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
Peggy Allen updated 2 months ago 57 Members · 91 Posts 
How do you see the Hero’s Journey lesson model fitting into your class?

I absolutely love this idea and have heard you guys talk about this on the podcast. I have tried and have had some success and students enjoyed it. My question is “how often is this done?” Do you try to do this daily for every topic, or is it more once a week or even once a unit? There are lessons where I can visualize this working and other ideas where I cannot put a context to.

@bob We definitely try to put an element of this into most of our lessons. Many of my senior math lessons use this principle while it’s context free. Give this a listen: https://makemathmoments.com/episode102

Jon,
I listened to the podcast, so you are still using the Hero’s Journey with contextfree problems? Did I hear that sometimes we target the concept in the procedure and teach it to the kids? The example used in the video is completing the square, the procedure of halving the middle term, squaring, and adding to the number to both sides of the equation could be done visually instead. For example, consider this garden, it has a width and height, how could I change the dimensions so my garden could be a square. Here are these Algebra tiles, whiteboards, glue sticks, and chart paper have at it. The point is to identify the concept in the procedure and get kids to discover it then in consolidation, “how would this look algebraically?”
Toward the end of Episode #102 referencing the Two Truths and a Lie and WODB suggested strategies are we substituting the Spark, Fuel, Ignite process with these higher thinking activities?
 This reply was modified 3 months, 3 weeks ago by Anthony Waslaske.

@anthony.waslaske We’d argue that those activities could have pieces of the Spark, Fuel, Ignite built in, it’s how you unfold the activities with your students.



The hero’s journey will be used most often during problem solving lessons. All year 8’s (Grade 7) in my school (170 pupils) are going to partake in a problem solving lesson every two weeks. Here our aim in to promote thinking, communication and resilience. Groups will have the opportunity to work on unfamiliar problems without detailed teacher scaffolding. Tasks will have the Maths dial turned down to start with and we will see how far we go and whether we will expand upon this

I like that quote about how learning chess is more about learning habits. I often worry about all the content I am not getting to, but there is SO SO much content we will never got to if you think about it. It is really a lot about creating habits in our students (joy, questioning, working together, getting your hat in the ring, etc). This goes back to the idea of having your Math philosophy defined and letting that drive your teaching and not the specific skills – they are the rider, not the driver it seems. This also links to “don’t break the chain” – practicing these habits every day. I need to get on this.
I also like the analogly of our students as heros on a quest. I think I will start changing my beginning of class to do less “review” and more what do you think. Today, I decided to start my unit on equations with two funny pictures of people balancing things and give out prizes for the funniest “math problem” and the most “7th gradish math problem”. I think habits of notice and wonder and looking at all the “good” problems I hit my students with in the past and rewoking the best of them as problems that they struggle and discover through. They can have the strength of 10 problems if planned right. Also, it frees me up to plan the questioning and the twists and turns of the journey and where to place the little water bottles that will nourish them with the strength to get through a rough patch – but perhaps I am pushing the analogy too far now….

The point about the Hero’s Journey pulls emotion into the game and that cannot be underrated as a variable in learning and decision making. Whether you refer to it as Daniel Kahneman’s fast thinking or Jonathan Haidt’s elephant, emotion plays a HUGE role in our motivation to learn. If we can hack that emotion to engage kids in a way they are familiar with such as the hero’s journey, we are going to create a positive association with math for those students. Adding that element of a story too, is also identified as an element that makes learning stick.

So well said! The tough part that we as humans can often miss and/or unintentionally do is using negative emotion to capture attention. Unfortunately, this creates a negative association despite grabbing attention in the short term. So important to be aware of this. Thanks for bringing it up!


Like crazy, I need to work on letting kids productively struggle. I tend to jump in with answers and strategies. I am convinced that the 3act procedure and the hero’s journey analogy are going to make a huge difference for me. I hope I can make a difference with my students this year, who are too used to being spoonfed (which has been exacerbated by our remote learning environment).
I am committed to making the changes, now to figure out how!

So glad to hear you’re committed to this journey! There is still a lot to come in the workshop AND know that it does take time and constant reflection to make it feel natural. We ALL want to jump in and save kids – that’s why we got in this business – but the way we default to saving them actually hurts them in the long run. You got this!

I heard either Jon or Kyle say that they often ask a question to provide support and then walk away so that they don’t give too much help….I am going to use that!


This Hero’s Journey lesson model is exactly how I am now building my curriculum for a new applied class I am created for students in grades 11 and 12 who are not choosing the IB pathway. In anticipation of making this huge shift I need to recognize that there will be many lessons that feel like a flop in the beginning because they are so ingrained to be the students who wait to get the direct instruction and then remain lost for the duration of the class period or just want to have the algorithm to memorize.

