How We Teach is the Message

Math Talk | ¼ of a Square (Part 1)

How might we use a Math Talk to help students connect fractions and a host of two-dimensional geometry concepts? How might this same Math Talk take learners into “a broad mathematical terrain of interconnected concepts, procedures, representations, and explanations”? (Kazemi & Hintz, 2014) How might an Open Strategy Share discussion structure overlaid on this Math Talk help students see a range of possibilities within this interconnected landscape? Let’s explore these ideas further…!

Consider the following Math Talk:

Take a few minutes (say, time yourself for 3 minutes) and sketch squares where ¼ of each square is shaded in a different way. One ground rule first… Let’s say that the following two depictions represent the same “way” to shade ¼ of a square. Instead of sketching different iterations of the same “type” of ¼…can you shade ¼ in a different way? How many different ways? Set your timer and see where your brain takes you…!

Where did your brain take you? How many different ways of shading ¼ of a square did you generate?

After working on this task individually for 2-3 minutes, learners share their thinking with their tablemates. In so doing, they consider and discuss Did we all approach this task the same way? and What additional approaches did my peers use? and What additional ideas do we now have as a group because of discussing each other’s work?

We have led this Math Talk with multiple groups of adult learners. Here is a sample of the collective work that has come out of this individual think time followed by small group discussion time:

What would you do with this work? What is the benefit of orchestrating an Open Strategy Share Math Talk over some of these examples?

Kazemi & Hintz (2014) suggest:

“Open strategy sharing is typically the first way to get mathematical discussions going in classrooms. It’s like having a good, basic recipe for a soup from which you can make all kinds of variations. Open strategy sharing allows you to nurture the norms needed for a productive math-talk community. And you can use this discussion structure to model how students should talk with one another.” (p. 17)

I particularly like how the Open Strategy Share discussion structure provides an initial access point for teachers looking to introduce or enhance math talk in their classrooms. Also, as Kazemi & Hintz discuss, these structures provide wonderful opportunities for students to learn how to talk about mathematics.

But, if this is the “basic recipe for soup,” what would your variation be? What would you choose to highlight or spin off from for a follow-up Math Talk at some later time? Where else instructionally might this Math Talk go?

Check out Part 2 of this blog post to see a sample follow-up Math Talk that utilizes the Why? Let’s Justify discussion structure.

(See Elham Kazemi & Allison Hintz’s book Intentional Talk: How to Structure and Lead Productive Mathematical Discussions for more information on the Open Strategy Share discussion structure.)

Michelle Rinehart


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