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How Do You Encourage Students’ to Make Sense of Problems and Persevere in Solving Them?

Making Sense of Problems and Persevere in Solving Them is the first of the Eight Mathematical Practices of Common Core.  Because this is a practice that needs to be fostered in students and is not easily modeled by teachers, it is one of the more difficult practices to develop in students.  Teachers tend not to model problem solving, but they model a method or a strategy to find a solution.  Making Sense of Problems and Persevering in Solving them kisses the old “direct modeling” lesson plans goodbye.

Instead of direct modeling, teachers should provide students with rich tasks that help students discover the content they are trying to teach.  A good example of this is in one of the TERC math investigations books in which students are given several nets and asked to find the number of cubes needed to fill the net.  Students then are asked to make a generalization about how to find the number of cubes needed to fill a net.   After this task  students devise their own way to calculate the volume of a figure.  Students will have different methods to finding the volume of a figure, and this gives place for student voice and higher level questioning and discussion.  Then the teacher may lead students into the conventional volume formula after students have found it for themselves.

Instead of direct modeler, the teacher takes on more of a facilitator role.  The teacher is responsible for giving students rich, engaging tasks that will guide them into discovering the math content they are trying to teach.  Math class then becomes engaging because of its core of students’ discovery through problem solving, and the learning becomes their own.  Teachers’ role is to provide students with mathematical vocabulary, notation, and convention to express their found ideas.  Teachers should also formatively assess students throughout their learning to gauge the level of challenge that they need to provide for their students.  When a teacher becomes skilled at providing rich lessons for the students, then the students persevere because their interest level is heightened.

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