Are students talking about Math or are they just “doing Math?”

addition black and white black and white chalk
Photo by George Becker on

I had the privilege last week of attending a session led by Dr. Marian Small. As a former mathematics teacher, Marian said a lot of things that made sense to me and caused me to reflect. Dr. Small has also authored many books which are amazing resources for Mathematics educators. Her books on open questioning are excellent.

This is the stream that I posted during the session.

One of the things that Dr. Small asked us was, “Are kids in your school talking about Math or are they just doing Math?” This question really resonated with me.

When I ask students what they are learning about in Math, many times they will say something like, “We are learning section 4.5.” I get a little concerned by this kind of a response. Is that the way kids see Mathematics, the beautiful art that connects many things on our planet? Do they see it as, today we learn 4.5, tomorrow we learn 4.6 and on Friday we will have a quiz? To me, Math education should be more that that. I think (as does Dr. Small) that we need to give kids an opportunity to talk about Math and share what they are learning.

This is a difficult thing to do…

We need to make sure that we are asking the kinds of questions that will get students interested and make them want to learn more. Dr. Small shares many examples of this in the notes that she shared with us. Also, this requires professional development for teachers and also practicing these types of questions with students and colleagues. Teachers should observe other teachers and work towards honing their craft of getting kids to talk about Mathematics. I observed a fractions lesson in my own school this week in which kids were talking about what they were learning and representing that learning with drawings and equations. There is no doubt in my mind that the learning was deeper than a “traditional” lesson.

The key to all of this is setting a learning goal for your students and working toward achieving that goal. Every learning activity or conversation that we have with kids should get us closer to the goal.

I love Dr. Small’s definition of intentional teaching. It’s about having more than a vague idea of why you are doing the activity that you are.

Those are my thoughts for the day.

Happy World Teachers Day!


Author: Derek Hatch

Principal in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

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