This week, I tried out my first Problem of the Week from The Math Forum thanks to their free trial. I have been reading about these from other people and their awesome experiences with them so I wanted to get in on the game.
I started with “You think you’re teacher is tough?” I like the idea of “I notice, I wonder” and figured it was just what my students need. My students, as I’m sure many others, just look for the question, look for some numbers and just start doing math. They don’t re-read, they don’t analyze, they don’t think about the situation, they just want to find an answer and be done. I took the suggestion of how to start out, and took out the question and just posted the situation. I then asked the students to write down something they noticed. I was faced with a ton of blank stares, so I tried to explain what that meant. This was way more difficult than I thought because I didn’t want to give a ton of examples. I wanted them to think for themselves. I think I ended up saying something like “Anything that comes to your mind when you think about this situation.” That seemed to work a little better. After a few minutes, we shared and got some really interesting “notices.” Obvious ones, funny ones, deeper thinking ones, etc. Good. This was good.
We then moved on to “I wonder.” This was easier, and also provided many good questions and discussion. We were really discussing the situation, taking it apart, having fun, making sure we understood, questioning each other. It was pretty great.
Then I finally gave them the question. Cue the Darth Vader music. It was like I had asked them to take every book in the library, move them outside and then back in again. All of the inquiry, engagement, interest went right out the window. Very few students were willing to try anything, write anything down or discuss with their peers. It was a little devastating. Throughout the week, I did this with each group with the same result. With much prodding, I did get them to find the answer.
I can’t figure it out. Everyone said these PoW are so engaging and students love to get to work on them, and their interesting and fun. Not for my students. Ask them to actually do any work, forget it. Was it the problem I picked? Was it my delivery? Was it the fact that their 8th graders? Was it the fact that they are not used to teachers encouraging them to solve problems with any means possible? Were they uncomfortable with the openness of it? Was it the fact that this was not actual math class, but workshop block? (Workshop is designed to give teachers a chance to do something enriching, out of our normal curriculum. Most students think of it as “free time” no matter what we tell them or ask them to do.)
I’m going to try another one. I still have faith that these problems, and “I notice, I wonder” will help them. I think.