Friday, November 29, 2013

Math Perseverance!

Perseverance is an interesting concept isn't it?  The ability to take on a work hard even when things are be able persist even when things don't go your way.  Talk about REAL LIFE, right?  As I sit here blogging from my son's hospital room, I am doing a little self-talk about taking on this challenge!  It is NOT easy!

I have always been of the belief that some students need to be explicitly taught life "strategies" such as perseverance.  If you have followed my blog for any length of time, you will know that I often put my students in difficult situations and work to navigate them through them.  Sometimes I worry that we as teachers and parents want to make things easier for kids--to protect them from stress and overly challenging tasks.  Sometimes I think we worry about "self-esteem" and how kids will handle tasks that are really really frustrating.  I know that I strive to help teach kids how to pick "just right" books ... and I want their word work to be "just right"...

But in math, I sometimes push the envelope a little bit.  Why?  I really feel that I can put kids in tougher situations if I can support them, give them strategies to get started, and to help them learn to work cooperatively.  I see that many students can rise to the occasion and solve problems I never thought they could--and wouldn't have ever shown me if I didn't give them the chance.

For months I have been trying to figure out how to explain some of the things I do that I have found to be really really successful, so today I thought I'd share with you a poster I use with my students to make sure they always have some "tools" in their toolbox to get started.  In fact, by this point in the year my students know to not say "I don't get it" unless they have tried everything on the poster!

When they ask for help and I don't see any evidence of these, I smile and point to it and send them back to work.  Now, as you can tell, this isn't for computation practice or routine work--this is when I ask student to tackle problems.  Hard problems.  Good problems.  You may have noticed that I have a TON of word problems in my store because I firmly believe that intermediate students need to be able to apply their math understanding in many ways, and my students are constantly solving problems.  Sometimes we warm up as a class with a problem.  Sometimes small groups work on problems.  Sometimes problems are differentiated and are used as math stations.  

Word problems aren't THAT hard to come by (although I have to admit that I prefer writing my own to using others I have seen in textbooks and other places!), but sometimes I crave problems that really force students to think outside the box.  

--problems where they may struggle to know what is being asked
--or where there may be multiple answers
--or where there is extra information
--or where the question is a little different than one might predict

I will be blogging more about some of the ways I use problems like this in my classroom, but I am excited to say that I have put all ( many as I think anyone really wants to read!) of my thoughts together in a resource about teaching perseverance that includes all sorts of stuff ranging from learning poster/anchor chart ideas to classroom photos to a student checklist to lesson ideas--and then 24 REALLY GOOD problems to use.  Like my other word problem sets,  I have worked to put the problems in several different formats so you have a bunch of flexibility.  Again, I will be blogging more over time about some of the ideas in the resource, but if you are interested in really digging in, the resource is now published after weeks of work.  Believe me when I tell you that making your math class rigorous and perseverance-filled will do wonders for their self-esteem and their opinions about math.  After 90 minutes of math, my students often groan when I tell them it's time for recess!  SERIOUSLY!  So...stay tuned for more ideas over the next few weeks.  If you are interested, here is the resource if you want to check it out.


  1. I have to agree with your thoughts in regards to this. If we always make things 'just right' for children and do not force them out of their comfort zone and really have to think and try in order to succeed, I believe that we are failing to prepare them for life outside of their school years, and for that matter school as they get older. Everything only ever gets harder as life moves along, this means they need to know how to keep going even when things are tough.
    As for the pack it looks fab - I love good word problems - off to go shopping :)
    Thoughts are with you in regards to your son

  2. Thanks, Angie. Sometimes I think people underestimate kids! I also think that it is easier for US when the work is just right--we have far less coaching to do! That being said, the look of a struggling math student who works hard and figures things out on his/her own is priceless...and pays us back tenfold the next time a tricky situation arises! Thanks for chiming in!