Math Talk and Ownership of Learning

I’m teaching a math class for the first time in about 8 years. I’m loving it. I used to teach mostly math, but its been a long time.

We are wrapping up a mini-unit, or “big idea” on solving linear systems. We started off doing an inquiry activity to figure out what solving linear systems was all about conceptually. We looked at what this meant graphically. This activity ended up bringing up a lot of skill review from grade 9 (equations of a line, slope, graphing linear functions, writing linear functions, algebra). I got to see just how creative my Grade 10’s can be during this inquiry activity.

Next, students divided up into pairs within groups of four. Each pair mastered one other method of solving linear systems (substitution or elimination). Students used materials I provided them online and any other materials they could find. Their task was to become masters of that method and prepare a lesson for the rest of their group.

During the “teach each other” lesson, the discussion in class was fascinating. They were on topic almost the entire class. Students were asking each other excellent questions. They were debating, rewording and finding multiple ways to explain things. After some debate and discussion I would suddenly hear a student say “wait! I want to try that!”. I’m sorry, you WANT to try that? That is something I don’t think I used to hear in my math classes when I was the one doing all the teaching.

One student came up to me and said “I have a gap. I’m struggling with rearranging formulas, solving equations”. After spending the better part of a period talking with each other about the math, and often struggling to grasp the concepts, students were taking ownership of their learning. Thinking about learning. When I’m the one doing the teaching, students often take a passive role. However, when they were learning from each other, they seemed to take a more aggressive approach, advocating loudly for what they needed to learn the concept.

Next week we will be doing an activity to help focus on solving equations for any variable. The best part is, they requested it. I’m not shoving it down their throat. Students will be provided with a variety of ways to brush up on this skill and can choose what works best for them (an interactive online gizmo, reading content, video, etc.).

I am very impressed with the math talk that happened in the classroom while they were teaching each other different strategies to solve linear functions. I hadn’t anticipated that it would encourage them to take so much more ownership of their own learning.


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