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How Avoiding The Rush To The Algorithm Can Build Resilient Problem Solvers – Discussion
Posted by Kyle Pearce on December 10, 2019 at 3:25 amWhat was your big take away from this particular lesson?
What is something you are still wondering?
Share your thinking below.
Kyle Pearce replied 11 months, 2 weeks ago 18 Members · 27 Replies 
27 Replies

Rushing to the algorithm is helpful for the person making the algorithm, not the person receiving it. Profound. I think I knew this in some settings, but having this thought stated explicitly forces me to think about this during my lesson plans and classes.

This is also what stuck out to me the most. It’s convicting. And I hope to do a better job of finding productive struggle for my students while also meeting the district’s requirements.

Curious what district requirements might be holding you back?


Rushing to the algorithm is the biggest struggle I have right now when coaching math teachers. I really liked the use of the coffee maker analogy to get this point across. Great idea!

Our goal is to build resilient problem solvers. Therefore, allow curiosity, flexible strategies and representations. Rushing to the algorithm makes it easier for the teachers, but what is the cost to the students? We are preventing the valuable time the students need to become problem solvers and not calculators.

The coffee maker analogy really made this idea concrete. Thank you. How profound to think that giving the algorithm or a routine/procedure makes my life easier not students’ lives.

I am going to use this next week with my 6th graders to see how they do. I already have this week figured out, so stay tuned!! Where can I find the specific task you used here?
 This reply was modified 2 years, 11 months ago by Tara Militello.

Again, the coffee maker analogy is excellent! I also love your visual representation showing how two different expressions can be equivalent.
Now, the question is balancing opportunities when time is of the essence and when it isn’t. “Rush” implies limits on time. Our curriculum in the middle grades by definition means time limits to fit everything in in one year. Common Core was meant to correct the “mile wide inch deep” scope but is still plenty unwieldy. State endofcourse exams still need to be passed.
As teachers we need to constantly gauge prior understanding. Students may need just a quick review to move ahead; other times prior skills or concepts that weren’t mastered need some delving into. This is where your curiosity path looks intriguing for moving students along. I can’t wait to try your ideas!
It looks like we may not return to school this year. Next year will likely be a big adjustment due to the unevenness of home learning.

The biggest takeaways I got from the lesson was giving less and videos are not needed. When teaching a lesson lately, especially after find the Make Math Moments Matter Podcast is I’m finding myself not giving all information to students. Not giving all information to students is difficult because I like helping and giving information but I’m finding students are understanding more when given the chance.
I’m wondering can I do this with the majority of the lesson in my district’s curriculum. We have adopted GreatMinds/Eureka Math. The expectation is we use the materials for the majority of the time.
 This reply was modified 2 years, 11 months ago by Scott Cortez. Reason: Left questions on

Great to hear that you’re finding the messaging from this lesson and the podcast helpful in withholding information.
I’d argue that you can use ANY curriculum/resource and apply the Curiosity Path by withholding during the lesson/instruction. This might mean not having students open their textbook or having a handout, but rather engaging in the lesson as an independent experience – even if it was based on an activity from the textbook/resource.

My biggest take away from this lesson is the coffee pot analogy. We as teachers are always trying to help our students and we sometimes confuse helping with giving too much. We are actually hurting them by robbing them the opportunity to learn and make connections. I think I have always equated giving the algorithm as teachers trying to help students but have never thought of it in terms of them helping themselves. I think this makes a valid point.
As an instructional coach, I am wondering how I can help other teachers see that we are not helping students when we give the algorithm too quickly in a manner that would make it meaningful to them. I could come right out and say it, but then I would be giving them the “rule” too quickly also.

Your question is a great one and clearly the message has resonate as I too am always thinking about the questions I can ask educators that will get them closer to “the algorithm” on their own rather than me giving the answers up front.
A quote I love from The Coaching Habit is:
“Stay curious just a little longer and hold off on advice giving just a little bit longer…”
If we ask the right questions, over time, we can help teachers land on the new learning we are hoping to share.

