Middle School Math Work Group: October 9th Session– Recap & Notes

Causal Loop Diagram for middle school math performan
Our revised diagram highlighting key factors and adding a couple of new ones.

This was the first working session for a group of educators focused on middle school math that is part of a collaborative effort with Milwaukee Succeeds. We began our October 9th session with a silent discussion: using post-it notes to determine what is missing on the causal map, and dots to determine what three factors have the most impact on student learning.  Our goal in doing so is build a model that can help us chart a course to improved student performance.


At the end of our first session we challenged the group with a reading assignment (Making Number Talks Matter: Developing Mathematical Practices and Deepening Understanding) and to experiment with meaningful discourse in their math classes.  The group took a bit of time to reflect on what worked, what was challenging, and ways to we get past that.

What stuck with you

  • Process is important (engaging in routines and creating common language)
  • Temptations to resist (not putting words into students mouths)
  • Mindset check, reminder on what really does help a student
  • Actually prod student confusion, and allow students that space

If you had a chance to experiment, were you able to? What worked and what didn’t work?

  • Peer-peer convos, non-verbal responses, but students have a hard time explaining what they really mean beyond the algorithm
  • Number talks: intentionally planning these talks
  • Multiple ways of talking about the numbers
  • Thought patterns, find out where the kids are at
  • Kids ping-pong off each other to see each other ideas and ways of thinking about things
  • Kids being so ingrained in rote-memorization, have a hard time getting out of that, and that there isn’t only one way of finding the answer to the math problem

Exercise in meaningful discourse

For the bulk of the evening, Kevin McLeod from UWM’s Department of Mathematical Sciences led the group through a discourse session on a single math problem appropriate for middle school students. This helped provide context for the higher level conversation which ran in parallel around the reasoning behind the process. The problem and his notes are available to download here.