Getting Stuck in Math and Coming Out Stronger

Edutopia highlights Exemplars as a “go-to” for promoting productive math struggle

Students working

There’s strength to be found in a struggle. In fact, when it comes to becoming a capable, confident problem solver, the experience of getting stuck—and then discovering how to get unstuck—is essential.

In Edutopia, elementary math curriculum coordinator Dani Fry explores productive math struggle, where students take on tasks that challenge their current skills:

According to Peter Liljedahl, author of Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics, “Good problem-solving tasks require students to get stuck and then to think, to experiment, to try and to fail, and to apply their knowledge in novel ways in order to get unstuck.

It’s a process that asks students to draw on what they already know, but also to go out on a limb as they work to extend it. It builds not only skills, but confidence as well, helping learners see a problem as an opportunity for growth.

As Fry shares approaches for supporting productive struggle, she demonstrates that while solving complicated problems can be tough, it can also be empowering. And with engaging, high-quality tasks, it can even be fun:

The go-to in our district for promoting productive math struggle is Exemplars. This resource encourages students to get stuck and power through really difficult, real-world, multistep situations. The tasks they provide encourage students to show their thinking processes in a variety of ways. You can really tell it’s a great task if all student thinking looks different. In a world where instant gratification has become the norm, we can remind students that when they get stuck, it’s exciting! This challenging moment is part of learning and making new connections in their brain.

Engaging students in that excitement is vital in our math classrooms, especially now. At a moment when it seems like more students than ever are struggling with math, Fry’s perspective reminds us that as educators, we’re uniquely positioned to make that struggle meaningful—and help students come through it stronger than before.

Read the full article:

5 Ways to Bolster Students’ Confidence in MathEdutopia, January 3, 2022