Thursday, August 16, 2012

Helping Students Become Problem Solvers...

The question that we’ve been thinking hard about all summer is “How do we get kids to become better learners”?  Our students are pretty successful at solving problems, but many don’t even know where to begin the process of problem solving.  If you have an easy solution to this, send it our way!  Until then, here’s what we have been discussing…

  • My guess is that since this is only our second entry, you’ve read our first one which means you’ve read about our “Google Days” implementation in an honors Precalc course.  Since then we have done a lot of decision making about how we want to implement this well.  Here’s what we’ve got so far:
    • Students will be introduced to the topic by reading the abstracts and introductions of various research papers we find out there in cyberspace.  We are trying to compile papers written by staff (not necessarily math teachers) to help students connect, even if only by a little, with the content.  Our goal is that this will trigger curiosity in students and they will begin to wonder and research for themselves.
    • Students will work with and advisor to write an abstract on a topic of their choosing (yes, total freedom!), due mid-fall.
    • At the end of semester 1 we will host a “Math Fair” where students will display their research/projects/constructions/whatever they choose to do for family, students, and other teachers.
      More to come on the “Google Days” later…
  • What about students not in honors Precalc, you ask?  Sometimes I think that recalling things you’ve learned is like recalling a memory – we are trying to get students to be able to put themselves back into the moment they learned a specific skill or idea.
How are we doing this?  High stakes projects!  Many have done “Barbie Bungee” in their classes where students create a linear model for the number of rubber bands needed to drop Barbie from a certain height.  When we did this our kids were graded on how close their Barbie got to the ground.  If a Barbie died the students simply received an F.  The day of the “drop” students were checking and double-checking their work, all afraid that their dolls would die.  We actually had students in tears when their Barbie hit the ground because the kids were so invested in the project.  My guess is students will always remember this project and the process they went through to solve the problem.
We’ve got lots of other ideas for classes other than Algebra.  This year in Algebra 2/Trig we did an Illuminations activity for rational functions that also had the same affect.
Ideally we’d like to do one of these types of projects in each class each quarter.

Our goal is that throughout the year students will become invested in the process of solving problems.  We’ll see how that goes…!


  1. I actually never heard of the "Barbie Bungee" - sounds fun! Usually anytime kids get to do something interactive math, it sticks with them.

    1. Ya, Barbie Bungee is great. It's especially good when you add in the "if your barbie dies, you lose X amount of the points." The kids get really into it. NCTM has a great activity that I use for it here: