In early April I posted thoughts about thinking of students as lumps of clay versus sprouting seeds.   This morning I started thinking of clay vs. seeds again but this time in conjunction with the CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practice. The first practice is “Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.”

When I approach this as a teacher who is nurturing students and creating a healthy environment for each of them to grow, I am hopeful. I’m not in a hurry. I allow the students some space. I encourage them to take accountability. I encourage them to talk with each other to share ideas. There is no rush to be over and done but instead our goal is to think, reflect, discuss, and revise. We might work on a problem a little bit at a time over a month. We might let a problem fade into the background and re-engage with the ideas a week or two later. There is no rush because we want to make sense of things and we want to persevere.

Can a teacher who believes that students are lumps of clay that need molding have a different reaction to “Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.”? I think they probably can. My guess is that they might approach that phrase to mean that the students listen quietly as the teacher explains how the problem makes sense. And, the students need to persevere and finish by the end of the class period! Yikes, that vision is quite the opposite of what I would want my students to experience.

As I read the paragraph of explanation under that first stated practice, the tone points toward the student having control of their own learning. I just can’t ignore statements that include:
… students start by explaining …
… make conjectures …
… consider …
… try …
… monitor and evaluate …
… change course if necessary …
… help conceptualize …
… continually ask themselves, “Does this make sense?”

For many classrooms this requires quite a shift in the environment. If we even follow this first practice knowing that there are seven others to consider, how does that change things? I’d love to think that we’ll move away from lumps of inanimate clay and more to living, breathing, and individual beings who are trying to make sense of their worlds.

Lee Alejandre making sense of the chairs on Swarthmore’s campus. The photos I took of him on that day inspired the Problem of the Week that we named Lee’s Lawn Chair!