Asking Questions to Get Students Thinking Deeply about Math

By Cameron Pipkin

This in-class demonstration shows how elementary school teachers in New York are getting their students to understand the steps it takes to answer a problem.

Now, for the first time, students in over 40 states will learn from the same set of expectations (college and career readiness standards): the Common Core Standards for English and math. In this video, we’ll take a look at what can be learned from teachers at two elementary schools in New York City who have already begun working with the Common Core college and career readiness standards as part of a pilot program.

Liz Bradstreet, elementary teacher at PS 124 in Brooklyn, New York, teaches her class according to the Common Core college and career readiness standards:

“I have a problem today,” Ms. Bradstreet says to her class. “Jan needs 12 buttons for the dress. First, Jan finds four buttons. Next Jan finds two buttons. Last, Jan finds six buttons. Can Jan make the dress?”

“Is my answer gonna be a number? Is it gonna be math?” she asks.

The kindergarten, first, and second grade teachers at PS 124 have started to work with the Common Core college and career readiness standards for mathematics, using new problem solving tasks like this one.

“We’re introducing them to math concepts where they share their thinking and delve a little bit deeper into the math,” says Margeuritte Manos, P.S. 124 math coach. “We’re promoting communication with math, both written and oral, and we’re enjoying it.”

To demonstrate mastery of the college and career readiness standards, the kindergarteners must not only solve this word problem, they must show their thinking by making either a table or a diagram.

Ms. Bradstreet sits with a student, going over the process for solving the button problem presented earlier.

“What did you make? A what?” Ms. Bradstreet asks.

“A table,” the student responds.

“And how many buttons did you have altogether?”


“So could she make the dress?”

“Yes,” says the student.

“Before, we would give them the problem and have them go find the answer,” explains Ms. Bradstreet, “but you never knew if they were copying from someone, or if they could just solve the problem, knowing why they got there or the steps they had to take to get there. Now (with the college and career readiness standards) they’re actually having to explain it.”