A while ago, I discovered the magic of the whiteboard: for some reason, students seems to spend much more time working on practice math problems if they can write on a whiteboard instead of working on paper. Since then, I have encouraged students to use that strategy, especially when they’re stuck or when they’re feeling restless.
The strategy works well and has been so popular among my students that the other day, when the class was working on dividing decimals (always a dreaded topic), I actually ran out of space at the whiteboard. That’s when I suggested that the students try writing on the windows. Dry-ease markers wipe off glass the same way they wipe off a whiteboard, and I am lucky to have large windows in my classroom.They offer a huge space on which students can work. Doing math problems on the windows caught on like wildfire. By the end of the class, students were so intent on doing division questions that I had to remind them to go outside for recess.
There was certainly an element of novelty that made writing on the windows a popular choice, but I think there is a lot more to it than that. Writing on a larger surface with a smoother interface than pencil-and-paper is great for students who struggle with fine-motor skills. Similarly, standing up at the window, rather than sitting down, is helpful for students who need to move around a lot. For students who are stuck, staring out a window is much less frustrating than staring at a blank page, and writing on an easily-erasable surface encourages experimentation as a way to get started.
When the class wrote the unit test a few days ago, I encouraged students to try doing some calculations on the windows if they were feeling stuck. Many students went about the test as they usually do: writing their work on paper and keeping any experimenting confined to scrap paper or the margins of the test. For some, however, the chance to write on the windows helped them to persist and produce more work than they would have otherwise.