*Note: I drafted this post well over a month ago. I'm pasting as is and then updating on what's happened since then in another post. Both are follow ups to
this post in September.
A couple years ago
Would You Rather prompts were a part of my Do Now rotation. Students really enjoyed them, but they enjoyed them too much – thirty minutes would go by while every student begs for the chance to share their reason, their story, their opinion. I wanted to value all of their input but we had Algebra content to cover! So I dropped them from the rotation.
This summer I was watching my twitter feed fly by: black lives matters messages, political statements, claims that seem ridiculous mixed in with others back by data. And as always, people tweeting misuse of statistics in many scenarios. I wondered how to incorporate ideas of social justice into my classroom. I heard rave reviews of the math debate sessions at TMC. I decided to pose a weekly homework assignment where students would choose a side of a debate and defend their position using both math and their background knowledge.
These assignments are graded on the accuracy of their calculations and how many reasons they provide. The choice they make and the quality of reasons have no effect on their grade. All of these assignments are in the Standards of Mathematical Practice category of their grade. This seems appropriate because every week they:
1. Make sense of problems
2. Reason quantitatively
3. Construct viable arguments
4. Model with mathematics
6. Attend to precision
We went through a few iterations, but now each week we hand out a paper that starts with presenting the options. For example:
Incandescent light bulbs or compact fluorescent?
Hourly wage or yearly salary?
Then we ask for their initial opinion. They have thoughts already so it's important to ask  I want to know their gut instinct. If they claim they don’t have an opinion then this is how I hope to get them at least slightly invested – make a choice.
Next we provide plenty of space to do some calculations. This is math class, there’s some math to do. We’ve talked about what kind of math makes sense (if we want to compare two things they need to have something in common – find the price per month for each, or the price per year for each, whatever you prefer!) and we’ve talked about labeling the work so that I can understand it without them next to me to explain it. Many students don’t know where to start – when they come to me after school we talk about what they know, why it’s hard to compare the information they have and what comparison they want to make. Many students don’t know things like there are 52 weeks in a year. I don’t feel guilty about not providing that information though, that means they now get to add SMP 5: use appropriate tools strategically to the list of mathematical practices they are using! Ask google or Siri if you don’t know your basic conversion factors. Other students think they know where to start, and they do “
How old is the shepherd?” style calculations – 5 years + $9.20. When I grade, those students get a note asking “What does this mean?” in the hopes that they will realize that their sum is meaningless in the context of this problem. I don’t have a consistent plan for having a discussion of calculations and reasons with the class after I grade them all, mostly because I don’t get them graded at a particular time each week. Though that’s a cyclical argument – if I had a set date I would get them graded earlier. So… I’m going to decide right now to hand back the previous week’s assignment on Thursday or Friday each week (alternating block schedule makes this tough) so that students have feedback on their previous work before the next one is due (every Monday or Tuesday).

The first week I shared sample computations. 
Finally, we ask for a paragraph with three reasons why they are making their choice. One of the reasons is required to be mathematical (this one is cheaper *or* I choose this one even though the other one is cheaper) but the other two are not necessarily math. They have had a surprisingly hard time with that. I don’t provide any information on the other differences between the options so students need to know something (CFL’s are ecofriendly), ask someone (salaried jobs get benefits) or be creative (CFL’s are prettier). All of the quotes below are from my current students. The beauty of this is that while most students don't know most of these things, each student knows something and so I can take all of their information and put it together to create robust arguments for each claim. Students are encouraged to add to their calculations and paragraphs if they did not earn full credit on first submission. This should be an easy 100 for every student by the time we go over it but we haven't gotten them there yet...
Mathematical reasons 
Other Reasons 
The same information can be
used to argue both claims. 



So far I’ve been happiest with the two prompts above. I also did one on IXL vs. Khan Academy since the school was thinking about buying IXL and this was a great opportunity to ask the students to make a choice that would impact their education. Another was about who “won” conferences. I had the least number of parents attend, but I also have the least number of students. There were ways to make the data argue for anyone which should be an interesting conversation to have. That would be a good segue into a more media based assignment. I’d like to present an excerpt from an article and have students discuss the interpretation of a statistic. But I’m not sure what I can use that will be accessible for my students with low reading skills and engaging. This is where I’m hoping you can help! What are some debate worthy ‘real world’ prompts that students would be able to tackle independently?