Spending an entire period on one problem…

I have been reflecting on my teaching journey lately.
Year 1: No clue. Survivor mode.
Year 2-6: Thinking I’m getting better and better each year. Still clueless.
Year 7: Blogging begins. My eyes are opened to what’s out there. I start to really examine what I’m teaching and create some more interactive activities.
Year 8: Realize that I was clueless last year. Start acting like my 2 year old. Ask why more times than I can count. Spend countless minutes in dead silence because I’m not going to let a student out of figuring out the answer. Focus totally shifts from getting the answer to a problem to how many questions can I ask and how can we apply this knowledge and making sure every single student is proving proving proving and then saying it just one more time for fun. Hoping that I’m on the right track now and I won’t discover more cluelessness next year. But for now…

I put up a problem yesterday. I’m blogging on my phone with a baby falling asleep in one arm and a 2 year old leaning against my other side, so you don’t get a picture. The problem was from the Smarter Balanced practice problem section for middle school. There is a number line and 4 boxes marking spots on the line. You had to drag 4 problems: -3 1/2 – 3 1/2; -3 1/2 + 3 1/2; -3 1/2 – (-5); and -3 1/2 + (-5) to their spots. And the eyes glazing over starts… Fractions. So I tell them they aren’t allowed to add or subtract any numbers. They were only allowed to look at the numbers and the signs and figure out where the problems could go based on those things. The number 0 was marked on the number line. We talked about zero pairs and how to take care of that one first. Then on to deciding which answer would be positive. Then deciding between the 2 negative answers. Then we discussed how one arrow was pointing to a whole number marker and one was in the middle of the markers and what we could do with that information. And over and over and over we looked at that one problem. I’ve never talked less and had students talk more. (Except on Socratic circle days!) We never actually got to solving the problems, but I think, I hope, they learned so much more!

I read this post today, and think it is so true. I used to hope I would finally create unit/lesson plans that I could use 2 years in a row. And now I hope that never happens because that would mean I am done finding new ways to reach students.

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4 thoughts on “Spending an entire period on one problem…

  1. My favorite part of this post is the reflection on feeling “clueless” in hindsight. It speaks volumes about your motivation and growth mindset because if you weren’t having those kinds of feelings, you either aren’t improving that much or not reflecting enough. However you look at it as a sign of accomplishment, as you should. For what it’s worth, I feel that a year ago I was also clueless about so many things and the only thing I know for sure is that I am clueless about all the things I am still clueless about. Ha.

  2. LOL to both your post and Robert’s response! This is my 34th year of teaching and as I learn more each year, I feel more and more clueless! I have a journey similar to yours – I have often thought it would be great to get this teaching thing down to a science so I don’t work so hard each year. I have not once re-used my lesson plans from year to year! I have used successful lessons again and made them better. Now, with MTBoS, my eyes have been opened up – I feel like a student teacher again! The learning never ends!

  3. I’m so glad you said what you did at the end about creating lessons that you could use two years in a row. This has been the story of my life over the last 15 years teaching math. It is a misconception that when someone gets into the field of teaching that they do the same thing year after year, but students are not the same year after year. I hope to be able to use some of what I have created this year, but it is ever evolving and changing to keep up with students and to keep up with the times. Good teachers are probably never out of the “clueless” stage.

  4. Love this! This sounds very similar to a new training I went to this summer called Thinking Mathematically. It is all based on problem solving. Giving students problems and pulling out the information from the problems.This is my first year with applying this idea but I started off strong. All the snow days have killed me though. I started by giving 3 to 4 big idea problems for each unit and then honing in on the needed skills. I am thinking next year I am going to focus on the problems. I want to create a data bank of problems.

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