I love the active struggle in my class when my students work at VNP surfaces and I discuss with them their strategies and only hint when absolutely necessary. Their independence from me allows them stay engaged and when it is time to consolidate I know that they are truly listening because they committed time and effort to the problem and weren’t just shown how to do it and asked to mimic my method.

I like the Hero’s Journey idea because it forces me not to give away information too early. A good hero’s story is continuously running into new challenges, and they have to decide how to work with the challenges. Instead of the challenge of finding a way to destroy the Death Star, Luke Skywalker had a series of events to get to that exciting point of deciding how to destroy the Death Star.
That is why the slow release of information is essential to this model. It adds information to allow the students to figure out what to do with the data. To create questions and predictions to find ways to get to the final solution. I like the idea because if the students are getting to the point where they are unsure what to do next, I can give a bit of information to help guide them. For example, If they are struggling to work with five paper packages that are 24.75 cm, I can give them ten packages that are 247.5 cm or one package that is 4.95 cm.
Overall this hero’s journey shows the path that the curiosity pathway follows.

The Bike Class analogy is painfully true…and what is expected by many parents, colleagues and administrators. This follows the “I do, we do, you do” method which works for some subjects (often in printing and spelling) but not so much in math. And since it starts so very young, it takes a great deal of effort and consistency to undo.
The Hero’s Journey will be a visual tool to help me focus on the conceptual take away rather than the segmented, seemingly unrelated skills that are finally applied in the last lesson of the topic. By using the “climb” as a reminder of where to place the sparks that keeps students engaged, I will be more consistent with student involvement and continue to build student discussion versus “giving it all away”.

I will make sure I don’t bog down the learning by explaining every little part like in the bike analogy. Thinking of ways that students can enter the problem with whatever skills they already have, and let them make attempts to figure things out, will give them the opportunity to have a productive outcome and experience the joy of learning.
I also think it could be beneficial to show the students the learner’s journey and relate it to the hero’s journey. This illustrates so well the value of struggle and perseverance!
 This reply was modified 7 months, 3 weeks ago by Michelle Grebe.

I started the year teaching as you suggested so we have been working on grit and growth mindset all year. I did not know it was called the Hero’s journey but we have been on it. I will say that I still have a group of students that are annoyed this type of teaching. They want to skip another grade in math so they are asking me why I can’t just give them the concepts to memorize and then move on. Drives me crazy that these students have been rewarded by skipping math due to their quick memorization skills. With the students that are on level they are more willing to struggle through a problem and their reward is great. I can see knowledge being built. Many of these students considered themselves okay in Math at the beginning of the year and now they are excelling in their thinking due to this format.

This is so common especially with those who have been let off the hook of productive struggle by memorizing steps and procedures. One thing to help them understand that you’re not simply trying to be annoying is to continually highlight that representing thinking in more than one way is a part of mathematical proficiency. Having them convince you of their thinking is very important. Saying “I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying” can help them see that a simple answer is not enough.
Keep it up even though it can be tough!


I think i listened with high attention what the heroes presentation and read the contribution of my partners. I’m sure that is a great strategy and even a great class culture. But I’ve some questions and problems. I mean I’ve already teach math letting students fine their own strategy, I pick some of their strategies and I show them in the black board, usually they use to fine numerical strategies so I’m always prepared to show the visual ones in the smart board. My problems are, as its me that have to show the visual ones, the interest for this strategies is very low they don’t understand, they already saw showed their strategies in the black board that works so they are not interested to the others I have to force to make them aware, so my class is failing. The other thing that happens is that the one who make a wrong thinking, I try to help them making questions that they have to answer, some of them finish to find a good strategy but the others just think they don’t have the level and they don’t want to think more.
The other problem that I have with this classes is that I can never finish with just one hour. So It lasts more than one hour and at the second hour their are not interested in, I mean I have problems with the timing.
In fact in the class with students with 15 years old it works very well even if I extend the lesson in two hours but with the one who have 12 years old it’s always a big disaster.
I will ad more strategies to spark curiosity in a better way and I will see. Thanks to listen to me.
 This reply was modified 7 months, 2 weeks ago by Laura Las Heras Ruiz.
 This reply was modified 7 months, 2 weeks ago by Laura Las Heras Ruiz.

