Moving From Math Practice to Math Problem-Solving

December 18, 2018

 A common misconception I see in math classrooms relates to what constitutes a math practice activity versus an authentic math problem. Why the confusion? Anyone who has participated in a math classroom in the last 50 years has grown accustomed to the generational directive to “complete the math problems on page 43.” Even though these activities are usually referred to as "math problems", the majority of these math sets involve practice only. So what distinctions help determine the difference between problems and practice? The infographic below outlines a few quick "guidelines" for separating math problems from math practice activities. Click the image to download it for use in your own classroom.



In his TEDTalk titled, Math Class Needs a Makeover, Dan Meyers offers specific tips as to what teachers can do to avoid the repetitious use of math practice “problems” that he equates to the equivalent of students watching Two-and-a-Half Men sitcom reruns for 2½ hours a day.

  1. Use multimedia

  2. Encourage student intuition

  3. Ask the shortest question you can

  4. Let students build the problem

  5. Be less helpful


Don't misconstrue where and when solving authentic math problems are appropriate; they aren't confined to an upper-level high school math course and can easily be implemented in any K-12 classroom. Simply deconstructing a standard math practice problem can lead students to elevate the amount of engagement and cognitive complexity applied to the math standards. Challenge yourself to transform traditional math instruction into engaging activities that foster curiosity, discovery, and enlightenment by presenting students with authentic math problems.



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