What Is Math Anyway

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Students will be able to successfully participate as a member of the Math Workshop, as they are introduced to the procedures of math discussion and journaling, which are modeled and practiced until they are automatic.

Big Idea

It is important to go slow to go fast. Students are successful when they have a clear understanding of expectations. At the start of the school year the rules and rituals for the Math Workshop are established through modeling and practice.

Introduction to Math Procedures

10 minutes

The math gathering norms that I expect, and suggest you consider, are already written on chart paper and posted. There is room to add other norms later in the year.  Students are cued to these throughout the lesson and at anytime there may need to be reminders.  At times, I make sure to point out students following all of the norms with a thank you, which, in the end, reminds everyone.   This is the "go slow to go fast" work.  Later in the year I will just be able to refer to them or glance at them to remind everyone of our norms. 

Mathematicians, today we are going to practice gathering as a group in order to share our thoughts with each other. When I say, “mathematicians, please gather”  you will: 

  • Stand quietly and push in your chairs
  • Walk safely to the community area
  • Sit criss cross with your eyes toward the front of the classroom.

What is the first thing we will do when I give the signal? The next?  The third thing is? 

Okay, are you ready to try?  Great, “Mathematicians, please gather.”

That was wonderful!  I noticed__________________pushed her chair in and began walking without speaking to anyone.  I also saw_______________stop while he was walking to allow______________space to walk as well.  Everyone is here ready to learn.  What a smart group!

Turn and Talk Procedures

15 minutes

During this part of the lesson, I used interactive modeling with another student in order to demonstrate the correct way to Turn and Talk.  It is important for the class to understand what it looks like and sounds like to correctly Turn and Talk.  This is a routine I use almost every day, so it needs to  become automatic.  

You may want to facilitate the practice of Turn and Talk for several reasons in all of the curricular areas.  Some of the benefits are as follows:

  • Turn and Talk is a strategy that helps students develop Mathematical Practice #3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  • It assists students, particularly the young who are at the start of language development, to develop the language to explain and expand their thinking.
  • It is a strong review of the content administered in the mini lesson and gives the students a chance to try it out before having to work with it independently.
  • It is a forum for the proper use of vocabulary. In this instance, it is the use of math vocabulary in a real life setting. Using vocabulary is critical to retention of vocabulary.
  • Turn and Talk socializes learning, a context wherein more content is retained.
  • It also aids in developing interpersonal skills.


 Boys and girls, in math and in all areas of learning, it is always helpful to share our thoughts and understandings with someone else, and to also listen to and learn from them.  Today in our community gathering, we are going to review and practice the skill of turn and talk with our learning partners.  Today we are just going to work with a person next to us.  These are the norms for Turn and Talk.

  • Turn so you and your partner are sitting knee to knee
  • One partner begins sharing his/her thought
  • The other partner listens while making eye contact.
  • When the partner is done, the second partner shares
  • When both partners are done, you will turn your bodies back to the front of the room and give a “thumbs up” to signal the teacher you are ready to continue.


Cameron, would you like to practice with me at the front of the room?  Thank you!  Okay class, you quietly watch and see what you notice Cameron and I do.   The prompt for us to discuss is:

“What do you like most about math” 

Cameron and I turn to face each other.  Cameron, you can go first.  Cameron speaks and I maintain eye contact.  When I think he is done I say, are you done?  When he tells me he is I say, “those were good thoughts.  I agree with you about…..”  Then I share what I like about math and tell Cameron I am done and ask him if there is anything he wants to add.  Then we turn and face the front of the room and silently give a thumbs up until everyone is ready.

In doing the "thumbs up" silently, it allows the students to “eavesdrop” on other partnerships before the class begins full discussion again.

Now, take time to discuss with the class what they noticed the student and I did as partners.  You will listen for them to say:

  • Faced each other
  • Didn’t interrupt
  • Kept eye contact
  • Complimented
  • Gave the signal to the teacher
  • Respectfully waited for other students


Full class practice:

Ok everyone, those were great things to notice.  Let’s see if we can all try out the steps.  Please look at the person next to you.  This will be your turn and talk partner. (shift some kids around if necessary).  Great, okay.  I would like you to sit quietly and think about this question. When I give the signal, you may turn and talk.  Don’t begin until I give the signal

Please think about this question:  What is Mathematics?  (wait for a minute for students to gather thoughts)

Okay boys and girls, please turn and talk about what you think mathematics is.

I listen to responses, as well as paying attention to the routines of turn and talk.

Also, I make reminding moves such as: That is so wonderful that _______and __________ are remembering to keep eye contact.  I am impressed that many of you are giving the silent thumbs up….etc.

When everyone is done, compliment the routines and then ask partners to share what their partner thinks math is.

Journal Procedures

30 minutes

The use of math reflection journals is critical to the success of math learning.  Working with the journals allows students time and space to practice all 8 of the Mathematical Practices, as well as building a tool of discussion starters and math pattern and evidence records.  Journal use also extends conceptual understandings in preparation for higher grade level expectations and high stakes testing. I use the journals to assess the depth of student understanding over time.  It is also an excellent way to include writing across the curriculum.  Below is how I introduce the use of the journals.  In later lessons, I add in specific requirements and rubrics.  

These are great ideas boys and girls.  I am going to show you a short video where the singer lets us know what he thinks math is. Listen to see if your ideas are included, or if you hear of a new idea. 

The following clip is a song by Tom Lehrer, capturing the concept of math being a part of everyone's daily life. 

Who heard an idea they had?  Was there anything new for someone?  What surprised you?

I am going to hand you your math journal.  This is a special book where we will keep our ideas about math as we move along this year.  Inside on the first page of your journal is what we call a prompt.  It is something to think about. Today’s prompt is “What is Math Anyway?” To save time, I've created the prompt labels for students to glue into their Journals. As students develop writing skills and stamina I will transition, whenever possible, to students writing their own labels.

We have talked to each other and watched and listened to a video.  When everyone gets their journals, I will give you the signals and you may silently go back to your work space and write all you think math is now.  When you are done, you can add drawings to show your ideas.  (Hand out journals.)  Okay, off you go!

 Move around the room and confer with students about what they think math is. 


5 minutes

It is important at the end of each lesson to review what the intended outcomes for the day were. Just as stating why the students were about to learn the lesson content at the beginning of the session is important, it is critical to review what the intention of the lesson was. This allows one more opportunity to practice the vocabulary, routine, pattern, or concept.  At times, I review it for them in a a congratulatory statement.  At other times, I ask them to share what they learned, found tricky, or wondered about still.

Boys and girls, we learned and practiced a lot today!  We learned how to join the community area in a safe and respectful way, we practiced discussing and listening in our Turn and Talk, and we practiced writing about math thinking in our journals.  Well Done!  Tomorrow we will add to our journals and do some more Turn and Talk moves.