Collaboration – in Math Class

So I read my friend Jay Richea’s post and decided to join in the #Peel21st Blog Hop.

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“Here’s the next instalment of #Peel21st Blog Hop. We  thought we would reflect on the 21st Century Competencies released by the Ministry which discusses the core 21st Century skills that are essential elements in modern learning. We thought these competencies could be a great way to prompt a conversation amongst the #peel21st community and afar as well. This month, it’s all about…

Collaboration: Near & Far

So my focus will be on Collaboration in Math Class.

I remember vividly spending most of my first year math undergrad in isolation, and thinking, how is everyone else handling all of this work, and understanding everything? I lived off-campus you see, and I’d head home after lectures.

Second year, I moved on-campus and discovered the marvel of study groups.  People would sit together, figuring out problems, convincing each other that their solution is the one that made the most sense, or is the most elegant. My personal success and confidence in my mathematical ability skyrocketed.  This is a skill that we far too often skip over in secondary math education.  We call it “stealing work” or “cheating”.  But my professors loved it.  They would join us in our debates.

If anyone has the opportunity, check out McMaster’s James Steward Centre for Mathematics – it’s a building with all interior walls painted in chalkboard paint.  We would stand around for hours outside of our professors office, and she or he would join us from time to time, debating about the solutions we’re trying to discover.

So the question is, how do we teach and foster collaboration in our students?  In reading Jo Boaler’s “Mathematical Mindset” recently, I’ve gotten a few ideas of how to not just have collaboration in my class, but to show students that I value it by having criteria clearly laid out for them.  I loved the two suggestions that she provided (from Carlos Cabana):


I love the fact that Carlos is open about the fact that the group needs to lean on each other in order to collaborate, that a single person cannot be successful in all of this, but together the group can.

To add to all of this awesomeness, we now have collaborative tools like GAFE, Formative, and now Desmos Activity Builder specifically for math where we need to collect data from the entire class in order to solve a problem.  Online tools allow us to create activities such as THIS one where we have to use some information from our class in order to get to discovering some math, and we can now even include information from people outside our immediate network if we push the questions further.  The possibilities are endless, but we can focus on the objective if we just keep asking ourselves the questions:

  • Do mathematicians do math in isolation?
  • What do their offices look like?
  • How do students learn best?
  • How can I best support them to believe in themselves and in their own ideas?



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