Get Your Students Learning from Each Other in Your Math Classroom

Collaboration, team work, working together…so important in the math classroom.

Here’s why it’s important: when students listen to other’s explain their math they learn. Hearing different perspectives pushes students to evaluate their own math and learning. When students help others in math they learn. Students improve their own math, use of academic language, and communication skills by working together. Having students collaborate puts the heavy lifting on students, and puts you the teacher in more of a facilitator role. Overall, it supports a safe, welcoming, and positive classroom community for students!

So let’s talk about some structures and routines I love to use in my math classroom to encourage this value of learning and growing together!

*sidenote: I’m going to push the idea of collaboration a bit, and include some structures that may seem a little less traditional when it comes to working together. I think any time students are hearing each other’s thinking and providing feedback is another way for them to collaborate and learn and grow together!

So here we go!

Rally Coach

Probably one of my all time favorite cooperative learning structure is Rally Coach. Here’s a short little breakdown of what it looks like in my classroom:

>Students work in partners

>One is assigned the role of mathlete, which means they are DOING the math

>One is assigned the role of coach, which means they are observing and offering help

>After each round the roles switch

Here’s what this structure encourages:

>requires students to truly observe and listen to their partners math and math thinking

>students explaining their math

>students giving feedback to help push their peers thinking and give encouragement

>communication: asking questions, explaining their thinking, etc

Numbered Heads

Another great cooperative learning structure that encourages collaboration and working together. Let’s talk about how I use it in my classroom:

>Students work in partners

>Each student is assigned a number or object (like peanut butter and jelly)

>That number corresponds to a role

>After each round the roles switch

Here are some of my favorite roles: student 1 solves one way, and student 2 has to solve a different way (different strategy, model, etc) and then they talk about how they solved and evaluate each other’s math. Student 1 solves and student 2 checks their works and is the one to share out during the debrief!

Here’s what this structure encourages:

>teamwork and working together of course!

>depending on how you use it: offering different ways to solve the same problem,

students observing others math, students explaining their own math or the math of


>giving students the opportunity to critique and give feedback

Heads Together

This is a new structure that I started using this year and really like! I usually use it as part of our pre-brief before a task is given for students to “make sense” of the task together OR after students have been given the opportunity to solve as part of our debrief. It’s pretty simple but here’s how I use it in my classroom:

>Students are in groups of 3 or 4

>Each student is given a number

>Students put their heads together and discuss (I usually keep it open-ended at first and then may have some more targeted questions for them to discuss)

>When we come together to discuss as whole group I use the numbers given to students to share out, for example “if you were a 1 can you share something your group talked about?”

Here’s what this structure encourages:

>students learning together of course

>students asking each other questions, providing feedback, explaining their thinking, etc

>putting the heavy lifting on students to make sense of a problem or explain how they


>students hearing multiple perspectives

“Fish Bowl”

This strategy is typically used as a discussion strategy so it is a little outside of the box when it comes to collaboration but hear me out! It’s the perfect way to debrief a math task, have students listen to others perspectives on solving, and then respond.

So here’s how I use this strategy in my classroom, it’s definitely a modified version:

>students sit in a circle (usually positioned at the front of the room and I usually have the board available so students can access that if needed)

>3-5 students are chosen to be the “fish” and discuss how they solved (I pick these students strategically based on observations when the students are solving the task)

>Their role is to show and explain how they did the math and solved

>The students in the circle are listening and taking notes during this time

>After all students have shared the students in the circle are then able to critique, agree/disagree, ask questions, etc

Here’s what this structure encourages:

>listening and responding to different perspectives

>students explaining their math

>students giving and receiving feedback

>students doing the heavy lifting and you the teacher stepping back as facilitator

>learning and growing together of course!

okay that’s it!

I encourage you to try one of those structures in your classroom!

After all, teamwork makes the dream work!

Check out this Teamwork resource, it’s a great way to launch or revisit this value in your classroom!


Key Elements of a Solid Math-Focused Classroom Community: Part 1

A quick back story…

First of all, hey, hello, thanks so much for being here! If you’re reading this you’ve made the first step in creating an environment that values math thinking, pushes your students to take risks, encourages making mistakes, working together, and being reflective. Your students feel confident, positive, and happy all while learning rigorous and challenging math. Sounds pretty great, right?

You’re here because you care about creating a classroom community where your students feel valued and encouraged as mathematicians, and actually enjoy being there.

