Seems like one of the side effects of my new emphasis on large scale problems is getting kids caught up when they come in late, weren’t paying attention, or otherwise find themselves lost.  I think tradition trains students to shut down when they are lost, as if the key to getting un-lost will be someone telling you what to do.  Like if you get lost in the choreography of a dance, you need someone to let you know what the next step was, or even to prompt you to look at the previous step, or just to show you the steps so you can follow it.  The “math-as-dance-step” metaphor breaks down once you want a student to do more of the creating themselves.  I mean, I don’t go to someone who is used to dancing ballet and say “Make a routine to this hip hop song” (unless of course I’m the producer of that Julia Stiles movie).  So when I want students to explore all the different ways of solving a complex problem, how is it that I let them know the steps?  Not the algorithmic steps to the specific math problem but the dance steps for thinking about and solving any kind of problem?

Today I tried to get students to work on a counting task from MARS and as they struggled, I wrote on the board the steps from Polya, about how to solve a math problem.  These steps had a lot of meaning for, but I don’t think the kids got it.  Abstracting the problem solving process is not a good thing to do when your kids just had a break down in their problem solving process.  Tomorrow I am going to roll out a whole bunch of problems that various people can have success with, and then afterwards ask them to share, and use that share out to abstract the steps required to solve a problem.  Hopefully if the problem comes from them, they will be more likely to apply it the next time they get to a place where it would have previously felt safe to just “wait.”