Thinking and Learning Together to Develop 21st-Century Skills
Critical thinking. Problem-solving. Collaboration.
These terms aren’t just educational buzzwords—they’re 21st-century skills that will launch Texas students into college, the workforce, and beyond.
And the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has put these skills front and center in the math classroom with the Mathematical Process Standards in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Mathematics (TEKS).
TEKS math process standards ask students to engage in complex, high-order tasks with a mathematical mindset, emphasizing problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.
And there’s no better place to develop these skills in Texas students than the collaborative classroom!
To understand how collaborative classrooms can help your students meet (and master!) these math TEKS, let’s first talk about what those classrooms look like.
What Is a Collaborative Classroom?
A collaborative classroom is a space where teachers and students share knowledge and actively work together to develop deep, conceptual understandings.
Some may think student inquiry and collaboration lead to less focus and structure because of increased discussion and dialogue, but with careful planning and consideration, this couldn’t be further from the truth!
“In this kind of classroom, my students and I learn together,” says Phonisha Hawkins, Middle School Math Specialist at Spring Independent School District in Houston, Texas. “And because we’re in this together, I can see what my students know and don’t know, and I can better help them individually or in small groups.”
In collaborative classrooms, your students learn through peer discussions, sharing ideas, and justifying conclusions with each other—and as a result, they'll develop the TEKS math process standards of critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and communication.
When your students are active participants in their learning, you have time for the fun parts! Now you can spend more time in true academic interactions by providing appropriate hints, asking questions, and differentiating support.
Collaborative classrooms benefit students of all abilities, interests, and achievement levels and are the perfect launching point to truly integrate the math process TEKS into your everyday practice.
Math TEKS and Collaborative Learning
TEKS math process standards are naturally addressed through collaboration—so it's a no-brainer to incorporate group learning into your math classroom!
To illustrate, let’s take a closer look at how the Algebra I TEKS A.3C, A.7A, and A.9D (which ask students to identify key features of linear, quadratic, and exponential functions from their graphs on the coordinate plane) can be taught in a traditional classroom setting vs. a collaborative classroom, where math process standards are also incorporated.
Algebra I TEKS in a Traditional, Lecture-Based Classroom
In a traditional classroom of “I Do, We Do, You Do,” students might engage with these Algebra I TEKS by first listening to a lecture while copying notes and labeling graphs. These are the days you find yourself talking all day long, time drags, and you’ve lost your voice after you’ve repeated the same information every class period!
Your students would then, as a group, help you complete a few examples by identifying where graphs increase, decrease, remain constant, etc. The students who always participate will participate. Getting the others to chime in requires a big effort with unpredictable results.
Finally, your students practice independently with a worksheet or homework assignment, maybe with the support of a word bank or their notes. Now you have a huge stack of papers to grade. Where’s the coffee?
While these activities can, in essence, address the Algebra I TEKS, they are completed in isolation and there is no natural opportunity for remediation, extension, or ongoing formative assessment. Students are never exposed to the opportunity to consider different views or methods to attack the problem. They cannot practice TEKS math process standards that ask them to “communicate mathematical ideas” and don’t have the chance to develop the 21st-century skills of communication, collaboration, problem-solving, and perseverance.
But when TEKS like A.3C, A.7A, and A.9D are introduced in a collaborative classroom, with inquiry-based lessons like those found in the Texas Math Solution, a whole new world of discovery opens up.
Algebra I and Math Process TEKS in the Collaborative Classroom
In 2020, the TEA began providing math resources that foster collaborative classrooms to all Texas districts when it partnered with us to implement the Carnegie Learning Texas Math Solution.
The student text, the consumable workbook component of the Texas Math Solution, takes students through an inquiry-based process and encourages collaboration as they produce artifacts as evidence of learning. The creation of these artifacts directly engages students with the math process TEKS, which requires them to follow a problem-solving method, analyze relationships, and create, use, and communicate about math using representations.
Let’s explore this through the lens of The Texas Math Solution Algebra I, Module 1 Lesson, “A Sort of Sorts.” In this 45-minute lesson, students use the math process TEKS to acquire and demonstrate understanding of A.3C, A.7A, and A.9D by:
Categorizing graph manipulatives provided within the consumable text. Students start the lesson with a set of 17 graph manipulatives and are put into small groups. They’re instructed to analyze and sort the graphs into at least two different sets and provide a rationale for why they created each set.
