The Power of Debate in Math (#debatemath)

I was not feeling that creative or inspired this week, but thanks to Patricia Vandenberg, I was reminded to keep debating in math class. Patricia is a really inspiring teacher. She came to my session on debate in math class at the CPM Conference last Saturday, and by Monday morning (!!!) she was debating with her students.

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My favorite tweet was her follow up:

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I love that last statement. I find it so true in many classes: some of the quietest students start to really speak up when you give them a chance to debate!

By Thursday (so impressed!!!), Patricia had already blogged all about her first experiences. To which Stenhouse Publishers wonderfully responded (did I mention I’m trying to write a book?):

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Mid-week, I realized that I had not done any formal debate activities with my students this week. I needed a #debatemath warm-up! I wasn’t feeling particularly creative. I am in the middle of a unit on solving rational equations with PreCalc students, which is a pretty dry topic. I quickly threw this slide together for my warm-up on Thursday:

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At first, I was embarrassed at the simplicity, but (as basically always happens) it worked wonders! I asked the students to take a few minutes to solve all three problems. Then, prepare an argument for the debate. Having students debate about this seemingly simple prompt brought out so many things for me to hear. Such as:

  • Misconceptions: some students talked about “interesting” in regards to where they often make a mistake in solving. For instance, a student talked about Problem C being interesting because when they cross-multiply and have to deal with (3-x)(3-x), they often forget that it doesn’t become the difference of two squares. As the teacher in the room, I got to hear students share some of their struggles with common misconceptions, and other students learned from hearing this.
  • “Easy” vs “Hard”: some students said that the first problem was “interesting” because it was the “easiest” one to solve. Others talked about one of the other problems being the most interesting because it was “harder.” It brought up a great brief discussion among students at how subjective the words easy and hard were. As the teacher, I got to hear what about the problems made them “easier” or “harder,” tying it back to misconceptions.

Thanks to Patricia for reminding me to keep debating!

Patricia also inspired a teacher near her, Claire Verti, to try it out. Even though Claire didn’t attend my session, she jumped in!

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Thanks to everyone who came out to my session at CPM or who spread the ideas to colleagues. Looking forward to seeing many of you at NCTM!

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2 thoughts on “The Power of Debate in Math (#debatemath)

  1. cheesemonkeysf March 3, 2019 / 2:23 pm

    Oo. I love this. Thank you for these great ideas about warm-ups!

    – Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)

    • pispeak March 4, 2019 / 12:32 am

      Yay! Can’t wait to hear what you try.


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