Lesson Plans : Promoting Persistent Problem Solving… for the Fun of It

Is it possible to outline every lesson so that it provides structure to evoking and developing student curiosity AND leads to a deep ability to problem solve? In the past, I have have created objectives for each of my lessons such that they are transformed from “students will be able to…” to “students will be curious about…”, but I wonder if it could be both “able to” and “curious about”. My lessons are built around the idea that “In mathematics, the art of proposing a questions must be held of higher value than solving it” (Georg Cantor). That quote is one of 2 posters I have hanging in my classroom because I need a constant reminder of that goal. I haven’t come close to knowing how to cultivate curiosity consistently or perfectly, but I have found some strategies that support it and move us in that direction regularly.

3 Act Tasks

Noticing and Wondering

Discovering Geometry Tasks

Desmos Activities

Math Shell

Collaborative Data Collection and Analysis in Experiments about culturally relevant variables

These have all been crucial in promoting curiosity and a willingness-to-fail culture in my classroom, but when working on a task from Discovering Geometry on Friday, one of my students said “do you do this for fun?! That’s the difference between you and me”. He was right. My students enjoy the curiosity piece of my classroom. They like making observations, asking questions and having their voice heard by their peers. But I haven’t yet cultivated a love of persistence in problem solving. A significant amount of time in my lesson planning is spent figuring out how students will respond to a scenario presented to them, how they will engage in the task, but not necessarily how they will complete a task or how I can encourage them to continue working on a solution that has uncertain results. In the task that the aforementioned student was working on, they had made an assumption and taken an incorrect path. After some questioning and sharing, they realized their mistake and had to backtrack. They were frustrated, which is why this comment arose, but I realized that the most common struggle that I face in my class stems from this same line of thought – that problem creating is fun, but problem solving is for the birds. Student get exhausted, frustrated or distracted in the middle of a solution and I haven’t predetermined ways to push through these barriers with students.

This is a Lesson Template that I use regularly (thanks to Peg Cagle) and I typically use a more general thought process of “What’s the objective? What’s an activity that will be fun to play with and learn this objective with? How can I make sure that they know the objective?”.

The problem solving piece doesn’t necessarily come into play with these three questions. Maybe I need to include a “How are students engaged in multiple problem solving scenarios” or a “What roadblocks will students need encouragement to persist through” component to my lesson planning.
What strategies, activities, or classroom management components have you used to promote problem solving as fun and engaging in your classroom?

The image above is from a set of Math Practice Posters from Melissa at Got to Teach blog, that I plan to use for objectives in my classroom next year.

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