Make Math Moments Academy › Forums › Full Workshop Reflections › Module 3: Teaching Through Problem Solving to Build Grit and Perseverance › Lesson 31: What Hollywood movies can teach us about perseverance and math class. › Lesson 31: Question

Lesson 31: Question
Posted by Jon on May 1, 2019 at 11:49 amHow do you see the Hero’s Journey lesson model fitting into your class?
Mary Olsen replied 3 weeks, 1 day ago 40 Members · 64 Replies 
64 Replies

I am going to admit that when I looked at the title of this lesson with the Hollywood connection I did not expect there to be a math connection. Boy was I wrong, this video was excellent! My favorite part of the videos message was how by withholding information, and utilizing Notice and Wonder, we can create opportunities for curiosity and learning through productive struggle. I have always structured my classes so that students were comfortable with struggle and being challenged, but I now I feel like through these lessons I am learning how to direct it towards a finish line.
I really liked the double number line as an intro to proportional relationships. I know that the elementary grades are doing a lot of work around the double number line, and there is no reason this cannot be happening in 8th grade as well. And finally, nothing better than actually seeing the reams of paper stacked to the ceiling.
 This reply was modified 1 year, 4 months ago by Jeremiah Barrett.

I have incorporated a few lessons that have produced productive struggle. It is fun to watch the students work through it. I saw someone else’s response and they mentioned the Math Fights. I would like to incorporate Math Fights in my classroom somehow. I am not completely sure how yet. I find most of the students in my classes just want to complete or finish the assignments as fast as they can, and don’t really care if they are learning. This makes it hard to get students motivated or want to dig deeper into a subject. I think if I incorporate this type of teaching more often, it will become easier and the kids Would start having better discussions and ownership with their learning.

It is common for math to be thought of as a “get done” subject. Shifting culture from thinking of math as a list of “to do” questions to real learning takes time but is so worth it!

It is definitely a way of thinking that takes practice.



I do believe that the students will be more invested in their own learning, thus becoming their own heroes. I also think that building determination is a valuable outcome.

I have also seen math as a “get it done” process. And since mathematics has always been my weakest subject, I am familiar with the frustration and “quitter” attitude that my primary students sometimes have. I know that I will have my own struggles with changing my traditional teaching habits to this approach, so applying the Heroes Journey template to my own learning as a teacher will be a helpful support. My students and I will grow together! I am beginning to teach division to my students so the modifications Jon made to the paper stacking problem will help me teach these concepts to my kids. I wonder if it would be helpful to share the Hero’s Journey graph with students?

Shelagh!
I share that discussion with my students to start the year. I think it’s a great way to show your students you care about how they learn!


The hero’s journey in my lesson would be make a huge difference into student’s attitudes towards math. I liked the previous comment, that it will make a huge difference for me as a teacher to take my students on this journey. It will be a challenging journey for both of us to get used to. I like the buy in for all students at the beginning with a notice and wonder. The part of the hero’s journey that might help me, is to decid<font color=”rgba(0, 0, 0, 0)” face=”inherit”>e how to engage students in creating a </font>purposeful<font color=”rgba(0, 0, 0, 0)” face=”inherit”> estimation process that will spill over to productive struggle to build to the climax. I need to decide what is the Big Idea I want to reach and plan backwards in creating the anticipation, estimation and curiosity pieces.</font>

I think the productive struggle is what catalyzes the “aha” moments that really matter. Also such openended tasks allow for students to try those variety of approaches that can add depth to the task. I am curious how you navigate the question of “why are we even doing this?” or “well… I could just look it up on Google”. I try to build and contextualize for students how math relates to their lives and communicating how we are building a toolkit of skills and problemsolving to solve anything in our paths. But in the moments of these specific problems, it can sometimes be hard to communicate the importance of curiosity (especially for those more reluctant math students). That being said, I have noticed that satisfaction students get once they crack a problem like this through various strategies during class. Love the idea of resilience and “just ride a bike”!

