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10 Big Ideas Math Features that Help Promote Productive Math Discussions

  • Big Ideas Learning Consultants

Big Ideas Math consultants share their favorite program features that help teachers encourage students to have productive math discussions.

Over the past few months, remote learning has altered the way we approach many aspects of our teaching. And even though our physical classrooms have changed significantly, our discussions with our students should not. Earlier this week, Sophie Murphy outlined some tips for how to have meaningful and productive math discussions. We reached out to our team of experts to share their favorite Big Ideas Math features to start those discussions, and how to use them in your remote learning classrooms.


1. Success Criteria – Grade K-12, Teaching Edition


Modeling Real Life Grade 7 Chapter 8 Learning Target and Success Criteria


The Success Criteria, which are included at the beginning of each chapter and Section in the Teaching Edition, (both print and digital), are very helpful in the promotion of productive math discussion in the math classroom. Success Criteria are the measures by which students and teachers can determine how well students have met the Learning Target of the chapter. They can be useful in helping students to take ownership in their individual learning and being able to express their understanding of what they have learned. Teachers can use these “I can” statements as discussion points or prompts to encourage students to speak about what they know and to determine their confidence factor. Teachers can then use what students express to informally assess student progress. They can then determine how to proceed, whether it be to continue moving forward, pause to reteach, or provide intervention assistance to those in need.


- Tim Taykowski


2. Red Question Marks – Grade K-12, Teaching Edition



Red Question Marks Found in the Teaching Edition of Modeling Real Life 5th Grade


I find the Red Question Marks in the Teaching Edition to be helpful for promoting discussion. They are great prompts for eliciting student thinking. Sometimes they challenge students to think deeper or help students connect what they are learning to prior knowledge or real-life experiences. They don’t have to be used as a script. I recommend that teachers take a look at them prior to teaching the lesson in class so they can think about how they might put the question in their own words or edit it to better align with the current interests or academic background of their class. Sometimes a good question can divide a class! To further promote discussion, you can take this opportunity to set up a mock debate:

  1. Have students get into groups based on the answer they agree.
  2. Give them a little time to come up with evidence.
  3. Have them present their arguments.


- Sophia Montiel


3. Try Its and Monitoring Progress – Grade 6-12, Student Edition



6th Grade Modeling Real Life Try It


The Try Its in the Middle School Student Edition and the Monitoring Progress in the High School Student Edition teach students how to uncover the different layers of understanding. Learners realize there is a difference between comfortably following along with the teacher and working out a problem independently from scratch. Students take ownership of their own learning when they test their understanding of the concepts found in the stepped-out examples. By working the preceding examples as a class, students gain the necessary exposure to the appropriate concepts and skills. Then, by completing the Try Its or Monitoring Progress immediately afterwards, students test their level of understanding and reinforce the correct procedure. 


Teachers get continual feedback of students' understanding after every example. Teachers rely on this data to find the ideal pace and determine if extra examples are needed or if the class can skip an example and move on to the next. The scaffolded Try-Its and Monitoring Progress reach all levels of learners right where they are, and the additional exercises ensure that students reinforce sound problem-solving technique.


- Erin Cockrell


4. Performance Tasks – Grade 6-12, Assessment Book



Performance Tasks For Algebra 1 Chapter 9


I was always amazed at my students’ curiosity, especially once I learned how to tie that curiosity into math discussions. When I used Big Ideas Math in my classroom, the Performance Tasks helped make sure that every unit had at least one place where we could have productive discussions. Because the tasks are real-world applications; they allowed my students to see math in action, which is always helpful to promote meaningful mathematical discussions and solidify their understanding of the underlying math. They quickly became one of my students’ favorite activities.


Since the Performance Tasks can be found in the “Featured Chapter Resources” section of the main dashboard, these were easy to access. I used these as mini projects to close out a chapter and would always have some sort of group activity that allowed students to share their work. I would often use gallery walks because they are structured and can be easily timed to make sure that I did not spend too much time on presentations.


- Matt Stoddard


5. Closures – Grade K-12, Teaching Edition



Closures found in Grade 4 of Big Ideas Math: Modeling Real Life


Closures, located in the Teaching Edition at the end of every lesson, can help students organize the information in a meaningful context in their minds. This helps students better understand what they learned and provides a way that they can apply it to the world around them. Summarizing and making that connection will also help students take ownership of their learning targets for that particular lesson. Laurie’s Notes provide instruction for a closure, but the teacher should prepare before the lesson to modify/plan for individual student needs in the classroom. The teacher should prepare the closure to meet the current academic needs in the classroom. The teacher can choose to conduct the closure in small groups, partners, or as a whole group to promote engagement. 


