I remember getting a Rubik’s cube when I was younger. I sat down immediately scrambled it up, put in the Def Leppard cassette on my Walkman and set out to solve the puzzle. It soon became apparent to me that it was not going to easy or quick. I would play with it for a bit and then set it down and walk away, sometimes for a short time, sometimes for days. But I would always come back to it. There were times when I’d reach a point in which I couldn’t move on no matter the combination of moves I tried and then either through some new thought of random chance I would find a way past my sticking point and progress further along towards solving the cube. I was determined and engaged by the puzzle, that with small successes propelled me along to continue working. I remember the struggle and the feelings of pride each time I was able to overcome a roadblock for me in my journey.
In NCTM’s “Principles to Actions: Mathematics Teaching Practices” one of the practice states that teachers should, “Support productive struggle in learning mathematics. Effective teaching of mathematics consistently provides students, individually and collectively, with opportunities and supports to engage in productive struggle as they grapple with mathematical ideas and relationships”. When we sit down with children to explore and promote their mathematics, we experience many examples of students struggling productively. For the children, the situation presented to them is new for their mathematical thinking but at the edge of what is possible for their understanding. In the following video, the teacher gave the child a situation which was unknown to her, causing her to struggle. Watch what happens as she grapples with the problem.
There are several takeaways from watching her. One thing of note is that her hair is squeaky. Another is that she is one cute kid, how can we not like her? But what I would like to focus on is her productive struggle as she worked to a resolution for the situation. In providing her an opportunity with a new situation to her that is within a range that is possible for her to think about mathematically and the time to think, she accommodates her current mathematical thinking to construct new mathematics. What did it take from the teacher to provide this opportunity for her to engage in the productive struggle we see in this video? How do you provide opportunities for children to engage in productive struggle in your classroom?
There were times my frustration boiled over while working on my Rubik’s cube but I eventually worked my way entirely through it. I remember the pride and satisfaction I felt. Many people have experienced these feelings when engaging in a difficult task and completing it with success. We have seen many children engaged in a productive struggle while working with them along with the satisfaction and pride they experience when understanding mathematical ideas and solving a problem.