We had yesterday off from school. I had an epiphany during my day off that I am not instituting enough accountability and mental math drills in my Grade 7 class. So, today I remedied it with 80 minutes of a mini whiteboard lesson, and the result was really lovely.
We started off doing a laborious example: 2(x + 3), and I called on every single day-dreamer kid in the class to explain over and over again why this equals 2x + 6 (and as predicted, many of them could not say why even after their classmates had explained it 5 times). Once I was satisfied with our 100% accountability for listening in class, we proceeded on to do a very similar example, something like 4(x + 5). Everyone needed to do it on their whiteboards, and I asked them to all hold it up. 100% participation, no one can pass. We then practiced something like 5(x + 2) again just to make sure we all could do it. And then I started to call on one row at a time. When I called on the row, everyone in that row would stand up, and then I'd put up a question on the board. They'd be "put on the spot" to do it (individually on their boards without collaborating), and when they were all ready, they'd hold up their boards and their classmates would say whether they were correct.
This is a huge change from my normal mode of classroom learning, where I think I am too tolerant of mistakes, and so kids think that careless mistakes are totally ok even if you keep making them. This way, they're put under a bit of friendly peer pressure and they need to perform. --AND PLUS IT IS FUN!
We progressed our way to things like -(x + 3) or -8(3x + 5), and then -2(4x - 3) type of things, basic building blocks of algebra, until every group was consistently doing them correctly while standing for their turn.
Then, we moved on to doing two-step equations like 3x - 11 = 16. It turned out to be an excellent practice of their integer skills, and by the end of class, kids were comfortable finding fractional answers to two-step equations such as -4x + 5 = -2, and some can do it in their heads. Not bad for being week 2 of algebra for some of them (and having only recently learned about integers)!
So, I am liking this. Obviously it's not an everyday thing, but I think it adds a nice twist to my normal partnered work, and it really adds accountability for each student to be on the hook to do problems, correctly and consistently and independently. (I was very strict today about kids being silent and not talking during the exercises, and not asking their neighbors for help.) Truly, even my one student who normally gets no work done in class was really shining today and proudly displaying his work and volunteering to explain his answers to class. It was marvelous to see, and the special ed expert in the room was so impressed by the change in him.
So, go mini whiteboards on instituting 100% accountability!