Teachers observe lessons at New York City Math Lab. Photo: Elizabeth Green/Chalkbeat

How do you get students fired up about fractions? asks Elizabeth Green on Chalkbeat. She looks at a New York City’s program that teaches teachers how to “reinvent” math lessons.

The Math Lab stresses “learning math by talking and thinking about it,” writes Green. Students preparing for fifth grade agree to “add onto each other’s thinking” and “analyze and observe each other’s work.”

(Math Lab co-founder Kim) Van Duzer led an activity called “convincing a skeptic,” where students were asked to fold pieces of green paper into squares one quarter the size of the original and then convince their partner that the new shape was, in fact, one-fourth of the original.

Some students struggled to articulate why the squares they folded where one fourth of the whole piece of paper. “Sometimes my partner asked questions I didn’t understand,” one student admitted. But encouraging students to challenge each other’s ideas paid off later that morning.

After introducing the idea of representing fractions on a number line, co-founder Peter Cipparone asked students whether eight-sixths is greater than one.

One student declared that eight-sixths is less than one, only to be told by someone sitting nearby that he had the numerator and denominator confused. The ensuing debate ended when the first student admitted his mistake and leapt at the chance to offer a correct answer in his own words.

Many of the teacher observers said they’d never been able to “watch another educator teach consecutive lessons,” reports Green.

Is this really revolutionary?

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