When working with graphs that can be moved and rearranged as needed, students don’t have to be afraid of being “wrong”. They can make as many changes as they want while their ideas about graphical behaviors evolve based on peer collaboration and discourse! Now your reluctant learners are starting to feel more comfortable engaging with the content.
Comparing and explaining their grouping rationale. Next, your students will share their rationale with each other, you, or even the whole class.
Some students may immediately notice the difference between exponential and linear graphs, while others will note the increasing and decreasing nature of quadratics. Others will see that there are differences between discrete and continuous graphs. There are endless possibilities for your students to puzzle through, but you can use the Questions to Support Discourse, provided in the Texas Math Solution Teacher Implementation Guide, to focus on lesson specifics.
The TEKS process standards are heavy with mentions of communicating mathematical ideas, explaining reasoning, and justifying solutions. This might be a big ask for students who lack confidence or are “math shy,” but when they have the opportunity to work through these ideas with peers—you won’t believe the engagement and conversations you’ll hear!
“Now, when I go into classrooms, I hear student discourse. I hear conversations,” Ms. Hawkins shares of seeing how lessons within the Texas Math Solution encourage students to articulate their thinking, review other approaches, and develop confidence.
Analyzing and explaining possible rationales behind pre-grouped sets of graphs. Once students have completed their small group study of the graph manipulatives, they’ll explore sets of pre-grouped graphs and use what they’ve learned from peer discussions and collaboration to analyze and explain the grouping rationale.
This is a great opportunity for a mid-lesson formative assessment to see if any of your students need extra support or even extension.
And celebrate a little! Your students have developed confidence about their learning in their peer groups and you’ve given them a strong foundation for communicating mathematical ideas, reasoning, and justifications, all of which are key actions in the math process TEKS.
Comparing and contrasting grouping explanations to determine and name graphical behaviors. Finally, now that your students have discussed the graphical behaviors of a variety of graphs in peer groups and as a whole class, they’re ready to draw conclusions to determine and name graphical behaviors.
You’ve guided the conversation, but your students have taken an active role in comparing and communicating ideas. They have a deeper understanding of the underlying concepts of the Algebra I TEKS A.3C, A.7A, and A.9D because they’ve taken an active role in exploring the information for themselves. And not only do they have a stronger foundational knowledge of the different functions they’ll explore throughout Algebra I, but they’ll have practiced multiple skills addressed in the math process TEKS.
The collaborative classroom setting of the Texas Math Solution is truly the best of both academic and cooperative learning worlds!
Collaboration and STAAR Benefits
Another benefit of using collaborative learning to address the math process TEKS?
Your students will be more prepared for the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) than ever before!
Spring ISD began using the Texas Math Solution at the start of the 2021 school year, and Ms. Hawkins is optimistic about student success—especially when she considers the heavy emphasis on the process standards TEKS in the upcoming STAAR assessment redesign.
“We know STAAR is now really heavy on the processing standards,” she shares. “And with the Texas Math Solution, we have a curriculum that focuses on those standards. It’s allowing teachers to do everything they need to do while getting back to teaching and learning together in a collaborative classroom.”
Learn More in the Support and Sample Centers
“A Sort of Sorts” is just one example of how the Texas Math Solution’s collaborative classrooms support acquisition of the TEKS math process standards.
Are you ready to help your students develop the 21st-century skills they need to become critical thinkers, collaborators, and problem solvers? Check out the Texas Math Solution’s TEA-approved materials and get in touch—we can’t wait to continue the conversation!
Brandy King is a Senior Instructional Designer in the Custom Solutions department with Carnegie Learning. She is passionate about sharing her love of mathematics and collaborative learning with teachers and students. She is a former math teacher, math coach, and professional learning facilitator who has been working on the Texas Math Solution since 2020.
Explore more related to this authorA collaborative classroom is a space where teachers and students share knowledge and actively work together to develop deep, conceptual understandings.
Brandy King, Senior Instructional Designer for Custom Solutions, Texas