In grades four through eight, students have been working and building their problem solving skills in their own math classes and with me when I come in to support the teacher and students as the OJCS Math Coach.

Knowing What to do when you don’t know what to do is a concept that I’m working on very closely this year with my middle school students and also modeling as I co-teach and work in grades four and five.

Over the past two weeks, each grade had a mini-math workshop around these skills. Structured as a “Thinking Classroom” and in a 3-Part learning arena, students were able to explore what they knew for their grade level and apply their age and grade appropriate skills to solve the exact same problem.

The workshop began with a “Minds On” activity around balance and equality. How do you know something is equal? How can you prove it? Such examples to get the brain juices flowing were: 3+1 = 4. Agreed. 2+2 = 4. Agreed. Therefore 3+1 = 2+2. This skill is a concept of variables and equal expressions used in algebraic thinking in grades 6-8. However, there is more than one way to always answer and approach a question and problem. We went over and followed the problem solving steps to help guide any problem you’re trying to solve.

The “Action” portion of the workshop involved small groups working on problem solving of an unknown question, but having to do with “something about making sides equal. This problem allowed students in all grades 4-8 to tackle and use their thinking skills in a way that supports our spiral curriculum. Learning and building on similar concepts each year and putting them into use. Two versions of the same questions were offered to support and foster personalized learning. Students were open to answer one or both. Students in grades 4 and 5, used logic, guess and test, and fraction equivalents to solve and prove their answers, while students in grades 6-8 used equivalent ratios, fractions, percents, common multiples and some even created algebraic expressions to come to their solution.

The end result, a fun filled class of squirmin’. When kids are squirmin’ they’re learnin‘.  When the students don’t easily know an answer, and if it’s something that intrigues them, we try to have them “sit” longer with the work to figure it out. The rooms and classes, in all instances, were full of math talk, collaboration, critical thinking, and excited mathletes that focused on their own solutions and proofs with enthusiasm and a love of learning.

Sound too good to be true? Check out the these images!



To conclude each of the workshops I conducted with each class, the students each ended with a reflection of what worked, what didn’t, and learning any new strategies that others used to solve the problem. At the end of all sessions with the middle school classes, I took students on a gallery walk to the display I had created in the upstairs hallway, which displayed all the work of all the students. It was THEIR work, THEIR learning, and THEIR growth. They didn’t want to leave, as they kept talking about it, seeing connections to what others did and how others in other classes and grades went about the problem. Reminiscing about “We used to do that in grade 4.” or ” What does unit rate mean? Can we learn that, too?”  (Even spotted and overheard discussions by the bulletin board during recess times).

Math is fun!

So….are you interested in what was it that got your child and/or our students engaged and thinking?

Want to try it out yourself? Well… here’s the problem that they all solved in their own ways

… would YOU solve it?

Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments as we build our strategies as learners together! 🙂