Training Wheels for Math Discussion
By: Mary Kienstra on: February 12, 2014 in: Engagement, Math, math discussion, training wheels
Training wheels help a young child to ride a bike. The little rider can’t really fall off the bike while riding with training wheels – they hold him up. With training wheels, kids take that risk to get on a bike and try it.
This year, my students are using discussion cards as training wheels to improve their discussions in math. These little math discussion cards are helping them to learn from each other and to stay engaged in math.
I’ve always spent time teaching my students how to have a good book discussion, but it finally occurred to me that I was expecting them to talk effectively about their math ideas without any practice or direction at all. After studying the Math Practice Standards, I realized that my students need an effective model to conduct that math discussion. “Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others” is essentially a math discussion with peers.
After meeting with my coach (thanks TM), we decided that we would create discussion cards to help my students learn how to have a good math discussion. We brainstormed a list of questions that would be helpful for students (see below). Then we modeled a math discussion of an openended math task using the discussion cards. We created a “fishbowl” where we gathered the students around us while we discussed the problem. We showed them how we carried on the discussion while using the math discussion cards.
After our discussion in the fishbowl, we asked the students to comment on what they noticed about our discussion. They were right on. They talked about how we listened to each other, shared our ideas one at a time, and used the discussion cards to keep the discussion focused. We talked about how the cards are not meant as a list of questions for interrogation, but as a way to improve the discussion.
My students then had their chance to discuss a math problem in class using the training wheel discussion cards. This was their first opportunity to practice. My coach and I visited their groups to listen in on their discussions. The cards were effective in aiding their discussions.
Since that first day, my students are using those math discussion cards often. The cards are there to support them when they discuss their “Problem of the Week” or their openended tasks in class. They know where these cards are kept in the room and access them as they need them. I think these little “training wheels” are doing just what my students need them to do: keep them from falling while they learn the skill of an effective math discussion.
What math vocabulary will improve your explanation?

What did you already know about solving this problem?

What was the most difficult part of this problem for you?

Did you find any patterns as you were looking for the answer?

What worked well for you when you were working?

What did you try that didn’t work well?

How could you prove that your answer is correct?

What were you thinking as you were working?

Why is that important to the problem?

How can you use what you know to explain this?

Do you think that is the most efficient way to solve the problem?

How do you know your answer is accurate?

Why did you choose the strategy that you used? 
Does your answer make sense?
