Math Design Challenge

I was in a 5th grade class today. They were reviewing homework. Not the homework given by the textbook, but homework that the teacher had hand-created the day before. Can I call that “bespoke homework”? It’s not clothing, so probably not, but these kids were certainly trying on something new…


The teacher asked students to discuss their strategies with their group, de-emphasizing the answer. “What strategies did you use? Did you use the order of operations? How did you see the problem?” It quickly became clear that there were 2 understandings:




What a great discussion! “How do we know which problem to solve? Does it matter? What is the right way to write this equation? What’s a different way to write this equation so that it is clearer? Why do we have the order of operations? Why are there different symbols for multiplication? Why isn’t there a symbol for multiplication that doesn’t have two meanings!?”

The teacher could have told one group that they clearly misunderstood and to redo their work, but instead she validated them and asked them to justify their answer no matter how they saw it.

And then I threw in, “Why don’t you have a design challenge where everyone creates a new multiplication sign and we vote on which new sign to use! It can be the new international multiplication sign!” (The teacher was really pleased with me for throwing that one out there.)

So I challenge you! In the comments or tweet #multiplicationsign, what new sign do you think we should use!?


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