There were definitely some bright moments when I think back on my year in fourth grade. One such bright spot was developing the #kidmathchat concept and using it with my fourth grade students. I have to give ALL the credit to the pioneers who started #elemmathchat (Melynee Naegele @MNmMath and Brian Bushart @bstockus) because that was where my idea was born. I began participating a couple of years ago. The math chat is just that, a chat. It is held on Thursday nights on Twitter. There are hosts who pose questions and push the participants to think more deeply. I always feel challenged to do better for my students and I'm eager to put what I learn into practice. The chats last only one hour and the time FLIES. These chats are great PD. They've done a lot to forward my math thinking. At some point, I began to wonder if this couldn't work with fourth grade students.
Our math year had gotten off to a pretty slow start. It took a long time to get my students to a place where they felt comfortable thinking deeply about math and feeling comfortable enough to enter into a math conversation with their peers. After lots of pumping the brake, and slowing down the pace so that we could build community in our math class, my students were ready for different experiences where they'd be taking some risks. This really didn't start to happen till the winter holidays were upon us. The December winter vacation was quickly approaching and it was important to keep my students engaged. I thought that this might be a good time to take a risk myself. I even invited my principal to drop in. I outlined what I thought she would see.
I had made some chocolate chip cookies for my own children's teachers as part of their holiday gifts. You know, every time we bake in bulk there is a ton of math going on. I snapped some pictures along the way having only a loose idea of where this chat would go. While I had some questions planned, some emerged as a result of student conversations in the room and on the chat. Wow was it a fast paced and sort of stressful lesson. There were definitely some mathematical ah ha moments. What I liked most was that students were participating in small teams. There was such rich conversation in the room as teams prepared their response tweets to my questions. What was really remarkable was how engaged ALL the kids were. Participating in groups made all the difference. The risk-free conversations that happened in their small groups kept all students in the conversation. The first chat really was a success but I knew there would be things I'd do differently if there was to be another #kidmathchat.
The next time I attempted a #kidmathchat it was early February and I asked some colleagues to participate along with us. This made it a little more fun for my students too. I actually opened it up to my #elemmathchat friends and shared it using the #MTBoS hashtag. One teacher from a fourth grade classroom in Boston did check in for a while. That was cool too. I learned that preparation is key! I prepared all my slides in advance. This took a lot of pressure off of me. I was able to read the student tweets and comment back to them right away. They liked that they were getting responses from me. I liked that I could push their thinking during the chat as my thinking had so often been pushed in the #elemmathchat.
My big take away this time: I planned way too many questions and the pace ended up being way too fast for my kids. I knew that the next time I attempted this I'd scale back on the questions and put more emphasis on getting my students to go deeper with their thinking and and to offer proof. I wanted to see them interacting with one another too and challenging one another's thinking.
Here is the kind of sucky thing. This was my last #kidmathchat of the year. I did what I promise myself I won't do. Every. Damn. Year. I let myself get bogged down with "covering" content because our state testing (MCAS) was coming up. After it was over, I just never got around to putting another chat together.
I really do think that this is a worthwhile format to use to get kids talking about math, solving problems, and making their thinking visible. There was something about "publishing" their thinking that added a level of importance to the work we were doing. I'm also considering a slow #kidmathchat. While it is summer and I should be a little more chill, especially in July, my head is swimming with ideas and plans. I'm wondering if a once a month chat wouldn't be a reasonable goal. Perhaps we could try a slow chat too. I'm wondering if we could even get the parents involved in a slow chat.
Have ideas on this topic? Think you might be interested in joining us? I'd love to hear from you.