# Listening Carefully to Student Thinking

Recently, I have been reviewing a new “CCSS-Aligned” middle school curriculum and find myself completely frustrated with the overabundance of scaffolding and lack of student thinking required on every assignment. Not having the days/weeks it would take for teachers to engage in the mathematics as both learners and teachers, I needed a short, powerful way to show that this is not how students should experience/learn mathematics.

As I looked at the fraction page like this, my thought was “Why just two ways?” quickly followed by “Why those two ways?” quickly followed by “My students are doing this now, flexibly.”

Right then, I realized the perfect proof of why NOT to do this, was the work my students already do when given the freedom to reason about a problem and do more than just procedurally compute an answer. So, I put the proof in their hands.  I simply asked them to solve 2/5 x 7/10 as many ways as they could. Some got creative after a couple of ways, and by no means am I saying some of these are “efficient,” but they show so much flexibility.

This felt perfect. Why would we want to miss out on all of the great conversations that can happen around this work by making them answer in just 2 ways, and more specifically, those 2 ways they show you how to do…step-by-step?

and THEN this happened which validated my thoughts even further and instantly made me reflect on my friend Christopher’s talk at ShadowCon (video coming soon) around listening carefully to student thinking…

The students were working on 2/5 x 7/10 as I was walking around the room observing their work. I glanced over a student’s shoulder and saw “Doubling and Halving” written on her paper with the correct answer. Assuming it was doubling/halving in the sense of doubling one factor and halving another factor, I was excited to see the use of the strategy.

I asked her how she did it, she said, “I double/halved” and I was about to move on to get ready for our sharing. When I glanced down, however, it was not at all like I had imagined. I asked her to explain further…“I halved this numerator and doubled this denominator [points to 2/5] then I doubled this numerator and halved this denominator [points to 7/10].”. Ok, now THIS is much different than I thought!!

I had her share, and others immediately said they had double/halved also but did not get those fractions to multiply and wondered if that worked every time (I love that they ask that now:). I let them play around with it for a bit but since we had some division work to do I told them to keep thinking about that and we will revisit it tomorrow. By the end of the next class period, I had a student come up and say, “She didn’t double/half really, she quadrupled/fourthed.” I asked him to write down his explanation for me because it was lovely.

So glad I listened carefully and didn’t makes assumptions on her understandings because how amazing is this work? I am also so glad that I can appreciate a curriculum that allows for these reasonings and conversations to happen.

-Kristin

# Commutativity in Fraction Multiplication

2/3 x 6              6 x 2/3

Do you think differently about each?

I had not really given this much thought because we do both in 5th grade, multiply a fraction by a whole number and whole number by a fraction. However, recently, when working with a group of 4th grade teachers and looking more closely at the standards and my curriculum, I am beginning to see a distinct difference. I now look at each expression from a different perspective. Not that both ideas do not arise at multiple grade levels in some form or another, but it is so interesting to me as to which thinking would come before the other.

Let’s first look at the standards…

Interesting. For me, taking a fraction of a group feels more “natural” and intuitive than multiplying a whole number by a fraction, however in the learning trajectory of multiplication and building of unit fractions composing a whole, the multiplication of a whole by a fraction feels like the natural next step.

For our upcoming Illustrative Mathematics professional development, I was collecting work samples for the following problem (thanks Jody:)

“Presley is wrapping 6 packages. Each package needs 2/3 of a yard of ribbon. How much ribbon will she use for wrapping the 6 packages?”

As anticipated, I received a wide variety of solutions to arrive at 4 yards of ribbon. Here are just a few examples in what I think is the progression I expect (some of them got finished  quickly and opted to show a few ways to solve).

They all finished fairly quickly and as I was walking around I thought it was really interesting to see such a variety in the equations they used to represent the problem. We came together as a whole group and I asked them for the equations they thought best represented the problem. The most common answers were: 2/3 x 6 = 4, 6 x 2/3= 4 and 2/3 + 2/3 + 2/3 + 2/3 + 2/3 + 2/3= 12/3 = 4.

