Math: Not Just One Answer and One Way

Picture your very first Algebra class. You probably imagine silent students, with a few raising their hands to answer specific questions. Perhaps you picture your teacher writing a problem on the board, explaining it, and then giving you a problem set to practice yourself. That is the way math has been done for years, and that is the way most of us were taught. In math, there is only one right answer, and there was only one way to find that answer. This didn’t do much for building relationships among students, and it ultimately didn’t build a strong classroom culture, where students take risks and try out different ideas. It made it more difficult to create a community.

But there is a new way math is being taught now. There is a standard that teachers “orient students toward each other,” which essentially means that teachers teach their students to think about each other’s ideas in addition to their own. Though we picture math as being done only one correct way and there is only one right answer, there really isn’t only one right way. There are several methods to finding the same right answer. It is actually pretty cool how we can go about connecting students’ ideas to those of their classmates.  If we don’t allow our students to make these connections themselves and respect their peers’ different methods of mathematics, we are doing them a great disservice. Students don’t need to do these things in isolation. They can work together, explain how they “see” the problem, and build understandings through group work and conversation. We no longer need to see silent math classes where students practice the same problem a hundred times! Students can actually learn math through discussion.

Teachers are becoming more and more creative in teaching math by encouraging students to value the process over the solution. Talk moves are one of the techniques teachers are using to get students communicating with each other about math. They don’t just ensure that students are paying attention and engaging with the material; they also really get students listening to each other and engaging in conversation. After a student has shared their answer and how they found it, the teacher asks the class, “Who can restate that in their own words?” or “Do you agree or disagree, and why?” (or a variety of other possible questions). This encourages sense-making and builds a classroom community where students of all abilities can work together to make those “aha moments” happen. It is truly inspiring! So let’s get rid of this idea that math is only an “independent work” subject. We CAN build inclusive communities where students help each other to understand!

–Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Editor and STEM Special Education teacher

***Check out our “Inclusion and STEM” Webinar training on the KIT Online Learning Center. Find out how you can use your science and math lessons to build relationships between kids of all abilities, and start making inclusion a reality for all kids! Go to to sign-in and click “Course Catalog” to view this training.***

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at

Leave a Comment