Communicating in the Math Classroom: Part 4
By Shelby Strong, posted August 15,
I hope that I’ve been
able to convince you that communication is an essential part of the middle
school math classroom. For me, the hardest part of implementing any new routine
is finding quality resources that are rigorous without being boring or
overwhelming. In my last post of this series, I want to share my favorite
resources with you to help you get started.
The first group
is what I like to call “conversation starters.” These activities can take
anywhere from five to fifteen minutes and can ease students into discussion. I
like to start with WODB, or Which One Doesn't
Belong? This website has a collection of puzzles that asks students to
justify which object does not fit with the others. No answers are provided;
students must use their mathematical knowledge to justify their choices. This
activity can be modified by asking students to get into groups based on their
choices and make compelling arguments to convince other students to join their
Another resource I
use frequently is Estimation 180. Students
build number sense by examining a picture and making educated guesses using
guided questions provided on the website. Students can also have conversations
about reasonable answers and estimation techniques.
The next group of
resources includes my “rainy day” activities. These are perfect for field trip,
testing, or early dismissal days—those days in which there is too little time to
complete a regular lesson but too much time to waste the day. I try to find
activities that are just out of my students’ comfort zones. The best activities
can be accessed by students of any ability level. My favorite website for this
Mathematics. Problems on this site are organized by grade level and within
the Common Core’s Content Standards for Mathematics. My favorite activity
involves calculating the cost of a stained glass
window. Students start by working as far as they can
individually, then coming together and comparing strategies.
The last category
contains activities that take one or more class periods to complete. My journey
into discussion-based mathematics began with the activities developed by the Mathematics Assessment Project. The
Classroom Challenges are designed to replace a midunit assessment and are also
aligned with the Content Standards for Mathematics. Each challenge has a preassessment
and postassessment, PowerPoint slides for sparking class discussion, an
activity for students to complete while they work in small groups, and a guide
for teachers to walk students through the process. Although the lessons are
complete, they are not of the form to print out and leave with a substitute
teacher. You wouldn’t want to miss out on the amazing lightbulb moments that your
students will encounter while working through these problems.
My final and
favorite resource is . . . other teachers! Many great ideas can be sparked by
conversations with our own peers. For starters, you can always reach out to the
teachers in your school or district. But don’t limit yourself to other math
teachers. Some of my favorite ideas for classroom activities have come from social
studies teachers. For more variety, there is an entire education renaissance
taking place on Twitter. Teachers from all over the country can collaborate in
unprecedented ways, thanks to the Internet and the Common Core State Standards.
Feel free to send me a message at @Sneffleupagus to talk about math.
Have a great school year!
Shelby Strong is a middle level math educator in Jefferson Parish,
Louisiana. She is passionate about mathematics and currently serves as a
Louisiana Teacher Leader. She is an active member of Twitter Professional
Learning Communities and has given presentations at the district and state
level on improving mathematical instruction.