I saw the “relay race” strategy idea from Fawn Nguyen as she uses it to pre-assess students’ understanding of applying the correct Order of Operations. I mentioned the strategy to my student-teacher, Lauren, and asked her if she thought it might work for an upcoming topic.

We decided to give it a whirl when solving algebraic proportions, and sneak a little rational operations review in the mix by asking students to do something extra to the solution at each phase. This solution-plus-extra-operation we coined to be the “relay answer” for each problem. Each row of 5 students had to find the total of all “relay answers” before submitting their row’s paper to Lauren or to me.

Watching the race itself was both entertaining and painful! The pressure! 🙂 Students learned quickly that accuracy may be more valuable than speed, as first-finishers handed papers to Lauren and me for approval, only to be rejected. If a row’s paper was given back, we encouraged the 5 students in the row to clump together and find the error(s) on their paper. Rows were allowed to resubmit their papers. The first row to submit a completely accurate paper earned bragging rights.

This was a worthwhile strategy to be sure! At first, I worried that only 1 engaged student to 4 unengaged students might be an unpleasant ratio… but the anticipation and healthy dose of pressure due to the individual accountability this task ensured kept all students on their toes.

Here are two handouts Lauren designed. They worked great! For future tweaking, we thought about adding a column for students to write their names next to the problem they solve. After class ended, we found several papers left behind on desks with telling errors as well as perfect work. It would have been nice to know whose specific work we were looking at. Though we hadn’t intended to collect the sheets after the race, having student names on there would have made this a better formative assessment worth collecting. I think students needed more practice distributing negatives, so that may be an additional edit next time.

Have you used a relay-race strategy? What tweaks have you done to this strategy that made it more successful/informative?

I’m stealing this! Thanks, Cathy! Perfect timing for my review with my algebra kids.

Rock on! 🙂

Can you explain how the relay race works? Each student does a problem and passes the paper? And then it is checked when the paper is complete? I love the idea; just not sure on logistics. Thanks!

Sure Wendy,

It sounds like you have the right idea. Use one two-sided sheet per row of students. In a classroom with rows of five students, the person in the front seat of each row would solve the first problem, do the extra operation, and record the “relay answer” in the final column. Then the paper is passed to the next student behind student 1 in the row. Rinse and repeat through all five students. Student 5 raises her/his hand when complete, and the teacher glances at the final total. If the total is incorrect, give the paper back to the row and permit them to “huddle” in an attempt to find and correct the error(s). First row to submit a perfect paper wins! Does that help?