Scott and Ryan here from the Portland Maths Network (VIC) – a network which was set up after being involved in the Alcoa Maths Enrichment Program under the guidance of Shyam Drury. Both of us are classroom teachers who share a passion for maths. We are currently leading our small network of 10 Primary Schools on the South West Coast of Victoria, with up to 60 teachers meeting regularly to talk maths. Our main aim is to keep improving the teaching of numeracy, leading to a love of maths from all our students and ultimately growth in their learning.
The network has been running for quite a few years and has focused on many things during that time, including project-based maths tasks, engagement in maths through games, problem solving and challenge-based activities.
Since we took over as leaders of the network this year one of our main focuses has been to debunk the idea that you often hear teachers and students say – ‘I’m not a maths person…’ In doing so, our meetings have often drilled down into Maths Mindsets. (See Dan Finkel’s – Five Principles of Extraordinary Math Teaching TEDx Talk.) We have also focused on collaboration in maths lessons, unit chats, engagement in maths through playing, among other things.
In this short blog we would like to discuss the value of unit chats as an opener or warm-up to maths learning in your classroom. (Most of you have probably already used them or at least heard of them!) Generally a unit chat image will have different objects to count, which are arranged in arrays or other structures which allows students to order their thinking. Students get a short amount of time to look at what is in the picture, before you ask them ‘What do you see?’ or ‘How many?’ Students will give various answers which can be explored further. Unit chats usually run for 5-10 minutes.
Unit chats are a great opener when teaching addition, multiplication, division, fractions, percentages – and just playing around with numbers! They encourage rich discussions about counting strategies and organised mathematical thinking. They also give the teacher a clear indication of students’ prior knowledge and where to next for future learning.
Often maths in the classroom becomes ‘too hard’ for many students, but unit chats are differentiated allowing all students access to maths learning. There are always many possibilities, so those students who believe they are ‘not a maths person’ can always contribute to discussions – in actual fact they often see things that the keenest mathematicians don’t see.
With all this in mind, a 5-10 minute unit chat at the start of your lesson is an invaluable opener or ‘warm-up’ in your classroom. They engage all students, of varying maths abilities, in maths learning. This ultimately gives every student the confidence, to engage positively and productively in subsequent maths learning within your classroom.
Find out more about the Alcoa Maths Enrichment Program