The “why are we doing this” or “let’s just look it up” response is always interesting as these could apply to so much of what we do in life. For example, why watch a movie when we could look up how it ends? For me, building that curiosity and sense making is what makes it worth while. The additional benefit of growing your brain is a byproduct of all the heavy thinking also. I find it doesn’t take long for students to dig in typically!


I really like the idea of a productive struggle in my math classroom. I have even tried it several times. After introducing the curiosity I have students go their vertcal white boards in randomized groups. Sometimes there is one student in a small group who already knows the algorithm and takes away the “thinking” through the task for the other members of the group who are at a different stage in the thought process. How can I prevent this without building the groups by readiness level?

I agree. The workgroups might need to be planned in advance to organize students within their learning proximity zone. The one student that takes it all away, then wonders what to do and stops being engaged and curious.


I was just talking to my students about being process oriented and problem solving oriented rather than solution oriented. I try to incorporate this kind of problem solving as much as I can because it gives students ownership of their learning. It also allows students that are less comfortable with math to realize they can figure out problems even if they haven’t understood rote algorithms in the past – they can develop/discover them. Someone above mentioned students who already know the algorithms. I think it can be very challenging to understand the why after you already know the method. So I try to get those students to solve the problem another way (which can be surprisingly difficult for them) or to compare and contrast their method with someone else’s to see if they can make those connections or even get a deeper understanding of why the algorithm works. Now, I’m thinking about explicitly mentioning this Hero’s Journey idea so that they can connect it things they already do, like watching movies, reading novels, and learning outside of a classroom. Maybe it will help them to see math learning like all other learning.

The hero’s journey makes sense as a path we hope our students take through math class. Productive struggle is super important, but it’s SO difficult to get students, especially students with 8+ years of being told how to do things, to accept the idea that NOT knowing how to do things is where real learning happens. I’m really happy to see a lot of elementary teachers in these workshops, and am excited to start getting more and more students who have had this kind of instruction in prior math classes.
I do have a wondering of my own for Jon and Kyle: I’ve been working on implementing the steps from Peter Liljedhal’s Building Thinking Classrooms this year (it’s all about the Canadians in my math world this year :). His research seems to encourage us to get them going on solving a thinking task as quickly as possible, while the steps presented here have a great deal of preamble and teacherdirected discussion before the students are “set loose” to solve the problem. I am sure that these ideas can both live in the same world (they do in my classroom), but I wonder if either of you could share your thoughts on this. (I’m attending a short workshop with him later this week, and will ask him as well)
 This reply was modified 7 months ago by Jonathan Lind.

I like Kyle’s analogy to watching a movie vs. just looking up the ending. I try to apply the Hero’s Journey mindset to my classes (not as consistently as I should), but it’s easy to get impatient to give information and work the solution out with students because of the pressure to “cover the curriculum”. This is where I productively struggle.

I often struggle with how to get students to have more grit and resilience in Math class. I like the idea of using unfamiliar problems in this way to get students into the problems. However, I think it is really important that you start with low floor/high ceiling problems. I have found that if the problems are too complicated to start with that many students (especially if they have not had the chance to develop this mindset yet) will just give up. I hope to incorporate more problems like this to foster resilience in my students.

I’ll always remember the slogan of the school in my first teaching assignment, “No Victory Without a Struggle.” It was painted on the gymnasium wall and our principal quoted it often. This is so true for all aspects of life. The hero’s journey is really what that slogan represents. I plan to evaluate my lessons to really see if they follow this pattern and if the differentiation is enough to achieve this for all students.

I cannot wait to share the Hero’s Journey Lesson with some of my teachers and try a few lessons with them and their students! I believe this lesson format is the change that teachers and students need to enjoy mathematics, build grit, and maintain curious!

I like the idea of the Hero’s Journey. I do something that uses a similar process from time to time with “Broken Calculators” (something I found online) to try to help the students struggle to gain better number sense, as this seems to be the biggest impediment to their learning math. It is great watching students struggle and come up with completely different answers, or to realize their mistakes as they work. I still have some students who just will not participate regardless of what I do, but I am working on it. In this particular example from the video, I really liked the double line graph because I believe it would be the one that my student’s would best understand and be able to use.

Keep at it Terry! The double number line can be a game changer for many topics (proportions, rations, rates, and linear equations!).


