Wednesday, September 2, 2015 / 2 comments
So it's the beginning of the year.  I am always very excited to get a new school year started in my first grade classroom, but training new baby ducks on "how to speak math" takes time.  The first day of school I gave our first number talk.


I was able to extract a few ideas from students, but for the most part...

It made me want to run down to the second grade hallway and collect all of my little math minds from last year, but then I realized it was my fault.  I rushed.  I had to remember to slow down and really focus on how to get kids talking.  

I attended an awesome training today given by Ryan Dent and Kristian Quiocho at my school district office called, "Leveraging Student Representations and Discourse to Advance Learning Through Progressions."  Can you say that 5 times, fast?  How about 2?  No?  Me neither.  Honestly, I don't think Ryan or Kristian could either.  They showed a video of a teacher modeling a partner talk with another student in front of the whole class.  I wish I had the video from Math Solutions to share with you.  It was great!
They also had all of us practice "Talking Points."

I know I'm late to the party that these are new to me, but they were awesome. 
One Talking Point we addressed in our group was, "Because of the abstract nature of mathematics, people have access to mathematical ideas only through the representations of those ideas."  This is one of my very favorite Principles to Actions quotes, page 25.  If you haven't read Principles to Actions yet, you're missing out!  Content standards tell us what students need to know, Standards of Mathematical Practice paint a picture of what students need to be doing, Principles to Actions describes the role of the teacher.  I think I highlighted the whole book, seriously... It's a problem.

Here is a link to Math Mind's Blog that will really explain Talking Points if you're interested: 
(P.S. If you are on Twitter, I recommend following @MathMinds.  She is amazing!)
 The way I see it, Talking Points create an environment where students can practice SMP (standards of mathematical practice) 3.  

What I really love about it is the focus on metacognition.  Students have an opportunity to not only explain themselves, but to also critique their own thinking and change their responses after learning from their groups.  I see huge opportunities not only for my students, but for me as the teacher as well.  If I walk around and listen to what they are saying I can collect wonderful data that exposes exactly what my little first graders are thinking.

Here are some other things I've been trying in order to get our mathematical discourse flowing this year:
*  Highlighting students who ARE talking math with their partners or groups.  I tend to make a spectacle of myself...  "Oh my goodness!  Everyone STOP!  I just heard the most amazing thing happening over here between Bria and Kennedy!  Kennedy, can you please tell the class what Bria told you?  Bria, what did Kennedy have to say?  Wow!  They are awesome mathematicians!  Thank you for your hard work girls!  Class, give them a firecracker cheer!"  I told you...  a spectacle!

*  Let kids struggle... productively of course, but it's okay for them to be a little uncomfortable and wrestle with things.  I know it will bother you.  Just sing "Let it go..." from Frozen to yourself to keep from "rescuing" your students.  You know why rescuing is in quotes, right?  The way I think about it "rescuing" is kind of like "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day.  Teach him to fish and he eats for life."

*  Act a fool...  Yep, pretend like you are a box of rocks...  Except when it comes to you're awesome questioning skills of course. :)

*  Number Talks:  Honestly, I think Number Talks are the easiest way to get your kids comfortable talking.  They have an added bonus of being just plain awesome too.  I attended the N.C.T.M. annual conference last year in Boston and was fortunate enough to hear from Dr. Ruth Parker.  In her session she said something that I just can't forget.  She said, "There is no single greater practice that can bring the standards of mathematical practice to the foreground other than Number Talks."  Sounds like that is something we should do.
(By the way @MathMinds is hosting a book study via Twitter on Dr. Ruth Parker and Cathy Humphrey's book starting in October.  Come join the fun!  The book is geared for older grades, but there is a lot that can be applied to all grade levels.)

*  Math journals:  I know some kids may not be too comfortable talking with their peers yet.  It may be a good idea to give students time to work out their thoughts on their own in their math journals occasionally before talking with their partners.

*Give kids tasks that they can get excited about!  If you give kids highly engaging tasks you won't be able to make them be quiet!  Check out Graham Fletcher's awesome 3 Act tasks.  Fletcher is another awesome mentor to follow on Twitter: @gfletchy
I have heard some people say, "Why do I have to make math more engaging?  Students should just do it because I told them to."  Well dear colleague, the truth is, you are here for kids.  Why on earth wouldn't you want to teach in ways that get kids excited about learning?  Excitement is an emotion, when emotions are tied to memory they are stored in the episodic memory which is much stronger. (Eric Jensen)

* Use student work to fuel discussions.  Who can be more interesting to students than themselves and their friends?  Students are connected to their own work so they have a vested interest to participate!  I am a big fan of "5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Discussions."  You need to read this next, after P to A.  Read @Daneehlert's blog about his discoveries of the 5 Practices here:

I hope you find some of these ideas helpful in getting your students talking!

After you get your kids talking, what would you focus on next?  Questioning technique???  That's my next goal.

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  1. Jamie, A big firecracker cheer to you for such amazing work in first grade! Your willingness to let your students engage in productive struggle, to experiment and reflect, and to engage with resources and an online community in an effort to grow as a professional is a model for any teacher. Keep at it, and please keep writing about what is happening in your classroom.

  2. Thanks so much Joe. I'm a work in progress for sure, can't say I'm a pro yet. ;) I was a little lost on Twitter for a while, but I really love it now. I learn so much from so many awesome educators like yourself. :)


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