Life isn’t simple. From the time we wake up until the time we fall asleep there are always surprises each day. Just when I think I have a handle on what I’m doing for the day, something comes up and I adjust.

I wonder if we try too hard to present mathematics and, in particular, problem solving too simply to our students. Is that why we have a tendency to:

  • bring closure to a problem during a class period rather than using a Take 5 Minutes approach and let time elapse between engagement with a problem?
  • want to help too soon when students are struggling?
  • want to confirm “yes, your answer is correct” instead of asking “why do you think that?” or some question that encourages explanation rather than right/wrong?

In October of 2011 I tried something during a workshop that I’d actually had slip back to the recesses of my mind … but … as I’ve been thinking more about helping teachers use more problem-solving activities in classrooms, it suddenly came forward again.

Here’s what a group of teachers in the workshop and I tried:

  1. Read-aloud scenario: Eating Grapes [Problem #4507]
  2. Look-at-the-picture scenario: Measuring Melons [Problem #5144]
  3. Look-at-the-picture-and-the-graphs scenario: Filling Glasses [Problem #5104]

We spent about 10 minutes on each first noticing and wondering orally and then taking a few minutes to individually write down some things that were noticed and wondered.

[NOTE: Some teachers encourage students to notice/wonder individually before anything is said aloud. Because my own classroom experiences were with struggling learners and I often work in classrooms now with teachers and students who are struggling, I tend to encourage a quick oral exercise of noticing and wondering before we ever get to the point of writing. So many of the students I've worked with would give up and think they can't participate if at first I asked them to write.]

After we had noticed and wondered on those three problems (not finding answers at all particularly because the scenarios didn’t include any questions!) we paused to reflect on the experience.

  • Was it stressful?
  • Were they on overload?
  • Were they considering trying it in their classrooms?

They responded no, no, yes to these questions.


If you try this, I’d love to hear stories!