The visuals here were spot on! I laughed out loud during the bike lesson part. I am excited to use this to help my kids build resilience.

Ha! Awesome to hear! Let us know how you use the idea and how it goes!


Everything I have heard makes SO much sense. I feel like the old dog and new tricks are scary, but possible! So many years I have given notes, we practiced, they practiced, they took a test. Some kids did well some kids did not. When the final came around, they looked at the material like they never learned it. When a question on a test was different from the study guide, the students didn’t know what to do. Creating this new Hero’s Journey allows for the students to struggle in class, with peers and myself walking around to guide. I can see this happening and the benefit will be amazing! Now I just need to figure out how NOT to give away the answers so fast. Let them struggle and think first!

One of the most helpful books for myself in preparing to become a teacher was reading Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All and one of the main teaching practices they focus on is supporting productive struggle in learning mathematics. But I mostly put this principle into action when thinking about productive struggle when students aren’t understanding a concept during a lesson. Now I would need to focus on ensuring that students can still have that productive struggle in my class but with lessons that they aren’t used to seeing. I know that a lot of my higher level Algebra 1 students definitely don’t have that mathematical perseverance, as unfortunately most of those students are so used to just memorizing formulas and procedures and sadly when I try to promote higher level thinking in my classroom to them, their brains tune out because they don’t know how to think about the problem.

You’re not alone! It is a real struggle for students who have been taught that math is memorizing and that they can’t solve problems without already having been taught “how” to do it. Stick with it and you’ll help them to shift their mindsets.


Through my observation, PD and personal experience over the past couple years, I have slowly developed a fascination for the word “grit”. I have watched my students, as well as, myself, slowly loosing the skill of grit over time. Mental exhaustion has taken a toll on lots of us, that to me has implications on math class. This has caused me to look holistically at this skill and wonder if there are even exercises outside of math class (or involve math less explicitly) that can be used to support development of “grit” or productive struggle in Math Class. I have also done some reflection with Peter Liljedahl’s work on randomized groupings. I feel this path of the Hero’s Journey could also be applied as students struggle to engage with unfamiliar peers. Thinking of how to support the develop of grit, I am wondering the impact of offering more concrete or kinaesthetic challenges, at the beginning of the year to slowly help develop a community of gritty, struggle loving learners.
I also am personally reflecting on using this language with learners. I am all about using key communicators to help a student recognize their own state of learning. This is why I love that you have provided this concept with a relatable connection to movie heroes for me the learner. The thought of Nemo, just living the rest of his life in the Dentist fish tank, leaving Marlin with no one to keep himself grounded in the challenges of Dori’s forgetfulness, just saddens me. I am thinking of coin phrase I could use for students when they are struggling to push through the productive struggle.

So glad that this idea resonates so well with you. I find that most classrooms I walk into have students who are very cautious to take a chance and think. This is something that we train students to default to when we preteach everything before they are given an opportunity to try. As we preteach less and ask students to solve more problems without “knowing the steps”, students can build their ability to engage in productive struggle.


I can see the truth of this every day in my classes. The majority of my students have been trained. If they just wait long enough, the teacher will show me how to do the problem. A lot of times there is a refusal to engage with the problem because of how they have been taught to deal with struggle. The picture I have in my head is learning how to swim, not Bike Class. Can you imagine learning all there is to learn about swimming, water, equipment and other things related to swimming, but the moment you actually get in the water, the lifeguard jumps in and pulls you to the side? You wouldn’t need to learn how to swim, we would be teaching you that if I get in the water, I’ll be saved.
The more I learn in this course, listen to your podcasts and put Liljedahl’s BTC ideas into my classroom, the more I realize how much better my class can be. I love the Hero’s Journey analogy. It is why Liljedahl encourages teachers to use noncurricular tasks to in class, we can familiarize them with the Hero’s Journey and productive struggle. We can help them see that struggle is good…and then once they realize they will have to be an active participant in their own rescue…then we can hit them with the math. The students will have the habit and the trust that the struggle will be worth it.
 This reply was modified 4 months ago by Jared Sliger.

