Due to the global pandemic, my district was fully remote during most of the the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year. The digital learning platform that I was required to use was Google Classroom, where I met with each class every day for 46 minutes on Google Meet.
During a ‘normal’ year, I would spend class time on icebreakers, team building activities, and promoting the use of our established team roles. While this took valuable time out of many class periods, I knew the payoff would be priceless, as students made real connections with their teammates, their classmates, and me. These connections helped me learn more about my students, gave them freedom to take risks and make mistakes, and kept my students engaged in learning mathematics through rich team tasks. But, this year is far from ‘normal’. How was I going to make help my students make these connections through a computer screen with most cameras turned off? (Also, at the beginning of the year, Google Meets did not have breakout rooms.)
I decided to use a “This or That” or a “Would You Rather” question to start class every day. I posted the question on a slideshow and had the students answer in the chat feature in Google Classroom. These questions were low-pressure, easy to answer and completely unrelated to our learning objectives for the day. But, the students had to make a choice in each question. After they answered in the chat, I would read a few responses and then ask the students follow-up questions about their decision. Students would turn on their microphones and share with the class or they would add more to the chat. Students said they enjoyed these questions and our conversations so much so that there were a few days when I wanted to save time and did not ask them a question; instead, a few students took it upon themselves to ask a question to the class using the chat feature!
While I knew that the time we spent on these questions was valuable, I did not realize how truly valuable it was until two typically very quiet and reserved students realized that they liked something in common and began having a conversation about it in front of my entire class. I suggested that they continue the conversation by sharing with each other their contact information and since then, they have become good friends. During a time when most people were all feeling a little isolated and lonely, these two students connected and found each other through a simple question on a Google Meet.