Yesterday, my daughter called me and told me there was a horrible scratching sound coming from her car. It was her brake pads. I have replaced brake pads on lots of cars, but not hers. The bolts came off easily and the pads came out without much effort and so I thought everything was going great until one pad didn’t fit; the last pad. I was patient, as I have learned to be over the years. I didn’t force it in (as I have told my son many times as he has learned to repair cars), but I was puzzled as to why it didn’t fit. I thought maybe the pad was not the right size because I remembered switching pads on the other wheel when a pad was not sliding in well. I stepped away from the situation and then finally crooked my head in the wheel well and realized the pad had a small tab that was hitting the arm supporting the wheel. I had not noticed that there were inside and outside pads that were slightly different and that slight difference didn’t allow an outside pad to go on the inside of the wheel. The first side had worked because I put two inside pads on the one side of the car. I had a hint of this when the pad on the other side didn’t slide in easily but I didn’t really pay attention and when another pad slipped in I just moved on.
In our classrooms, we are doing this kind of work every day with a lot of different students in a lot of different situations. When things don’t seem to fit, I have learned we need to step back, reflect on what is happening, and leave our assumptions behind. We also have to look closely enough to notice a small difference that was unimportant before but in this situation is important. It helps to collect experiences about how children come to learn mathematics, but it is also important to realize the variance with our students for any particular situation. Most of all, exercise patience and don’t force the child into a place where he or she isn’t fitting. Maybe crook your neck around and get a closer look.