What is the flavor of my classroom? I have been struggling with what to say to be able to join in on Sam Shah’s amazing Virtual Conference of Mathematical Flavors for a few weeks now. Sam is asking us to respond to the question:
How does your class move the needle on what your kids think about the doing of math, or what counts as math, or what math feels like, or who can do math?
The short answer is: debate. I have spent a lot of time developing structures and strategies to make my classroom a place where students can discuss and debate math!
Those who know me, know I love to talk strategies for debate in the classroom. However, my struggle in writing this post is to be clear that in my classroom, debate is more than the claim/warrant structure I share in 30-60min sessions at conferences. For me, it is a real and important part of the fabric of my classroom culture. I want students to know that anyone can talk and debate math. I want them to know that doing math can involve opinions, and I want them to feel that math can be messy, argumentative and beautiful.
As a former speech and debate student-turned-coach, I saw the power of both public speaking and creating debatable arguments for students. Furthermore, in the subject of mathematics, a subject solidly grounded in reasoning, proof and argumentation, I saw a place to connect debate strategies to content learning. So, I have tried to create a classroom where students do the talking, explaining their thinking and creating opinions to open-ended questions. It is my goal that at least once every school day, students have an opportunity to debate and discuss something (though I can’t think of a day where it only happened once)!
My delight is seeing students struggle as their mindset shifts from the idea that math is where you (a) learn a new formula/concept and then (b) solve a worksheet of similar problems to idea that math is a living subject, where people discuss and debate best strategies or interpretations of information. I want students to not only understand the math but be able to articulate arguments to questions like:
- What is the best method for solving this problem?
- Which piece of information is the least important here?
- How will you most affectively improve this work?