The other day in class, I had an experience that reminded me about the importance of asking students, “why?” We’re currently finishing up our unit on fractions, and during class, the children were trying to solve a problem that I asked them.
I told the students that I wanted to make pizza for the class on the last day of school. I wanted to give the students the biggest slice possible. Should I cut each pizza into halves, thirds, or quarters? Why? Students needed to explain their thinking using pictures, numbers, and words.
We’ve worked on comparing fractions, and as I circulated around the classroom, I noticed that most students figured out that they needed to cut each pizza in half. One student response surprised me though. This student is one of my strongest math students, and yet, he wrote down that I should cut each pizza into thirds.
I could have marked him down as incorrect. In the past, I would have done just this, but my change in my approach to teaching math this year has also changed my approach to talking with students about math. Instead of saying that he was wrong, I went up and asked him, why did you choose thirds?
The student looked at me and said, “Halves would give you the biggest pieces, but if you cut each pizza in half, everybody would get about 4 slices of pizza. That’s way too much pizza, Miss Dunsiger! We would all be sick. The biggest slice possible for each of us to eat and not get sick is if you cut each pizza into thirds. Then we would all get about 2 or 3 slices. That’s a good number.” Unbelievable!
If I never asked, I would have assumed that this student did not understand fractions, but in fact, he understands them incredibly well. Just having the opportunity to discuss his thinking allowed him to show me just how much he does know. My only regret is that I didn’t have a video camera or Livescribe Pen going at the time. Imagine the learning that I would have captured then.
Thanks to this wonderful student that reminded me about the importance of asking, “why?” You never know what your students are going to share. Have you had any similar teaching experiences before? I’d love to hear about them!