Math = Love: What do you think it is?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

What do you think it is?

As the school year was wrapping up and my students were working on their final projects of the year, I found myself asking a certain question a lot.  I don't know why I never thought to take advantage of this question before.  But, the results were enlightening.

Since my students had already been tested a crazy amount, I elected to give them a project in lieu of a semester exam.  Seriously, they took their EOI which is our state standardized test.  Then, I gave them a practice Common Core test as a requirement of the OGAP Program I am involved in.  Then, our school was randomly selected to test out field test questions for next year's Common Core test.  So, my students spent another day in the computer lab.  There was no way I was going to subject my students to another test!

I pulled out the Road Trip Project (Part 1  / Part 2 and 3) I designed while student teaching to give to all six of my classes - Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Statistics.  The project was originally designed for 8th graders to emphasize proportional reasoning.  Proportions are something that are no longer covered by high school standards, but my students still struggle with them.  So, this was the perfect refresher/learning opportunity for my students.  Plus, it shows them how math is used in real life.

After revisiting this project two years after creating it, I've got some ideas of changes I would like to make.  Be on the lookout for a post regarding those changes soon!  (And, by soon, I mean hopefully within the next year.  I'm so behind on blogging!)

As students worked on planning their road trips, they were continually raising their hands to ask me questions like "What is the state abbreviation for Maine?"  Instead of telling them, I responded to their question with a question.

Our conversations went like this:

What is the state abbreviation for Maine?
What do you think it is?
Nope.  That's Massachusetts.
That's Michigan.
That would be Minnesota.
Oh, so the abbreviation of a state is always the first and last letter of the state?
What's the abbreviation for Oklahoma?
So, does that follow that rule?
No.  That would make our abbreviation OA.

Other times:

What is the abbreviation for Colorado?
What do you think it is?

Asking "What do you think it is?" gives my students a chance to be successful when they don't quite believe in themselves.  If they get it right, they are proud of themselves for figuring it out on their own.  If they get it wrong, it gives me insight into their thinking processes.  And, I can better guide them in the future.

I started asking that question anytime I could.

What does MPG mean?
What do you think it means?
Miles Per Gauge?
It's miles per something, but it's not miles per gauge.  Try again.
Miles Per Gallon?

One of my goals for next year is to teach my students how to ask good questions.  To ask good questions, I need to get them thinking more.  Perhaps the way to achieve both of these is to start answering more questions with questions.  When I just give my students the answer, I'm cheating us both.


  1. In our team meeting yesterday, we were discussing proofs which kind of ties in with good questions. We were discussing how we can incorporate proofs throughout the year through student questions like the one "so the abbreviation of a state is always the first and last letter of the state?" We would write the idea on the board until it either became a true proof through several problems or disclaim when we found one that didn't fit the mold.

    But I completely agree with getting students to ask better questions. This year my personal growth plan was for me to use more questioning techniques but next year I want the responsibility to shift to the students. In my 8th grade class, we do more problem solving to pull out skills and ideas. I have seen in a teacher's classroom a sign she made of different questions or comments students can ask themselves, their peers, or the teacher.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I'm thinking of making a page in the front of our interactive notebooks that has questions students can ask / sentence starters / etc. A poster would be a good idea, too!