It all makes complete sense, love the riding a bike course, I was actually laughing! very memorable and also very true.
I will use it tomorrow I will teach ordering fractions and I found a WDYR that has somewhat difficult fractions (one has denominator 14!) which is great to show that actually cutting the cake it is not very easy or accurate. They know how to make equivalent fractions now but last time we did the wooly worm race all of them used the number line strategy to find the winner and I did not have time to go through finding the common denominator. I wonder if the WDYR will too much tension too soon. We’ll see what happens! I suppose it is a productive struggle for me as well learning from feedback and tweaking. Luckily I get to teach the same lesson again as I have 2 classes in grade 5.

My wonder is how can you help the idea of common denominator emerge from the learning vs just telling them?


The hero’s journey would definitely fit into my classroom. My biggest struggle is helping my students develop resilience and perseverance as they solve problems. While I have tried to integrate this type of task into my classroom, these lessons have been infrequent and inconsistent. In a sense, productive struggle was the side dish instead the main course of my approach to teaching and learning in my classroom. I can see that I was expecting my students to be resilient without teaching them how to do so. After this lesson, I am determined to use these tasks regularly to help them build problemsolving stamina.

Love your description of productive struggle as a “side dish”. Such a common approach – we also used to provide challenge as a “sometimes” thing and usually gave kids the easy out rather than helping them to develop confidence and resilience.


For some reason, it has never occurred to me that I need to teach students how to be resilient and how to engage in productive struggle. Every time I have tried taskbased learning, I have at least a few students who give up right away – which is as frustrating for me as it is for them. I would really love to structure my first week of the 202223 school year such that it builds a culture of notice and wonder, productive struggle, and resilience. I think this will allow me to use it much more often in my classroom. Now I just need to convince the rest of the 7th grade math department to get on board! (Speaking of which – what’s the best way to share what I’m learning with them? I know I can’t share the course itself since they aren’t enrolled.)
The hero’s journey is an interesting metaphor that I had not considered before re: math, but it makes a lot of sense. By the time students get to me, many of them have failed math several times and been placed into a selfcontained class. I’d love to find a way to help them see themselves as a hero on a journey!

@christinepomatto Feel free to share snippets of videos from this course in any of your department meetings or you could share any insights you’ve had along the way and the results you’ve seen in your classroom with your department members.
Sharing successes along with a plan helps win over reluctant educators.

Awesome, thank you! I actually had a department meeting yesterday and ran the Pentominoes lesson when the internet went out for a bit. They loved it! I think I might be able to get them on board.

That is fantastic to hear! Be sure to check out the problem based units we have by clicking “tasks” in the navbar above to find more that might be helpful in this venture.



Next year I get the opportunity to teach intervention classes for middle schoolers. I worried specifically about how these tasks would evolve if students did not have the prerequisite skills to fully engage with the tasks. I am wondering if the “need for Math” that these rich tasks produce plus the consolidation piece will produce growth in skill equal or exceeding that produced by trying to shortcut through the hero’s path. I would still need to address the “red dot” group of students that did not get it either way.

@jacquelinejoseph Where we experience the most success in helping student build conceptual understanding, problemsolving skills, and confidence is with teaching through these tasks and not “preloading” the material.
We discussed a similar situation here: https://learn.makemathmoments.com/courses/qacalls/modules/november32021divisioninterventionandrelationships/lessons/howcanweusethetasksandideasyoupresentininterventionclasses/
How can we use the tasks and ideas you present in Intervention classes?


I like the idea of allowing students to struggle, and how you specify “productive” struggle, by using feedback. I also like the bicycle analogy. I look forward to using this model for lesson development in my classroom in the fall.

I am better at letting my advanced classes have the Hero’s Journey but not as good with my grade level Geometry. I try to give open ended tasks but they are all curriculum based and have an outcome that I want aka one right answer. I need to follow this 4 part structure more closely to allow my Geometry students the opportunity to productively struggle.

