Sunday, 5 June 2011

How do the Chinese do it? Part 7: The Last Chapter?

After the initial blast (maybe 6 lessons) of starter questions of this type, I simply come back to this starter activity whenever I feel like it for one-off questions.  It's worked well for me right up throught topics like surds and complex numbers.

There's nothing whizz bang or whistles and bells about it.  Students aren't inspired as they walk into the room, there's usually a bit of grumbling (oh no not this again) but their engagement builds gradually as they have to think for themselves mathematically.

It's effortless to set up (just 4 letters and 2 numbers on the board). I like the fact that I can spend my time listening to students and helping them give voice to their personal journeys into understanding primitive structures for mathematics rather than on class management. 

This task rests easily with there being a little off task chat and it taking some students a minute or two to properly engage.  As I've said before I've not taught in schools where there have been high standards of behaviour and I have never had the luxury of expecting all my students to come to my classes bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and well behaved.  I've had to learn to take my students from being badly behaved to being fully engaged and therefore on task through the way I teach and the type of task I use rather than through demanding that they behave well before I start to teach.

It's important to understand that this task will become more powerful for you as you use it with more classes.  You will gradually become aware of a wider and wider variety of structures that students use to support their thinking and as you become aware of them you become better at spotting what it is that a students is struggling to explain and at helping them to express it clearly to their peers. I think you will be surprised how your own thinking expands and takes you in the direction of confidently using flexibly the wide range of structures the teachers in Liping Ma's book used for calculation.

Is this the last post on this topic?  Maybe not.  Maybe you or I will come back with new ideas stimulated by this task.  I hope so.  Thanks to all who have asked questions.  Please keep them coming!

How do the Chinese do it?  Links to my other blogs in this series.
4. Part 4
5. Part 5
6. Part 6


  1. Can we get backwards SDPQ questions like...

    Sum = 20
    Product = 65

    Get me the quotient and difference.

    More open = more thinking generally.

  2. This is a great activity too, but it doesn't focus on building awareness of the same primitive structures of mathematics as the original S,D,P,Q task does.

    It's certainly worth doing though and it's worth deliberately trying to tease out exactly what structures and partial structures students are using to support their thinking. Do let us know what you find.

  3. On open quesions;
    I generally use open question to teach students to think with everything they've got all the time. Once they've got the hang of thinking in that way I can get them to apply it what would traditionally be seen to be closed questions too. This happens because they are always seeking to deeply understand the maths they are being taught for themselves, rather than to just rely on remembering methods. Questions do not have to be open for there to be deep thinking going on!