Learning to Solve Problems

For the past who-knows-how-many years, we've been doing Saxon math at our school. It's pretty didactic - teach a lesson, and do some problems. It's cyclical in nature, so you do a few problems from each lesson each day. However, there's very little critical thinking. Since it's my first year teaching math, I became bored really quickly and

started supplementing my curriculum

.

Last week, we began piloting Pearson's Connected Mathematics. Our school's hope is to add a curriculum with more problem solving and reasoning, and yet one that allows for more differentiation. This two week of transition has been a little bit of a roller coaster of emotions, but I like how it's making my students think.

The lesson started by getting us out of our seats to measure our walking, speed-walking, and running pace. My students loved it. Their faces are priceless.

Then we went back inside and began trying to use that data. Students received little to no direct instruction on how to do so. This was extremely frustrating for my students. On top of that, they were asked to use words to describe their thought processes,

which always seems to make kids cry

.

I then lost my students for a few days. Their frustration blocked their ability to believe they could do it. Some of them became extremely despondent, and all of them longed for the simplicity of the Saxon problems. It seems that one of the most challenging parts of the Connected Mathematics problems for my students is the ability to understand what the lengthy word problems are asking. As a language arts teacher, though, I like that they have to work to decipher this.

Since those first few days, we've done a lot more problems together as a class. Math class has become much more discussion-based (which is awesome), and I love hearing my students verbalize the math concepts. Despite the frustration we've experienced in the problem set, I do believe my students really understand linear equations. And their confidence has come back up. Yes, they're still struggling at times to understand what the problems are asking, but they are asking great questions and starting good conversations to help them solve the problem. Those are the problem solving skills I want my students to have.

Having said that, I do think I've pushed my students outside their ZPD at times. However, I think that's okay. It's good for these kids (who are in the "higher level" math class), to struggle and get frustrated. It's good for them to work through those frustrations. It's good for things not to just be easy.

I look forward to seeing how my students continue to grow as problem solvers in the next few weeks.