I asked them if there was a difference between the equations and there was a unanimous “No” because they mean the same thing. “They all get 4.” In my head I was very excited that commutativity was something they see when finding a solution, but I was also curious if it worked the same in the opposite direction. I asked if we could narrow it down to two equations and they all agreed that the repeated addition was the same as 6 x 2/3 because it was “six groups of 2/3.” Interesting, so they see that in the numeric representation but not contextually?

I then asked them to write 6 x 2/3 and 2/3 x 6 on the top of their journal page and think about them without the previous context.  I posed, “If I gave you these two problems to solve, would you think about them the same way? Do you think about them differently?” I was curious to hear their thoughts on the commutativity.

The conversation after was so great and interesting! There is a difference when going from number to context, however when put in context, I think students use whatever strategy is easiest for them to arrive at the answer. Is this what is truly meant by contextualizing and decontexualizing in the SMPs?

To further intrigue me, I went and pulled a few fourth graders to interview during my planning period. It was so interesting that they saw this as a whole number times a fraction because it was “six 2/3’s.” Their connection to multiplication and “groups of” was evident. I did love how they did 3 of the 2/3s first to get 2 and then doubled that to get 4.

This 4th grader was the most interesting..

This progression (to me) now seems to be more about building on student’s understanding of multiplication then about what is more intuitive for students to do. That is such a revelation to me. In second and third grade students do so much in “sharing” situations, that I had assumed it was en route to this skill of taking a fraction of a number when in fact it is more about the operations. It builds multiplication and division. Those operations then progress from operations with whole numbers to operations with fractions and from there students start to build deeper understandings of the properties of operations.

This is of course, all my interpretation based on my experiences and perspective of the student work, but how awesome! I cannot wait to share this with the 4th grade teachers along with the video of the kids chatting with me about this, awesome stuff!!

-Kristin

# Volume with Fractional Dimensions

Before I began our volume work this year, I blogged about my planning process here: https://mathmindsblog.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/unit-planning/. As anticipated, I had many students who quickly developed (or already had) strategies for finding volume and could articulate a conceptual understanding of what was happening in the prism. In my previous post, I was throwing around the idea of giving those students dimensions with fractional length sides, so the other day I thought I would try it out. I did this Illustrative Task as a formative assessment of student understanding. Many students were done in a couple of minutes, with responses for part b that looked like this:

As I walked around the room and saw they were finished quickly, I asked them to revisit part b and think about a tank with fractional dimensions. Because of the great work they had done here I thought they would have some interesting thoughts. These are a few of the responses I got:

So, what did I learn from this work?  I saw they had some great understandings about taking a fraction of one factor to make a number that they knew they needed to multiply by a third whole number factor to get 240.  In the first two pictures, there is a great pattern happening that I want to explore further with the whole class. I also loved seeing that a student took the question “fractional length sides” to include decimals in his work. In my question, however, I had wanted them to consider more than one side in fractional lengths, however not being more explicit, they took it and ran with one side being fractional.  In the next lesson, I thought I would push them a bit with this.

In the following lesson, students were finding the volume of an unmarked prism in cubic centimeters. They had rulers, cm cubes, and cm grid paper available to them, and went to work. Every year this happens, the Investigations grid paper works with the box to be whole number dimensions, however the cm are a bit “off” when using a ruler or cm cubes. I knew this, however, I do love the discussions that evolve from students who used different tools. I also thought this is the perfect opportunity for my students who were beginning to think about fractional sides. What transpired in the whole class lesson is a blog post in and of itself, however this is what came about from the fractional sides work…

Sooo much great stuff here! I had a group who was using the cubes, coming out with halves, but not wanting to round because it was “right in the middle” of the cube. I let them go and came back to see they were multiplying whole numbers, multiplying the fractions, and then adding them together to get their product. I asked them to think about another multiplication strategy to see if they got the same product, then came the array. Another student in the same group solved mentally to get the products. Unfortunately, the class had to leave me to go to their next class, also leaving me with so many things to think about. From here, I want to be sure students start to think about reasonableness of their solutions, compare their fraction multiplication strategy to whole number multiplication strategies, and think about how we multiply three numbers (Associative property). So much to do, I need full day math classes!

