July 31 Day 145: Zoom Sort Puzzle

The last three days have been filled with productive zoom meetings that should have taken place in person at MathFest in Philapelphia. The meetings were masterfully coordinated by MAA President Michael Dorff and chair of the Congress Tim Chartier. They were a good balance of receiving information, discussing priorities, and connecting with participants through engaging activities.

I was asked to lead the ice breaker activity on the third and final day of the Congress meeting. If you’ve ever taken a computer science class, you’ve heard of different sorting techniques like the bubble sort, insertion sort, merge sort, and quick sort. (Links are to the AlgoRythmics folk dancing illustrations of various sorting methods. There are many more than listed here.) Today’s activity was the Zoom sort. Directions were shared by means of a Google document that everyone had permission to edit. Participants were divided into small breakout rooms and asked to complete the following:

Directions: You will be randomly assigned to breakout rooms with 3-4 people. Please introduce yourself with your preferred name and role in Congress. In this document record by room:

  • Preferred names in alphabetical order; 
  • A screenshot of your room in gallery view with participants arranged in alphabetical order; 
  • At least one mathematical question inspired by the activity.

In gallery view, participants can change their location in the other people’s Zoom grid by turning their cameras off and on (with the caveat that you will appear in the same position of your own gallery view either first or second depending on the device you are using).

It was an exercise in cooperation and thinking about perspectives different from your own. Some participants learned how to take a screenshot and drop them into a Google Doc for the first time. As an ice breaker it was fun and could be a low stakes introduction to needed technology for students in the coming academic term.

The question I had going into the activity, would any of the random groups be unable to achieve a solution? The answer is YES on two accounts:

  • For whatever order you are trying to achieve, if the person that belongs in position 2 has an iPad and the person that belongs in position 1 has a computer, nobody’s view will have a properly ordered list (as happened for April, Bonita, and Britney).
  • Eight minutes is not enough time to complete the task. It was a very real reminder that everything takes longer online. So plan accordingly.

You can view the Google document. Other posts on discovering Zoom placement can be found May 2 Day 55: Start Small, May 5 Day 58: First Approximation, and May 11 Day 64: Scientific Method.

Published by Jenny Quinn

Mathematician. Mother. Wife. Leader. I am a professor of mathematics at the University of Washington Tacoma. Mother of Anson and Zachary. Wife to Mark. President of the Mathematical Association of America.

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