Math with Meaning: This is not your mother’s 6th grade math class.

By Melissa France, 6th grade math teacher, Summit School of Ahwatukee

Most of us grew up memorizing mathematical formulas and theorems to apply to numerical problems on a test.

Could we solve the test problems? Hopefully yes. Did we have any concept of why we memorized them, or what use the algorithms had in life? Rarely, if ever.

Fortunately, a sixth grade math class at Summit School of Ahwatukee looks and feels very differently than what we experienced.  The room is not full of children quietly computing calculations. Students are engaged! T hey are talking about math with each other and the teacher. Focusing on the task at hand, they work in teams to creatively arrive at various ways to find solutions to real scenarios.

Let’s take a look at how a recent lesson, regarding a cash box and a middle school dance, unfolded in sixth grade. Students are sitting with a partner and each partnership is presented with this problem: Emma was selling tickets at the middle school dance. At the end of the night, she picked up the cash box and noticed a dollar lying on the floor next to it. She was concerned about what to do with it and wondered whether the dollar belonged inside the cash box or not. The price of tickets for the dance was 1 ticket for $5 (for individuals) or 2 tickets for $8 (buddy pricing).  She looked inside the cash box and found $200 and ticket stubs for the 47 students in attendance.  Does the dollar belong inside the cash box or not? Convince me that your answer is correct.

6th grade math 1

Students immediately started trying to solve this problem using many different strategies. The best part about my job as a teacher is watching and listening to this learning take off! Instead of standing in front of the room and lecturing the entire class period, I get to facilitate the learning that is started through student engagement and excitement!

How does this engagement and excitement happen? What am I looking for in my classroom?

I want my students to be able to be mathematically proficient in making sense of problems and to persevere in solving problems. This was apparent as the students began to analyze the given information to develop possible strategies for solving the problem. Students didn’t stop and ask me for help when they got stuck, they talked it out with each other and kept going.

I want my students to be able to be mathematically proficient in reasoning abstractly and quantitatively. Students demonstrated this to me as they began to translate the given information into a mathematical representation.

I want my students to be proficient in constructing viable arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others.  Not only were the students speaking mathematically while sharing their approaches and strategies respectfully with their groups, they were recognizing and using counterexamples to refine assumptions being made and disputing or disproving the given arguments! Wow! Our math classrooms at Summit look and sound a lot different than the classrooms I experienced as a sixth grade student.

math in 6th gradeWere you able to solve the problem? Does the dollar go in the cash box or not? Can you justify your answer? Our sixth graders did so be sure to ask them to check your work…don’t forget to justify your answer!




More about Melissa France
Mathematics: Sixth Grade
Life Skills: Seventh and Eighth Grade
Student Council Advisor: Fifth – Eighth Grade

FRANCE_MELISSAMelissa France earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Education in 1998, with a minor in Psychology from Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She is a member of NCTM, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Mrs. France brought her mathematics and leadership skills to Summit in 2001. She also serves a leadership role in Summit’s math curriculum; supporting teachers in the use of research based best practices, differentiating instruction and challenging students.

Mrs. France also serves as Summit’s Student Council Advisor, guiding students in leadership roles for school wide community service projects and spirit building activities. As a result of her service and leadership, she was named Educational Mentor of the Year in 2014 by the Ahwatukee Chamber of Commerce.

Mrs. France was also a recipient of a “Golden Gator, Excellence in Teaching Award” from Xavier College Preparatory High School. This award recognizes junior high teachers who have been inspirational to Xavier’s freshmen students.