Building Student Persistence and Perseverance in Math

Building Student Persistence and Perseverance in Math

Do our young people really need math?

The standard answer is “Of course, look at our changing technological world.”

But the secret, seldom-spoken response is, “That’s exactly why I don’t need it. Machines can do it all for me. And besides, I’ll never be an engineer.” So students opt out, sitting in classrooms going through the motions, making it from one test to the next, getting by with the bare bones minimum.

But it’s not to be engineers that our students need math. And while the technology of our world is indeed one rationale for developing mathematical skills and knowledge, there is an even more compelling reason. Ultimately, math comes easily to no one.

We have to change students’ relationship with math, and one way to do that is by changing the types of math experiences they have.

Perhaps the way to help students the most, both in terms of success and attitude, lies in the counter-intuitive notion of finding the right level of struggle or challenge—a level that is both constructive and instructive

In their struggle to understand and in the manner in which they meet this struggle, they can learn life skills far removed from the classroom. Mathematics can offer them an opportunity to learn how to work through the struggle. But this struggle is too often misinterpreted and agony results.

Struggling in mathematics is not the enemy, any more than sweating while playing sports; it is part of the process and a clear sign of being in the game. Math asks students to think in ways they are not used to thinking; it is how we build mental muscle. We need to help students in building perseverance through constructive struggle using meaningful problems.

When we introduce complexity in the problems we ask students to solve and challenge them beyond what they think they can do, we give them the opportunity to struggle a bit—an opportunity that many students never experience in mathematics from elementary school through high school.

Watch the following video TED video by Dan Meyer showing how math can be taught with exercises that prompt students to stop and think deeper. While watching the video reflect on how you learned math as a student and how students need to learn math today.