October 17, 2013
“What’s the answer?” is a common refrain when students tackle their math homework. What if the answer requires more than 20 minutes of thinking? What if the answer is not immediately obvious? How much should students struggle to find an answer that satisfies their need for completion? And what about this modern need for fast completion of tasks in order to feel successful?
These are some of the questions raised in today’s faculty meeting: what does it mean to a 21st century student to struggle with complex math problems that call for comprehensive reflection and application of creative thinking? How can we support students’ confidence in solving complicated problems that are often time-consuming in their solutions?
Using an excerpt from Cathy L. Seeley’s Faster Isn’t Smarter (click here to read the excerpt), we examined our own Walden practices and agreed with Seeley’s argument that “offering students a chance to struggle may go hand in hand with motivating, if we do it right.”
Seeley advocates for constructive struggling, not pointless frustration. Assigning a difficult problem will likely be more time-consuming but may provide more learning value than several shorter, more obvious problems. Skillful teaching involves helping students build confidence in math over time as they learn to apply what they know (including memorized rote algorithms) and make connections between mathematical concepts and ideas.