Sometimes when I describe how the Math Forum’s Problems of the Week service works a teacher and/or their administrator get very interested when I mention the online feedback options. Imagine reading or hearing a version of this description:

Students are encouraged to submit solutions explaining how they arrived at their answer, as the beginning of a process designed to develop their communication and mathematical thinking skills. These solutions may be mentored by volunteer or paid mentors, or by their own teacher. The Math Forum offers an instructional rubric for scoring student work and detailed instructions on giving helpful feedback to students. The mentoring process promotes reflective, thoughtful problem solving.

[Note: in a previous blog post I talked about slowly introducing our rubric.]

Often what a teacher/administrator hears is the time-saving idea of having others (the Math Forum’s volunteer or paid mentors) give feedback to the students!

Consider these possibilities:

* student submits online, receives no feedback
* student submits online, receives feedback from someone besides the teacher, the teacher doesn’t have time to look online (it’s an activity only between the student and the mentor)
* student submits online, receives feedback from someone besides the teacher, the teacher reads the online exchanges

With the first and second possibilities the teacher is saving time because the online problem solving interaction is something they’re having a student complete either alone or with interaction from others. With the third possibility mentioned it might take more time for the teacher to read the exchanges than to be the one involved in the first place. My guess is that even with the best intentions, a teacher who planned to read the online exchanges might not be able to keep up with that idea.

In conversations with teachers/administrators inevitably my next question is, What does saving time mean? Is one of your goals of having your students work on the Problems of the Week to encourage them to practice  ”making sense of problems and persevere in solving them“?  How good are the students currently with this practice? Are they developed enough so that they don’t need their teacher’s help to build the practice? If that’s the case, I can buy the argument that having students work on their own and possibly receive mentoring from someone else could save the teacher time. But, I think it’s more likely that students need a great deal of scaffolding to embrace this practice. If the teacher gives feedback to their own students and coordinates that with what they’re doing in the classroom, in the long run, that will save the most time.

Stay tuned … in my next blog post I’ll share some ideas I’ve used that can help you manage your time with these activities!