For the “We All Fall Down” edition of the blogging initiative! I skipped the last two prompts with the valid excuse of report cards writing, but I couldn’t skip this one.

The Fail

I finally get my students to calm down from all the excitement and ask, “So… do you see the problem? How can we solve it?” I look around and to my horror realize that no, they don’t, because there is no problem.

The Premise

I really bought into Dan Meyer’s “If math is the aspirin then how do you create a headache?” idea.  I always felt that teaching is close to storytelling, to creating an engaging narrative. Then after watching some of Dan’s videos and reading some blog posts, articles and discussions around, it appeared very intuitive. Of course, I won’t be interested in solving problems that I don’t have. I won’t spend my mental energy or waste my memory capacity on that. If I don’t care, I won’t learn.

All this seemed so obvious and easy that the real challenge got obscured: How do you plant and grow the problem? What seed do you throw in? What notices and wonders do you nurture?

The Lesson Plan

In early September, I planned a lesson to introduce standard units of measurement. The idea was to let kids experience how standard units allow us to have common language to communicate our measurements. Students were asked to measure different items in the classroom with… whatever they felt like. Then we were to discuss the length of their desks and to realize that we can’t come to a consensus because we all used different units.

The Lesson

Students were very enthusiastic and measured a lot of different items around the classroom, shared their measurements and observations, recorded them. Then the moment came to discuss our problem and to see how we all need to use same units… “What problem?” When I looked around I saw twenty-five happy eight year olds who have been having time of their life measuring the classroom with everything from pencils to their heads. They didn’t have a problem, they had a blast. They did not care that we all had different measurements for our desk. It was exhilarating to find out how many different ways we could measure our desk! I wanted my kids to need metric system. Well, after my lesson they didn’t want anything to do with metric system.

The time for the lesson was almost up. No way to salvage the lesson materialized in the last 10 minutes of the class. I spent this time mumbling about standard units of measurement who nobody cared about.

I started typing in how I fixed the lesson next day building on my failed one, and then decided I should leave it out. I’ll share if someone is interested. The most important impact of this fail was that it made me more sensitive to my assumptions, made me question the questions I ask my kids and the prompts I give to them. It made me experience that I can’t force a problem on my students, it has to come from them.

The Question

What would you have done to save the lesson?

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3 thoughts on “The Best Intentions..

  1. I know this suggestion is late, but I just recently arrived at your blog (and think it is fab.) I think I would’ve pushed a little on their creative choices a bit to get them to consider them more closely. Sarah measured with her pencil, Joey with his head. What would you do if you want to measure something at home? Do you take Joey home? or borrow Sarah’s pencil? What happens if Joey grows, or Sarah sharpens (or loses!) her pencil? Not sure if that is enough for them to recognize a need for common and reliable measuring units and tools. What did you actually end up doing the next day?

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    1. I cut a piece of string, waved it around, put it back into my pocket and asked to draw on a strip of paper the length of the string. After a bit of “not even close” , I asked what could help them. Someone asked how long it is. – 20. – Twenty what? – What do you think? We worked with an undefined twenty. Then I told it was 20 fingers. The results were still very different. At some point someone requested the ruler. Everyone got rulers but it still didn’t help. Until one students asked how long it is on the ruler. We talked about centimeters, I gave the measurement, we measured.
      I was quite happy with the way it went, and I we had a good chat why centimeters were more helpful than fingers and how to use the ruler. I don’t know if it was enough but I think it sunk in slowly throughout the year. =)

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