What’s a “dot talk”, you may ask? Well, it’s an exploration of a pattern of shapes like this…
You don’t have to use dots. I’ve seen them created with stars, triangles and squares. If you google “dot talk images” you can find lots of resources or you can just create your own.
I learned how to do a Dot Talk from the youcubed team at Stanford. Watching Jo Boaler do this Dot Talk is a lot of fun. In my class I tried to do it just the same. She’s quite clear at the end of the short video that she does this because she wants students to see math as visual, open-ended and creative. I agree 100%! It’s really just plain fun to do Dot Talks with kids. It’s a super “low floor” in the sense that it’s very easy to engage. Once students hear a few people share, they can also see that it’s not scary to share, which opens up the experience to an even greater variety of ideas and thinking.
For me, with my Complex Instruction lense turned on everything now, I think Dot Talks can also be a tool for power equalization in the classroom. When you can get students who never want to share and are even afraid to engage with the math to share a Dot Talk idea, you’ve gotten your toe in that door and it’s now cracked open. They’ve experienced a positive, egalitarian sharing in math class that had NO negative repercussion. In fact, the teacher responded exactly as he or she would have done for any answer. Jo Boaler is very good at modeling this: a quiet, positive acceptance of all ideas. I am coming to see more and more that, while enthusiastic positivity is valuable in motivating children, a quiet, uniform positivity may be more powerful for math-frightened learners.
I completed my first Dot Talks a couple days ago and I am planning to use them as warm-up activities several times a week for a while…until my sixth graders get tired of them.
Update…a few weeks later: So, yeah. They’re not tired of them! If anything, they love them more. I just make them up myself now with fun shapes. We do them a couple times a week as a warm-up. It’s cool when I say, “dot talk today” because the whole rooms visibly relaxes and lightens. Dot talks are not scary! They are fun and interesting and engaging! I am working hard to share power in my classroom through dot talks by calling on students who are normally fearful and quiet. It’s working! This week one of my new ELD learners who recently moved to the US from Africa, shared in our dot talk. Since that moment he has been much more willing to engage in class and try math activities. He was so proud! And I am proud too. As well as encouraged to keep on with the Dot Talks!