-Kristin

# You Never Know What They Know Until You Push Their Thinking….

Last Friday, at a state math meeting, we had so much fun diving deep into a fraction lesson of a 6th grade teacher. The lesson was on multiplying fractions by fractions and while the conversation started with thoughts about the lesson itself and areas for discussion for the math coach, the lesson really brought to light the fraction progression. I cannot even begin to recap all of the insightful discussion points such as using models and the importance of the representation in mathematics, teacher pedagogy and mathematical understanding, vertical articulation across grade levels….I could go on and on, but I had one brief conversation that leaked its way into my classroom the following Monday.

While we were “doing the math” the students would be doing in the lesson video, a colleague and I were talking about where our 5th graders leave off with fractions and how that is built upon in 6th grade. She made the comment that if the students truly understood taking a fraction of another fraction and fraction of a whole number (both 5th grade standards), then they could reason their way through mixed number times mixed number, which is introduced in 6th grade.  She quickly drew out 3 1/3 x 3 1/3 and we talked through the context in which our book uses and how students could reason about that problem.

So, of course, I have to throw it out to my students on Monday because I am curious at this point if they could work their way through the problem and the various ways they would think about it. This is where that “engaging” vs “not engaging” or “real world” vs “not real world” conversation seems void. I used no context, no real world example, I simply said, “I was talking to some middle and high school teachers at my meeting on Friday about your fraction work and they were wondering how you guys would solve this problem. 3 1/3 x 3 1/3.” They went to work and I started walking around to chat with them.

Here are some strategies I saw…

She started with 3 1/3 x 3 and then added another 3 1/3 and found 1/3 of that to be 1 1/9.

He used partial products. When I asked him how he figured that out, he wrote the 25 x 25 and explained how he gets his partial products there so he did the same thing with wholes an fractions. Wow. Did not expect this one!

Same partial products, just a bit neater!

She used separate bars for each 3 1/3 and then divided the bottom up to find the 1/3 of 3 1/3.

I was so impressed by the work of these kiddos and they were so proud of themselves! They connected understandings of whole number operations to fractions, applied properties of mathematics, used what they knew conceptually about fractions to model the situation, and most importantly persevered through the problem and constructed arguments about their answer.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all picture perfect….I did have some who initially gave me 9 1/9 (as I anticipated they multiplied the whole numbers then the fractions and put them together) but that led to a great “reasonableness” conversation. A context in this case helped some students see that if you did 3 laps that were 3 1/3 miles long it was 10 miles, so if you did a 1/3 longer, can your answer be less than 10?

Needless to say, I don’t know how anyone doesn’t just love hearing students talk about math and reason about problems. I find it energizes me, my students, and the climate in my classroom. So, thank you to MSERC (University of Delaware Math & Science Education Center) and the Delaware Math Coalition for all of the hard work that is put into making these professional development opportunities so rewarding for both myself and my students! I think you all are AMAZING!

-Kristin

# Fraction of Fraction Day 2

As I mentioned in my previous post: https://mathmindsblog.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/fractions-of-fractions/
I had wondered about fraction multiplication being introduced without a context when the students were coming from lessons in which a fraction of a whole/mixed number had a context. Feeling like the students had a solid grasp on how to find a fraction of a fraction on a fraction bar, I thought I would try having them develop a story context for fraction multiplication problem. They had free reign of the fractions they used and context they chose. Needless to say, it was a learning experience for me. Some showed understanding of what they were doing when finding a fraction of a fraction of something while others unveiled some things I need to go back and revisit.

I have included clips from some of their videos and what I learned from each…. (turn your volume up bc they whispered on these)

This one was SO interesting (and a little humorous) because she cut the fraction bar to find 2/3s of 1/2, however when she is explaining her reasoning she used the commutative property. Saying that the answer is 2/6 because that is half of 2/3 was something I had never thought of exploring with students when reasoning about whether the answer made sense. I loved it and definitely added to my lessons for next week!

When she introduces the scenario, she says “1/2 of 1/4” so I don’t know if she misspoke or not really understanding the context. I can see she has the process but I don’t know if the understanding is there. I do love how she says “He wanted to find how much of the whole bread stick that was” because she is relating her answer back to the whole. This was difficult for many students. Maybe picky on my end, but I would have liked for her to label the pieces 1/8, 2/8, etc instead of by whole number, even though I know she is counting the pieces.