Leave Kids to “Discover” Mathematical Strategies?

When I was a kid I struggled with math. I hated math. I dreaded math tests. I didn’t understand it and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I was in the remedial class throughout elementary school and I even had to take summer school several times in elementary school.

Hours my mom and I would spend on math homework. My dad, I’m sure, was frustrated that I just didn’t seem to get it.

It was awful. Math was the bane of my existence.

Then I got to 7th-Grade and had Mr. Looft as a math teacher. Something clicked and while I didn’t become a math scholar I gained understanding. I gained an appreciation of it, and something else happened – I was able to join regular math classes, not advanced mind you, but I was mainstream and that was just fine with me. I got through Algebra II and for me, that was enough. I had no desire or inclination to enter a STEM field or have a STEM major in college. (This is part of the reason I get so frustrated with the STEM push.)

I no longer hate math, I no longer dread it, and it is no longer the bane of my existence. That’s no small thing.

Mr. Looft helped guide me in understanding math. Did he teach me some new fad to solve problems? Did he try to adapt to my learning style?

He was nice and he had an abundance of patience with a kid like me. He made math fun (gasp!) because he was fun. Kids loved him. He helped change my attitude about math and that made a world of difference.

The problem wasn’t necessarily how I was being taught math throughout elementary school, but my attitude and the built up frustration that I had toward the subject and everything and everyone associated with it. Math didn’t change, my attitude did.

I got my first A in math in his class. Thank you, Mr. Looft.

I thought of this as I read the most inane opinion piece in Education Week entitled “Cognitively-Guided Instruction: Supporting Students to Create Their Own Mathematical Understanding.”

Jeff Feitelberg, a 4th-grade teacher, wrote:

Two years ago, I was introduced to the Cognitively-Guided Instruction (CGI) model of mathematics instruction. CGI is a student-centered approach to teaching math. It starts with what children already know and builds on their natural number sense as well as their intuitive approaches to problem solving.

Most teacher training involves instruction that is more teacher-centered — also known as direct instruction — in which teachers lead students through the mastery of skills. One of the challenges for me in introducing CGI in my classroom was ceding this control.  How would students learn if I let them discover the strategies rather than taught them directly? Could students really grow as mathematicians just by grappling, sharing, questioning, and discussing their mathematics together?

I’m trying to picture Mr. Looft supporting me as I created my “own mathematical understanding.” I shudder to think. If I were left to “discover” the strategies I needed to solve problems I would have failed, miserably.

One thought on “Leave Kids to “Discover” Mathematical Strategies?

  1. Think about how much student time and energy is wasted by constantly “Reinventing the Wheel?”
    Isnt the whole point of Civilization/Education/Teaching/Parenting to pass down Learned Knowledge to children, so they don’t have to start from square one, but can instead build on the Knowledge of the past?
    Some “Discovery” is a useful exercise, but it should never replace the systematic mastery of basic Knowledge.

Comments are closed.