“It’s a quarter.”
“No, it’s a penny.”
This was an argument that caught my attention as I was roaming the classroom one day. Before checking our morning work for the week, I let the students get into groups and discuss their answers. They must agree on the answers. If they don’t, they’ve got to convince the others their answer is correct. A well used phrase in our class is “prove it”. A few of them like to say “persuade me” (so awesome).
Yes, these are 3rd graders…8 and 9-years old.
They aren’t allowed to just agree with the answer of another student either. We talk about how even people who seem super smart make mistakes. If they don’t know if it’s right, they are to ask the other student to explain how they found the answer.
So back to my students who were arguing over whether the picture was of a quarter or a penny. I went over and sat on a desk to listen to the discussion. There was no raised voices, no one was in tears. It was just a back and forth discussion between classmates.
The problem being questioned had a picture of 3 coins, all 3 were the same size and had the same presidents face on them. The young man, Brian (not his name), was insisting they were quarters because the coins looked large to him. The young lady, Lacy (also not her name), said they looked small like pennies.
After listening to this for a minute, and noticing it was going nowhere, I asked them if there were any other pictures of coins on the paper for them to compare the size to. There wasn’t. I then asked them if they knew who president was on the coins. They looked at it closely. Brian said it was George Washington. I asked which coin he was on. Brian said the quarter. Lacy wasn’t sure. So I took out the large play money we have in the room and presented her with the quarter and penny. I asked her which face looked like the one on the paper. She pointed out the quarter. She then said she agreed with Brian. We then looked at the penny. I asked who was on the penny. The group said Abraham Lincoln. I praised them all for such a civilized discussion.
After this discussion, and ‘proving’ to Lacy what the coins on the paper were, I had each group present their answers to the class. The class then gives a thumbs up or down to the answers from the group, and more discussions can come from this.
I’m going to jump to Brian and Lacy’s group. As they shared their answers, and got to the question about the coins, I stopped them and told the class about their disagreement over the coins. I had a few students in the room also question whether the coins were quarters or pennies. We then went through the same discussion and I showed the class the play money as proof.
This activity (having students come to consensus on answers, then share with the class) has taught me many things:
I get insight into little things the students may not entirely know or understand. The coin question taught me that most of my students didn’t know who the presidents were on all the coins, which could make questions like the one mentioned above difficult to answer. After this we started to discuss and review who the presidents were on the coins.
This one question also showed me how important it is to give students a chance to discuss questions with each other. It teaches them how to have constructive arguments with one another. There is a calm and rational way to have these disagreements, and these students did a good job at it. It also shows them that they don’t need me for all the answers, they can be the teacher also. When we have these group checking sessions (which is often), they sometimes ask if they can use manipulatives or other resources around the room to prove their point. You bet they can.
This is the first year I’ve tried having these checking sessions with students. We do it with a variety of subjects and assignments. In the beginning, we had discussions on what was expected of them during this time. Now, I just let them know what their group is going to work on and let them get to work, while I circulate around the room and listen in on their conversations.
The students really enjoy it. They love working and talking with each other. For those that are unsure about their answers, it gives them a chance to talk with other students in a smaller setting to see how they did. It has given even my shyest students confidence in their work and ability to talk in front of the class. It’s so much better than me giving them the correct answers and hoping they will ask questions if they got any of the questions wrong and don’t know why. They are far more engaged and willing to discuss and question each other on how they got the answers they did. Well worth the extra class time.