Peter, Paul & Mary |

I just read a great blog post by Tracy Zager. Her blog is called Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had.

It is about getting students out of the normal (sometimes boring) routines they’ve become accustomed to in math class.

Tracy describes being in a workshop with Brian Hopkins and doing a bunch of math problems in groups. Her group solved a problem and then there was discussion and learning about the mathematics that best fit that problem. When Brian posed a seemingly similar problem, Tracy assumed they would be applying that same mathematical construct to the new problem. That was not the case, which surprised Tracy.

“...Brian disrupted the predictable, pitter-pat routine of math class...

What I see in schools is we cue kids to know what tool to use. If we’re two weeks into a unit on fractions and we give them a story problem, the kids figure fractions are involved. If the name of the chapter is “Multiplying Two-Digit Numbers” and it’s written on the bottom of the worksheet, the kids are going to assume they should multiply some 2-digit numbers. If we’ve written an objective about linear equations on the board, kids figure the answer is going to involve linear equations. If my new tool is the hammer that divides fractions, I’m going to use that hammer until my teacher tells me it’s time to switch hammers.”

As educators, we are often frustrated by our students’ lack of ability to make sense of and solve problems (the first Common Core math practice standard). Yet, are we giving students experiences in math class that help or hinder their ability to solve problems?

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