I was given great advice during my first years as an elementary teacher. In elementary school, we are asked to know cross-curricular content and build classroom communities. My mentor teacher said, "pick one thing to focus on this year, don't try to be great at everything." I choose my thing, it was building a classroom community where students felt heard and respected each other as learners. The model of holding class discussions would have fit into that goal. Choosing one thing doesn't give you permission to stink at the rest, just give yourself grace and know it won't be perfect. There is next year, to build upon your craft.

Expand full comment

Flagging this advice! <3

> My mentor teacher said, "pick one thing to focus on this year, don't try to be great at everything." I choose my thing, it was building a classroom community where students felt heard and respected each other as learners.

Expand full comment
Oct 29, 2023Liked by Dan Meyer

Let's assume that Josh is (or has become) decent at leading group discussions. Can we as math teachers provide Josh with the right discussion materials? For example, suppose Josh has chosen the Balloon Dog (thank you Dan and all other 3-act players). What comes after the "how long do you think Twinkie will take to finish all 100 balloons?" What math knowledge does Josh need to lead this discussion? Can this balloon dog play actually be a full week lesson at a level appropriate for both Josh and his students?

To this point, I offer a couple of prompts:

How far does Twinkie run during his popping?

How good is Twinkie at popping balloons?

How good is Twinkie at choosing the next target balloon?

If Twinkie chose the next balloon at random each time, what would be his result?

What if it were 5 by 5 instead of 10 x 10?

My overall point is that when Dan Meyer asks the room of teachers what do you see and what do you wonder, he gets a certain result. When Josh asks the same question, he should have some idea of where the conversation might go and materials to support the next steps.

The Desmos Graphing Calculator is a wonderful tool for discovery and for creating materials to support a lesson. Try this link for making balloon arrays of different sizes.


Expand full comment
Aug 30, 2023Liked by Dan Meyer

I love this discussion. It is what I have worked hard on helping my teachers to do. For the Bear, Problem, it gives all students an entry into figuring things out because who has not done some estimating in a past life? There is no obvious right answer up from but rather a whole bunch of needs to know and with young children especially a bear to hold (though I am sure my 6th graders would have appreciated it). Students need experience with the thing in the problem they are asked to consider. At the start of the discussion I would probably give all students a little package of gummy bears and I would ask to get the ball rolling how many bears fit in the package. Then I would go from there. They need the connection with the real world to allow them to step into the unknown.

Expand full comment

My general piece of advice to all new teachers is to approach their experience with curiosity and to think of student responses and behavior (be they good, bad or ugly) as data. This is especially true for when students behave in ways the teacher hasn't expected. Rather than taking what the students do personally, instead think about the underlying causes for why the students did what they did.

Expand full comment

One of my great mentors always slowed me down in our planning talks. "Ok so you want to do this activity. What do you think the students will come away with? How will that lead to the next?" Embodied this idea of everything as data.

Expand full comment

Yes. Chase the why.

Expand full comment

Students are often reluctant to share their thoughts about mathematics for fear of being wrong. Tasks/discussions like this encourage risk taking.

Expand full comment

My youngest brother is just entering his student teaching this year, and this was my 1st advice to him:

Go play at recess or sit down at a lunch table--maybe with a bag of chips to share.

I was teaching math at a performing arts school for a decade. Taking the time to go pop into students' arts classes every once in a while was a 5 minute way to build relationships and show my students I care about more than their math ability. This can extend to showing up to a sporting event or other extracurriculars.

Expand full comment

Thank you. I love this so much for any subject. Every class you teach is data gathering for you, the teacher. Group worthy questions and tasks are critical for students and for teachers because so much information can be uncovered about all the students thinking. I also appreaciate all the recommendations offered by the teachers here. One thing I have found helpful in my own learning to to teach is to pay close attention to the dynamics within the groups as you circulate, especially how status within the class can play out. For me, assigning roles within the groups has been useful becuase when I see a common "misstep" I can ask for a member of each group to come up and talk with me and then send them back with a piece of puzzle or clue to bring back to the group. In those moments, that "returning to the group student's " new contribution can elevate the groups knowledge and the also that child's status. Once the group work is firmly established in your class as a norm, another action I feel is beneficial is this one: the student's come to understand that I should be able to ask any member of their group to explain the thinking about the "answer", so, as a group they need to make sure all their members are supported enough in their thinking to do this.`` I typically go table by table, but sometimes my eyes and ears tell me it is only one or two people in a few groups that are putting on their bravest face.. I do not make this whole class public. only attend to the small group. If the person I call on to explain get's stuck, I look at every member in the eye and say have a conversation and help each other get smarter and I will return--I have found this works particulaly well in groups that diverse in gender, language, time on task and knowledge. Then I return and ask the question of the same person. If they can explain good, if not good and I tell them once again, I will return. I love it when I see and hear " Oh, I get it now" and/or " Oh that is what you (a fellow group member) meant, when you said x.... .

Expand full comment

This article will also be useful when teaching science since the next generation science standards call for whole class discussion and question raising about phenomena. So this is a strategy teachers can use in math science and reading. Thats a win.

Expand full comment

"Your prime directive here is to make sure students understand that you are interested in how they are thinking and, by extension, in them as individuals."

You want to show you want to know kids as individuals? Do that, not the math.

So to start, build in five minutes to have group discussions about things that have nothing at all to do with math. Why does Show & Tell stop after elementary school? Kids take turns sharing, teacher enforcing listening and silence and respect, models appropriate questions by asking a few of their own, then the class gets a chance to ask questions. Maybe this stops working after middle school? I don't know, it's been a while since I've been in high school.

Smaller stakes: circle questions that everyone has to answer and can pass on and have *nothing* to do with math.

Expand full comment

> You want to show you want to know kids as individuals? Do that, not the math.

I hear you. I think there's good reason for new teachers to separate the two and practice them separately. But as a destination, students should do math in ways that retain their individuality. Students (and teachers!) shouldn't have to choose!

Expand full comment
Aug 31, 2023Liked by Dan Meyer

I hear you - everything you describe in your post is awesome. But I think combining the two like that is actually really really hard.

I also think that even when you *can* combine the two skillfully, you ought to separate them and just learn about the individuals. It's just so important, at least to the way I teach.

My favorite way to change up discussions is to do them while walking. Not as easy if you can't easily get the kids outside. But pair them up, give them a topic, walk for 4 minutes. Stop, call on a few, then give a new topic and walk back. 10 minutes to do two topics that you might have done in 5, but they get to move?! That's huge.

Expand full comment

As a coach, I love the question, “what’s on your mind?” (I got it from Michael Bungay Stanier, who certainly developed it with help…)

If the teacher can make time for themself and ask that question, they can effectively answer their question for themself.

It follows with students.

I think you are right that the act of someone asking what you think and caring is wonderful and important. —But our jobs are to create self sufficient human beings… 90% of that is half looking inside.

You got this!!!

Expand full comment