Yesterday I had a chance to have a really good discussion with my Professional Learning Network (PLN) about showing working in math. I wanted to share it with you.

(Disclaimer: The site only allows 140 characters, so I did change some abbreviations to whole words. I also combined continuous thoughts into one paragraph. However, I did not change anyones thoughts)

TPLCMisterP – thinks he may be rubbing some people the wrong way in my online class forum. However, there are too many math teachers in this class that have stated that they require one way to show their work. Some have said that they don’t, but then later in their post they prove that do.

omyers – Do they have to show their work on paper?

TPLCMisterP – They have to show every single step that the teacher requires.

craftycoz – I’d just like them to show enough steps to prove to me they understand how to do it. That they didn’t just copy the answer from somebody. But I don’t usually get any work at all.

nkrahn – Showing EVERY step is crazy for some kids. Their brains simply work faster than their pencil and it’s frustrating being forced to slow down.

craftycoz – But should they show some work? What do you all think?

nkrahn – @craftycoz: I HATED showing work as a kid on all problems because I didn’t have to but there should be some work on most problems depending on what they are doing and the student’s ability.

craftycoz – @nkrahn: I agree. In fact I know they do most of the work on their calculators. I just want them to show me that they understand *what* they are doing. Or something so that if they type it into their calc wrong I can figure out what they did.

omyers – Is there another way to show that they get it? I did a lot of show your work things that I didn’t understand. I just followed the pattern.

craftycoz – @omyers: That is a good question. I don’t know but it’d be something to think about.

Merry – many of my gifted students can do a lot of the work in their heads for Algebra – it I doubt it I’ll randomly pick a problem and ask them and then they will think it through in their head and give me an answer – doesn’t take long to figure out who can do the work in their heads versus who is just copying answers. I don’t think every student should be required to write down every step – my experience has been that leads to kids not doing homework because it’s frustrating. On the other hand, I do give partial credit on quizzes/tests for work – so those that need to show work earn points for showing work. It’s interesting to see how others here handle this 🙂

TPLCMisterP – @merry: I feel the same way. If they get it correct, you get all the points. If you miss it, but showed work, you get partial credit.

craftycoz – I do the same thing.

@GBFanDdaisy – What’s wrong with showing the though process? There are many ways to think through problems.

Metsoskil – My thoughts on this would take WAY more than 140 characters. Kids should have to explain their thinking. And others’ thinking. Finding the correct answer (and especially if it’s demanded to be found “the right way”) is the least important part of math learning. The journey is more important than the destination because of the learning that happens along the way.

shirky17 – Math is a process, not an answer.

Metsoskil – It’s not about “doing” math. It’s about understand. The sooner we realize that math isn’t about numbers, the better off we’ll be.

TPLCMisterP – I agree with all of you on this. I do want the correct answer, but I’m more interested in how they achieved that answer.

Merry – @Metoskil: But do you think a student who can solve 5x – 2 = 13 in their head should have to show every step?

Metsoskil – No. But they should be able to explain every step that they used to find an answer. And give a real life example of a problem that would be represented by that equation. If not, they don’t really understand the math. They just understand the rules that they have to follow to solve linear equations.

Merry – @Metsoskil: Agreed!

Metsoskil – Personally, I don’t care if they write it down on their homework or classwork, but I expect them to be able to explain if I ask them to. And I always ask them to. Sometimes in paragraph form. Sometimes by explaining to a partner and then the partner has to explain how the first student did the problem. Sometimes on a white board. Sometimes on an index card before they leave the classroom. That’s why we rarely get through more than 3-4 problems in an hour class period.

craftycoz – Do they have to do homework?

Metsoskil – @craftycoz: Sure. But it’s usually only one or a few problems. But the problems are usually much more in depth than what’s found in the textbook.

craftycoz – Okay. I like finding out how others teach math. I learn so much from my PLN.

TPLCMisterP – @Metsoskil: So if they can explain it to you in a paragraph and they are correct, why do you send them home with 30 more problems to do? In class they proved to you that they can do 4-5 problems and were successful. They even wrote a paragraph, so why make them do 30 more?

Metsoskil – 30? No. Never. I said one or a few. And the problems are usually taking the math in class to the next level. Last class’s homework: I gave sale prices and store cost of 6 different ice cream flavors and the average number of scoops sold per day. I then told the kids that the new store would have to eliminate one of the flavors and asked them which one to eliminate. Only 1 problem, but I’m sure it took them a while.

TPLCMisterP – @Metsoskil: I know some that would require another 30 questions on top of proving it in class. I’m loving this! I’m thinking about taking this entire conversation and copy-paste it into a blog. Any objections? This is great to hear how all the others are teaching math.

Metsoskil – No objections. Love the idea. And love the discussion.

So now you’re sitting here wondering why I showed you this? Was it to share math teachers thoughts on homework? Well, in a way. Lately I’ve been sharing how math education can make huge impact in how people feel about math. However, the main reason I shared this is to encourage you to find a PLN to talk with. This conversation was going on around the time of the Super Bowl. Yes, not everyone watches the game with all their attention.

When you are working in your school, you hear the same conversations all the time. Having a PLN will give you the chance to talk and find out how other teachers are doing the same things that you are. Are they doing them differently? Do you want ideas of where to find a PLN? Drop me a comment and I will be more than glad to help you out!