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Math Food For Thought

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Engagement >>> Getting students mentally prepared for the task

The engagement piece of math workshop can be one of the most fun parts of your day. This is the chance for you to ignite your student's interests, build their curiosity and also build some background knowledge. Some possible entry points to consider are:

  • Children's literature: Whether it is an obvious math related topic or just a class favorite, kids love to connect to books. Think how you can use one of your classroom favorites to create some problems for your students. (Ex. One Hundred Hungry Ants - They line up in equal rows in the book. Kids could use manipulatives (choc. chips, marshmallows, counters, pennies, etc...) to see how many ways they can arrange their item into equal rows. This hits on arrays, skip counting and multiplication and division)
  • Begin with a simple version: Do a problem or tasks with some easier numbers or less steps so students can see some thinking but also have to add in more of their own during investigation. (Ex. If the task involves finding the volume, engagement might be a contextual problem about finding the area leading the discussion towards volume then.)
  • Pose a task right away and brainstorm a couple solutions or strategies and then have kids go investigate the rest of the way. (Ex. What are all the ways you can make a dollar using nickels, dimes and quarters? How will you know if you have all the combinations?"
  • Use a real-life situation or connection: Let's face it... it doesn't actually have to be real but anything you tell the kids, they will believe! (Ex. Ms. Debi needs us to count all these Box Tops for the office. We need to find out how many we have in all. How will we do this efficiently, accurately, etc...? A step further - Now that we have the total, we need to divide them evenly between all the grades so each grade will earn the same amount of money. What if each grade had the same amount of Box Tops every month of school, how much would they earn? What if they had this total in September and every month their total doubled. How many Box Top would they have at the end of the year? How much money is that worth?)
  • Begin by posing a conceptual question for students to investigate: (Ex. When adding an even number and an odd number together, is the sum always even, always odd or do we see both even and odd answers? Can two garden plots with different areas have the same perimeter?)
  • Playing 1 round of the game Teacher VS. Students: Play a round or 2 of the game you want students to play but do the whole class vs. the teacher. During this time it's important to model, use questioning skills with the kids and most importantly think aloud as you're playing it.

Before sending students out to investigate be sure their task is clearly understood. They can restate it in their own words or turn and talk to their neighbor and then share out. Students can repeat what their partner and they talked about for their task. This can help clarify for all.


Make sure you have established clear expectations for students recording sheets or what they should be producing if applicable for your lesson. Think about having students explain their thinking and their process rather than just an answer.


Lastly, don't forget to set that purpose for share time either verbally or in a written format (on the board, ELMO, their papers, etc...). Students can mentally rehearse and prepare for this during their investigation and it will help you know exactly what to conference with kids about during investigation time. According to the guru Van de Walle, students who prepare to explain their answers spend more time reflecting on the validity of their results and will often make revisions even before sharing them.


Now... they're ready to go investigate and create new learning!

Math Class - Just for giggles

Kid Snippets: "Math Class" (Imagined by Kids)