Never Teach a Live Class to Crickets again!

virtual math discussion

4 Tips to Engage students in Virtual Math Discussions

Anyone else feel like they are teaching a live virtual class to… no one? With student’s cameras off and hesitations to turn their mics on I often feel like talking to myself and my zoom screen. Believe me I get it, it is hard to get students to have a virtual discussion, let alone a full blown virtual math discussion. In fact, when they do finally turn on their mics it seems to be at the exact second as someone else turns on their mic.

I’m right there with you, virtual teaching is hard. Virtual math discussions feel nearly impossible most days between tech issues and student participation.

However, In my 9 months of virtual teaching I have found 4 tips to make virtual math discussions do about. These tips will help engage your students in math discussions virtually!

Tip #1 Choose the right tech tool for Virtual Math Discussions

virtual math discussion

Tech tools matter when having a virtual math discussion. Read about my top 3 favorite tech tools here!

I have found when I have multiple ways for my students to engage in the virtual math discussion they are more likely to participate.

Here are the ways they can participate in the virtual math discussion:

virtual math discussion

When I have a tech tool that allows for all these types of participation students are more likely to participate.

When my students are successfully able to complete the work we are discussing they are more likely to “pop on their mic” and participate in our math discussion. Can you imagine not being able to do the assignment and then being graded on how you participate in talking about the assignment you couldn’t complete? 

Math Discussion prompts and sentence stems are always helpful when having a virtual math discussion. Consider using 2-3 to start and build your class’ bank of sentence stems to refer back to. Here are a few more tips on using discussion prompts.

#2 Choose the Right Math Task for Virtual Math Discussions

math task

We know that when students are engaged in the work it is difficult to keep them from talking. In my class our math discussions are much richer when students are excited about the work we are discussing.

Choose a math task that is relevant for your students. It could be as simple as a word problem about the people in your class or a task involving their favorite video game.

Remember, the best math tasks have a “low floor” or an easy first step to get engaged in the problem. They also have a “high ceiling” or multiple ways to extend the problem and explore the math deeply. Choose a task that engages your students and your math discussions will be more robust!

#3 Use Breakout Rooms in your Virtual Math Discussions

break out rooms virtual math discussion

Many of my students have told me they don’t want to talk on the virtual whole group math discussion. So, as we continue to build our classroom culture to be supportive and inclusive so students feel safe participating in math discussions, I find ways to ensure all students are able to participate.

I use break out rooms for ways to engage all my learners in math discussions.
First, I use them for use turn and talks. Turn and talks are a math discussion instructional move- used for brief partner shares with a clear talking task.

Also, we use break out rooms for small group shares. In groups of 3-4 students can share their math thinking and reasoning for a “mini math discussion”.

Another way I use break out rooms is to conference with students and “listen in” just like I would while conferencing in person. I use this time to honor students thinking by observing, asking probing questions to truly understand their thinking. 

Breakout rooms allow me to be flexible in the way I structure of math discussions to boost engagement and ensure all students are doing deep math thinking.

#4 Make Models Visible for the Whole Group Share.

We always come back together as a whole class to have a synthesis math discussion. During this time 2-3 students share their strategies & models.

Math models

I draw out what my students are sharing. Students can definitely show their work, but it is also key to draw out what the student is describing in the math discussion. Drawing out their thinking provides a visual model to follow how the solver went through each step. Then, you have a record that students can refer back to while during the virtual math discussion.

I use a document camera that I screen share directly to zoom. However, if you don’t have a document camera you can use your phone on a stand to project. There are multiple ways to project your devices on live meeting and I find it to be very help in engaging my students in talking about the actual models and strategies of their peers.

It’s not forever, but it is for right now

This type of teaching isn’t forever, but building our students virtual math discussion skills can only benefit them in the future. In fact, all the technological skills our students are learning is preparing them to be our future leaders in this field and life.

virtual math discussion

So, if we’re going to have to teach virtually, why not make it as engaging as possible. We are all starved for discussions with new people and missing our friends. So what better time than to embrace the virtual math discussion.

So, I urge you to give virtual math discussions a try. It might not work, it definitely will come with challenges, but it sure is better than teaching to crickets!

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