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Why You Should Not Reward Speed in Math Class

I used to be all about games in my classes. The students were super motivated and the class periods were long (during my first 7 years of teaching the periods were 110 minutes!). Games broke up the monotony of lectures and the stress of classroom management.

Trashketball was my go-to game for years (see my blog post about Trashketball here). See my collection of Trashketball games here.

Then a colleague told me how she adapted the Trashketball rules so that each team got the chance to answer. So I did that.

Then I switched schools and switched again. Suddenly Trashketball was forgotten. Kahoot was the latest and greatest. And, again, the students loved it.

But actually, not everyone loved it. The slow students didn't love it. Then Kahoot became a race to see who could guess correctly the fastest.

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And then I read Jo Boaler's Mathematical Mindsets book.

One idea that she mentions over and over is speed is not important. We need to "disassociate math from speed." In a workshop of hers, I attended she said, "I am not impressed by anyone who finishes quickly. In fact, I am unimpressed by anyone who finishes quickly because it shows you're not thinking."

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So I stopped using Kahoot. I stopped using Quizlet Live. Instead, I would get the students to the board for Board Problems, or play Raffle TicketSticky Points, or Pick Your Points.  I even adapted Trashketball so that students could work at their own pace (read my blog post, toward the bottom I discuss a variation that is more student-friendly). During distance learning I had the students play GimKit but with the All-in setting.

Yes, some students are faster than others. Some students have diagnosed learning disabilities which means they process things slower. But with these aforementioned activities, the slower students still get a chance to participate, they just don't complete as many problems in the class period as their peers and they can still win the game!

So I encourage you to think about how you might be rewarding speed in your class. Are you calling on the first student to raise his hand? Are you giving timed memorization tests? or timed arithmetic tests like Math Minutes? Think about what message that sends to the slower students. It is not true that slow at math = dumb at math. Try to find ways that all students get a chance to have their voices heard or a chance to think through the problems you pose.

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