describing had only worked together for roughly half of a class period before this happened. They were not in established teams.
- While I am on a block schedule, I have to cover two CPM lessons in 88 minutes. Time is not on my side but I still take the time to do Team-Building Tuesday.
- Students who do not engage in the math discussions and daily work will engage in the team challenges. Some of these students are highly desired teammates as they excel in arenas other than traditional math.
As I move forward into the new semester with a new set of students, you can bet that we are doing “Team-Building Tuesday.” I will also be working with my students to set up norms for working in teams via a carousel, collecting self-evaluation data on Google Forms, banning the word “easy,” and doing what I can to help my kids not only learn mathematics but become more comfortable with who they are while seeing what I can do to encourage a psychologically safe environment – laughing all the way.