Is there anything better than hearing kids talk about math? And not only talk…but think – REALLY think. Sometimes we get into a rut with teaching math, where we focus only on getting answers. But what if we focused less on getting answers and more on thinking flexibly and making connections? Would math suddenly get more interesting? More relevant? More fun? A daily math conversation routine is one of the most powerful practices you can have in your classroom.
What are Math Conversations?
Math Conversations are prompts intended for whole-class discussion to get your students thinking flexibly about math. So often math is taught as a subject with right answers. But it’s more than that! Math should be flexible and strategic!
The goal of Math Conversations is to get you and your students talking about math. When kids get the opportunity to share strategies, consider others’ thinking, and justify their own thinking, they can make connections that build their understanding. The secret is to use questions and prompts that don’t only have one correct answer. Tasks like this allow students to use what they know and think in their own ways.
Tips for Getting Started With Math Conversations
Here are some tips for using Math Conversations in your classroom:
Allow adequate thinking time.
Some students will have an answer right away, while some may take longer. It’s important that all students have a chance to think. Many teachers have students put a thumb to their chest when they have an answer (instead of raising hands) so that students who are thinking feel less rushed. See more about the thumb to chest on this post about number talks.
Record students’ thinking as they share and discuss.
When you choose a couple of students to share their thinking, be sure to record it as they explain. This makes the thinking “visual” for other students and will help them form connections and understanding.
Expect that it will take time for students to become comfortable with disagreeing with one another and justifying their answers. Speaking up and voicing an opinion can feel scary for some students, and it may take time. Cultivate an atmosphere where disagreements are not only okay but they are valued because it means that learning is taking place! Encourage students to use prompts like the ones shown below while they are getting comfortable with speaking up.
The Importance of Making Mistakes
Another important part of math conversations is understanding that mistakes are not bad! Mistakes mean that learning is taking place. In her book, Mathematical Mindsets, and also in this article which I highly recommend reading, Jo Boaler discusses the importance of mistakes and making them a celebrated part of math.
As you get started with your math conversation routine, I wanted to share an activity that I read about in Mathematical Mindsets called “Favorite Mistakes.” This is a great addition to a math talk where you have several students sharing their thinking. Favorite Mistakes is an activity where teachers share their favorite mistakes that students have made. Boaler states these should be “conceptual mistakes, not numerical errors. Teachers can then share the mistakes with the class and launch a class discussion about where the mistake came from and why it is a mistake. This is also a good time to reinforce important messages – that when the student made this mistake it was good, because they were in a state of cognitive struggle and their brain was sparking and growing.” (Mathematical Mindsets, page 17)
Let’s take a look at how this might look for the prompt shown here. Suppose a student offers this answer: “I can use 17-7 to solve 17-8. I’ll figure out 17-7 which is 10, then add one more to make 11.” This is a conceptual mistake because the student knew she could use the connection between 17-7 and 17-8 to solve the problem. But she should have subtracted one to make 9 rather than add one to make 11. You might say, “I see what you were doing there! This is an excellent mistake because you knew you could use the connection between 17-7 and 17-8, but let’s draw a picture to help us understand where you went wrong.”
Can you imagine how your math class might change if mistakes were celebrated?
Other Sample Slides From Math Conversations
The big focus of Math Conversations is to provide an opportunity for students to think about math in different ways. Here are some other sample slides of what you can expect to find inside each Math Conversations package.
These are an amazing way to start our math block. Very engaging and students love that there is more than one answer. I love seeing all the different ways my students reflect on the questions being asked.– Jennifer
I absolutely love this resource!! What amazing mathematical conversations were sparked with the slides. My mathematicians loved sharing their ideas and encouraging others to share as well. This resource is a great fit for a morning activity to wake up our math brains or to conclude a math class. Excellent resource.
I love these math questions! We use them everyday as part of our math program. The students find them engaging and some excellent thinking and conversations come out of it. I highly recommend!
I am using this in my small group math stations. My students had a hard time with the fact that there isn’t one specific answer I’m looking for, but they are starting to get the hang of it! I love seeing all the different strategies they use to solve the problems, and I’ve noticed that it’s getting easier for them to explain their thinking!
The prompts for each day have really pushed my students to think outside of the box and have a flexible math brain!
Ready to get started?
Math Conversations are a digital resource with NO PREP required. Simply bring up the slide for the day and you are ready to go! Find all Math Conversations packages using the links below:
Or, if you’d like to try a free sample first, simply sign up here and I’ll deliver it right to your inbox!