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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Speed Dating

Speed Dating is one of my go-to structures, like War and  Solve Crumple Toss, for incorporating lots of practice with built-in behaviors to encourage learning. It hits all my requirements for a practice activity: it's self-checking, promotes dialog, allows for some differentiation, requires a little movement, and the kids are doing all the work.

To prepare, you will need cards or slips of paper with problems on one side and the answers on the other. Here are some rational expressions cards to try out. It's important to use problems that will take all your kids about the same amount of time to complete. To differentiate, use a mix of difficulties. If you will have the whole class working together, you need as many problems as students. If you are breaking the class into two distinct groups, you need half as many problems as students, but two copies.

Arrange your desks in two rows facing each other, like this:
Each student gets a problem. Here's where you can differentiate, by giving quick workers more difficult problems. You can mark the problems "easy" "medium" "hard" and let the kids pick their challenge level - it works surprisingly well.

They have several minutes to solve and become the expert on that problem for the day. After a few minutes have passed, tell them the answer is on the back so they can check if they did it right.

When ready, the students trade problems with the person across from them and work it. If they have a question, they are looking at the expert on that problem. If someone raises their hand to ask me a question, I first ask the expert student, "What is his question?" If she says "I don't know," I tell them I'll be back around in a few minutes.

When ready, students get their original problem back (you will have to remind them to get their original problem back before shifting seats for a while, until they get used to the structure.) One row stands up and shifts in the same direction. The student on the end that gets bumped off circles around to the other end. Now everyone should have a new partner and trade problems.

Repeat until all possible partners are exhausted or you run out of time.

This was christened "Speed Dating" by my third period trig class last year. Another class I had called it "The Math Train." If we haven't done it in a while, kids start asking for it. The social component makes it fun, whatever you call it.


  1. I love this activity. Thanks for sharing. I find that many teachers want to dismiss any 'group' type activity because kids get off task and socialize too much. However, that's usually the results of poor instructions. I think you've nailed this one. And with a name like 'speed dating' you must be taking the group hug thing seriously. ;-)

  2. What happens when a "hard" matches up with an "easy"?

  3. Thanks Dave, glad you like it.

    Joe - The kid who finishes the easy quickly has plenty of time to help the kid struggling with the hard. To clarify, by "hard" and "easy" I don't mean "impossible" and "trivial". All the problems should be appropriate for the level of the class.

  4. I am so stealing this idea!! Thanks for the inspiration. I love doing things like this that are self checking.

  5. Kate

    Thanks for taking the time to explain this clearly.

    Simple and effective. I'm certainly going to add this to my list.

  6. This is precisely why I love the math edublogosphere, b/c I come across treasures like this one. Putting it into effect w/ my classes first chance I get!

  7. Thanks, Kate. I've been getting tired of my two standby self-checkers (Tic-Tac-Toe Battle Royale and Showdown). I'll try this one soon.. but have to figure out how to configure it in my room (small, with large tables). Maybe an inner and outer circle...

  8. I immediately began plotting some speed dating seminars for my classes. I'll chime in a thanks for a clear explanation and a great activity.

  9. I'm going to try this today with my "Math Tech" class, which is a sort of required extra help class to practice basic skills. Thanks for the great idea.

  10. First of all, THANK YOU for your creative ideas! I'm a newly minted teacher who has yet to get her feet wet in the classroom (going to grad school this year) and I am LOVING all of your ideas! I feel like I have such an advantage already because I'm saving all of these great things into a "Teaching" folder!

    Please keep them coming. I hope to emulate your fun, creative and thought provoking teaching when I'm in the classroom (hopefully) next year!

  11. Thanks for the great idea! I've done it twice with my classes now, and it's officially been added to my bag of tricks. Keep the good ideas coming!


  12. I just happen to be passing by when I read your post. Nice post and keep up the good work!

  13. I'm late to the party, but that doesn't mean I'm not already trying to think up a set of questions... Thanks.

  14. Hi Kate - just letting you know that I'm pretty much forcing every math teacher I come in contact with to read your blog, particularly this post. It's a great activity.

    (Note: it doesn't take very much forcing - your blog is awesome.)

  15. Hi Kate,

    I used this activity with success today - first day of spring-term calculus at my university.

    I wanted to get an idea of where students needed a pre-calculus review, so I could draw from lots of topics.

    What I kept:
    Cards with question on the front, answers on the back. "Become the expert" format.

    What I changed:
    - Biggest change: I made 4 sets of problems and had students huddle with the other experts on their problem before sharing with others.
    - No "easy" "med" "hard" markings - I just let students choose a card they wanted to try and/or felt they could succeed at.
    - No train or speed date table. My group didn't need the structure and were okay with three-to-five-way swaps of cards.

    What worked well:
    - Answers on the back
    - Huddle with other experts - good confidence booster and ice-breaker (since this was our first day).
    - Prompted lots of questions, especially on the "work by yourself" initial step. This was a great way to assess where we should focus our review.

    Thanks for sharing!

  16. Oooh I like the "huddle." Good idea! Thanks for the feedback.


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