# Problem solving in the “real world”

One thing that I think is super important for students to understand is that math is REAL.  Math isn’t “fill in the blanks” in your workbook…or a practice sheet…or even a math game.  Math is everywhere–and in everything.  Getting students to recognize this is key–and helping them see that math can help them make sense of their world and solve REAL problems should be a key part of what we do. Making math meaningful should truly be one of our primary objectives as teachers.
Jo Boaler states that creating mathematical “excitement” should look the same for all students–no matter what their experience level.  Math class should combine the following:
Pretty daunting, right?

### Making Math Meaningful

When we try to find problem solving situations that make students curious, we need to think about their world…that’s why I try to write problems about sports…and amusement parks…and animals.  We need students to make connections between the math concepts and the real world situations they find them in–and to make connections between different math concepts.
I LOVE the point Boaler makes about challenge.  We know that our brains learn more when they have to practice information in more than one way–and we build our brains by making mistakes.  Isn’t that AMAZING?  We need to teach our students this…that we actually LEARN by making mistakes.  If this is true, Boaler stresses that we HAVE to put students in situations where they grow their brains–and they must face challenging tasks to do that!  (Insert shameless product plug here:  That is TOTALLY what my perseverance problems, Thinker Tasks, and Open Ended Challenges are all about–putting students in a position where they need to struggle a little bit!)
Of course, finding that “perfect” level of struggle is part of the art of teaching, right?  If the work is too challenging, students will shut down.  Conversely, if the work is too simple, they won’t grow.  Part of my passion is testing different types of problems with my students every year to find that sweet spot!  Below I have shared links to a few of my favorite collections if YOU are looking for more of this type of work in your classroom.
Or check these out!

### Creativity in Math

I love the creativity part of this equation.  We want students to approach problems in new and unique ways–this helps them build their own connections and number sense.  We certainly need to do our part to model our thinking, but I believe we need to be cautious about sending the message that there is a “right” way or a “best” way.  In fact, if you’ve heard the term “low floor, high ceiling” tasks, this is the whole premise.  We want all students to have access, but we want students to be able to use their creative math thinking and their own “toolbox” of strategies to dig into these great problems.

### Math Talk in the Classroom

Finally…Boaler mentions collaboration.  Researchers say that as much as 60% of our classroom math time should be spent having students engaged in meaningful math talk.  60%!  That leaves 40% of the time for EVERYTHING else…grading, minilessons, practice pages.  If this is true, we truly must be seeking out meaningful, engaging tasks that get students talking about math.  Watch for even more information about this coming soon.
So…I’ve left you with enough to think about.  And I’ve left the link to a freebie for you to try with your students.  See if you think it helps you with all of Jo Boaler’s recommendations!

Interested in checking out Jo’s amazing book?  I have it added to my Amazon storefront right  HERE if you want to check it out!