One of my favorite things to do during summer is to sit at the beach and read a professional book. It’s even more fun when the book’s author is a friend and I can TOTALLY hear his voice as I’m reading (especially in his amazing footnotes – I’m usually #TeamEndNotes, but John gets a pass!).
So, yesterday, as temperatures at home flirted with 105*, I took off to the beach with a friend who will be teaching TK next year, and I basically read her John Stevens’ newest book, Table Talk Math. 😀 I seem to remember doing this with his previous book , The Classroom Chef, as well – different friend, though. John writes so well (for a Math teacher 😛 ) and it’s hard not to giggle and enjoy his wisdom, especially his stories about his two little boys.
The premise of Table Talk Math is to help parents (OK … and teachers…) start CONVERSATIONS with their children. We all know the statistics – although Stevens helps us along with many – of how few times most families sit down to dinner together. Or really, how few moments busy families get to have meaningful conversations at all? Far beyond “How was school? Did you learn anything?” (“Good. No.”), John helps the reader to find the basis of math conversations to have, oftentimes enticing our children into playing a game rather than struggling with them to practice their math facts (don’t get me started…).
I can vouch for several of the activities mentioned in the book since I have been a participant in a few of John’s PD sessions. My 5th graders learned to notice and wonder and construct THEIR OWN MEANING and support their arguments. They became emboldened in their abilities to challenge others’ conclusions (given appropriate discussion parameters) and open to seeing others’ perspectives. I teach 10-year-olds. Imagine the changes in mathematical thinking if we could start these practices earlier – perhaps at the dinner table?
To this end, John recommends (and so do I!) trying out a “Would You Rather”. 1 Yes, there is a lot of mathematical thinking in these activities, but my favorite part is the “outside of the box” / common sense thoughts that students bring to the conversation. Students fully understand that their discussion must include the WHY of their decision, but they are free to change their minds should another student convince them to do so. I’ve found that tweens are stubborn, however, and usually stick to their guns.
Another favorite, again tested on 5th graders, is “Which One Doesn’t Belong?”2 SO many amazing conversations can come out of these boxes! Consider this:
I had students make their decisions as to which shape does not belong with the others (cue Sesame Street) and be ready to explain WHY. I consider the demand for a WHY payback for all students’ three-year-old WHYYYY??? phase. Sometimes I have them discuss at their tables. Sometimes I have them get up and pick a corner of the room, discuss with their like-minded comrades, but then also decide, together, which other shape might not belong … for a different reason. Whole-class discussions at the end reveal a lot of “OOOoohhhs” and “NOW I see its”. Students beg for these.
Now back to the basics of why Table Talk Math is so wonderful:
- It’s written for parents, but teachers can glean some wonderful classroom activities as well.
- It emphasizes the need for adults to talk WITH their children/students. Don’t talk AT them. Listen. Ponder with them. Notice with them. Wonder with them.
- It instructs us (teachers and parents) that it is, even as “the adult”, OK to not know the answer. As a parent (my “babies” are amazing, talented, and wonderful, self-sufficient adults now) AND as a teacher, one of my favorite things to say is, “I don’t know. Let me know if you need help trying to find the answer.”
- It reminds us that “math problems” need to be meaningful. We can only give so many interesting pizza problems when we’re studying fractions. And make them QUICK. You may find yourself returning to and extending a concept/discussion later, but “leave ‘em wanting!”
- Table Talk (or Car Back Seat) Math can happen anywhere. Find mathematical discussions in your homes, grocery stores, softball fields. “Children learn math from the culture by which they are surrounded.” – Foreword by Dr. Christopher Danielson.
And for more fun with John, visit TableTalkMath.com. Buy his book. Buy a t-shirt. Do a fundraiser. (What a great idea to get this book into the hands of parents! The TechFairies have plans to do one!).
You can also watch this interview that we did with John about Table Talk Math during ISTE in San Antonio: June 27, 2017.
Love you, John! —– Forever #TeamNoGlitter & #TeamNoPlayDoh