When problem solving becomes pure joy for students

Deep inside, most of us would really like to be creative geniuses.  Whenever someone responds to us, “Oh, wow, how did you come up with that?”  we get a surge of excitement.  It is the same thing when students figure out the lesson objectives without being told directly.  Coaching students in problem solving is an art form worth pursuing for the sake of our students and, as a side benefit, for ourselves.

Coaching involves asking good questions and providing strategic hints as students extend their knowledge into new territory.  Good coaching, though, begins with good problems and I have had a difficult time finding a good fit for my students.  At least two come to mind that I have tested with consistently great results.  This is what I consider great results:

  • Students efficiently learn something from the curriculum on their own
  • Students are excited because they feel really smart when they figure it out
  • Student confidence grows in solving real (yet unfamiliar) problems
  • All students can understand and appreciate the new leaning (New Learning Theory)
  • All students remember something about the activity  (Anchor Theory)

Here are some of my favorite moment questions that can only be fully appreciated when I look directly into my students’ eyes:

  • Oh wow, who taught you that?
  • How does figuring that out make you feel?
  • Why do you look so excited?

These moments do not normally come to my students without an initial feeling of discomfort:  uncertainty, insecurity, even frustration.  However, as the lights start flickering around the classroom, the euphoria is something a teacher must see to fully understand.

Below are two of my learning activities for High School Algebra:

Landscape Architecture  (Writing quadratic expressions – prior knowledge of writing linear expressions required)

Coaching question #1:  Where is your sketch?

Soda Machine   (Graphing and interpreting linear inequalities – Prior knowledge of linear equations and inequalities).  Video to help students embrace the scenario download

Coaching question #1  Explain one thing that student could do to fill the cup.  How would that relate to the graph?

The side benefit of our students’ joy and progress is the delight a teacher feels when the students are happy, growing, and beginning to love the content we teach. If you have questions about how these activities play out, where students initially struggle, and anticipated misconceptions, tweet me @LaneWalker2


4 thoughts on “When problem solving becomes pure joy for students

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