One technology tool I have found to be very useful this year has been a random list generator. I initially began to use this to provide a new seating plan once a month in order to expose students to the dynamics of a different group environment.
In the old 1.0 days I would have pulled names from a hat, now I can do it digitally in a matter of seconds. As the program is "making" the decision, it seems to completely remove any disgruntled feelings students may have after being assigned to a table with people they would not normally choose to sit with.
In fact, the program was so easy and quick to use, and the students so accepting of the outcome, that I started to "randomize" every two weeks. An alert would pop up on my calender every second Monday morning, and the kids would be duly randomized. Word docs on my desktop for each class list allow a rapid cut and paste into the program; the students watch with baited breath while I hit enter, and then move into their new numbered seats without fuss.
The frequent mixing of the students has also had other positive spin-offs: the new math program Connected Math certainly lends itself to discussion, debate and collaboration, and this is aided by students doing group work with a continually changing group of peers. An assessment utilized by connected math is the "Partner Quiz". This is where a group/table of students work together to do a test, and are allowed resources such as notes, reflections, and each other. Having the chance to work with peers to complete a quiz is a novel concept for most students (and for me!). It certainly demands skills like listening, speaking, and decision making. When students start to realize that they will only randomly and occasionally be with their "best friend" and have to get along with others in order to achieve a goal, it opens up a powerful new experience. Students have little option but to learn to deal with different ideas, strategies, and personalities.
The randomize system also allows me to integrate this very real-world situation into the probability unit we study as a class. For example, it brings tremendous interest to questions like "what is the probability of sitting with your best friend if we have 6 tables?", "what is the probability of sitting at the same table with a friend twice in a row?", "what is the probability of sitting in exactly the same seat twice in a row?"
All this has sprung from the seemingly innocuous use of an easily available piece of technology.