Making Student Work Central In Mathematics

If you've taken a dive into the Open Up High School Mathematics curriculum, you may have noticed that each lesson begins with a problem or task that has multiple solution paths or even different solutions. Although this may look different than a traditional math curriculum, our author team fundamentally believes in the importance of building lessons around student thinking from the moment class begins.

This shift to lessons driven by student thinking certainly means that the teacher’s role must also shift to one that supports exploration of the problem and facilitates a discussion of strategies and methods that meets the mathematical goals of the lessons. As an author team, we understand that this can be very challenging for teachers – especially in the first year of implementation – but we also believe it is one of the most important shifts. 

Whether you are a current user of the curriculum or just starting to wonder about creating your own thinking classrooms, making student work central matters.

Why It Matters

Students learn more when they solve problems themselves and discuss solutions. Discussing strategies and solutions with peers is an important part of learning. The simple act of articulating an idea helps to clarify and make the idea more permanent. Sometimes when students are stuck or incorrect, explaining their strategy provides an opening for rethinking their approach that may lead to recognizing the next step or correcting their mistake. (If you’d like to learn more about why this matters, check out the book Make It Stick by neuroscience researchers, Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A McDaniel.)

Students can develop a different perception of the nature of mathematics. When students are given the opportunity to make sense of problems and reason about mathematics, they learn that mathematics can be useful, creative, and even beautiful. Many people have experienced mathematics classes that are a series of daily demonstrations of how to solve a single type of problem, using a particular method, often disconnected from any useful context or conceptual foundation. In this scenario, teachers demonstrate and students practice. This may lead students to believe that mathematics is only a set of abstract procedures to be memorized. On the other hand, when students “own” the mathematics in the classroom, mathematics becomes meaningful and doable.  

Students develop a positive mathematical identity and gain confidence in their ability to learn mathematics. Each time a student’s idea is shared with the class, that student is positioned as a thinker. Unfinished and partially correct work can be used in class so students learn that strong arguments and complete solutions are not often produced on the first try, but rather, they are the result of revision and polishing work. Regular discussion and sharing of student work creates a culture where students learn that they can contribute, and thus, be a valuable member of the class.  

What’s Next?

If you’re convinced that making student thinking central in the mathematics classroom is critical, we’ve got your back! In addition to the worthwhile mathematical tasks that have always been the core of the curriculum, many new supports have been added to Open Up High School Mathematics to help teachers implement a lesson using student strategies and sharing thinking through productive discourse. These tools include:

  • Anticipating and Monitoring charts that provide insight into possible student approaches to problems, including successful strategies and possible misconceptions.  
  • Selecting, Sequencing, and Connecting charts that provide guidance for creating an authentic classroom discussion that uses student thinking to meet lesson goals.  
  • Mathematics Language Routines that are designed to cultivate conversation among students to highlight important mathematical ideas in the lesson.  

Check out all the resources for understanding and using student work in each lesson and help your students become powerful and confident mathematical thinkers.  

Ready to learn more? Reach out to us here.