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Saturday, 29 September 2012

Math Talk!

My class is a noisy one, not all of the time of course, but most of the time.  I have very chatty students who love to socialise, and I am endeavouring to use this to my advantage.  Learning is often a social pursuit, and as my students told me on Thursday, "Math is easier and more fun when you are working with a partner.

To this end, I have been explicitly teaching how we speak to one another about Math, how we question and comment to promote one anothers' learning.  We created a "Math Talk" Anchor chart, (which really comes from one of our Ministry's Inspire Monographs).

I've been teaching Math through problem-solving, hoping that for the most part, the students will be constructing their own learning.  I admit, this has been challenging, but we are making progress!  The first issue was that the students really didn't have much "stamina" for solving problems.  I got a lot of "I don't get it"s and "I need help"s.  I decided to do something that one of our Secondary Math coaches, Aldona, suggested.  I decided to teach the 4-part Problem Solving Model explicitly in parts.  First we just focused on the first part - Understanding the Problem.  I realised that this was mostly a reading comprehension issue.  So we talked about our Reading Strategies, and we realised that "Visualisation" can really help when trying to understand the problem.

Then we started to focus on choosing a strategy to solve the problem.  We are creating a class anchor chart for problem-solving strategies.  So far on our chart we have:
  • Guess and Check
  • Use smaller numbers
  • draw a picture or diagram
  • make a chart or table
  • use an equation
I decided to deal with the "stamina" issue by using "Parallel Tasks" (see Marian Small's Good Questions on my Favourite Resources page).  Parallel Tasks are essentially different problems that each focus on the same Math concept (or Big Idea), but they range in difficulty.  Those students with little stamina could do the simpler problem.  I also decided to use "Open Questions" (also from Marian Small).  Open questions are questions that have more than one solution, so students have multiple entry points into the problem and can work at the problem at their own level. 

This really helped.  The students are starting to improve on their ability to stick with a problem.  So then I wanted to work on their ability to have a "Math Conversation".  This turned out to be something I had to explicitly teach as well! We tried posting all of our work and using a "Gallery Walk".  You can read all about the Gallery Walk and other ways to promote communication in Math in the Capacity Building Series Monograph:

I armed the students with sticky notes and asked them to write comments on one another's work.  Their comments were mostly "Neat work" or "Great job!" or "You need to include words".  Not what I was looking for at all!  I realised I had to model how to write comments as well.  

Slowly but surely we are getting there.  Scroll down to see where we are at now. 
 I've been experimenting with how to add text to my photos.  I did these using "Paint".  However, I kept getting this white dotted line, some sort of glitch I think, and even when you click on the photos, they are too small to see my captions. Anyhow, if you know of another program or application I can use to add text to my photos, please leave a comment and let me know!  I can use all of the help I can get.

Here is an example of Parallel Tasks and an Open Question.  

After the Gallery Walk, we had a class discussion about the different solutions.  Students are beginning to see the connections between addition and multiplication, between t-charts and skip counting, and how the multiplication and division are simply inverse operations.

During the Gallery Walk, students could see that there were different strategies to solve the same problem.


  1. Hi Lorraine, I love that you used the four part problem solving steps. Although they can be found on page 13 of the Math Curriculum document and many of our schools have adopted the four square model outlining this process, I like how you personalized the process to fit the needs of your students. This is evident by your posted "Math Talk" anchor chart. The use of "talk" has been recognized by many as a powerful strategy. I would also suggest, when your students are ready, considering having some students act as observers during group problem solving sessions. When I this in a CIL-M in-class situation, students, who others working on the problem, were amazed at how much those students they considered to be, "good in Math " worked , talked, and revised their plan to get a solution. They were also surprised that the, "Good Math Students" didn't arrive at the correct solution right away. They checked their solution, realized it might not be correct and then re-worked it or changed their problem solving approach. I'd love to see what your students could do with this strategy once they are comfortable, [have built up problem solving "stamina"]. CAn't wait fir your next post Pat Mateja

  2. Hi Pat,
    I love the idea of having students observe and take notes during problem-solving. I was actually thinking of video taping one group and watching it together as a class. Then we could create success criteria for collaborative problem solving.

  3. Look on EduGAINS under the Mathematical Processes for some sample success criteria ideas. I also love the thought of creating success criteria centered around how students work together to solve a problem. here's what we created to use at St. John.
    Success Criteria Group Checklist
     We all talked about the problem.
     We understood the problem.
     We agreed upon and select an appropriate tool
     We talked about and identified different ways to solve the problem
     We presented our solution and showed all the steps so others could easily understand our thinking.
     We used Math words, symbols or drawings to show our work.
     We know our solution is correct and that our answer is reasonable.

  4. I love the idea of student observers. I teach grades 3-5 and I am always searching for new ways to help and push them to be more diligent in checking/showing their work. I also like looking at the middle school sites to see where the teachers find weaknesses; this is so I can help prepare the students better. Thanks for the great ideas. I am going to bookmark this site and check back with you. Anything I can do to help prepare the kids for upper grades I am on it. I also keep my kids from 3rd to 5th; this allows me to move much quicker through the material because I know what I taught them the year before. My 5th graders have no excuses :) ~Dottie

  5. I would love to keep my kids for a second year. All of the research supports keeping students - you are so much more efficient when you know their needs and strengths! Your students are lucky.
    We've come a long way since this post. My kids are really good at giving one another feedback now. They also are really good at collaborative work. They have learned that the work isn't complete until every member of their group understands it.

  6. There is a web-based program for adding text to photos called Lino It. It is free but requires you to sign up. Hope this works for you.

  7. I love the poster idea for "Math Talk". My class is also very chatty and this will help direct their "chatter" towards more meaningful conversations. Thanks for sharing this idea.


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