I really like this way of conceptualising the role of productive struggle in math class. It’s definitely something I have tried to incorporate and it’s a message that I give to my students all the time. Some students definitely have more resilience than others, but it’s worthwhile to try to develop it further in all students. I work a lot with highly able students and for many of them working with me, it is the first time they have experienced struggle in a math class, so it comes as a shock. It takes a lot of work sometimes to undo their fixed mindset perception that being smart at math means finding it easy. It can be a threat to their selfimage to suddenly be struggling, so they might need a lot of encouragement. It takes a lot of persistence on my part too, but it is so worthwhile.
I also loved the bike class analogy, and the advice to ‘just ride bikes.’ This is a simple mantra that nevertheless captures so much of this philosophy. I’m sure I’ll return to it a lot as I plan for next year.

like several others on this thread, I can see the hero’s journey being a nice framework for problemsolving lessons. Since starting this workshop, I have tried to implement a couple of problemsolving lessons and 3act tasks. My biggest challenge, so far, has been with pacing. For example, when students are working, I feel like I have been slow to give them information when they’ve asked for it. Or, if students quickly complete the problem, I have been surprised and sometimes unprepared to challenge them further. When I ask them to “show me another way” to think about the problem, they don’t quite know what I’m asking them to do.

These are common struggles especially in the early going. This is where the intentionality of the lesson really comes into play. What AM I asking them to do? What am I hoping to achieve or that they will achieve?
Having a clear vision of the progression from where students are to where you’re hoping to take them is important. Anticipating what students might do comes into play here. If you look at the Guide tab in one of our lessons (learn.makemathmoments.com/tasks) you’ll notice that we have the intentionality stated as well as sample student approaches. When we ask students to show another way often times I find it to be helpful by asking “if you weren’t here right now to explain to me, would someone believe your answer is reasonable?”
To me, the whole purpose is for them to develop a convincing argument. If a student isn’t convinced of their solutions themselves (asking you “is this right?”) than clearly they haven’t even reasoned / proved to themselves that their solution is reasonable.
Does that make sense?


As I teach my class Language, in addition to Math, I can really relate to the Hero’s Journey. Some students have pushed back a little (“we’re not really doing math”) when I’ve taken the time for the notice/wonder portions. Having this framework of setting the scene, situating the characters will make sense with the biography work and novel studies we’ve been covering in Language. I really like to have my students see crosscurricular connections and so I hope this will settle down those who want to “get the math over with” and will support the larger number of kids who have been stumbling around trying to implement the algorithms, with little understanding or resilience.

Awesome to hear that you’re making progress here! Keep it up!


I have played with a few threeact math tasks and found quite a bit of pushback in terms of the productive struggle. I have wondered when to intervene and how often. In other words when does the struggle become unproductive? What are the signs that I need to give more information etc…? I often note in my school a high frequency of learned helplessness and so the push back makes sense but I often feel lost in how to address it using the hero’s journey.

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 4 months, 3 weeks ago by Jeremiah Barrett.

The visual of how the lesson looks before and after were very interesting. I would say that I have provide a few opportunities for struggle but usually the day after I teach the strategy. I am curious to see how the lesson will work when I give them the opportunity to struggle first and discover and then share strategies that they used and other ways to solve the problem. I can definitely see how students will be more engaged in the class.
Just wondering how do you decide which students to put together? I worry about putting mixed ability grouping because I don’t want the good math students to take away opportunities from other students but I worry that placing them in homogenous groups would create a lot of struggle for some groups. What have you done that works best?

@gerilynstolberg We recommend visible random groupings. Visible, meaning that the students see that it is random. We use random cards to help make groups. The randomness adds to your classroom atmosphere as students won’t feel resentment that they’re the “strong one” or the “weak one”. You can learn more about groupings in this live chat from the community https://learn.makemathmoments.com/lessons/howtoensurestudentaccountabilitywhileworkingingroups/ or from our podcast episode with Peter Lijedahl https://makemathmoments.com/episode98/ or https://makemathmoments.com/episode21/
How to ensure student accountability while working in groups.


I have to check myself so that I am not oversharing. I know I will find it challenging to create the questions that will encourage those “highflyers” to try other approaches. I have used investigative activities in the past but there are usually a few students who know where I am going with the lesson. I will make sure to withhold the questions that they fully understand the context of the problem before asking them to do any calculations.
In the past, I have also asked students to use friendly numbers to approximate a ratio. There were times in those experiences when students did not understand what I mean, so I suggested rounding. When they didn’t come up with a friendly enough number, I ended up suggesting one. Asking them to justify their choice of friendly number to their processing partner may encourage greater proficiency in the future. I can now see that practicing friendly numbers in a warm up activity would also benefit many struggling students. Hearing classmates explain why they chose those numbers may improve this skill.

My first inclination was to provide the height of the room, and to set up the proportional relationship. I couldn’t help myself. To a large extent I see myself telling the end of the story, robbing everyone around me the joy of feeling the suspense. After watching the video, it now explains when, why, our students fall off the proverbial wheel of math journey.
To go back to the traditional approach will be I think, a disservice to the teaching profession.


