What does it take to be a creative problem-solver?
Be curious - Take the mathematical risk to start a problem, even if you’re not sure how to finish it.
Embrace mistakes - Everyone makes mistakes. It’s how you react to mistakes that can determine how you will grow as a learner.
Communicate - Share your ideas and explain your work or process to others.
To grow as problem-solvers and mathematicians, students benefit from practicing curiosity. When faced with novel situations or problems, we encourage students to think flexibly, asking questions such as: Is there a pattern? How many? In what order? When students ask themselves, “What do I notice about this problem, how does it relate to what I already know, and what resources can I use to solve it?” they position themselves as active problem solvers who are well-poised to tackle the math at hand.
There is no such thing as a non-math person. Everyone can learn math to high levels; it just might take some students longer and more effort to get there. To accomplish this, we strive to foster an environment that promotes student inquisitiveness and mathematical risk-taking. Middle school math class should be a safe space for students to experience productive struggle. No one “gets it” the first time every time, and we help students to learn what they can do when they have the experience of “not getting it.” Making mistakes is a valuable part of the learning process.
Students’ ability to communicate their mathematical thought-process is as important as their ability to arrive at the correct answer. First, recording their step-by-step problem-solving process solidifies students’ comprehension. For example, identifying where an error occurred is necessary to determine the type of error and what’s required to address it. Effective error analysis is only possible when students can see their process reflected back to them in writing. Second, by showing their work, students demonstrate to their teachers the extent to which they understand, which in turn helps educators to support them. Finally, we believe that communicating ideas of all kinds is a critical life skill that will serve students beyond the math classroom.