I’ve been thinking back to an EnCoMPASS pre-institute activity and a conversation I had in an online discussion forum. Here’s what happened:

The EnCoMPASS Fellows were asked to view this video clip:


4th graders explaining their Eating Grapes solution

They were also given the text of the problem the girls and their classmates were working on: Eating Grapes [Problem #4507]. The Fellows were asked to notice and wonder about what was happening.

What the Fellows weren’t aware of was that:

  • I was the voice prompting the students in the video clip.
  • The two students were in the 4th grade.
  • I was a guest in the classroom.
  • Asking the girls to come to the front of the room near the end of the class period was completely impromptu. I hadn’t known if presenting to classmates was part of their classroom culture. I had listened to them talking with each other before they came to the front and their two-party conversation seemed worth sharing with the class and getting on tape since videotaping students’ problem solving and communication had been my goal of the day at that school.

As I’ve watched the videoclip several more times and reflected I find it fascinating to think about if the two students were comfortable with what they’d written on the papers they were holding. Did they own it yet?

I had worked with the class for a full class period and during it I :

  • was introduced to the class by their teacher – “Miss Suzanne from the Math Forum at Drexel will be teaching the class today!” (It continues to amaze me that teachers allow me to take over their classrooms for a full period. It is really a treat!)
  • told them I would start by reading a story. I read them the Eating Grapes Scenario (no question).
  • asked the full class “What did you hear?” and I quickly pointed to student after student to listen to their response.

(click on each of the photos embedded here to view a larger version)

  • read the “story” again and again asked them to tell me what they had heard and this time generated an “I Notice…” list on the chalkboard. I introduced the idea of “I Wonder…” and we included that in the chalkboard list as well.

Without going back to look at the tapes, I actually am not sure of what I did next! I remember at some point the class decided to work on the question, How many grapes did Angela eat on Monday? And the students were working in pairs or groups of three to find an answer but to also be able to explain their thinking and how they arrived at that answer.

And at one point we talked about strategies and listed those on the board.

I also remember that as I moved around the room listening to the students talk with each other, I was particularly struck by the drawing the girls had on their paper.

I find myself thinking, what helps students own their own mathematical thinking and helps them be confident in their explanations of that thinking? I imagine that time and practice are critical.

At what point in the problem solving/communication process do students really identify with what they write down? What is going on when they have generated something on a piece of paper but then are asked to ”present”? If they had had a document camera (or a SMARTboard displaying a PDF of their work) would the focus have been more on their thinking as they generated the work on their paper and less on re-creating that work (with accompanying explanation) on the chalkboard?

What do you notice as your students present in class? What are the signs that they feel that they own their work? How are you facilitating their process or, in other words, what is working for you (and them)?