Just because you explain something to someone does not guarantee that he or she will  understand—even if your explanation is clear, patient, and logical. Telling—and even showing—someone something just gets things started. And having the person do something is also necessary.

But—remember—math is thinking with numbers and space (“shapes”). Again: it’s thinking.

What really makes people think?

Questions. OK, sure, problems and challenges of all sorts make people think, too, but they do that because they pose a kind of question. Something like, “What should I do now?” Life throws a lot of stuff like that at us.

So does math and so does learning math.

This unit explains why questions are so important in learning math, shows you the kinds of questions you can ask the students you work with, and provides tools and activities to help you begin to do it yourself. Even if your familiarity with math is a bit rusty, asking good questions has the potential to inspire students to ask themselves good questions when they run into difficulties.

In particular, good questions encourage relevant conversation—an interchange among students and educators about the facts, ideas, and learning challenges in the lesson. Bad questions work to shut students up—so that educators never come to understand the challenges students are facing.

When asking questions, moreover, it’s important to wait for—and to encourage—students to answer. Wait time can actually provide room for a bad question to turn into a better one. Why? The point is not that any question be fair, good, or best. The point is that it should stimulate relevant conversation—so we can see what students are thinking and help them think more clearly.