I have the privilege of being part of a group of Round Rock teachers who are committed to bringing the best math instruction possible to their classrooms. The experiences are vast, and I can tell that the learning will be deep this year.

Our first mission is to reflect upon a favorite open-ended/rich problem in our classroom.

Last spring, I was asked to model a numberless word problem (a blog for another day!). The trick was that the teacher wanted me to model it right then. I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, so I wrote this on the board:

Mr. Garcia is putting a fence around his garden.

I directed the students to copy this problem in their math journal. These 5th grade students dutifully copied the problem then, I started getting puzzled looks. I waited until a brave student said “There’s no math”. I answered, “Yes there is. Talk to your partner about the math that you see in this problem. When you can tell me what information you need to solve the problem, I will give it to you.”

The students started talking to each other, and one of them said, “If he is building a fence, this is a perimeter problem. We need that.”

I gave them the perimeter, then asked them to discuss what kinds of math questions they could ask, and what information would they need. They continued talking with one another, and asking for information, and I gave them one side. At this point, I asked them to generate “math questions” we could answer, choose a question, then answer and explain the question.

At one point, a student said, “To find the length of the sides of any polygon, all you have to do is divide the perimeter by 4”. I said nothing, but waited for his classmates to say something. Eventually, the student asked if he could change his statement to “To find the length of the sides of a SQUARE you divide the perimeter by 4”. At this moment, several other students had those fabulous “aha” moments. The students led the discussion and I just took notes of who understood what, what misconceptions were evident, and who really understood what we were doing.

In no time at all my time was up, but the students didn’t want me to leave. They were completely engaged in the math, and having fun.

This has been, by far, the best math lesson I have ever done! I am planning on doing more of these this year!

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I love these types of problems. Getting the students to ask their own questions is one of my favorite parts of being a teacher. I will sometimes use a series of books called “Roads to Reasoning” to get similar lines of questioning. Great post!

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I love this story. Posing a single sentence like this seems very similar to a 3-Act math lesson where students generate the questions and determine the information that is needed in order to find the solution. I can’t wait to sit in on some of your problem solving session later this week!

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[…] Leilani wrote about how one simple sentence led to rich problem solving and discussion last year. […]

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How cool! I love seeing who that student is who will speak up and question the teacher. I’ve done a similar thing where I provide a context for students to analyze, then after a discussion I provide the questions. In one class they had already answered all the questions by the time I handed the sheet out! It’s amazing what kids can do given the opportunity.

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