Teaching math is a complicated venture–to say the least. Between figuring out how to meet the needs of all our students, balance a jam-packed curriculum, worry about interventions and enrichment–and then throw in fire drills, strep throat epidemics, students gone on vacations, meetings…it’s a wonder we get anything done!
The one thing I always use to “center” myself is the Standards for Mathematical Practice–or “Math Behaviors”, if you prefer. These “ways of being” in math class are the glue that holds my math class together…whether my students are above or below grade level–and no matter if we are doing addition or fractions or measurement.
|This is one of the posters in my “kid friendly” math standards posters resources.|
One of these standards is often called the “perseverance” standard…and people do a GREAT job of teaching students that word and stressing that “I can” spirit in their classrooms. That being said–“perseverance” is only a small part of that standard and we cannot forget the rest. This standard talks about sticking with problems–but perhaps, more importantly, talks about MAKING SENSE of problems…using a thoughtful, logical, and organized process to dig into the information presented and to tackle it. It’s hard to persevere on a problem until you have “decoded” it!
So the other day I decided to give my students one of my open-ended challenges–with NO preliminary work. I didn’t read it to them. I didn’t give them any hints or talk them through it. I told them–your goal today is to figure out WHAT this problem is asking, think about how to get started, and how you will organize your work. I told them I would read them any word they struggled on (not reading class!) but it would be up to them to try to “decode” the problem. I built up the energy…told them I KNEW they could do it and explained we would start tackling it alone but then would move into partnerships to compare notes and to get started.
At that point, I put a copy of the problem under the document camera and we shared out our findings. I used highlighters and my pen to showcase what students told me they had found in the problem and what they were noticing about getting it started. After a few more minutes of processing, I was pretty sure that partnerships were ready to go tackle it! They were chomping at the bit to get going, and I am pretty sure that taking the time to process on this problem was just as valuable as actually working the problem itself! I quickly reminded them about working precisely and in an organized fashion (our recent goal) and sent them off on their way.