Maybe you’re sick of hearing things like “I hate math!” or only having the same handful of kids participate during your math discussions. I was there. I started teaching fifth grade math five years ago and that first year opened my eyes to the math trauma that some of my students were bringing to my classroom. This impacted their confidence, participation, and overall attitude.

I knew I couldn’t undo it all, but I felt called to try to give them a better experience while they were in my classroom. To help them create a more positive math identity. Give them tools and mindsets to take with them beyond the four walls of my classroom.

I’m so glad you’re here and I can’t wait to share some of the key elements that I believe help to create a solid math-focused classroom community! Where math is valued, celebrated, and fun! Let’s get started!

get to know your students as mathematicians and build relationships

this may seem like a no-brainer but it is so important and often overlooked. I don’t mean getting to know your students in terms of the math they can do (although that is important too) but truly getting to know them as mathematicians and hear about their math journey. The best way to get to know them as mathematicians is by helping them get to know themselves as mathematicians. This is an on-going process and literally something I do the entire year, but here are two things I do in the beginning of the year to get this process going.

Math Autobiography

This is a great way for students to start thinking about their math journey, what they love/don’t love about math, things that help them be successful in math, etc. Some students won’t know all of these things yet, which is a great opportunity for you to help them discover it. I always have these ready on the first day and it’s something we work on all year long. Your students will feel so valued because you’re taking the time to get to know them as math learners. If you’d like to check out the Math Autobiography I use, click here!

Math Identity Journal

The Math Identity Journal is something I launch in the beginning of the year and becomes a weekly routine in my classroom. It’s a simple and valuable routine that gets students thinking about aspects of their math identity. It becomes a valuable private dialogue that I have with my students and guides a lot of the decisions I make when thinking about how to best nurture my community of learners. Here’s the Math Identity Journal I use in my classroom.

If you’d like to learn more about some of these Get to Know You Activities check out this blog! As well as this bundle of activities here!

focus on math traits and help your students develop their math identities

one of my biggest goals in my classroom is to broaden my students’ definition of a mathematician. This opens the door to students finding their strengths as a mathemtician, and feeling confident in these strengths. The reality is not everyone is good at EVERYTHING in math but EVERYONE has certain things in math that they’re good at. That is what makes everyone a math person.

Do you know what your strengths in math are? And I don’t mean answers like multiplication. I mean things like precision, finding patterns, communicating your thinking, valuing the perspectives of others, perseverance…the list goes on.

Knowing these strengths is empowering because it gives you confidence in these areas and the motivation to improve to other areas. Incorporating this asset-based approach in your classroom is so beneficial for your students, and sends the message that everyone is valued and celebrated.

Here’s a few ways I live out this element in my classroom:

Math Strengths Activity

Celebrating your students’ math strengths right from the beginning of the year is a great way to help them realize that they have strengths of a mathematician. It broadens their understanding of what it means to be a mathematician, and focus on the strengths and assets that they have as math learner. Check out the Math Strengths Activity that I use in my classroom.

Recognize Real-World Mathematicians

Recognizing real-world mathematicians is a great way to celebrate math role models. In my class we learn about influential people in the STEM field. This helps us see all of the connections between math and other areas. Students see STEM role-models that look like them, and can make connections to some of their challenges and interests. It’s also another great way to broaden their definition of a mathematician and what it means to do math in the real-world. Check out this resource in my tpt store that can support you in celebrating real-world STEM role models!

Continuously helping your students learn about who they are as a mathematician and what it means to use math in the real-world is a powerful way for students to build and develop their math identities. This is a powerful tool that allows them to feel empowered as a mathematician and advocate for what they need as a math learner.

encourage positive mindsets and communication

Thoughts and words are important. Communicating this to students and the impact that positive (or negative) thoughts and words can have on their success is super important. In my class, there our phrases that are off-limits. We think about how our words encourage not only us but others. We think about how our thoughts impact our attitudes and success.

We work really hard to make sure that our mindsets and communication align with our classroom vision.

Words Are Important Lesson

One way I launch this in the beginning of the year is by doing a whole lesson on positive self-talk and communication. We create a list of off-limit phrases and put the focus on words and thoughts that will help us and others grow as mathematicians.

You can check out that lesson resource here! It’s also part of my Math Love Resource which is full of resources to help you launch a build a positive Math-Focused Classroom Community. Check that out here!

Well I’ve shared enough for now but don’t forget to stay tuned for Part 2 where I will share 4 more key elements to a solid math-focused classroom community.

Want to dive a little deeper into these elements? Want an example of a 6-week scope and sequence of how I roll out these elements at the beginning of the year and the resources and books I use to support me? You need to check out this handbook!