I desperately want my kids to be the hero of their own math journey! So many times, they cast themselves in the role of comic, not hero because they think they aren’t “good” at math, so what’s left is to be funny. Our lessons are formatted all the same: intro (complete with notes, algorithms, vocab, etc.), examples, review, examples, practice sessions and then quiz. I plan to flip this on its head this year by instead starting each lesson off with a curious lesson. My hope is that we will have more engagement, more ownership, more confidence and more true learning. Thanks for the inspiration and tools!

Love it! Would love to hear what you come up with!


I can see giving students something to notice and wonder and trying to get them curious about the problem, then letting them try and figure it out without me first telling them how to do it. I hope that in the coming lessons you will give me some suggestions on how to do that because when I have tried this in the past, they just want me to tell them the formula or the technique, and too often I have given in. I had one of my best students ask to be removed from my class after one of these assignments.

Did you finish module 2 involving the Curiosity Path?

Yes, but I struggle with knowing when to come in and teach the methods.

That is not uncommon. Have you checked out any of our “classroom sneak peek” videos we’ve been sharing lately? That might help: makemathmoments.com/blog
If you have a specific lesson coming up you’d like to dig into / coplan, let’s do it!



I see the Hero’s Journey fitting into my classroom by incorporating these techniques I’m learning. I’ll be spending quite a bit more time with my lessons this coming year for both my prealgebra and statistics classes to make the connections my students need to better understand the math concepts being taught.

I think this really just consolidate what has been talked about so far in terms of lesson structure. I think the biggest adjustment I need to make to my teaching is to be better at stopping myself from jumping in too quickly when the students struggle.

I can definitely see how this helps students have true ownership of the problem or lesson. I also really dig the positive approach it presents – all the students are on the journey, not just the “good “ group. One thing I struggle with is time
management. If it’s best to have this process or hero’s journey be each lesson, how much time is devoted to this initial problem? I have about 40 minutes for each lesson. I don’t want to “give away” the struggle by sharing the math too quickly, but sometimes I get anxious due to the time.

Time is definitely a factor. We tend to spend more time developing big ideas or introductions to topics. As you deliver lessons of this nature you’ll be able to judge when you need to move on or spend more time (more on that in module 5).


The Hero’s Journey is the problembased instruction we learned throughout the course; I intend to teach every new concept this way. The research from Principles to Action and the 5 Practices takes me here and every respected researcher tends to point in this direction. I tried operating, resuscitating the traditional classroom and you get to the point where you just have to pronounce it dead and move on.
 This reply was modified 3 months, 3 weeks ago by Anthony Waslaske.
 This reply was modified 3 months, 3 weeks ago by Anthony Waslaske.

It will be interesting to see how the Hero’s Journey model will fit into my classroom. All teachers in my school have been instructed that we should have the learning goal on the board and go through it with the class at the very beginning. This has usually been written based on what the students will be able to DO by the end of the lesson.
The math department has started a book study on “The 5 Practices in Practice,” by Margaret (Peg) Smith and Miriam Gamoran Sherin, which talks about learning goals as opposed to performance goals. The learning goals explicitly state what students will understand about mathematics as a result of engaging in a particular lesson. We are being told that, “the learning goal needs to be stated with sufficient specificity such that it can guide your decision–making during the lesson.”
We are supposed to have the “learning target” available to students, have students write it down, have students write the essential question, and have students rate their ability to meet the target for the day. The reason we are told to go over this at the beginning of the class is so that students have an idea of where the lesson is going because it provides them with a roadmap for the class which is supposed to help them focus more and have a better understanding.
I have to admit that some days I have the lesson target written on the board, but not every day. Even if it is written on the board, I don’t have students copy it because I feel there are better ways to use the time in class – just copying words doesn’t help you learn it if you don’t know the words. I seldom go over the lesson target at the beginning of class because it seems so random to me, especially if we are doing something totally different for a warmup. Most days I don’t go over it before the lesson, unless there are more vocabulary words in the target that will be used during class, and I want to make sure the students are reminded of what those vocabulary words mean. Sometimes I will go over the learning target at the end of class and ask the students if they see the connection and can explain how they see it between what we did in class and what the target was.
If I understand what you have been saying, giving the learning target at the beginning often eliminates the curiosity and anticipation for the lesson, and it is better to go over it when you are consolidating the lesson. Is this a correct understanding? If it is, would you recommend having a discussion with the math department about the expectations that were set up, as explained in the third paragraph?

Some districts require a learning target right from the start. This is ok if you’re able to focus them more on say the mathematical practices or process expectations than content specific targets. That can help you avoid essentially telling students “what” they’ll be using to solve problems. Then at the end, consolidate and highlight the learning objective you were after. This is definitely worth an open discussion with your colleagues to bring all ideas to the forefront and to develop a consistent approach.


