Better Quality Math Discussions

This year my district decided to switch to a new math resource. After using Origo for more than a decade we are now using Illustrative Mathematics. Besides the change in materials, teachers have had to navigate a new platform and instructional approaches that are significantly different compared to the last adopted resource. This change in expectations has been a challenge. The shift in a different math instruction approach was discussed during curriculum night earlier in the year. One of the larger foundational shifts involves the increased amount of math discussions that are expected to occur throughout a lesson. This year students are asked to engage in quality math discussions at least a few times every lesson. There are many “what do you notice, what do you wonder”type of prompts as well as others. The conversations are usually around 3-5 minutes and then students share their discussions with the whole class.

Along with other teachers, I observed that the math conversation opportunities were far from perfect. Some groups had one particular student that spoke for the entire time. Other groups didn’t stick to the prompt or jumped into the conversation before the partner was ready to discuss. After reflecting a bit I felt that students needed a routine for math discussions. That structure, just like many of the routines at the beginning of the year, would hopefully pay dividends as the year progressed. My goal was and still is to improve the quality of the math discussions happening in the classroom. I re-read this book to get a few ideas bout the process. Then I started to build a Desmos deck to help communicate the process that the classes were going to use moving forward.

The deck started off by asking students about past math conversations.

Students picked an option and we discussed it as a class. The consensus was that the class should analyze the picture or problem first. That led to the next slide related to what happens after we analyze the prompt.

Moving on the next slide gets the students talking about the process after analysis. Students will give a non-verbal signal showing that they’re reading to discuss. The class had a fun time creating their non-verbal signals, although I had to repeat more than once to make sure they were appropriate (ah fifth graders!). As students progressed through the deck we reviewed who should go first in the group and why.

We went with the alphabetical approach since the groups will change throughout the year. The class also discussed how to non-verbally show that you agree with the statement from your partner to make sure the conversation continues without interruption. We also discussed sentence stems that can be used to help start the conversation.

The next few slides reviewed the process discussed earlier in the deck.

The class went through a review of the process and tried out a practice round with their current partner. The entire class deck took about 25-30 minutes including the practice round. Feel free to use the Desmos activity by clicking here. The class completed this activity on Tuesday and we used the process daily since then. So far I’m seeing positive results and better quality math conversations. Of course there are hiccups, such as students still using more time than anticipated and/or students finishing too early, but I’m glad to see the conversations moving in the right direction. Later in the week the classes reinforced the math conversations procedure with this quiz.

I’m curious to see what others use to emphasis quality math conversations in the classroom.

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