What you think you’re teaching is not what you’re teaching

Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash

You might think you are teaching square roots, especially if you are a junior high math teacher, and not a grade 2 social studies teacher.

But you would be wrong.

You only think you’re teaching square roots.

What we actually need to teach, in all subjects and grades, is how to solve problems. 

We don’t need to waste time teaching square roots anymore

(Remember how giving your attention is trusting someone not to waste your time?)

Computers are way better than we could ever be at the first two levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (remembering and understanding, i.e. knowing how to get a square root). When square roots eventually appear in a student’s problem, they can do a quick search, and watch a world-class expert explain the concept. 

Instead, use that time to teach students how to solve problems

Solving problems (a.k.a. “project-based learning”) is really hard, and people are bad at it. We are very good at doing what someone tells us, but not very good at coming up with ideas on our own.

An illustrative example, told by Dr. Derek Cabrera: LEGO is still in business because they switched from selling all-purpose kits, where you can build anything you want, to selling predetermined sets that give you step-by-step instructions. Your model is either right or wrong, and we crave that confirmation.

Projects, on the other hand, require a lot of “not knowing”, delayed gratification, and courage. Those are tough skills, and they are also the future.

Here are the core project skills:

  • finding an interesting problem to solve
  • thinking about the problem
  • coming up with a solution
  • testing the solution
  • debugging the solution
  • shipping

Which set of skills should we be spending the most time on?
1. pressing the √ button on your calculator, or
2. finding, brainstorming, making, testing, debugging, and shipping

Which set might actually engage students, and build their self-confidence and ownership?

Which set do you currently spend the most time on?

But project-based learning is too hard! See next post.


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