I think this will take students from being spoonfed to learning to think for themselves.

I’ve been searching for a way to teach math through productive struggle since I was in college! I had one professor in my math ed class that would NOT tell me how to solve a problem no matter how hard or many times I asked. He was so skilled in questioning in ways that guided me rather than showed me. When I finally discovered the answer, the success was sweet!! Every so often, I have been able to manipulate a lesson to teach using the Hero’s Journey, but I know with these modules, I’m going to be able to cultivate more lessons that follow this method to encourage productive struggle and help my students develop deeper understanding of math and that oh so sweet successful feeling.

So great to know that you’re feeling like these lessons will help you develop that purposeful questioning to allow more students to experience a productive struggle! It certainly does take a lot of time and effort, but as you develop this skill, it’ll make teaching so much more rewarding!


I really like this model as well. I worry that my timing will be off and release information too soon for my students and then lose their attention. I think that is where I have flopped before when I have done the 3 act lessons.
Is there a key to knowing when to stop and give them more information? how long is too long to let them struggle for? How do you know it is time to consolidate is this when most groups/students seem to have an answer they are content with? What if no student has an answer? Or is this a the more you do it the more this will come naturally?
I also wondered how often we do these sorts of activities? Is it every day or just when we introduce new “big ideas” to the class or what do you recommend?

@KarenKeifer – YES! As I read your post from yesterday, it was as if I had written every part of it myself. I, too, have tried 3act tasks and have found some success, but in the end, I am left feeling like I could have ‘given’ more by giving them less. Most often, I would blame the clock for my caving and giving them more help than I should have as I tried to complete the lesson in a specific amount of time. There were other times that I gave in because it was tough for me to watch their struggle. (I think at the heart of most teachers is that innate sense of wanting to help and make things easier – which it turns out, isn’t helpful in the end.)
As we get further into the MMM modules, I am hopeful that our questions regarding knowing how and when to dole out scaffolding, how to share out, and consolidate and how often to use these lesson formats will be answered. I already feel better about how I will approach this next year with the students.
One thing I am hoping to do this summer is to find tasks that hit the major concepts in the course. I am thinking that in a typical 6 – 8 week unit, I can find 3 – 4 solid tasks that I can spend a LOT of time on before class, focusing on the timing, questioning, extensions, etc. so I go in feeling OVER prepared (if there is such a thing). If that plan works out, that gives me approx 2 weeks per task. Considering my classes are only 45 – 50 min/day, I can – without so much stress about time – break up the tasks into sections that make sense and really allow the kids the time and structure to deeply connect with the math involved. The 2week timeframe also allows for other strategies to be used like WODB, Estimation 180, Number Talks, etc.
More optimistic about it than I have been in the past and feel that if I give myself time to work into using this model, I will be able to stick with it and add to it in future years. I think I can… I think I can…


Working alone is tough. Lately it’s been a struggle to get others on board. For me I feel I have been on the hero’s journey as I have been struggling on implementing this model and building thinking classrooms at the level I want to see! I always felt something was missing. After struggling for a bit, having the “Hero’s journey” explained – I now feel more confident to use this model with thinking classrooms to teach my students and to encourage other teachers, especially with the new grade 9 curriculum. I have been enjoying how you have been using your Spark, Ignite and Fuel concepts but giving more information as we progress with your lessons. So to answer your question – I will be using the hero’s journey to enhance my classroom lessons and get them to a level 4. Thank you.

I see the Hero’s Journey as another opportunity to strengthen my understanding while I develop my toolbox for creating lessons that spark curiosity, and fuel students to make sense of the situation.

It’s a great model and very well explained. There are a lot of pieces to it that the teacher has to be skilled in.
1 choosing the right problem for their students
2 allowing the notice and wonder to happen
3 focusing the question and shifting to the estimates
4 providing the just in time scaffolding and information
5 – observing throughout and being able to choose student ideas so that the class can consolidate on the appropriate models, strategies and solutions. Also if there is a misconception there to allow this discussion/debate to happen.
I wonder how we define tension?
Also what does the graph looks like for the student who only makes sense of their own solution once they get critical information from listening to another student solution during the consolidation?
The other question is, what happens next? In the traditional math classroom the homework was the link between end and beginning of classes.
How do hero journey lessons link?

