Saturday, September 05, 2009

Sitting at Tables

This is the 1st time in my teaching career that the students sit 4 at a table. I've always had desks that have been arranged in groups of 4 (facing forward). Now the kids are 2 on each side facing each other, and the tables are angled towards the front, so that everyone can see the board.

Well, this past week I gave my 1st quizzes, and I was pondering what to do about wandering eyes. I didn't have enough time to make a big table divider, and doing nothing didn't sit well with me since I can't monitor all students at all times. So I remembered what I'd heard about manila folders propped up in front of each student.

I was passing out the folders to my 9th graders, and some of them started to act offended. I don't know if it was a show or real offense, but the comments were, "we haven't done this since the 6th grade", "this is so childish", etc. Hmph. I've SEEN 9th grade eyes wandering. I presented it as, "humor me. This is so I don't wrongly accuse you of cheating, and it makes me feel better." But seriously, the seats/papers are too close together to not have issues. I wonder what other people do? I guess I'll ask at my school.


  1. My students sit in individual desks, but we have 40 students in a smallish room, so the rows are way too close together.

    During tests, I always mention that people's eyes when they're thinking often go up and to one side, and that this can look like cheating when it isn't, so they have to be very careful to keep their eyes forward.

    I also tell them I'll move anyone I see looking to the side. During the test, when I do see someone's eyes wandering I catch their gaze and with two fingers point from their eyes forward.

    There's usually one person a semester who I ask to sit in front on test days.

    With your setup, you'd have to call them out more publicly... Hard one.

  2. I teach at the college level, and there are still wandering eyes happening there. To help with that, I create 2 versions of all tests and print them on different colored paper. It at least cuts down on some of the eye movement when the students see that the test next to them is not the same as theirs. In some cases, I've even scrambled the order of the problems so they can't get even a hint by looking at another student's work. Sometimes it feels like more work, but I do it anyway. Besides, it then allows me the freedom of have the same test just printed on different colors later in the semester when things get busy. They assume the tests are different since the colors are different.

  3. Anonymous10:58 AM

    Both great ideas of things to say and do. Thank you for your suggestions. Now I'll have to work on getting out of my last-minute mode of making and printing the test the morning of the exam :).

    Ms. Cookie

  4. I really enjoy your blog and the suggestions you offer. Just curious, what classes are you teaching this year?

  5. Anonymous11:45 AM

    Hi Keninwa ... This year I'm teaching Algebra 1 preAP, Geometry preAP, and Introduction to Engineering Design (a "project lead the way" class). Thanks for your kind words ... need them after a semi-rough Friday.

    Ms. Cookie

  6. Similar to MathFaery, I had two versions of the test at the start of the year. By October I just print the same test on four different colors of paper to keep from having all the extra work. It is a little trick I learned student teaching, where we had tables. No one has figured it out yet!

  7. I have 2 students who sit at each table. I always give 2 versions of every test. Even for a short quiz - that is usually when they are caught! And I make a point of talking about cheating and stealing and how lazy it is. This is one of my big pet peeves! Also find out what the school policy is regarding cheating - ours get 3 nights of detention! Is it really worth 6 hours of detention and a zero for the grade?

  8. A tip I got from my master teacher in my student teaching days, which I still use today, is put some guilt on them.

    Tell them how there shouldn't be any wandering eye. If they did their job and I did mine, there would be no need for it.

    Tell them how if you catch them cheating, you will never even look at them, even if you see them on the street (on top of the school consequences). That's how insulting to you as a teacher that kind of act is. It's like telling you that you can't teach and so he/she has no hope for success except by cheating. Tell them how you will teach them because you have to, but you will have no respect for them.

    Now, this works well if you connect with your students. Doesn't work for all classes or all years. It's somewhat effective for me also because I do stay at school everyday for tutoring for anyone who asks or needs it. There is no excuse why they didn't learn material (under most circumstances).

    But best way to do it is to have 2 versions (at least) like in the comments above. If it's a last minute situation, just reordering the question may be sufficient. It's definitely more work but it's a basic precaution we have to take.

    In your case, I would suggest no credit without proper work. Give them a chance, and have the walls come down. If you even get a hint of an wandering eye, the wall goes up for that table or for the whole class (no discussion), those are the terms. It's insulting enough to discourage wandering eyes and you also gave them a chance.

  9. Our calculus teacher has students seated at round tables (4 to a table) and uses dividers on test days. The students seem to be fine with it, but maybe that's because they know they're in a top class and the teacher is good so whatever he wants to do is the "right thing" in their eyes.

  10. I do what Mike does, and the students haven't figured it out.

    I think using folders is a great idea, and I was thinking of doing the same in my class. We have desks, but unless I set them up in pairs, there is no aisle.

    All the effort we have to go through to prevent cheating...

  11. I just found this blog and really enjoyed reading some of your "school" stories! I am a sixth grade math teacher so I definitely see those eyes moving around when test time arrives! :)

    I have individual desks that are different heights so, fortunately, I do not have to make a decision on grouping.

    Since you are a high school math teacher I would like to have your opinion on student academics. If you could choose your top three things (I know there are MANY more) that middle school students should know before coming to high school, what would those be? I have students, in sixth grade, that are still working on mastering their multiplication, I know the frustration of students not being on grade level. I'm just curious as to what you would define as definite "must know's".

  12. Anonymous9:36 PM


    That's a good question. Off the top of my head, these are the things I'm still stressing, even though it's below grade level (and still teach sometimes to 11th and 12th graders) ... you can probably guess them: fractions, PEMDAS ... or GEMDAS as I've just heard and liked (G for grouping), and working with positive and negative numbers.

    Maybe it's a school long, every year type of thing because maybe it's just rules to them and they don't internalize it and then consequently mix up or forget the rules.

    Ms. Cookie

  13. I have read that the best indicators of success in high school and beyond are mastery of decimals/fractions/ratios/percents. So I'd go for a really good understanding of those if possible. And not just knowing the rules and able to do the right computations but if possible really "getting" what these things are.

  14. Ms. Cookie and Mathmom,

    Thank you for you input! I teach everything that you have mentioned. I spend quite a bit of time on PEMDAS (I'm still working on the students actually remembering the sentence!)

    Fractions are a 12 week process and decimals are what we're working on right now.

    Integers (positive and negative) are introduced in sixth grade. We go over the basic rules of working with positive and negative numbers...but it's hard for some of them to grasp.

    Well, this makes me feel better. At least the majority of what I'm teaching is useful for future grades!

    Thank you both for your input!

  15. I am a Middle School Math Teacher and I created a new free online math games site called

  16. Anonymous11:56 PM

    I have groups of four just like you. I have them put their huge bookbags between them to make it just a little harder. I just say that I would prefer to stifle crimes of opportunity. They're ok with it.