Teaching Tips

Leveraging brief moments to collaborate

Christy Dablemont, a physics first teacher in the Hermitage R-4 district in Missouri found ways to use brief moments to collaborate with math teachers in her school. Here is an excerpt from her article in the December 2013 issue of the A TIME for Physics First Newsletter.
The greatest challenge I have faced in collaborating with math teachers has been simply finding a time to meet. I would love for the four teachers in question to meet and brainstorm, but we have not found the time for that to happen. I found that collaboration is easier when I place myself in the role of a “roving mediator” who connects with each teacher individually.
When I drop in on one of the teachers during a moment of free time, I often offer to share something I found useful. This effort is usually reciprocated by the other teacher. I then get together with another teacher in the network and share the information. The end result is a collaboration of sorts that, while not perfect, still works.
It was during one such drop-in conversation with our high school math teacher that I learned of a great activity to teach unit conversions. The only materials needed are index cards and pre-made conversions done via the factor-label method.

On card#1 write the problem you want to solve, e.g., Convert 2.5 cm to km.
Card#2 contains the first step of the factor-label table, 2.5 cm = 2.5 cm/1.
Card#3 contains the next step of the table, 1 m/100 cm.
Card#4 is the last step in the conversion, 1 km/1000 m.
Card#5 has the answer, 2.5 x 10^-5 km.

Make up several different problems, so that each student gets a card. Mix the cards up and distribute them to the students. Then let them move around the room finding others with whom they can build the complete table.
When I tried the activity with my classes I had good results. The students enjoyed getting up and hunting down the correct matches. I observed a lot of student cooperation as they worked together to come up with the right answer. This activity works well when conversions are first being taught, or later in the year when the skill might need to be reviewed.
I discovered that although collaboration with math teachers may take a little extra leg work, the effort is worth the benefits.