Ok, being completely honest, raise your hand if you freak out just a little when given a little more complex math problem..... nobody? Just me? Liars.... and I even teach the subject!
This summer I had the privilege of going to a professional development (PD) that helped us look at teaching math in a different way as well gave us an overview of the the Gear Up program.
Being honest, when I sat at the table the first day and we talked about theories and teaching styles and class room management I was good. Okay well maybe frustrated because we can't measure problem solving skills and life situational skills on a standardized test like the ACT but that is a whole different conversation, but I enjoyed those discussions. I felt comfortable and felt like I could contribute.
Then in the afternoon, the math problem came out.....and I kind of wanted to puke. My stomach started churning and I started breaking down and "I can't do this" just like most of my kids do. That initial reaction that we have been conditioned to give is one of FEAR - which I was taught long ago is just False Evidence Appearing Real. And besides what was I afraid of? Failing? I can't fail a training. But it doesn't change the fact that the condition response is the same (thanks Pavlov).
So I tried to really pretend that I was a kid in my classroom and think about what I would tell them to do. I would first ask them where their notes where (Ha! Jokes on my I didn't have notes because I was at a training where I should know how to do everything!), and then I would challenge them to break the problem apart into pieces that they did know.
After a couple of minutes, the sweating calmed down and my stomach stopped churning and my anxiety eased - I knew how to do this! We did a whole section on it last year and it was one of my favorite sections! Why was I freaking out?
But that my friends is exactly what 99% of my kids do every day in class, except they give up before even starting. They don't think thru problem solving skills to solve in different ways and that is an essential skill that they need in life! Every issue or problem that we have in life does not have the exact same steps to resolution as the previous one - they have to be able to think outside the box!
This was outside of the box and problem solving thinking was conceptualized a little better for me one evening when I went to move some stuff into my classroom after a day of training. As you see below, I had a laundry basket (which was loaded down with reams of paper, and I mean heavy reams) and an organizer that I need to carry up stairs to my classroom......and it was about to rain. So I needed to quickly get these inside and upstairs without breaking my back. I looked for a cart to no avail and thought "what am I going to do?"
Then I saw the trash can! Some quick questimation told me that the laundry basket would fit across the top with out failing in and viola! I had a cart and I can take it up the elevator! Once I did this I thought? I wonder how many of my kids would have just carried these items upstairs, making several trips, instead of figuring out a more effective and efficient solution? There was no step by step process to tell me when you don't have a cart, look and try these other solutions. No it was outside the box and critical thinking skills that are super necessary but hard to quantify that we need to me teaching in the classroom!