I love the idea of the Hero’s Journey as a means to helping my students develop resilience and perseverance as they solve problems… or even just begin to develop comfort with math. With the new opportunity for me to teach a pull out class I can see sparking curiosity as the door to student success. Most of my students just want to put a mark on the paper to get the work done so they can get credit (when they were in cotaught classes). Now I will be able to help students see a purpose to what they are doing.
I always hated that there was no real world connection until we got to the word problems, often towards the end of a lesson or unit. And at that point it was nothing but groans from students and sometimes teachers. I like the idea of flipping application to the front in a fun and playful way to spark curiosity.
When I began this course I thought I couldn’t do this. But, I am beginning to be enlightened! I don’t have to know all the math answers or be an expert. I need to show perseverance and resilience myself so that I can model what it looks like for students to be engaged and that problem solving is a part of daily life.
I appreciate that you showed a variety of ways to help students link ideas to the problem. I am so used to math having only 1 or 2 ways to do it “right” (both as a student as a co teacher). I do need to make sure that I can see a variety of ways to approach problems so that I am prepared to guide students to be successful.
I can’t wait just to host some math conversations using some of the resources from the last module and some of the videos on your site. It will be exciting just to hear what students know and begin to understand what perks their curiosity about math.

I really liked the break down of the different approaches students will use to solve the reams of paper lesson. I was able to see the the progression from the most accessible or concrete approach to the more advanced/abstract.

I love the connection to every student being the hero of their journey. A few comments resonated with me in the video. Struggle attaches value to the learning. I want students to have value and create the environment of productive struggle. Another comment was the difference between struggle and productive struggle was feedback. I have to work on how to better incorporate this into group/task work. Withholding information is a great way to have students anticipate and start developing strategies to solve problems. I can them give them info and feedback to keep working.

This is excellent and look forward to adapting my lessons this fall. I may have to do some parent education though. There are some parents who do not want their kids to struggle with anything.

I just so wish *I* had persevered up all the way to the climax with my students more often! I would take their productive struggle to heart to often and back down and go back to just telling them what to do. I know that the few times I stuck with it, I was more satisfied by the end and so were THEY when they achieved that “aha” on their own–they also remembered it better! I see myself getting better at coaxing them through the tension this year rather than letting it get to me.

As a math specialist/coach, I really love this parallel of a hero’s journey compared to that of productive struggle. I like the idea of letting kids struggle productively because everyone is in the same boat. All students are on the same struggle bus. So getting students to see the progress a hero makes (in a story) after the struggle they have been through is really the same as what students will go through (at times) during their educational career. I wonder if, at the elementary level, there is a story a teacher could read in the first week of school that could set this scenario up and be referred back to periodically, in order to remind students that is okay to struggle. I will have to ask our reading specialist if there are!!
 This reply was modified 3 months ago by Julie Gonzales.

I have heard the term, “Productive Struggle” for years and tried to use it. The concept of “+1” for skill level that you give them a small reach, or hint cards, etc. But I really like the clarity that your phrasing of “Feedback makes struggling productive”, because it is true and simple. I want to teach in a way that stops/reduces the questions, “why do I care” (in various iterations), and this process starts with the student caring. BIG difference! I have tried to relate their math learning/ letting them struggle, to something else they love, like basketball. However, I often get, “well, it’s okay there because it is fun.”
Creating the spark, then the supported inquiry will hopefully make learning, if not “fun”, at least compelling.

You’ve got it! I’m a big fan of helping students realize that the struggle is helpful to grow our brains and prepare us for challenging situations in our daily lives. Hopefully they enjoy the process too, but sometimes the work doesn’t feel “worth it” until after the fact and that’s ok too!


This is going to be a big adjustment in my lesson planning. I feel I am good at doing tasks like this after I have introduce the concept that I want the students to mimic when doing the “Stacking paper” task.
I like the idea of giving this task first and then talking about the math being used. It is going to be a lot of front work on changing my lessons to the Hero method.

Nicolle, make small changes so not to overwhelm yourself. What specifically do you see being the biggest hurdle?

I have been teaching for 28 years and have the basic lesson plans organized. So, each year I look over my “notes” and lesson plans for the section and make small changes as I see fit each year but with give the students the task first it just seems like everyday I will be changing my lesson. That is what I feel is the biggest hurdle. Is this how you approach every day’s lesson or just when you are introducing a new concept?