@jeff.harvey You’re right, there are lots of pieces we need to practice to get better at. We chatted a lot about homework and what purposeful practice can look like. Here’s one conversation we had in our monthly Live Q & A sessions. https://learn.makemathmoments.com/courses/qacalls/modules/july152019specialneedspracticehomeworkand5practices/lessons/wheredoespracticehomeworkfitin/

That video was helpful! Timely, I am working on a Rich Task Unit with a Situational Problem (Quebec Curriculum) that has 5 big ideas to it. This problem is used as the backwards design piece. Then we’re suggesting 5 rich tasks, as examples, that are conceptual tasks which can be used within the unit to develop those big ideas, with some suggested ways to observe student thinking from those tasks. So that when they get to the culminating task at the end of the unit students have a pretty strong grasp of all these big ideas.
<font face=”inherit”>As we were discussing how the unit looks we got into, okay what does the lesson flow look like before and after the task? Your suggestion with the 3 levels of purposeful practice (core, build, push) is great. I also really like the idea of the 2 column task where the answers are the same, but the problems are different to encourage communication. That is really helpful. Also suggesting that a task can take 45 minutes with the remaining 30 for practice, fits well into a 75 minute period. If the teacher has 50 or 60 minute periods they’d have to adjust task days and practice days more cleanly or shorten each portion. </font>
<font face=”inherit” style=”fontfamily: inherit; fontsize: inherit;”>
</font><font face=”inherit” style=”fontfamily: inherit; fontsize: inherit;”>Kyle mentioned in the video is that it is not all or nothing. i.e. using problem based teaching does not mean you cannot have more traditional components to teaching is very helpful. By focusing on that conceptual understanding opportunity and then combining it with the opportunity for procedural practice only strengthens both the </font>conceptual<font face=”inherit” style=”fontfamily: inherit; fontsize: inherit;”> understanding and the procedural understanding. Thanks Jon for providing that short video link. It was helpful for me! Take Care.</font>



Just teaching math in the curiosity path is my own hero’s journey. This past year provided much productive struggle to bring me to this place where I know the questions I want to start with while I discovering new strengths and knowledge. In embracing my own struggles, I also gave increasing room for the kids in my grade 3 classroom to struggle and grow.
I think of a student in my class whose biggest wish for grade 4 was to have math worksheets because she could answer those problems easily. I think of another student who began the year with a poor recall of the names of numbers up to 20. This girl hated math when the year began because she felt like she couldn’t do it. Yet both girls ended the year willing to struggle and learn. The growth in the second girl was remarkable once she realized she could find and use strategies that helped her. Making room for the creative problem solving of each helped them grow and taught me as a teacher. Their mathematical resilience and confidence increased when they were allowed to struggle and grow.
For much of the year, I was still stuck on giving the kids strategies upfront for many concepts though even as I was questioning and finding a different way. I had made math talks and math tasks my PD focus for the year since the year was changed by Covid. I had to meet the challenge of having kids in class needing to distance and not share resources yet giving opportunities to learn together. The idea of handing them paper after paper idn’t feel like it would engage them with all the limits in place. I had to grow to make this strange year one they would feel good about coming to school for.
Though I wish I could begin last year with what I know at the end, the struggle is helping me become a better teacher. The students showed me that there is more than one way to solve something and guided me on the diverse paths I needed to take to meet the different academic and social needs of the students as they learned. At that point, I felt more released from old dogma and was more ready to begin the hero’s journey with the kids in an intentional way.
I guess you could say this course is a part of the consolidation phase of my own journey. I look forward to where this journey will lead as I begin with a new group of students in September.

Fantastic to hear and you’re not alone – we too wished we could go back to “redo” with so many students. However, that is a part of the journey and how we (like our students) learn! Glad to hear you’re continuing to grow!


I have entered this reply twice already and it’s not appearing… getting sick of typing the same thing so I’ll summarise and say it seems very compatible with the model we;ve already been learning about for 2 modules so I would use it the same way as I do that model

What an amazing way to get kids excited to solve problems! I have taught my students the value of using their productive struggle when I give them openended problems to solve, and it is always so interesting to see the different method they are willing to try when I step back and let them “have at it!” Unfortunately I don’t do this often enough, but I love the way it is explained as the same process that movie heroes go through. I am definitely going to use that concept along with the Curiosity Path to let them learn how to persevere. Now, how to get everyone on board. Hmmmm…
I can’t even begin to estimate how many times someone has said that the reason our kids are poor problemsolvers is that they can’t figure out what the question is asking. Now I’m wondering if that isn’t the problem at all. It’s that we haven’t ever given them the time to pursue answers in the way that makes sense to them. Instead we give them the “how to” before they even have a chance to give it some thought.
It has the same feel as when you give a kid a set of 2000+ Legos and they immediately start to build something to copy the “suggestions” that come with the package insert. Right away they try to copy something on the paper instead of just playing with the Legos and building their own inventions. It’s sad, really. We have taken away their natural curiosity about math. 🙁

Couldn’t have said it better my friend! Looking forward to collaborating with you when we return to school.


