Stepping back from strategies to invite joy

By Blake Olsen

I was teaching today in a Grade 2 classroom, and one of our subjects today was Math.  The students have a work package that they do, so at the start of our work period, I put the first page on the board for us to look at together.

One of the questions from the package was:

5+4 = 6+3

Yes      No

It initially looks like a pretty simple throwaway question, but instead of asking students “yes or no” and leaving it at that, I applied some of the learning I have been doing about Math.  I have been learning that math isn’t just about following formulas, but that students can have myriad strategies for solving problems, and their thinking can teach me a lot about how they learn.

Some of the answers I got to this question included:

  • 5+4 equals 9, and 6+3 equals 9, so they are the same
  • I used my number line on my desk to count on and see that they came to the same thing
  • I used my hundreds chart to count on and see that they came to the same thing
  • I see that 6 is one more than 5, and that 3 is one less than 4, so that makes them the same
  • I use my fingers to help me add the two questions to see that they are the same

It’s hard sometimes as a teacher to not tell my class what the strategy is.  I have a strategy or idea of how I would do something in my mind, so I have to make an effort to take a step back, and listen.  When I listen, I get to see how these students work through a math problem.

My challenge is to step back from offering strategies.  Something that stunts kids enjoyment of math, I think, is only having one way to answer a question, when, clearly, my example question has at least 5 different ways to answer it.

Instead of telling my students what to do, I have to let them tell me what to do.  I have to let them explore and use trial and error, and play around with ways to solve problems.

I’m going to challenge myself to do this again.  I’m going to ask a question and not explain how to solve it.  I’m going to ask students to write about their thinking, and learn how each other think as well.  I think this can help rekindle some of the creativity that exists in math.

What do you think?