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How to Start A Math Fight - Round 1 - How to build productive math discussion and discourse into your daily routine.

By Jon Orr posted 03-06-2019 06:32


Ding Ding! Welcome to Round 1

You may be wondering and saying to yourself: Math Fight? Really? What does that even mean? Come on Jon, you can’t be seriously promoting violence! You’re right, I would never promote violence in the classroom, so let me fill you in on what I mean by a Math Fight.

Here is an image that is NOT a Math Fight!


Here is an image of a math fight in progress:


Here is another math fight


What do you notice?

To me, a math fight is where two or more students have differing opinions or thoughts and are productively trying to convince each other that they are correct or to convince each other that their line of thinking is more accurate.

A math fight is all about having students TALK about their mathematical thinking in class. From my experience having students regularly discuss, argue, defend, justify ideas using mathematics helps them understand the topic more deeply. There’s nothing I love more in my math class when I hear students talking passionately about their work. I want to create more of this in my classroom.

How We Can Create A Math Fight

Creating moments where our students actively defend their thinking take careful and thoughtful planning. When I think of creating the most mathematically rich math fights in my classroom I think of creating 3 different kinds of moments.

We will explore how to create these different kinds of moments in your classroom over the next 4 posts. In Part 2 and Part 3 of How to Start A Math Fight we will explore moments of controversy and indecision. In Part 4 we will look at how to create moments of wonder, while here in Part 1 we will look at how to create moments of out-loud thinking.

Moments of Out-Loud Thinking.

There are many ways to build in out-loud thinking which can include Sara Van Der Werf’s Stand and Talks, to Counting circles from Sadie Estrella . One activity I use regularly and also creates the most discussion in my classroom is Headbandz. I first learned of this activity through Sam Shah. Although Sam, in his post, describes how to play headbands with rational functions you can adapt this activity for many different topics and grade levels.

HOW: Students are given a card with a number, graph, expression, equation, attribute, vocabulary term on it that they don’t see. They place that card outwards on their head for the rest of class to see. They are to move about the room asking their peers yes or no questions to determine what “number” is on their card. I have had cards showing order of operations expressions, graphs of quadratic relations, polynomials, rational functions, and students had to determine the equation that matched their graph.

WHERE’S THE FIGHT? Arguments will occur when students ask “narrowing down” questions and when the answers given mistakenly from their peers start to conflict with what they already know about their number, graph, expression, equation, attribute, vocabulary term. The discussion and out-loud thinking forces students to think critically about the key characteristics of the term.


Explore other ways to create moments of out loud thinking.

Row Games

Open Middle Tasks

Don’t miss Part 2 of How To Start A Math Fight when I’ll outline how to create moments of controversy and indecision with great activities and resources.

You can download a How To Start A Math Fight Placemat to keep track of your learning in this 4 post series and the How To Start A Math Fight Quick Start Guide. Click here to get the placemat and guide all in one.


You can find more from Jon Orr at



Twitter: @Mrorr_Geek




10-27-2019 23:59

I really like this idea. I also think it would be a great idea to have students group up depending on the different answers they come up with and then have sort of a debate, so that they get a chance to hear everyone's ideas as well as argue their own case. Working in group would be a great way for students who may be shy talking out loud to have their voice heard

05-06-2019 00:07

Mathematical discourse is one of the best things about teaching math. I absolutely love this idea of using headbandz in math class and I am most definitely going to steal it to use in my future classroom.