I’m thankful that I will be teaching first graders this school year…they still have a strong sense of curiosity! The struggle will be me letting the struggle. This is why I plan on seeking support for my team and math specialist. Together we will be able to hold each other accountable for student centered learning.
Since read alouds are part of this grade level, I will introduce the idea of learning comes from our struggles from picture books. I think this will increase student buy in. Given the challenges we faced in the 20202021 school year, our students need to be able to built stamina and learn to preserve.

The graph that showed where students who “get it” (represented with a green dot) and students who don’t “get it” (represented by a red dot) was a very powerful visual. I have seen that frequently with my 5th graders. We spend so much time focusing on fractions when half the class, if not more, is not familiar with multiplication facts, what a basic fraction is, and other foundational skills. It really drives home the importance of making a change and the idea of structuring lessons with the “Hero’s Journey” should really help with closing that gap between the two groups of students.

As I think about how I teach content to my students, this Hero’s Journey has made an impact. I have been taking away the student’s opportunity to think through the math. I have given just steps to memorize and repeat. Then I wonder why they can’t do the work later. They were not invested in the work. They needed to struggle for it to become important for them. I feel that in elementary we need to build this type of learning with the students while they are open canvases. This will help as they move on.

@tracy.arriola when we realized this and made the switch it changed our classroom! We can’t wait for you to make this switch!


In conversations with my peers, we have talked about the hero’s journey. She said that she was teaching it in her language class. Now I see the importance of the journey in math. ( I am making so many connections, too!) I feel like I will start my year by working through some problems and trying the strategies that you have suggested. I have decided to dedicate a bulletin board to reflection. In my mind, before this morning, it was to be a language and discussionbased board, now I am thinking I need to add our math learning. By posting a photo of “The Hero’s Journey” and talking about how we struggle as we learn it may help further their mindset, since so often that is a HUGE part of learning math in grade 7. I found by having the students do a mindset activity at the beginning of the year the kids start learning sometimes it’s on how we approach things. I usually use the example of Wayne Gretzky, he was born like all of us, not knowing how to walk let alone skate. He was super successful because he did the hard work and worked through his setbacks. We can do it too! I love this lesson and look forward to adding it to my mindset and their mindset approach.

I like how you represented graphically the two models:
Model1: Stale Math Class
Model2: Hero’s JourneyThe stale math class does have that peak stress, and then splits – having the “notgoodatmath” students remain at peak stress even after the lessonexamples’ solutions are revealed – They still wouldn’t have enough understanding to review the lesson examples independently at home – and building on that lesson the next day doesn’t help.
In Model1 – students wait for you to reveal everything, because they know it’s coming, and don’t invest much in attempting to solve it themselves.
In Model2 – students are working through it, and investing the energy to do something, which reaches the part of their brain that is needed in learning
(“https://youtu.be/UBVV8pch1dM” – ᴛʜᴇ ꜱᴄɪᴇɴᴄᴇ ᴏꜰ ᴛʜɪɴᴋɪɴɢ; Youtube Channel: Veritasium)Fitting Model2 “Hero’s Journey” into my math class is my goal because I want more students to see the problem to completion – come to a place where consolidation CAN happen and a level of understanding kicks in.
 This reply was modified 3 months, 1 week ago by Velia Kearns.
 This reply was modified 3 months, 1 week ago by Velia Kearns.
 This reply was modified 3 months, 1 week ago by Velia Kearns.

Great summary here @velia.kearns I love that youtube channel, but don’t think I’ve seen this video. I’m excited to check it out. Thanks for sharing.

I am guilty of handling my lessons in the traditional format…this ends today….I have always believed that productive struggle is necessary but have not had the tools to implement this in my classroom. The analogy of helping the baby chick hatch from the egg comes to mind as fitting here….given too much help hatching the chick will not have the energy required to thrive outside its shell….The Hero’s Journey would also make a great back to school bulletin board…That Graph was EVERYTHING!!!

I have heard the hero’s journey via the podcast, I love the story and idea of productive struggle. I use this an promote it but definitely monitor it in class, some students/groups need baby steps with struggle but others are good with it and thrive on it… knowing our students is important!

So happy that you found this lesson to reinforce the idea shared on the podcast. Often times having a deeper dive can really help with solidifying an idea and working out any gaps or kinks.


I really appreciated this illustration of the productive struggle, especially the example of learning to ride a bike. As a Special Education teacher who works with students with learning disabilities, the “productive struggle” sometimes has seemed to me to be nothing more than another way to frustrate students who are already struggling. Now that I am learning how this can be used in a more structured way (with the curiosity path), I feel much more comfortable with providing my students the opportunities to come to their own conclusions about how to solve problems. I don’t want to rob them of their learning by giving them all of the answers and formulas right away!
Thank you both for illustrating this in a way that is both eyeopening and inspiring!