I love that quote, thank you for sharing it and the advice. I think I do jump too quickly to offering advice and giving my opinions. I will work towards expanding my time being curious and asking more questions.

It is super common because we all want to be helpful.
Stay “less” helpful. It is hard, but it forces students to do the thinking instead of us. 😉



My big takeaway is that you can start with almost any existing resource or math problem and adjust the approach and reword the question/task using the curiosity path!
Unfortunately, with remote/online teaching right, my grade 5 students’ parents jump straight to the traditional algorithm when “helping” them… I know parents are under a lot of pressure right now having to balance working from home and monitoring thier children’s schooling, so I understand that they are doing the best that they can. During this high stress time and uncertainty, how can I encourage this curiosity with students and parents while being mindful of the tremendous pressure they’re under?

We are working on getting all tasks in the Curiosity Task Tool open for students to be able to access (minus the teacher guides) for remote learning.
Have a look and see if trying to get families engaged with those tasks might help avoid the rush to the algorithm for parents in this tough remote learning situation…


In your example, I understood the difference between: how many blocks in the 17th figure and what does the 17th figure look like. I’m wondering how to ensure that I catch that nuance when I teach lessons this way.

I think most teachers “rush” to be helpful (whether by sharing algorithms or giving answers) because that is the method that was used to teach most of us, whether it was math or another subject area. We have carried it forward in our own teaching because it is what we have known and become comfortable with.
Also, that is what our students expect of us because that is what they have been exposed to for much of their academic careers. It is up to us to allow our students the “think time” and curiosity building that is required for them to become resilient problem solvers. It does require careful and thorough planning on our parts as well as an anticipation of where we think students might go with the problems we serve up.
All students may not come around to the curiosity path method upon initial exposure but with sustained practice, allowing productive struggle and encouragement from their teachers and peers, I feel that the vast majority of students will gain confidence in their abilities to tackle problems.

As teachers we feel like we have not done our job if studnets cannot complete an algorithm so we teach and drill the procedure with no sense makine involved. Allowing students to push through times of productive struggle gives them ownership in learning and develops understanding of what is happening which can then be applied to a “how can I represnt the what mathematically”.

I’m not replying to all of these because I just finished the workshop and I had actually watched these before I did the workshop. I am watching them again because sadly this is going to take a little while to process into a natural process in my classroom. I am looking forward to working through some of these tasks with my students once school starts up.

It definitely takes time, reflection and revisiting to build automaticity with these ideas. So glad you’re taking another pass through. Many Academy members return back to the online workshop in order to watch lessons and rereflect on learning before it becomes implementable. Good on you!


I think the idea that rushing to the algorithm makes the teachers job easier, not the students, is classroom changing. I always thought I was teaching the “how” so that kids could “get it” but really it just felt better for me. This is definitely something that I will need to work on changing in my classroom.

Such a great reflection and a huge shift in thinking. We think we are helping, but what we can do to help is providing students with low floor / high ceiling problem based lessons so they can construct understanding. We can then help consolidate that learning afterwards to ensure students have made connections.


I have used Notice and Wonder’s in the past, but never with the curiosity pathway in mind. I plan to use withholding information much more often with my students combined with the Notice and Wonder to build curiosity and anticipation for my students. I can totally see how this is going to work.

Big Takeaway:
This reminds me a lot of what my coteacher taught me last week. Never say anything a student can say. I don’t want to take away any of the thinking, the struggle, or the learning from them by over sharing.
Question:
How can I better equip my students to succeed with such tasks? They are so radically different than the traditional classrooms that the students have attended before that I worry it will be hard for them to adjust. I know that it will be worth it in the long term, but anything that could help the transition be less stressful for my students would be appreciated. Struggle is only productive if it doesn’t overwhelm them with frustration or anger.

Definitely keep that worry in mind as some students – especially older students – will push back. They will get anxious or even panic a bit. You need to help reassure them that you are doing this to help not hurt. When students push back, it can be instinctual to push harder which makes it feel like a “me vs you” situation which doesn’t help. Staying calm and anticipating the push back ahead of time can allow you to respond more constructively.