- Margaret Rebman


6. Explore and Grow or Explorations – Grade K-12, Student Edition



Example of an Exploration found in 8th Grade Big Ideas Math: Modeling Real Life


The explorations have really helped increase “math talk” with my students. The explorations are found at the beginning of each lesson, in both the Teaching Edition and Student Edition. In addition, they can be accessed digitally through the Dynamic Student Edition and the resources tab on the teacher dashboard. No matter how you decide to access them, you will quickly see that the exploration tasks are carefully designed to be appropriate, relevant, and challenging to all students. They also naturally generate curiosity and encourage questioning within students, which is the springboard for math discussions. The explorations can be repeated for emphasis, and even adjusted, with Laurie’s Notes, according to the instructional level of your students. To get the most from this embedded resource, I suggest having students complete them daily and own 90% of the work. This means that the teacher should behave as a facilitator that encourages and challenges thinking. Once the explorations are complete, reserve time to process and discuss findings and learnings.


- Angela Gray



Explore and Grow for 3rd Grade Big Ideas Math: Modeling Real Life


The Explore and Grow, or Explorations, are designed to develop conceptual understanding are to be completed with a partner or group. This allows students to use each other’s prior knowledge and problem-solving skills as they work through the productive struggle of these tasks. Through this process the students will need to have meaningful math conversations between themselves, which allows teachers to gain insight into the students understanding of the concept. During this time, teachers may need to prompt students to elicit their thinking, therefore encouraging further discussion. The observations the teacher is making during this time will help to guide the instruction that will follow. 


- Amanda Shelley


Having students work in pairs to complete the Explorations or Explore and Grows at the start of each lesson is a quick and easy way to promote discussion among students. The questions and activities in the Explorations and Explore and Grows have students draw on their own ideas and prior knowledge to work through a problem, so all students have something they can contribute. They often include models and manipulatives to support students and help them connect ideas. In the Explorations there are guiding questions for students. You can have students discuss these questions with their partners and then share ideas as a class. You can encourage deeper discussion by having students question each other and justify their solutions to the class.


- Erin Ross



7. Cross-Curricular Connections – Grade K-5, Teaching Edition



Cross-Curricular Connections give examples of how to apply math in other subjects.


I love the Cross-Curricular Connections that Laurie Boswell has in each section of every chapter. It promotes class discussion at any grade level, and it constantly reminds students that math is connected to EVERYTHING. You can find these activities under Connect and Extend Learning at the end of every section. You’ll find that Laurie provides you with suggested details on how to implement every cross-curricular activity. These cross-curricular activities allow your students to have an additional modeling real life experience while emphasizing what’s been taught in that particular section.


- Jennifer Marcum


8. Dig-Ins – Grade K-5, Teaching Edition



Big Ideas Math: Modeling Real Life 2nd Grade Dig In


Dig-Ins, located inside the Teaching Edition both in print and online, promote discussion by giving students a task and encouraging them to work with a partner or small group. They discuss how they would solve and share their ideas with their peers. In some instances, they may disagree in which they would have to provide evidence.


- Janay Foster


9. STEAM Videos – Grade 3-12, Student Dynamic E-book



STEAM Videos are included within the Big Ideas Math Dynamic Classroom


STEAM Videos, located in the Student Dynamic E-Book as well as the Resources section online, provide a great starting point for student discourse. There is an incredibly wide range of topics such as sports, architecture, and science that all focus on how important math is in real-world situations. Teachers can play them at the beginning of class time as a bellringer to initiate thought and conversation around the lesson at hand or students can watch them on their own for entertainment and to promote thinking about mathematics in a new way.


- Jeff May


10. Math Games – Grade K-12, Online



List of interactive and printable games found in the Big Ideas Math Dynamic Classroom


One resource that I think would be best beneficial for teachers to use for student engagement in conversation would be the math games! Math games are a phenomenal way to differentiate instruction and to truly test the skills of each learner. Seeing students may be overwhelmed with many changes they've experienced since COVID-19, math games would be a great way to lighten their mood and assess them informally on the curriculum. The math games can be found in the online platform in the resource section. The math games promote productive math discussion because they are able to help break down any anxiety that students may face, and get down to the realistic understanding and conceptual framework that students should know regarding particular standards found within the math games. When the students know how to be successful at the game, then they understand the curriculum. The math games can be the teacher's assurance that their students have succeeded in the content.


I would suggest the teacher use math games at the ends of explaining the curriculum and towards the end of a practice section with students. They can assign math games for a project, review before a quiz, and for extra practice. Math games would be great for revisiting specific standards that students may struggle with, as well as making sure that students are proficient and have mastered other standards.


- India White


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