I’d recommend checking out a couple of our problem based units to see how they are organized to give you a sense of what this looks like: https://makemathmoments.com/tasks



I really enjoyed comparing math class to teaching all about how bikes work instead of just having the kids hop on the bike and learn through the experience. I know that this past year I felt many students were disengaged during school and that brought me to taking this course this summer. The typical math class allows for students to passively let the information be told to them and the students really do know the teachers will remove the struggle for them and explain with examples repeatedly. I experimented with problem based learning the last couple of months of the school year and got to see students more engaged and filled with pride that I had not seen doing a more typical math class. The struggle gives them such pride at the end in a way that cannot be achieved from teachers just teaching examples.

This is so great to hear. Glad the analogy resonated!


I am excited about trying to incorporate the hero’s journey into my classroom. I can see how my students will get excited by working through the problems on their own. My only question is why this method continues to work. If I let them work on the problem and then show them the solution at the end using a new technique, wouldn’t they stop wanting to work through the problems?

The Curiosity Path is a key part of this as students want to prove / disprove estimates made early on. Also, we aren’t just giving them the answer or a new strategy. We are using student approaches to make connections and where necessary, show them how they develop a generalization or formula.


Wow, when I thought I had been pumped up as far as I possibly could with the last lesson in the previous module I am now loving this hero’s analogy for getting kids to be more resilient with their problem solving. I have been guilty of the notes first, examples, I do, you do, mimicry and have never felt it was the way to really get kids to learn, but year after year my kids told me how helpful the notes were and how they loved the notebook that they now had as a reference. However, I struggled with the fact that many kids couldn’t do problems unless they looked exactly like one of the examples. Even my advanced kids just wouldn’t even try if it looked remotely different. This frustrated me and caused me to seek out the way I have always wanted to teach but did not have the where with all nor the time to figure out exactly how to make it work. I feel like this conference is solidifying my beliefs as to how students learn math best and supports the crazy idea I have had for quite some time about presenting problems to students. My colleagues have always nodded and smiled nicely at me when I ever suggest that the students discover the rules and how to solve the problems without being told. You have made me feel less crazy. Thank you!

Notes can be powerful. We’ve just moved the timing of when we make a note from the beginning of the lesson to the end. We often borrow the phrase from Peter Lijedahl, “Notes To My Future Forgetful Self”.


I see the truth in this video which is why I am here taking this course. I want to help students with productive struggle. As educators we have trained students to play at school by mimicking the teacher. I have felt guilty when a student did not do well on a test because there were different questions than we practiced in class.
I think really understanding the learning process can help me plan better. Right now I am struggling with the course that I teach. There is no set curriculum. Another teacher at a different school came up with the lessons and everyone is just following. I want to leave it behind this year. I could use lessons that support what is being taught in their classroom but using these open activities to help students learn to apply what they are being taught. My problem is much like that of my students. I struggle with the application. I am good at mimicking and doing things like everyone else. I have always struggled with lesson planning. I used to research for hours looking for different things to do and then in the end would just tweak my notes for this years kids. Find a hands on practice activity or a “good” worksheet. My version of good was one that had students apply their knowledge but because students struggled so much with these over the years I have given these up too. With the pacing guide in a regular class I felt the pressure to get my students to a particular place by a certain day. I hated feeling this way. I tried to keep spiraling the material in warmups so students that were struggling could have the chance to keep learning….but those were the students that just gave up and put no effort into the warmup. I know I am going off task on this reply. But since everyone else finished months ago, I am just trying to reflect on how better to do this teaching thing. I want my students to get the chance to have that productive struggle. I can see that after working hard trying to figure something out how the consolidation step could be more meaningful for them. How when I show them other ways to solve it might be something they would be more inclined to hold onto. So that is the goal I will hold onto for this school year.

I do this too. But I can see the value in letting kids struggle. That way they can have buyin to their own learning. Plus, they will be better able to apply what they’ve learned to other things and not get so easily frustrated with something new.

I agree, and hopefully that ability to transfer will grow. That’s another HUGE place our students typically struggle.