I have definitely been mostly teaching with a more traditional math class model. The image of learning to “ride a bike” by starting with “Tires. Tires are very important. We’re going to start by learning all about tires.” Then we follow with, “Pedals. Pedals are also very important.” And maybe “one day” we’ll get around to actually riding a bike but not any time soon it would appear.

I like this idea of the hero’s journey in the math classroom. I love letting my students try using the tools the currently have to work their way through the problem and then guide them through making it easier with the exact same tools, but in a more structured way. This way they see that they already have the basic operations and we are creating a new way of looking at it. It will also be much easier to work through it this way since my district is trying to shift our 6th grade math course to a double block course.

Agreed! A double block would be ideal for implementing and not worrying so much about always running out of time.


1. The hero’s journey lesson model and video produced a deeper understanding of the first two Modules…my own productive struggle.
2. The visual of the green and red dots summed up my math teaching with a cherry on top! Ouch…I’m not proud of it; however, I am taking steps to improve with the time and effort I am investing in this course
3. How would you compare/contrast the Hero’s Journey with the Learning Pit?

I can see it as a great way to have students take ownership in their learning and in the process become super engaged in math. I really like how it facilitates multiple entry points for students.

I absolutely love this model and look forward to implementing it in my classroom in the fall.
One of the images that struck a chord with me was the image of the bicycle and how we break up our math topics into units without allowing time for students to make connections. I feel like this means spiraling the curriculum is the way to go, but it can be very overwhelming to figure out how to make spiraling work for this school year. After this course, I plan to watch your series on spiraling curriculum for more tips on how to make that a reality.
Sometimes my attempts to follow a hero’s journey fall short, especially this year with 30 minute lessons, but even with 50 minutes, I never know how long to let them struggle before giving small hints or asking leading questions. My biggest struggle is the consolidation, I always feel like the period has ended before I’ve had a chance to have students share their responses. I need to draw out my clock to figure out a reasonable consolidation time. Is it okay to consolidate before each group has arrived at their solution? How do you consolidate the next day if students have been working on VNPS? Do you take pictures of all their work and put it in a slide for the next day? For groups who don’t finish during class, can they take pictures and finish at home? What does practice look like after consolidation? Does everyone get there during the class period?

Great questions. With very short periods (30 mins? How do you get anything done!), you have to modify to make it work. Rushing the consolidation will lead to students just waiting for you to show them since they’ll know their thinking will be cut off / cut short. I’d say consolidate the next day if you must. One benefit you get is having the time to thoughtfully select and sequence student approaches so you can make connections during the consolidation.


I love the bike analogy…makes the hero’s journey completely make sense.
Years ago I read a book which stated that the success of a person is most influenced by the amount of perseverance they have. This was a big “aha” moment for me in my teaching. If I could teach my student how to persevere more, they would start to become more successful. What happened? I had no idea how to develop that perseverance in students. This is it!!! Through the hero’s journey, I can start to have students develop their perseverance by productively struggling through problem solving. So excited to see this in action in the classroom!

This is a huge epiphany that will pay off in the long run. We too struggled with these ideas of how to make students resilient problem solvers and now, this is our main focus.


I really liked the comparison of learning math to riding a bike. I kind of want to make a poster that says “In this class, we learn math the same way we learn to ride a bike, play a video game, and shoot a basketball.”
When you were going through the “regular” math class’s tension graph, it was like I was listening exactly to what I had done in the past, which made me cringe. I want to use this new tension graph in my destreamed classroom so that all students will achieve success using a method that they can understand, and then help them to see the efficient strategy as well. I appreciated seeing where each part of the Curiosity Path appears on the Hero’s Journey.

Great reflection here. We’re also teaching the destreamed class this year so we’ll be right along with you.


I think the Hero’s Journey maps onto the 3 act structure as long as there is time for productive struggle so that students have a memorable learning experience. I am wondering if it is something that you would do when you start a new focus standard? Or would you try to structure your lesson like this daily if possible?

I definitely try to design as many lessons as a can this way. Front loading the learning without the struggle just takes away ownership.


I see it being incorporated into my classroom through more open ended/low floor high ceiling questions. Furthermore, by incorporating more pauses and letting them explore further during these periods – and then by discussing they will help each other find the answer and create a wonderful space for comparing and contrasting different methods.

I see this fitting into the math fights as discussed before. Giving students a problem and letting them talk through – while taking risks with their peers to find ways of solving the problems whichever way, and with whatever strategies, they have.

First, I like the idea of identifying my math students as heroes, and I want them to know why. I want students to be aware that I know math can be a struggle at times for them at times, but we will work together to make their struggle(s) an opportunity to build up their learning. We will choose to make this a positive experience that can improve their resilience, their grit, their sticktoitiveness. This will definitely be a long journey for us; I better back extra clothes.