This year in my classroom we work hard to embrace our mistakes and learn from them every day. We work to recognize our mistakes and treat them not as a tragedy but as a moment to learn. In math mistakes seem to be especially taboo. Everyone grew up knowing that kids who weren’t good at math weren’t as smart as the other kids. We grew up thinking the fastest was the smartest. Even as an adult I realize that as I make mistakes in math I feel like that little girl in third grade who never passed a time test. Part of embracing mistakes is ensuring that students have a conceptual understanding of what they are doing. Math is often seen as a set of steps where you put in numbers and poof you get the right answer. Even worse, you don’t and you have no idea why it worked before but doesn’t work now.

This week the coolest thing happened in my room. We are working on multiplication and using a variety of strategies. As a class, we have taken time to learn about various misunderstandings that students have. We were sitting in a circle at the carpet playing Convince Me when suddenly one of my students blurted out, “WAIT! I have a warning for the class!” I had no idea what this warning could be but we all focused our attention on this student and waited for him to begin.

“I notice some kids are making their arrays wrong and so I wanted to teach them about a mistake they’re making.” He calmly started. **WHAT?!!!** A student noticed a mistake? A common misconception students make and wanted to help the class understand!!! I sat there in awe realizing how closely he was paying attention to what the students around him were doing. He continued on,

“They see that they need to make an array with 3 rows and 4 dots in each row. First kids draw the three rows down. Then when they go to add the dots they add 4 dots in each row and they forget to count the dot they already put down. Then they have a 3 by 5 array! So make sure when you add how many dots in each row you count the dot you already put down.”

As he finished talking several students began glancing down at their mistake. Whispers started as students talked to their math partner. After a moment we came back together as a class. “Who realized they had made this mistake?” I asked the class. Several students acknowledged that they had. A large number of students thanked our friend for sharing his warning with our class. We now have a poster in the back of the room with these wise words, reminding each other of a tricky part in building an array.

Empowering students to use their voice in the classroom can be one of the greatest tools we have as teachers. Students should be some of the greatest teachers in the room. The best part about this is that when one student chose to speak out, several students corrected a mistake and learned from a peer. We need to ensure that students have the voice to speak out. After all, the smartest person in the room, is the room.