Week 3: To what extent should we allow students to figure things out for themselves?

One of the high lights of Invent to Learn, chapter 3 is the section on design models for learning.  I have never given much thought to the scientific method described and used in science class, but apparently it is not science.  Science is not a checklist, but it is about wonder, risk, and imagination. (Martinez, 2016)  Tinkering is how scientists, mathematicians, and engineers solve problems.

With that in mind, there needs to be a learning design that will fulfill this method, and the text simplifies it to think, make, and improve (TMI).  (Martinez, 2016)  Very simple, direct, and comprehensive.  I believe this is one of the answers to this week’s reflection question.  Until we ask students to follow TMI, we don’t allow them to figure things out for themselves.  It is tinkering as its core.

It’s interesting that I brought up how Algebra is taught last week, and now one of the reading assignments for this week concerns math teaching.  It basically describes how math students struggle and how we can help them.  The solution seems to make sense, students need constructive struggling.  (Seeley, 2009)  Easier said than done!  In a nutshell, in order for students to become successful at solving problems, they need to be challenged and struggle with the problem.  Give them time.  They need to discuss among themselves solutions, or ways to solve the problem.  Teachers are present to help guide them through the thought processes, not how to get the solution.  It’s a totally different perspective.  And to be honest, it’s not one I have used.  I end up “spoon-feeding” them the path to solutions.  Not the best way to create thinkers and problem solvers.  I will need to apply this new method and hope to have some success.  Seeley also describes how too often teachers do try to have “rich tasks” for students to utilize constructive struggling, but end up over-scaffolding them. (Seeley, 2009)  It defeats the purpose of the tasks.  It’s difficult to find a balance between helping, and challenging them to solve problems.

One quote that will stick with me as I try this new methodology is from a student of McNamara who stated, “Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first.” (McNamara, 2013)  It refers to the idea that when students try new skills, or learn new material, they will generally do poorly.  They need to have a positive attitude.  The article refers to a personal experience of watching a parent teach a child how to ride a bike.  The child stated they could not ride a bike.  The author wanted to tell the child “…yet”.  I know from my own personal experience that my daughter can ride a unicycle because she had the motivation, determination, and attitude that she could do it.  To be honest, I thought she would never be able to.  It took her about a month to learn to balance on the unicycle and ride several meters.  But just like a bike, you begin to get better and ride longer.  I am so proud of my daughter for learning how to ride a unicycle.  It is a very difficult skill. And for those people that don’t know how ride, there is no such thing as holding onto the seat or holding onto someone.  It is a completely individual learning experience.   If students can have the same attitude about learning in school, they will become more successful.



Martinez, Sylvia Libow; Stager, Gary S.. Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Constructing Modern Knowledge Press. Kindle Edition.

Seeley, C. (2009). Message 17: Constructive Struggling, The Value of Challenging our Students.  Math Solutions (from Faster Isn’t Smarter, Messages About Math, Teaching, and Learning in the 21st Century)

McNamara, J. (2013). The Power of “Yet”. Math Solutions.  Retrieved from www.mathsolutions.com/nl44/feature-article.html

2 thoughts on “Week 3: To what extent should we allow students to figure things out for themselves?

  1. Gerald,
    I appreciate your honesty about how difficult is it is to provide students the right level of challenge and give them tasks that promote constructive struggling in math class, rather than spoon feeding them the path to solutions. I, too, feel that it’s hard to find the balance of providing a healthy amount of struggle to students without having them slip in to the Fixed Mindset of defeat. It’s disheartening to me that I already see 4th grade students give up the minute they are presented with a challenge or have to problem solve to come up with an authentic solution. I like your quote from McNamara that states that when we try something new, we are not going to be good at it at first, but through practice, we can improve. I think it’s important to share with students the struggles we have and the steps we must go through to problem solve situations that occur in our own lives. Unfortunately, I know I can easily slip in to the Fixed Mindset and want to admit defeat. This week is a good reminder for me that a healthy amount of constructive struggling is a good thing!


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