Sunday, September 14, 2014

Leading by Example

It occurred to me this week that for as much as we tell the kids to not be afraid of making mistakes (so long as they learn from them) and convince them that problem solving is actually a pretty messy process, we don’t dare go into a class without having meticulously worked the exercises ourselves so that any struggle on our part is hidden from view.  The kids never get to see us actually do any real problem solving.  They never get to see us actually work our way through a problem we haven’t seen before.  We may think we’re demonstrating the process at times, but truth be told we never actually model the process for them.

That ends tomorrow in my classroom.

I have asked the students in my honors pre-calculus classes to bring in a math problem for me to solve.  Any math problem.  I gave them fair warning that if they wanted to see me work the problem all the way through then they would need to make sure the problem was “reasonable”.  However, I also told them that regardless of what they brought in, there would be merit in me making an attempt at it, as they would get to see how to begin to attack a problem when they have no idea where to start.

Yes, I may have just set myself up to face plant onto the tile of my classroom.  Yes, they may bring in something that I will have no idea where to begin.  Yes, they might just get to see me make a mistake or five.  And that’s the point.  If I’m asking them to get comfortable with making mistakes in front of the class, then I need to show them that I’m comfortable making mistakes in front of them.  If I’m asking them to at least make an attempt on a problem, then I need to do the same right there in front of them.  If I’m asking them to admit that they’re human, then I need to admit the same.

Honestly, I’m interested to see what they bring in.  I’m excited for the challenge.  I’m looking forward to displaying my love for the subject and for the “puzzle” that, for me, is what mathematics is all about.  And if I mess up, that’s ok.  The kids will be able to learn at least as much from that, and possibly more, than if I am able to solve the problem on the first try.

I’ll report how things turned out next week.


  1. I love this idea! Kudos to you for being willing to be vulnerable in front of your students. I can't wait to see what happens.

  2. Great idea! Look forward to reading how it turns out. I certainly found a need to model how I wanted their work to look (including the "process"); however, I foresee a need for me to model how to "Guess and Check."

  3. I'm seeing this entry again and something occurred to me - I'm using the Exeter materials (BTW, did you get my email with the teacher notes/comments?) and I don't have the answers. So... they are often seeing my struggles and, when I present my answers, they know (and I remind them), that "I may well be wrong, so keep an eye on what I'm doing. It's quite freeing to be so willing (and, in my case, able :-) to make mistakes in class!