What Would Your Math Word Be?

Yesterday, I published a blog post about a fantastic math session that we had at our last staff meeting. I indicated that Moojean Seo’s session might lead to multiple blog posts. This is the second one.

At the start of Moojean’s session, she had all of us write down one word that signifies what math means to us. I chose thinking. I will admit now that I chose this word for a couple of different reasons.

Here’s My First Word — Thank Goodness For A Colleague Who Had A Pencil For Me To Write It Down! 🙂

1.Having looked through the presentation already, I knew that the math session was focused on moving beyond just computations. Thinking seemed to sum this up best. It was almost as though I was trying to pick the “right word,” even when I knew that there wasn’t a right or a wrong answer.

2.I know that my teaching partner, Paula, and I spend a lot of time developing thinking skills in math. We do facilitate and teach specific skill development, but always with thinking in mind. Knowing the importance that we place on “thinking,” made thinking seem like the perfect word.

Some Footprint Thinking And Measuring From A Few Years Ago

Or at least it seemed perfect until the session was complete, and Moojean had us privately reflect on our word. Would we keep it, or would we change it? It was then that I picked a new word: communicating. As Paula and I went back down to the classroom after the staff meeting, we started to chat about this word. I picked “communicating” for various reasons.

  • At many different points during the session, I was struck by the math talk happening around the room. This started in partners, as people worked through the math problems together, but it ended, as more than that, as partner groups started to support each other with more challenging problems.


  • When I got stuck on representing the last two problems 1 divided by 2/3 and 3 divided by 2/3 — I started to look and listen around the room for help. Sometimes it was the words I overheard that helped give me some ideas, but sometimes it was the pictures on the page or the actions of my fellow educators (the big point, the hand signals, etc.) that drew me in. In the end, I’m not sure that this communication totally helped me understand the answers, but it did make me think more about them. I was definitely looking for some insight from others when I was unsure.


  • Communication is also what stopped me from not giving up. Okay, I was close to throwing in the towel after the 1 divided by 2/3 explanation. The crossing off on the whiteboard of my answer, or lack thereof, was not my finest moment in life, but it was the communication that got me back for the last problem. It was the extreme kindness of the teacher on my left, who patiently talked me through what to do, that changed things for me. I know that I still don’t completely understand the answer. Am I okay with this lack of understanding? Not really. But did talking and listening at least help me move towards a visual representation of the fraction? Yes. With my visual spatial needs, but strong oral skills, I wonder if it’s the communication that will hold the key to my understanding in the long run. Do I need to hear and see the thinking a lot, in different ways, over time, and will this make a difference? Maybe. The communication drew me in, and I think it’s the communication that kept me there. Could the same be true for kids?

At the end of the day on Friday, another educator told me that her word was understanding. I wonder if it’s communicating that leads to this understanding. Is math actually far more social than I once thought? Dig deep: what would your word be? Why? As my math learning continues to evolve this year, I wonder if my word will change. I wonder if yours will too.


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