So I ran the Max box problem with a bright group of kids. If you are not sure what it is then the problem starts with a square piece of paper. You cut out ever increasing squares out of the corners and then raise the sides to make an open box. The idea is to see how the change in height creates a box with varying volumes.
So the students got under way firstly cutting and then number crunching and putting values into a table. Then most realised that the point of the task was not to actually do any cutting but to work on the problem mathematically.
After after 15 minutes or so the first group of students finished completing their table and said that they were finished. “Finished!” I replied. “So what?” was my next question. This became something of an issue as they didn’t understand what I meant. I guess I needed to give them so more words. “So what did you find out?” The reply was simple. They had completed the task by filling in the table.
At this point a few more students joined in the discussion about how they had now also finished. So I asked them what have they found out? This time I got a bit more detail “Well the volume got bigger then got smaller.” So what? They had simply followed my instructions and read the data. So what concerned me is that they didn’t want to ask any further questions of themselves. The students were more than happy completing the task and not stretching themselves further by asking something more.
Dan Meyer created a website about 101 questions. He simply posts a photo or a video and gets you to write a question. This sparks people’s imagination and gets them thinking but why do students need to have some sort of stimulus like this in order to think outside the box? What happens in education that we stop children from being imaginative and think about things. I know in my classroom I am often sidetracked by students and I sometimes end up wondering off the point for a while before realising and returning to the task in hand.
Do students need to be programmed philosophers before they can think for themselves about things? Do we spend far too much time programming the to work out what the question wants rather than what is interesting about the task?
I guess that I am completely guilty of this. I know that in my exam classes that this is a massive focus but actually this rubs off on the other years. What has our national curriculum done to stifle the next generation of abstract thinkers by continually testing students to see that they have made progress in tests that are designed to be a memory test rather than a thinking test? How many teachers spend hours of students’ education time on exam technique?
Currently there isn’t an alternative. Teachers are frightened by the threat of their salaries if students don’t make the progress. Schools are threatened by levels of progress.
I believe that I am intrigued by Maths and Science and I try to instil this intrigue in my classes but spend too much time focusing on what the students will next be tested on!
So what chance have my brightest students have on answering my question “So What?” when we have spent so long teaching them to simply answer the question and not see the “What if I carry on by……”