Equitable teaching and learning of mathematics can only proceed in an environment where students engage deeply with significant mathematical ideas, have opportunities to express their math thinking and listen to the thinking of others, take responsibility for their learning, and work together in productive and equitable ways. Structures in Investigations 3 such as discussions, Math Workshop, and partner work offer critical opportunities to develop and support an equitable math learning community. This 3-part blog series offers guidance about how each of these structures can be used to promote equity in the mathematics classroom and to support the identity and agency of all students, especially those students who have been historically marginalized in mathematics.

How Math Workshop Supports Equity

Math Workshop is an important structure that provides an opportunity for individuals, pairs, or small groups to work on several activities, usually focused on similar mathematical content, over several sessions. It helps “students develop independence and learn to take responsibility for their own learning as they choose activities, keep track of their work, use and take care of classroom materials, and work with others.” (Implementing Investigations in Grade [2], p. 36) Sometimes, some students are not afforded the opportunity to participate in Math Workshop because they are not perceived as ready to make their own choices, to work independently, or to work productively with a partner. An equitable math learning community provides support for all students to engage fully in Math Workshop.

The following factors, in bold, are important to consider when planning for how Math Workshop will operate as an equitable structure, in ways that encourage perseverance, decision-making, agency, responsibility, and accountability. In blue, you’ll find questions you can discuss with students as you reflect on how they are making choices, how they are working together, and how Math Workshop is working.

Organizing the Classroom and Materials

The organization of the physical space and materials will vary from classroom to classroom. (See A Space for All of Us: Setting Up the Classroom Environment.) Some teachers designate areas of the room for particular activities and place the necessary materials in each area. Others have students gather the materials they need from a central location and allow them to decide where to work. Decisions should be based on your particular circumstances but also on these goals: fostering collaboration and participation, and the use of materials as tools for learning. Engage students in sharing ideas about situations they encounter.

  • What happens if you choose [Build It/Change It] and then you get to that table and there are no more chairs?
  • How are you and your partner making choices about where to work during Math Workshop? Are there places in the classroom that work better for you than others?
  • Sometimes it’s hard to remember what you What can you do if you forget what materials you need for [Roll and Record 3]?

A Plan for Making Choices

In order to make choices, students need to know what the activities are, who they will work with (if they aren’t working alone), and where they can work. Again, decisions will vary. You may assign partners, allow free choice, call students to choose and pair those who make the same choice, or a combination of these. Whatever the system, students need practice making first (and second, and third) choices, with a partner. Encourage them to reflect on their experiences making choices.

  • How did it go making a choice today? Did you choose an activity you were familiar with or a new activity?
  • Who tried a new activity today? How did it go?
  • How did it go making choices with your partner? If you did more than one activity, how did you decide you were done with the first one? How did you decide what to do next?

Establishing Routines and Expectations

A successful Math Workshop requires predictable routines and clear expectations about topics such as: how to use and take care of materials; working with a partner; getting started and persisting; noise level; making choices; completing required activities; what to do with written work; cleaning up. Students need practice, and opportunities to reflect on and discuss what Math Workshop should look and sound like (e.g. “busy but not noisy”) and how it is (or isn’t) working.

  • What did you think about Math Workshop today? Were you able to hear and work with your partner? to focus? What might help you do your best work in Math Workshop?
  • Are there things about Math Workshop that are challenging for you? Do you have ideas about how we as a class can improve those things? 
  • What do you like or dislike about Math Workshop? Why?

Working with a Partner

Students often work with a partner during Math Workshop. Ask students to reflect on these experiences and to generate a common understanding of what it means to be a helpful partner(e.g. taking turns, listening, asking questions, helping without doing the work).

  • How did you and your partner decide which game you were going to play? How did you decide who would go first?
  • How did you make sure that each of you had a turn and shared your math thinking?
  • When you work with a partner, how can you make sure you are working well together? What is hard about this? What can you do about it? What helps?

While the beginning of the school year is a natural place to lay the foundation for Math Workshop, it is important to continually reflect on whether and how this structure is offering students opportunities to make decisions and take responsibility for their math learning. Periodically reflect on whether students are working with increasing independence and responsibility. Observe for how students are initiating, making sense of, and persevering with tasks and growing in their ability to complete and keep track of their work. Most important, consider whether all students are getting to make choices, make sense, and persevere. (For support thinking about this from the start of the year, see Developing an Equitable Math Learning Community in Unit 1.)

Math Workshop is one of the structures in Investigations 3 that offer students opportunities to develop mathematical identity and agency. Part 1 explored Discussions, and Part 3 will discuss how Partner Work engages students in working together, and in expressing their math thinking and listening to the thinking of others.

Karen Economopoulos and Megan Murray
Tag(s): Equity | Math Workshop |