Debating Math Remotely

I have been struggling to imagine ways to have rich math discourse and debate as my school plans to start the year remotely. I’m actually happy to start remotely, rather than in a socially-distanced classroom, because I don’t know how to have discourse with people 6ft apart?!

During classes, I think some of the time we can use routines similar to when we are in person, and other times we will try out new ways of interacting with technology. Below are a few ideas on my mind that I hope to try out. I welcome any other ideas!!

*Some details: I’m working with Zoom. All students have a laptop provided by the school. We will have 90min blocks every other day for our classes (only half the classes meet each day).

Similar to In Person

  1. Whole Class Debates (Soapbox): Similar to the Soapbox debates I do in class, I can replicate this on Zoom, where one student at a time un-mutes themself and shares a claim and warrant. I will continue to use resources like What’s Going On in This Graph? as start-of-lesson debates. Because Zoom can be awkward to know when it is a good time to jump into a conversation, I will call on students one at a time.
  2. Small Group/Breakout Room Debates: I can easily send students into breakout rooms to discuss (probably in Soapbox Debate style) a given prompt or prompts. I can see them speaking up much more easily in groups of 3-4. I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about how I plan to have breakout rooms always start with a short, “fun” debate.

Unique to Remote Teaching…

  1. Google Slides: I’m excited to use Google Slides (and Google Docs) as a space for students to record their responses/ideas. I attended a webinar lead by Mike Flynn where he talked about having one long google doc for an assignment, where each breakout group has one (or more) slides they fill out with their responses. I like this a lot because when in breakout rooms, students can’t hear anyone outside of their group, but in person, they can overhear some of the groups nearby. Google Slides allows students to peek at what other groups are doing for ideas and inspiration, a virtual way to “overhear” others.
  2. Kialo: Based on a recommendation from someone on Twitter, I’ve started exploring the website Kialo. It allows students/groups to make a nice tree diagram to organize arguments. I was thinking this could be another way for students in small breakout groups to record their ideas, their initial thoughts, and then talk together and decide what to share with the whole class. They can use the Kialo diagram of their ideas to explore the strongest argument to share with the class.
  3. Desmos (Activity Builder): Last spring when we went remote, I started using Desmos for some of my assessments, and it worked well. I like to put in boxes for students to explain their answer or create an argument (claim/warrant). I’m hoping to make a few Desmos ABs in the coming weeks for my classes to discuss and debate. It’s great that Desmos has the option of allowing students to see what others have written after they submit their answer for a question.

EDIT 8/19/20: Thanks to Anna Blinstein and Karla Doyle for reminding me of two more online resources, especially for asynchronous debates:

  1. Padlet: Students can use Padlet to leave a comment (or agument), like they would put post-its on a poster. They can also leave a response to another student’s post. This is a great, low-stress way to have students share out in class.
  2. Flipgrid: I only used Flipgrid once last semester, but it was a great way to have students record very short videos of themselves, sharing a response. My strategy was to have every student upload a video with their argument (claim/warrant) and then respond in video to one other student (preferably someone who did not have a reply yet).

Roles for Speaking…

One last facet I want to add to classroom discussions is exploring what “roles” students take on during a discussion. Inspired by my wonderful colleague Kathleen Niles, I want to talk openly with students about some of the ways people participate in a discussion. Students should still share out their arguments (claims/warrants) and respond to each other, but I want to put a name to some of the ways students speak up and have them explore their personal preferences.

  • Initiator – the person who starts a new thread of discussion. In a Soapbox Debate, it would be nearly everyone who has a unique opinion. In a larger debate, it would be anyone taking us in a new direction, not building on what has already been said.
  • Builder – the person who hears/reads an ideas and adds to that argument or line of thinking. This is someone who would say “I agree with…and I want to add…”
  • Disruptor – the person who (nicely) challenges an idea. I could see person asking questions such as: Will this always work? or Does that work for negative numbers? The Disruptor wouldn’t necessarily have to disagree; rather, this person can be pushing for clarification or evidence.
  • Connector – the person who hears/reads different ideas and shares ways to connect them.
  • Summarizer – the person who summarizes the main arguments we just heard. I’m thinking of having a different student assigned this role each time, notifying them ahead of time. It could be great after, say, a What’s Going On in This Graph? discussion to have one student summarize the main points (and maybe even enter them into the NYTimes comments section!!).

Inspired by my colleague, Kathleen Niles, I’m going to use a tracker like the one below. For the first two weeks of classes, I plan to just let students debate/discuss and to keep track of how they interact on this tracker. Then perhaps, students can reflecting on the list above and identify an area or two of strength. Later in the year, I can challenge them to try a different role.

2 thoughts on “Debating Math Remotely

  1. Jenn Carr August 20, 2020 / 1:15 am

    Thanks for sharing these great ideas for structuring math debates and discourse during remote learning. We had a lot of success with Circle Debates in 1st-3rd grade classrooms last year. I am planning to try out Circle Debates with Flipgrid this fall. I was envisioning each student watching the most recently posted video from their peer and then recording their own Flipgrid video where they revoiced their peers’ claim and warrant and stated their own claim and warrant. Hope the school year goes well for you, Chris!

    • cluzniak August 20, 2020 / 11:34 am

      I love it! Circle debates + Flipgrid could go hand-in-hand so well. Hope your reach goes well, too. Let me know how things go!


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