Diving into Math and Conversations

Happy New Year to everyone!

I hope you all had a wonderful break full of rest and reflections. As the 3rd F2F is coming up I wanted to post about what I have been doing and the anxiety and enjoyment I have been feeling from my process so far.

My current question is ‘How might we shift teaching in math class to encourage risk-taking and student buy-in?‘ Initially my question had also included differentiation in it but the more I’ve been working on it the more I’ve been feeling like it’s a redundant addition. In order to encourage that student risk-taking and buy-in, differentiation is absolutely necessary. It doesn’t work without it so I felt like putting any focus on it distracts from the overall goal and focus.

To that end I wanted to look more into the risk-taking aspect in math, so before the break I was able to go visit one of our math experts in our school and watch her teach a grade 12 math class. I wanted to see how her students handled difficult problems and what the overall atmosphere of her classroom was and I have to say I was blown away. This teacher has done some very cool research on risk-taking and one of her philosophies is to get the kids moving. She has many boards and windows in the classroom and she has the girls working on problems and moving around. While the girls worked on problems I circled around and asked them about how they feel about taking risks in math, what they do when they get stuck and how comfortable they feel when they’re unsure in math but moving forward.

The girls then reflected that it was much easier to try things when you could look around the classroom and see that everyone was trying. They said that when they were working on paper at their desk it was hard to tell if people were actually trying or just breezing through and it was only them that was struggling. I then asked the girls when they started feeling comfortable with the idea of taking risks and making mistakes and for the most part the girls agreed that it was a slow transition that came with time and more practice. This is something I think I want to dig deeper into, to see if there was a pivotal time or transition for them in their math journey. I find with my age group they can get paralyzed with math, thinking that either their parents will get mad at them or that they’re dumb because they don’t understand. I want to look more into how I can encourage those mistakes and make them feel less big. Things feeling big is a huge part of being 12-13.




Another thing I have been doing is introducing the concept of what a good math response looks like and drawing focus away on simply getting the right answer. With my classes we collaboratively made a single point rubric on what a strong math response looks like. The goal of this exercise was to emphasize that in terms of the big picture, the correct answer is only a small part of the math they are working on. This was actually something that happened naturally through conversation. We followed the steps highlighted in my last post and I had the girls define ‘what makes a strong math answer’ and this was their result

Knowledge and Understanding

  • Answer is checked to ensure it makes sense
  • Answer is underlined
  • Understands and uses formula
  • No errors in calculations


  • Thoughts are organized using the GRASP method
  • Answer is broken down into appropriate GRASP parts to show thinking
  • Answer shows understanding of the concepts presented
  • Answer clearly shows student thinking


  • A detailed sketch or diagram about the question is made
  • Student chose an appropriate strategy to solve


  • Math is written clearly and all work is shown for every step
  • Answer includes a proper conclusion sentence
  • Answer includes a detailed explanation of thinking
  • Writing is organized and steps are easy to follow

This was the list my students generated, and when we finished and organized it I turned to the girls and asked ‘how much of this is about having the right answer?’ This prompted some really great discussion. Through this activity we got to really bring home the idea that I am not focusing on the mistakes they make but more interested in the process. I want them to take risks and I want to see how they break down a problem and think critically about a solution. We are starting another thinking task this week in which we will come back to this rubric and I’m really excited to see how they approach the next ‘stumper’ and to see them document their process.

3 Replies to “Diving into Math and Conversations”

  1. @rgarand – love reading about the evolution of your thinking about what components of teaching can contribute to your students wanting to take risks in the math classroom. Interesting that you observed the power of the the “third” teacher – the learning space – when you visited your colleague’s class. I, too, was blown away visiting a colleague’s classroom which had floor to ceiling whiteboards on three of the four walls. The teacher would often pose a question and then all of his students had space on the boards to make their thinking visible. The students, when surveyed, did feel like they could take more risks on the boards and commented that they liked to see the learning process of their peers. Below is an article that came across my newsfeed about what happens in the brain when someone has math anxiety. Let me know what you think and see you Friday! https://mobile.edweek.org/c.jsp?cid=25919951&rssid=25919141&item=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.edweek.org%2Fv1%2Few%2Findex.html%3Fuuid%3D92FED344-27FC-11EA-89EB-8AF258D98AAA&cmp=eml-enl-eu-news1-rm&M=59016702&U=2768134&UUID=541ada001a73e71c1892978ddb5f2e2a

  2. @rgarand,

    A wonderful first step you’ve achieved here, to access the experts within your own school. Not enough teachers are able to observe one another teaching. Your second step, to involve the students in co-creating a single-point rubric is likewise, wonderful pedagogy. Allowing them to come to the same realizations that you have made regarding Mathematical Processing skills is how learning happens naturally. Well done! You’ve made some serious progress on your action plan here.

    I am currently designing the Math and Science curriculum for SiTE School (with an actual Math and Science teacher, of course). What we’ve already learned, is that by bringing math back to first positions, that is, conversations around problem solving and context, multiple entry points are allowed. The students who struggle feel comfortable taking part in an atmosphere of “attempts”. The students who excel are able to showcase their knowledge in a peer tutoring environment.

    As @jmedved said above, there are many many teachers at Cohort21 working on Math engagement. A network of support awaits!

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