Learning by Explaining: Meeting the Demands of the Math CCSS

The new CCSS emphasize the importance of students not only “making sense” of math problems, but also explaining their thinking.  Therefore, I’ve had to make some adjustments to the way I teach math to allow my students more opportunities to explain their thinking and reasoning.  Here are some methods I’ve implemented this year.

Student-created Tutorials Using Show Me
Sometimes I'll have my students create video tutorials for tricky concepts using the free app Show Me.  Then I'll put it up on our class website and/or make it into a QR code to throw in a center for the other kids to watch, if needed.  
Some of my kids can put together a better Show Me tutorial in 10 minutes than I can in an hour.;)  Check out the simplifying fractions one below.

Word Problem Explanations Using Keynote
Last week I gave my students a fraction challenge activity.  They had to take a screen shot of a fraction word problem, insert it into Keynote, and explain all the steps they took to solve it.  Then they shared their Keynotes with one another.

More Partner/Group Work
Rather than having my students complete centers, such as task cards and scavenger hunts, independently like I did last year, I'll usually have them work with their "shoulder partner."  Even though my classroom gets a little noisy at times, I know my students are getting more out of the centers because they are explaining their thinking.  Here are two of my girls completing a "Scan the Room" activity together.

Math Talks
I try to fit in math talks at least 2-3 times per week.  I'll put up an open-ended question like the example below and give them time to think, then turn to a partner and explain their reasoning/how they solved the problem.  Then we'll share and write the answers on the board as a whole class.  During math talks, we emphasize the process and strategies over just getting the correct answer.

Student-led Mini-lessons
Sometimes I'll have a student come up and conduct the mini lesson either at the beginning of math workshop or partway through if I see them using a good strategy.  This benefits not just the student up there, but the entire class.  They really enjoy hearing from their peers and working through problems together rather than having me explain everything to them.
It's taken awhile to train my kiddos to focus on the process rather than just getting the correct answer, but I can definitely see a difference in how they approach math problems. 

How do YOU get your students to explain their thinking?


  1. I like these ideas. I'm going to try the one where the students make a movie of how they solved the problem.

  2. I needed this Kristin. I'm going to read this with my students because they need th reminder that they too need to focus on the process and not just already knowing the answer or getting the correct answer. It's hard to make that shift in mentality with the gifted kids. They don't want to take the time to explain or it's difficult for them to explain because they just "know" the answer. Thank you!
    Rockin' and Lovin' Learnin'