360 degree whiteboards

Reflecting back on the past week, I actually had an abundance of opportunities for professional development beyond the “daily grind” of my studies.  It’s not really a daily grind, by my polymath brain does need a bit of light, or not so light or at least completely diverse and out of the box relief from the straight and narrow – (which isn’t really that straight and narrow I’m fortunate to say) of librarianship and teacher-librarianship.

Anyway, on Wednesday I stumbled on some PD on 360 degrees Math, thanks to my librarian edge boss who had chosen this as one of the topics to follow.

I’ll be upfront – of course I had a hidden agenda in attending.  I have a child who is struggling in math. Or let me put it otherwise, he alternates between coping really well and enjoying, nay loving the subject and his teacher, and failing every test or assessment placed in front of him. Between independently doing the homework assigned and falling way behind.  Basically I suspect he just does not “get” numbers. Something my more creative and design and interesting friends with well established creative careers tell me is totally acceptable and fine. Were it not for the coming 6 years of schooling he has to do math in.  So any tricks or wizardry or clues as how to make this process a little more palatable to the both of us is much appreciated.

The concept of 360 degree math was apparently launched by Sean Kavanaugh as a way to engage students. By having the students stand and solve problems at white-boards that surround the classroom, teachers see “evidence of the students’ thought processes as they unfold”.  In the old model of students hunched over their workbooks, “mistakes are usually caught long after they’re made and instructors may have trouble pinpointing where a student first went off the rails.”
The five steps of the structure includes:
  • “The Exchange: As each student enters the classroom, they’re personally greeted by the teacher—a sign of respect and welcome.
  • The Rewind: Students solve three relatively simple problems at the whiteboard to build their confidence.
  • The Micro-Lecture: The teacher gives a short lecture that’s kept between eight to 10 minutes in order to go over new concepts. 
  • The Practice: Students return to the whiteboard, where they spend the bulk of the class, to solve more challenging problems, facilitated by group discussions and collaboration.
  • The Proof: Work is done individually on the boards and reviewed by the teacher to help her plan the next lesson and understand where each student is in his or her mastery of skills.  ” (Antoniades, 2013, para. 10)
First we were the guinea pigs – trying to solve a range of problems pinned up on the board. Then we heard a little about the background to the idea of 360 degree math, and it’s variations – like writing problems or solutions on windows and then putting down the window blinds and gradually opening them to reveal the answers.   We considered the positive elements – having children stand and walk around rather than sit glued to their desks all day, the possibility of erasing mistakes and false logic easily and without leaving a trace or marks in a school notebook, the idea of making thought visible and mapped and seeing the process and strategy evolve.  The luxury of an expanse of whiteboard rather than a few lines in a book.   A few of the cons were the fact there wasn’t a permanent record unless the solutions and workings were copied down.  The chance that some students would copy answers rather than collaborate or work on the problem themselves.
As a mixed bunch of educators ranging from Maths and Science, to English and second language and of course the library we were immediately enthused with ideas as to how this could be translated to our environments.  
For the library, we are already using one table with a writeable surface, and have noticed that students use it a lot for collaborative learning, funnily enough, particularly in math, and the small portable whiteboard in the office behind the main desk gets a regular workout when we brainstorm as a library team.  If the library is to continue in its function as a collaborative learning space, designed as much for consumption as creation of information, of course we should be encouraging writing on the walls and windows. 
And I went home, cleared my son’s desk and took it out of his room, measured the walls where his desk had been and ordered a large whiteboard. I also cleared all the surfaces in his room, took out all the boxes of lego and blocks and bricks that he hadn’t been using for a while and put them into the storeroom.  It’s amazing the difference that less clutter makes. He wasn’t using the desk anyway – it was far to full of clutter, and he can never sit still at the table to do his homework anyway, so the loss of a chair doesn’t matter.  I put a tiny little table against one wall which he can use for his assignment if necessary.  It’s now Christmas break, so we’ll be using this method for revision of the  content areas that he failed his most recent tests on, and then use it for “real” once term starts again.  I’m feeling strangely hopeful.  We’ll see how it goes.


360 Degree Math – Home. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2014, from http://www.360degreemath.com/

Antoniades, A. (2013, October 1). Get Up, Stand Up! 360 Degree Math Revolutionizes Classrooms. Retrieved December 14, 2014, from http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/10/01/math-is-fun-360-degree-math

Teach (2013) 360 Math Whiteboards and Khan Academy Excerpt. (n.d.). [You Tube]. Retrieved December 14, 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FQlXN9YZAI

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