Math Classes : Urgency, Accuracy and Appreciation

As a Math teacher, I had been asked a few times the question of why the kids in my classes who are doing their problems quickly and getting the correct answers are not very highly appreciated. The concern is genuine. When other kids will see that, they too will be motivated to do things quickly and have a sense of urgency.

Why I don’t appreciate a kid for the right answers is because that is not what I want to preach. It matters only to a certain extent whether the answer is correct or not. What matters the most is the thought process, not the answer. And when a kid solves a problem very quickly, and if I appreciate him for that and move ahead without listening to the thought process and perspective of other kids (who are still in the process of solving or even have got a wrong answer), I believe I am sending a very wrong message to the class, and being utterly disrespectful to the kids who are still in the thinking process or are figuring out the problem. Also, as a class, we miss out on ten different ways of thinking about the same problem.

It’s more important to appreciate the thinking, the different perspectives and the art of patiently and carefully listening to others’ perspectives. I am very much enthusiastic and appreciative of the person who stops, and thinks about the problem, who takes time and sees the problem in depth. I can never give importance to speed over the thought process. Speed and accuracy may be important and they will come eventually (and probably of a higher degree), but that’s not the priority. Otherwise, we would miss out on teaching how to think, and how to learn.

The answer you get is not the most important thing. It’s important to see clearly and share what was going on in your mind while solving the problem. It consolidates your learning for life and builds immense confidence. Also, others can benefit from new ways of thinking, and we all can learn to communicate and explain our thoughts and ideas.

Throughout childhood, in our classes, we are teaching kids to compete, to do things fast. We are not teaching them to stop, respect others’ perspectives and listen to them carefully. Outside the class, we expect kids to respect others, pause and think about their actions and in our classes, we tend to go against this.

In an art class, we encourage ideas. We let the kids explore. We motivate them to be creative, close their eyes, imagine and put their thoughts on paper in the form of a painting. We ask them to go slow, go wild with ideas. We let them struggle. We let them fail. We are okay if there is no measurable outcome in a week, because we trust the process. We trust that the person is exploring his ideas and creativity.

The need is to do the same in Math Classes. Give a simple yet challenging problem. Let them struggle. Let them fail. Let them give examples and counter-examples, form conjectures. Have discussions and debates. Listen to everyone’s perspectives and understand their thought process. As a whole, come to a logical conclusion. Math is an art, the art of explanation. It is a creative process and it takes time. Let us not expect the answers too soon.

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