Whiteboarding sessions have been stagnating in one of my regular physics classes for a while. The class has a lot of loud, goofy personalities, and tends to lose focus when their group isn’t presenting (or, honestly, even when their group is up front). At the same time, that class has been crushing the other section on every assessment for a while now. I can give them almost arbitrarily difficult problems, and they will mercilessly attack until they figure them out. So why was class time becoming less and less efficient?
Finally, one whiteboard went up on Tuesday that zapped everyone back to attention. The most distracted students were suddenly asking thoughtful questions. What was different? The group had gone up with the wrong answer.
Aha! They were bored with hearing the correct answers to questions. Almost everyone already had a good solution to every problem by the time we whiteboarded (not typical in most other classes), so they didn’t see any point in paying much attention then. Honestly, can you blame them?
Still, they aren’t going to keep getting better and better at physics if they keep wasting away their class periods being silly when they could be thinking more carefully and intentionally about solving physics problems. Enter: The Mistake Game.
First, each group must introduce a mistake into their whiteboard before presenting.
Second, the mistake must be presented very seriously, along with the rest of the work, as though it was an intentional part of the solution.
Third, the presenting group must not acknowledge the mistake until it is called out by someone else in the class.
“Please give your respectful attention to the group at the board. And remember, we’re playing the game!”
We talked about the game on Thursday, but didn’t get to whiteboarding by the end of class. We were finally able to try the game during Saturday’s lab class (double period). Highlights included a giddy student running up to ask, “Are we allowed to make more than one mistake?” Also, a nice moment where an intended mistake (they included air in the system on the LOL for an energy problem even though they had decided to ignore air resistance) was discussed as being okay, just not necessary. For a 3rd/4th Saturday class (end of the “day” on Saturday), it was significantly more productive and focused than usual. I expect that they’ll get better at thinking up subtle mistakes as we play. They’ll also get pickier about the details in their work. I hope that, on more difficult problems, they will purposely include mistakes that they made while solving the problem themselves, even though they later caught and fixed them on paper. Score one more for the mindset team in the battle to normalize making mistakes. After all, they seem to agree with me that we all learn more when a wrong answer goes up than when we’re simply watching perfection.