Mathematician’s Chair is an opportunity for children to learn from each other. They learn new strategies by listening to someone else’s strategy. They reinforce their own skills by explaining them to others. They work through mistakes and misconceptions during quality discussions with their peers.
Before you begin Mathematician’s Chair, talk with the children about what it means to be a good listener. I always tell them I want them to listen with their eyes (look at the speaker), their ears (listen to the speaker), their brains (think about what the speaker is saying) and their hearts (care about what the speaker is saying).
Then teach the kids how to respond appropriately to someone else’s solution. I often ask, “Do you agree?” and then, without talking, all the kids give me the sign for either yes or no (we use the American Sign Language signs, but you could also use thumbs-up/thumbs down). I will then call on specific children, “Joey—tell me why you agree.” “Alex—tell me why you disagree.” In either case, the students MUST be respectful. We talk a lot about hurtful words vs. helpful words (not just in mathematician’s chair—but in every part of our day!) We also talk a lot about mistakes—and how wonderful they are!
So it is OK to make them. (I also point out all the mistakes I make. But before long, I don’t have to—the kids are more than happy to point them out for me!) Bottom line—I want the kids to feel comfortable sharing, whether their answer is “correct” or not. Once the kids are sharing, your job is to guide them. In the beginning, you’ll have to do A LOT of guiding. Tell me what you did. Why did you do that? What did you do next? What did you do next? Expect a lot of one-word answers. Ask them questions that might get them to think of something they hadn’t before…What would happen if…?What else could you have…? If there is a particular strategy you would like them to use that they just don’t seem to be discovering on their own, guide them in that direction by asking questions. But make them think they thought of it all by themselves! Always end Mathematician's Chair with a big round of APPLAUSE for the kids who shared!
Remember… as with everything problem-solving, Mathematician’s Chair gets easier as the kids gain confidence and experience!