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Episode 8: Creating an Online Kids Math Talk Community

Updated: Jul 30, 2021

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E8-Kids Math Talk Podcast
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We often refer to ground rules as norms, which are based on expectations (Yackel and Cobb, 1996). In a face to face environment, we spend the first weeks setting these norms for the hallway, the carpet area, and the playground. Teachers even set norms for reading and writing workshops.

This fall most educators will be establishing norms for online meetings. We do this because we know that it invites a sense of community, belonging, and purpose. That means that we need to take the time to establish these norms, or expectations, for learning math as well.

When I taught 3rd grade, I made it a point to always included activities during the first two weeks of school that were specific to setting up the culture and expectations for my math workshop, but I didn’t find out until I had already been teaching for 6 years that I wasn't going deep enough when thinking about building a sustainable math community. I was focused only on helping my students understand what the workshop looked like and sounded like but that year, one of my graduate professors introduced me to the work of researchers Yackel and Cobb who put forth the idea that there are in fact distinct norms for math with a very specific name - they’re called sociomathematical norms.

What is a sociomathematical norm?

It’s okay if you’ve never heard of these before - like I said I had been teaching for several years without ever having a conversation about them.

These are not the same as general social norms because they go beyond simply suggesting that children be kind and patient with one another.

Sociomathematical norms are the normative criteria by which students within classroom communities create and justify their mathematical work. Examples include negotiating the criteria for what counts as a different, efficient, or sophisticated mathematical solution and the criteria for what counts as an acceptable mathematical explanation (Stephan 2014).

Let’s talk about another example. For the past few years, a really popular general norm has been that “mistakes help our brains grow”. The sociomathematical equivalent of this norm would add another layer by stating exactly how teachers and students should respond when mistakes happen. Taking Action (2017) gives a wonderfully clear example of how to communicate this - simply say “share mistakes” (p.159).