Written by: Jay Meadows, Exemplars, CEO
Raise your hand if you've ever heard a student say, I hate math. Why is it that some students don't like going to math class? Is there something we can do to change their mindset about mathematics?
There is, and it starts with looking closely—and maybe changing!—our goals as their teachers. We need to consider what it is that we want to accomplish, and who we believe should be doing most of the thinking and talking in the classroom.
Doing that might challenge our assumptions about teaching and learning. But if we do, we’ll honor our students and our profession—and inspire a love of mathematics at the same time.
The Busy Classroom
Our students should be doing most of the talking in the classroom. And that will create an environment that might be challenging at first. When we ask students to engage in solving interesting and authentic problems, the classroom gets a little:
You may find students moving around in their chairs, possibly needing to stand as they talk emphatically with their classmates. Hands may be moving as they try to explain their thinking. Maybe they’re laughing—after all, discovery is fun. This busy classroom is an engaged classroom, where learning is alive.
Watch the video below to see an example of what my busy classroom looked like when I was a teacher and how my students were successful in meeting the Mathematical Practices in this environment.
Where does this energy come from?
Brain science shows that working to solve complex problems engages numerous parts of the brain. Exciting the different regions in our students’ minds simultaneously creates excited kids!
That excitement is key to student engagement. When we present students with rich tasks that are within their zone of proximal development, ask them to think for themselves, allow them to collaborate with their classmates to attempt to solve a problem that requires several steps and pieces of data from different parts of their mind, their engagement in learning creates an engaged classroom.
Set the Stage
So how do you set the stage for this engagement to take place? It can start with a rich performance task and our Problem-Solving Procedure. As students follow the Exemplars Problem Solving Procedure, let them share their ideas, strategies, and questions with their classmates. Invite them to come forward and share their solutions and strategies with the whole class. You might even ask a student to share their strategy before anyone has even completed the problem. These exercises help to broaden the mindsets of the entire class towards finding innovative possibilities for solving a problem.
And that’s the change in mindset that can spark their love of math. Algorithms, formulas, and other efficiencies will develop over time as students practice complex tasks and deepen their understanding.
When we ask students to take ownership of their learning—to be responsible for wrapping their minds around interesting questions, to develop possible strategies to solve the problems, to collaborate with their classmates, and to share their ideas for solutions—we create an Exemplars classroom. It’s a classroom that may feel noisy and busy sometimes, but it’s also a safe, encouraging place to discover a love of math.
After the last year, we can all agree that we want every kid back in the classroom. As we return, let’s use this unique moment to challenge our assumptions, to reinvent what kind of classroom we’re going to welcome our students back to. We think every classroom should be an Exemplars classroom: a busy one that every teacher and student can be proud of. Ask us to learn more.