Of all the prompts of depth and complexity, “ethics” is my favorite. It instantly highlights controversy, grey areas, and takes students deeper into any content area.
It can seem, on the surface, to be least applicable to math. But here’s the problem: we’re often stuck thinking about math as practicing problems over and over. To add depth and complexity, we have to raise our sights above just practicing algorithms. We have to move students towards higher order thinking, and ethics is perfect for this.
Here’s how you can use the ethics thinking tool to add depth to math.
What Are Our Common Issues?
Rather than just trying to think about ethics in a single practice problem (say, 202 ÷ 7), consider posing this question to students:
What common problems (or ethical issues) do we run into when doing long division?
You’ll get a bunch of ideas. They might include:
- I forget to line up the decimal places
- I mix up the order of the steps
- If I multiply wrong, the whole problem gets messed up
Keep going until you have 5 or 7 or so.
Now that you’ve brainstormed common problems (or ethical issues), you can move up Bloom’s Taxononmy. Raise the thinking towards analysis, evaluation, and synthesis. Perhaps we will:
- Group these issues based on their similarities.
- Rank the issues based on ______ (most common, most damaging, etc)
- Create long division problems that would lead to each ethical issue.
- Develop a children’s story explaining how to avoid these most common of problems.
This is one way to push past the “ok do more practice problems but this time they’re harder” differentiation anti-pattern. We’re getting kids thinking about their own thinking (aka meta-cognition).
Evaluate Multiple Methods
26 delightful mathematical curiosities - simple enough for elementary students, yet rich with deep possibilities. Learn more...
Whenever students have multiple ways to solve a math problem, we have an opportunity to discuss ethics. We can ponder:
- What are the pros and cons of each method?
- What are the ethical issues inherent in each method?
- When is each method most appropriate and most inappropriate?
Then, as always, move beyond mere identification and climb up Bloom’s:
- Is there a time that Method A is better than Method B? What about the reverse?
- Which method has the most serious downsides? The most limited upsides? The most specific uses? Etc.
- Can we create sample problems that are best solved with Method A? Method B?
- Develop a Mathemagician’s Handbook that instructs new students in how they can know when to use each method.
Rather than just practicing each method over and over, get kids using those higher order thinking skills using the ethics prompt.
The ethics prompt is fantastic for looking back on completed work. After homework, a quiz, or a test, take time for students to think back on the ethical issues they faced. Ethics is *perfect** for reflection.
I especially like combining ethics with patterns!
Looking back on my past three tests, I notice I have a repeating problem… To beat this pattern, I’m going to…
This, again, is moving students beyond just practice, practice, practice. We’re getting them thinking.
Depth and Complexity should always move beyond just making a list, and get kids up to higher-order thinking: analyzing, evaluating, and then synthesizing.
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