As always, I hope this email finds you happy, healthy, and loved. Fortunately, this summer provided a fantastic break and opportunity for my family and me to settle into our new home (minus a few holes in the walls and a stove we still haven’t used). I had the time to take my DIY skills to the next level! They know me very well at the Home Depot rental center. I hope you had a lovely summer break, too!

# My focus for the year!

After reflecting on last year and taking a summer break, I am ready to return to schools and classrooms. Every year I begin with a new goal. This year’s goal is to keep my focus on the eight Standards for Mathematical Practice. Why?

The solution often proposed for students underperforming in math is to give them more tests, worksheets, and interventions. Students do not need more tests and worksheets; they need strong teaching. They need teaching that deepens student thinking and supports and holds them to their highest level. Looking at instruction through the lens of Mathematical Practices can help us all improve our instructional practices, actively engage students in mathematical problem-solving, and ultimately achieve the higher test scores that demonstrate our focus and determination.

Math Practice number six, “Attend to Precision,“- can get us thinking about who we are engaging in the mathematics classroom and; if we provide the type of questioning students need to perform at their highest level.

SMP #6- Mathematically proficient students try to communicate precisely to others. They try to use clear definitions in discussion with others and in their own reasoning. They state the meaning of the symbols they choose, including using the equal sign consistently and appropriately. They are careful about specifying units of measure, and labeling axes to clarify the correspondence with quantities in a problem. They calculate accurately and efficiently, express numerical answers with a degree of precision appropriate for the problem context. In the elementary grades, students give carefully formulated explanations to each other. By the time they reach high school they have learned to examine claims and make explicit use of definitions.

# Book of the Week

Grandma’s Purse
by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Let’s build numeracy by counting all of the objects in Grandma’s purse.
We can think about the coins Grandma has in her purse, and identify and count them.
We can think about a favorite relative and why. What are the attributes of your favorite person?

You can also go to Heinemann.com and purchase Math By the Book. It is filled with great stories, math explorations, and literacy challenges. Help your students make the connection between literacy and mathematics.

# Who’s Engaging?

When I was in school, every year, Ryan W., Keith M., and Brian T. were the established mathematicians in my elementary school classrooms. They showed up in my class in one combination or another every year and dominated the math conversations yearly.

My teachers promoted “the boys” domination in mathematics by prompting the class with gathering-type questions.
Gathering type questions-

• rehearses known procedures or facts
• enables learners to state procedures/facts
What is 7 x 5?
How many tens are in a thousand?
How do you subtract with zeros?

Can you guess which students were the first to answer when asked to recall a fact or procedure? That’s right- Ryan W., Keith M., and Brian T.

The boys, as I’ll refer to them from here on, were participating in constructing the math community, dominating the culture, engaging in positive interactions with the teachers, and were the recipients of consistent positive feedback and reinforcement of the belief that all it takes to be a good mathematician is the ability to recall facts and procedures quickly.  Unfortunately, the rest of us were primarily observers of the show.

When my teachers asked a gathering question in class, I genuinely tried to think about the answer and find a solution. Unfortunately, the think time I required left room for one of “the boys” to jump in with the solution.

It is challenging for a child’s mathematical thinking to develop when speed and recall are the dominant culture of the math community. A child rarely gets to fully process their ideas or extend their learning when others consistently jump in before they are done (or even have a chance to get started).

As we establish mathematical communities in our classrooms, how can we engage as many learners as possible and help them to identify as mathematicians or, at the very least, students who add value and can contribute to the mathematics community?

# Questions that Engage

One way to engage more students is through the types of questions we ask. Research shows that most teachers when observed, focus primarily on gathering type questions that negatively affect learners’ ability to think critically (Mangwiro, C., and Machaba, F., 2022).

One of the teaching objectives of mathematics is to assist learners in becoming creative and critical thinkers in problem-solving (DBE, 2011). To promote a high level of learner reasoning, teachers must select tasks and questions that encourage reasoning and problem-solving (NCTM, 2014).

Teachers, coaches, and administrators, what types of questions are we consistently asking? Are we asking surface-level questions that only a few can memorize quickly, or are we challenging all of our students and ourselves to ask questions that generate meaningful classroom discussions.

Meaningful mathematical discourse involves the exchange of ideas as learners actively engage in classroom discussions and results in mathematics classroom that “gives students opportunities to share ideas and clarify understanding, construct convincing arguments regarding why things work, develop a language for expressing mathematical ideas, and learn to see things from other perspectives” (NCTM 2014).

Now, I can hear the commentary already-

“My kids do not know how to answer higher-level questions.”
That’s where WE come in. We must explicitly teach your students how to engage and respond daily, e.g., where to sit, where to look, sentence starters, co-creating an appropriate list of academic terms students can use in the conversation, providing wait time, letting them explain how they did or will do it their way.

“I need to make sure they know their basic facts before they can have higher-level conversations.”
No, you don’t.

I don’t have time to have conversations. –
You don’t have time not to have conversations because if your students cannot participate in mathematical discussions, they will be unable to make sense of and solve the higher-order thinking problems state assessments and each following grade level requires.

If your students are not communicating clearly, they are underperforming.

# Creating Math Communities

As we co-construct our math communities this year, let’s embrace the practices that encourage all learners to participate in the conversation. Some students may want to share their ideas with the whole group, in a small group, with a strategic partner, or in one-to-one conversations with you, and some, like me, may need a little more wait time. Let’s hold all the math community members accountable, hear and see the work of all, and ensure that no one group is dominating the room.