What Do You Notice? What Do You Wonder?

  • Elementary
Patty Reed

Noticing and wondering is a powerful tool.  My favorite part about noticing and wondering is that every single student can participate mathematically.  Everyone can notice something, and everyone has something they can wonder about. It’s a great way to get students thinking about a problem. No matter what your background, language, gender, or family, everyone has something to wonder and notice.

What is noticing and Wondering?

Noticing and wondering is a routine that encourages students to make careful observations while clarifying a problem or situation. It also helps stimulate curiosity and sets the stage for inquiry.  

Why notice and wonder?

  1. It levels the playing field.
  2. It gets students thinking and talking early in the lesson.
  3. There is no wrong answer so teachers can affirm ideas their students share.
  4. It directs students' attention to the things that are mathematically important in the question or picture.
  5. It gives students time to make sense of the problem without any pressure to solve it.
  6. Teachers can build on what students have shared-- often borrowing their exact language-- to ease into the next part of the lesson and building confidence at the same time.
  7. It's a life skill.

How can this help students?  

  1. Students can identify important information in a story problem.
  2. It connects their own thinking to the math they are doing.
  3. It helps students notice the details in their math problem.
  4. It helps students feel safe.
  5. It helps students think about the problem before they start solving it.
  6. It encourages the process of thinking about math and connecting ideas and wondering about it.

How to Implement Notice and Wondering

There are many ways to implement, but this is what I like to do:

Step 1: Put up a story problem or a picture and ask students what they notice.

Step 2:Students think then pair share their noticing with their team.

The group's recorder writes down all noticing of group members.  Groups pick favorite noticing to share out to the class.

Step 3: I make a public record of noticing and keep them on display throughout the problem-solving process. Collect additional noticing that students would like represented but aren’t on the class poster. Students should add noticing they like to their own recording sheets.

What Do You Notice

Step 4: Repeat the same process with wondering.

Step 5: Reflect. Looking over our list I give students a chance to reflect on their noticing and wondering.  What leads to mathematical discoveries?    

Step 6: Proceed with the problem.

Step 7: Check back on your noticing and wondering when you are stuck during a problem. (If students have noticed and wondered their way into a problem, those noticing and wondering can serve as reminders for different ideas that can help students get unstuck). 

Question Stems

"Look at your work and your partner's work.  Is there anything that jumps out  at you that looks different?"                

“What would be worth a try?”

“What would happen if ...?"

 ”Would it help to ...?”

 “ Would ___ work?”

As I guide my students in noticing and wondering their problem solving abilities increase.  They are better able to noticing and wondering mathematically.  This begins as a practice strategy, then a skill , that soon becomes natural to them.  Students are also fulfilling mathematical practice #1 which states-Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.   And who doesn't need this skill in their life?

Beginning to Problem Solve with “I Notice, I Wonder”from NCTM

Annie Fetter video

  • Common Core State Standards
  • Mathematics
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