What don’t you understand?

I often hear students say: “I don’t understand.”  After a few minutes of patient questioning, and looking at each little piece of a problem, they will come to the step or sum or product or quotient or whatever, where they lost track. It’s always one piece that we can find. Like the pebble under the wheel of your shopping cart at the supermarket. Then we dig into that and come up with examples, or do it backwards, or just spend more quality time with the old times table. I am not in the business of telling students the answer; my job is to bring them to where they can own their understanding and be able to explain how something works. I deliberately solicit discussion and argument of math concepts in my class. If you can clearly explain it to a classmate, then you have an understanding that a single right answer can never match.  Any answer that I can give you, or fact that I can tell you, will be wrong or obsolete in five years. Now, if I can teach you how to dissect a problem, and bring multiple strategies to bear, and how to check if your solution makes sense, that’s a durable skill and worthy of our time.


About gblakney

Middle School Mathematics Teacher, passionate EdTech user who loves to experiment with new methods and tools in the classroom. Following the lead of Dan Meyer and Jo Boaler, I create a safe place for kids to discover the fun and beauty of maths. I use Number Talks and Groupwork to make maths accessible for all of my students. I enjoy Mathematics and I'm enthusiastic about teaching; the kids really respond to that.
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