Skip to main content

Creating Authentic Thinkers

I read a tweet the other day by @realscientists that said, "We've raised a generation of people who can DO math, but most don't UNDERSTAND what they're doing..." and if I could have made a standing ovation tweet, I would have.  Perfectly said.

Maybe the tweet had such an impact on me because it is something I noticed this year in my classroom.    One example in particular is that my students do a pretty good job with the math but are struggling with the problems.  In other words, they can find a NUMBER but they struggle to find an ANSWER to a problem.

I have a few theories as to why this is happening and what we can do to fix it.

One, they are terrified of failing.  They've gone through hardcore testing for at least 3 years now and because of the stakes of those tests and their fear of failing them, they have allowed that to bleed into their every day academic lives and are now governed by it.

Two, they've never had to.  This isn't a dog on their past teachers but rather a dog on standardization and curriculum as we know it.  We've tried to get cute with math by offering a thousand ways to do the same thing and while I think offering students different tools for solving problems can be a good thing, when do we get to the point and teach them how to actually put their nose to the grindstone and SOLVE A PROBLEM!?

Three, they don't have a solid problem solving strategy, yet.  Far too often, they try to dive, head first, into a problem without thinking about it first.  They have a thousand ways to do division but zero ways to solve a problem.

My solutions:
-  Provide opportunities for them to fail with you there to pick them back up and get them on their way.  Teach them how to accept failure as a learning opportunity and the beginning of something new and better rather than the end.

-  Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  The math or the problem?  Why not teach them how to solve problems while you are teaching them how to do the math?  As in, introduce concepts in context.   I know, they can't solve a problem if they don't know how to do the math...I get it.  However, they can't do the math if they don't know how to solve the problem either- what's the point?  Let's continue giving them tools for the math but let's throw in a couple problem solving strategies as well.

-  NO MORE WORKSHEETS.  Can we find authentic problem solving opportunities that they can relate to and get them to think that way?  Just look around.  MATH IS EVERYWHERE.  How many blades of grass are in our soccer field?  If every letter of the alphabet was assigned a value, a=1, b=2, c=3...can you find words that when all of the letters are added together, their total equals 100?  We need to replace the carpeting in our classroom with tile, how many square feet of tile will we need to order?  If the company we are buying tile from is selling it for $3.25 a square foot, how much will we spend on tile?  If the company offers a 20% discount on each piece of tile over $100.00, how much will we save?  Etc.

Let's rethink the way we teach math.  Teach concepts in context.  Provide the students opportunities to SOLVE open ended, real life, PROBLEMS!

A few amazing websites I've discovered that deal in problem solving strategies:
Math Pickle

NRICH Enriching Mathematics

Follow me on Twitter!  @Mr_Braden

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Attention Seeker

As an educational leader, there are times throughout the day that I feel like if there were two or three of me, we could actually be getting some things done.  Whether it is responding to emails, attending meetings on and off campus, meeting with teachers or students and doing whatever else comes up throughout the day (I had to remove a dead cockroach from the staff bathroom last Tuesday), it becomes increasingly hard to attend to the task at hand.

Maybe it's just me as I've struggled with attention issues my whole life but I have to think there must be other educators out there who feel the same way.

You are in an ARD meeting, it's 2:00 pm and you know there's a parent phone call you HAVE to make before the bell rings and there's a teacher who needs your support with a student and the last time you checked your email, right before going to the ARD, you noticed Inbox 64, and you just got a call on your radio that there's ANOTHER cockroach in the staff restroo…

Identity First, Then Culture

First, allow me to get this outta the way, real quick like.  

I am, unabashedly, an Indiana University basketball fan to the core of my being.  I grew up in Indiana and in Indiana, if you were raised right, you were raised to be an IU fan.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of my lifetime, they haven't been that great.  I don't remember the national championship in 1987, I was only 4.  

Recently they hired Archie Miller from Dayton University who is known for defense and toughness.  A "grind it out" culture if you will.  He gave an interview  (here) and in the interview, he mentioned something about culture that struck a chord with me this morning.  


“The big thing is to create the first identity opportunity,” Miller said. “Not culture.” I stopped Miller there. Coaches love talking about culture – it might be the most popular buzzword in the profession today. What’s with the avoidance? “I think culture is earned,” he said. “You don’t start talking about culture four weeks …

Restorative Morning

Some kids come to us in the morning, not ready to learn.  Not ready to "do school".  They are upset, angry, tired, hungry, frustrated, etc.

Does that surprise you?

Probably not.

What are you doing about it?  Morning work?  Have students sit at their desks, silently, and watch morning announcements?

Do we expect the students who come to us in a state of mind not conducive to success at school to just, get it together?  I would argue the opposite of the "get it together" mindset.  We are educators and we educate more than just the academic side of our students lives.  We are also responsible for equipping our students to be socially and emotionally resilient.  Intentionally.  Like, actually TEACHING students how to be mindful of their feelings and what to do when they aren't 100%.

At the elementary school I am fortunate enough to be the Assistant Principal at, we have had some teachers put Morning Circles into place.  The first part of these circles is a sim…