Math class has changed a lot since we were in elementary school. I am sure most of you, as elementary students, were used to the routine of checking your homework at the beginning of class, having the teacher lecture for the next 30 minutes and then given an assignment with a ton of problems for the last 10 minutes of class to do. Repeat all of this until the unit test and then repeat again. There was very little time for us students to share our thinking. It was all algorithm-based and that was the way it was done, memorizing formulas and needing to show that specific formula every day. It was almost as if teachers were creating math robots instead of critical thinkers.
When we began teaching in the late 1990s there were still many “old school” teachers that still taught like what we mentioned above. It was hard for us to break away from the mold of how math was taught, but we knew that we needed to involve our students more in the process. As we began to teach our own students in math, we started to break away from the way math was taught. We began involving our students more in discussions and allowing them to share their answers with the class.
We began to implement components of Math Talk as we saw an increased enthusiasm and motivation to learn in our students. We quickly realized that the students wanted to be involved in math class and not just sitting their being lectured at for 30 minutes. It did not take a rocket scientist, which we are far from being, to figure this out. Over the last twenty years, we have developed numerous methods and strategies involving how to make Math Talk meaningful that we would like to share with you.
What is Math Talk?
Math Talk is more than just sharing answers- it is a whole philosophy built around the concept of being able to explain one’s answers and being able to understand other methods that classmates are using to solve problems as well. Math Talk is a means to dig deeper into mathematics. Memorizing algorithms is great, but being able to fully understand the “why” is even more important to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills- two things lacking in some students today.
The Teacher’s Role
Teachers play a critical role in this process. Teachers need to establish a learning environment where students’ opinions are valued. Teachers need to encourage students to think, question what they hear, discuss their ideas, solve problems and explain their solutions. The teacher has to instill this in his/her students as early as possible in the school year.
For math talk to be successful students must be grouped in various ways so students can learn how to work well together with others. We have included various ways to partner and group your students in this resource. We suggest you use all of them throughout the school year in math.
Final Thoughts on Math Talk in the Classroom
Through Math Talk, students learn to better communicate by speaking on a topic, being able to actively listen to their partner, using eye contact to acknowledge the speaker, and valuing the opinions of others. Once students have shown proficiency is using the simple and explanation questions, you can transfer this into your daily math instruction. It will eventually lead to whole class Math Talk where students feel comfortable enough to share their methods and learning strategies.
You will want to check out our amazing resource on Math Talk that is chalk full of great ideas, resources, and posters to use right away in your classroom. You can find it by clicking here or on the image below. Included in the resource:
Tips on how to implement Math Talk
6 different ways to group your students
How to use Math Boards effectively
10 simple questions for students to answer
10 explanation questions for students to answer
4 Math Talk posters
Student Reminders (4 per page)
We look forward to hearing how Math Talk is making a difference in your classroom!