Students That Own Their Learning

Image by:  Jscreationzs


After working on a math world problem for approximately five minutes I hear ….

“I don’t get this”

“I’m confused”

“I’m lost”

“I don’t know what to do”

I believe every educator has heard one or more of the above statements while teaching.  These statements don’t really help a student succeed in any class.  This type of student feedback is important, but the words themselves seem discouraging. When words like the above are communicated, I feel as though the classroom instruction isn’t meeting the students’ needs or students aren’t utilizing math problem solving strategies.  This post is going to focus on math problem solving strategies.

Image by:  I. Images

Teaching new math concepts often requires building on students’ background knowledge.  When students experience a challenging math problem, they generally have two options.  Students can become frustrated and quit or they can find a solution.  A discussion regarding this particular situation took place in the past after their was a major struggle with one particular math word problem.  As a class we had a brainstorming session.  The students came up with some ideas of how to overcome mathematical struggles.  We called these strategies the math tool belt.

During this discussion, the students began to recognize that the teacher will not solve all of their problems.   I pointed out that giving an answer without support isn’t learning.  In fact, I pointed out that I will help, guide, and assist, but they are responsible for completing the problem.  Making mistakes and having “I don’t know” moments are part of the learning process.  Having students reflect on their learning through journal writing may also benefit the student.  I feel that students should “own” or take responsibility for their own learning as @pammoran, @mthorton78, and @irasocol indicate.

Long-term retention infrequently occurs when students are required to just regurgitate what the teacher says.  Here are some of the math problem solving strategies we decided to use when confronting a complicated math word problem:

  • Read the problem and underline important numbers or information.
  • Cross out information that isn’t needed
  • Create a visual model (chart, graph, or table)
  • Indicate what operations will be needed
  • Restate in your own words what the question is asking
  • Work backwards – keeping the end in mind
  • Write steps needed to solve the problem
  • Guess and check
  • Look for a pattern
  • Estimate and use logical reasoning to solve
  • Use manipulatives to solve (students can just grab them off the shelf and use as needed)
  • Use a formula
  • Work in collaborative groups to brainstorm what steps can be taken to solve the problem
  • Use a ratio / proportion to solve the problem
  • Ask the teacher for help
In an effort to foster resilient and responsible citizens, I ask the students what problem solving tool they used before they ask me for help.  This also reminds the students that they should be utilizing the tool immediately in the learning process.  I believe that students need to understand that their effort (not mine) leads to individual achievement.  Creating a classroom environment that encourages learning through engaging and relevant instruction is vital, but I feel as though students need to “own the classroom and their learning.”  When students are stumped or are struggling with a math problem, they need to have the tool belt readily available to power through the obstacle.  Giving opportunities to utilize the tool belt gives students positive experiences of overcoming obstacles and builds confidence. Students become owners of their learning and they find that their learning experiences are primarily controlled by how they react to the problem.  Overcoming obstacles will develop confidence so that the next time they encounter a complicated problem they will reach for the tool belt and be successful.

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