Math As a Social Sport

I had the pleasure of attending a 3rd - 5th grade math workshop presented by Graham Fletcher.  One thing that resonated with me is when Graham said: "Math has typically been paper, pencil, head down. We need to make it a social sport as much as possible." I saw the benefits of math as a social sport in my Honors Algebra 2 class this week.

I introduced the Complex Number System to my students on Friday. We did the Number Systems Investigation from our digital textbook. Students had to decide which number systems represented each given scenario. Students spent 5 minutes answering the questions individually. It was a "paper, pencil, head down" activity. When students were done, I started randomly calling on students to answer the questions. After a student shared their answer, I opened the floor for agreement and/or debate. The debate started immediately with part A (Decide which number system(s) represents the number of volleyballs at volleyball practice). The big question was whether there would ever be zero volleyballs at volleyball practice. As a paper, pencil activity, students were trying to get the right answer. As a social sport, their answer is only as right as the strength of their argument. I could legitimately accept Natural Numbers or Whole Numbers as a correct answer, depending on how a student justifies their reasoning. The debate got fun when a student said "There could be half of a volleyball at practice." Most students fought that argument, but some accepted it. My rebuttal to that statement is that if there is half of a volleyball, there's another half in existence. These two halves make a whole, so the debate goes back to Natural Numbers vs. Whole Numbers. The rich discussions continued through each scenario.

Hattie's research tells us that the effect size for classroom discussion is 0.82. I observed deeper learning happening in real time as students argued for their answers. Had we moved on without a classroom discussion, I would not be confident that students would retain the information learned during that practice (even if the learning was review of prior knowledge). By creating a rich learning environment where students are engaged with the content and with each other, we are able to deepen the connection between prior knowledge and new learning and to make that new learning stick.