This is going to become my new mantra in my lesson-planning. This comes from a teacher in a case study published by Margaret S. Smith in the Feb 2000 issue of Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School. It was so simple, but the statement made by the teacher represented a transformational moment, and me reading it did the same for me.
“They weren’t really doing problem-solving until they reached the point where they thought they couldn’t do it” (pg 381).
What makes a student have to patiently solve problems? Being faced with a problem they can’t immediately solve. And yet so many times we want to give them problems they can do quickly. It makes us feel good. It makes them feel good. But what are we looking to lead them to? Feeling good? Or being able to flexibly and patiently apply their classroom math to problems in their worlds?
If we want them to be able to authentically solve problems, then they have to practice authentic problem solving at some point, preferably regularly.
And in order to do that, they need to be comfortable looking at a problem that they don’t think they can do right now.
And so do we.
Smith, Margaret S. (2000). “Redefining Success in Mathematics Teaching and Learning.” Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School. Vol 5, No. 6, (Feb. 2000), pp 378-386.