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Investigations Blog

Developing Mathematical Language is Hard Work

Using language to effectively communicate one’s mathematical thinking is an important skill—one that is a focus of Math Practice 6: Attend to Precision. Many of us know firsthand that clearly articulating mathematical ideas is challenging work, and that when students use ambiguous, imprecise terms in their explanations, their language can actually get in the way of understanding. Developing precise language is key if we want to students to engage in rich, collaborative discussions in which...

And Then, She Waited

Have you ever been teaching (or leading professional development) and asked a really good question only to be met with silence? We all have teacher moves in our back pocket for situations like this—maybe do a turn and talk, ask the student if they’d like to call on someone to help them, or ask a different question. I recently observed a third grade lesson when I saw a teacher face this exact situation. The lesson (Unit 5, Session 3.4) focused on strategies for solving division problems. The...

“That Seems Way Too Big”

On a recent visit to a small district in the Midwest, I got the chance to visit a third grade class that was working on division (3U5, Session 3.4). When I joined Nicole, she was in the middle of working on the following problem: Gil loves toy cars. He saved enough money to buy 32 toy cars. How many 4-packs of toy cars did he get? (SAB p. 333) Below the problem, Nicole had written I asked her to tell me about her thinking. She said she wanted to start with something she knew, which I agreed...

What Does It Mean To Be Smart?

“Wow, you’re so smart.” These words drew my attention to a pair of 5th grade girls in a class I was visiting, who I’ll call Cassie and Sophia. They were mid-way through a turn and talk, each sharing her strategy for solving 84 x 59. I casually moved closer, curious about what prompted the comment and trying hard to see each girl’s strategy, recorded in their math journals. Upon hearing Cassie’s comment, Sophia responded in an inviting tone, “No, no. Explain to me what you did.” She...

How Do We Support Students in Reflecting on Mathematics?

As I worked with teachers in classrooms this fall, the topic of how to help students reflect on their learning and the learning of others kept coming up. I’m still thinking about how to recognize, encourage, and promote student reflection about math ideas. What traits do reflective students possess? How can a teacher nurture a learning culture where reflection is a natural part? When students engage in math experiences that include time to reflect on their reasoning and the thinking of others...

Using Tools in Art and Math

Recently, I was chatting with a 7-year-old I know pretty well. I asked her about school, and she quickly started telling me about her current math work, complete with eye rolls and boredom. I decided to change the subject a little. “I know you like to tell me about math because I love math, but what’s your favorite subject?” I asked. She thought for a moment and then said, “Art.” Art was never my favorite subject. I’m not even sure I’ve passed stick figure drawing yet. “Why?” I asked. She...

“What Was Thomas Thinking?”

I often think about a lesson, captured on video some years ago. Liz, a fifth-grade teacher, gave her students two-digit multiplication problems—12 × 29 and 36 × 17— and asked them to come up with strategies other than the conventional algorithm to perform the calculation. For 12 × 29, Jemea thought about twelve 30s and then subtracted 1 for each of 12 groups. 360 – 12 = 348. For 36 × 17, Duane thought of 36 bowls, each holding 17 cotton balls. Ten bowls hold 170 cotton balls, and there are...

Incomplete, inarticulate, ill-formed, incorrect: Brilliant!

Over the last decade, much of my work has been focused on mathematical argument in the elementary classroom. Observing in our collaborating classrooms, I was struck again and again by how teachers supported students to build on each other’s incomplete ideas. Constructing a mathematical argument is difficult and challenging for elementary students and, therefore, necessarily collaborative. When students are learning what it means to make an argument, not just about the solution to a single...