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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Problem of the Week: Why Students Need to Write and Think

Why Problem of the Week assignment ?

The POW’s are a central part of a strong math program for middle schoolers. It requires them to tackle problem solving with an investigative or non-routine type of problem.

People too often do math from a procedural approach. Schools too often teach a procedure, with or without justification, and then have the students practice these procedures on very similar problems. While this has a place, it reminds be of learning how to read words and phrases, but never delve into the meaning of a book.

The essay format I teach is designed with specific ideas in mind. 

First, read and understand the problem, and show this understanding by stating the key info, discarding the irrelevant, and identifying what type of problem it is.

The second paragraph explains approach to the problem. What worked and what led astray. It is not always about getting it “right” the first time, but rather, the investigation of methods and the recognition that we often don’t do things in isolation, but search for help.

The third paragraph describes the answer and lays out alternative answers or multiple answers, as many problems are not single answer events.

The last paragraph is a reflection of the learning process with a small eye on the future (behavioral adjustment to improve learning).

The maximum size of the essay is one page, perhaps 500 words or so. Most paragraphs can be 5-7 sentences.

Value process much more than procedure in math. See the importance in the "why" of something we do and understanding it vs. the sole focus how of doing something and perhaps not understanding as well.

Recognize and promote the value of "spaced practice" in all academic endeavors, math included.

Families and students come to appreciate the impact of writing structured essays explaining logical thinking on their everyday approach to other subject areas. The approach is unusual for many  who had a different educational experience.

Give it a try. Make Thinking Visible. 

1 comment:

Mrs. Fuller said...

Great idea! Do you have your students do this in class or at home? Individually or in pairs?

I'd like to try something like this with my 7th graders, maybe phase it in slowly (especially this time of year!).

We do talk about these ideas a lot in class, but I don't always make them write it down. I think that would be the next logical step.