Math Chats, Going Beyond the Answer

Posted by John Vogel on March 27, 2020


As teachers, it is easy for us to get caught up in the solution to a math problem and focus simply on that. But for our students, there needs to be more to it than that.

We often look at basic arithmetic problems and know the answer right away, without even needing to think about it. But for young students learning to solve these problems for the first time, it can be tricky for them to comprehend and understand the process.

It’s especially tricky when you consider that di­fferent students often rationalize and think through the same problem di­fferently.

So we need to consider not only the “what” of an answer, but also the “how.”

Math Chats are a simple solution teacher everywhere are beginning to implement as a way to explore and strengthen the problem-solving mindset of their students.

Through guided discussion and class collaboration, the teacher acts as a facilitator rather than an instructor. The goal is to ask students how they got the answer to a math problem and find out if other students used that same method or something different.

Instead of solely examining the one right answer, teachers and students are challenged to think of all the differing ways to find the answer as equally legitimate.

How Can This Help My Students?

We have all seen time and time again that Socratic approaches to teaching help students formulate stronger reasoning and critical thinking skills.

Researchers have found multiple key benefits when students think creatively about how to solve a math problem, then discuss these ideas openly.

These benefits include:

  • Deeper Learning Connections – Through collaborative discussions, the student deeply understands the lesson rather than just receiving it passively. This allows students to take what they learned from one lesson and apply it to the next.
  • Productive Learning – Math Chats encourage the development of meaningful connections between students as they support one another’s learning. This in turn helps foster a productive learning environment.
  • Number Sense – Math Chats focus on the “how” of a math problem rather than just the “what.” By sharpening this skill set, students build a stronger toolbox of key math abilities and develop a greater math sense in the process.
  • Critical Thinking – Math Chats push students to take a more in-depth look at simple math problems, which in turn helps them to develop their analytical and judgment skills.
  • Collaboration - The students work together to find the answers to the problem and along the way learn how their rationale and thinking may or may not align with di­fferent classmates.
  • Metacognitive Development – Students develop an awareness of their own thought process and their ability to rationalize and influence this process. Math Chats tie this development to their math skills, giving them a greater sense of problem solving.
math chats


We designed STEMscopes Math so Math Chats can be worked smoothly into your lesson plan, setting aside 10–15 minutes of open math discussion each day.

Since the conversations are already fully integrated into the lesson plan, teachers need not worry about making additional time for them or planning ahead. As long as you follow the laid-out lesson plan, Math Chats and open discourse flow naturally in the classroom.

If you would like to learn more about Math Chats, please download our program flyer.

If you want to research Math Chats and similar concepts on your own, we recommend Number Talks: Whole Number Computation by Sherry Parrish and Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learningby John Hattie.

Topics: math, math chats