Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Problem of the Week(POTW):It's Not Just Math!

He ran across the room and yelled, "I got it!
Poking at his head, he said, "I used my brain and I got it!"
What did he get?
He had just solved the Problem of the Week. :)

I decided to use the Problem of the Week (POTW) more diligently this year, and it's a decision I do not regret.  At least once or twice a week, my students form groups, (it changes between assigned and random), and they attempt to solve the POTW. Sometimes they get it, and sometimes they don't. But, that's not what matters.

What matters is what comes from the attempt to solve this problem.  Of course, the Math is important. It's not a bunch of numbers on a worksheet. It's a problem, with real world applications that they have to solve. You want to talk about rigor? There's lots of "brain hurt" going on in my classroom as my students attempt to solve the problem.They have to read, and understand, what the problem is asking them. They have to decide what mathematical skills they are going to use to solve the problem.  They have to work together, listen to, and respect, each other's ideas. They learn the meaning of the adage, "If at first you don't succeed...

I get great joy walking around my room and listening in on the conversations. I am serious, joy. It is wonderful to walk around, by the video chairs, at the back table, (the lucky person ensconced in the "teacher's" chair), the area by the sink and lockers, (I have carpet squares), and listen to them work on the problem. They have learned to use me as a guide, not the person with the answers. Their mission is to solve this problem, and they are serious!

Here's a little history about Problem of the week:(provided byJohn Galbraith)
POTW started in January 2011.  The Centre for Education in Mathematics
and Computing (CEMC) out of the Faculty of Mathematics at the University
of Waterloo has long been known for providing excellent contests and
supporting resources.  But there was a belief that we could involve more
students in regular problem solving (whether or not they participate in
of our contests).  So part of our mandate is to provide resources for
teachers and students that promote mathematics and problem solving.

The great part is that any student or teacher can subscribe to the Problem of the Week. Take advantage of this wonderfully, powerful, resource!

I receive an email once a week with two attached documents. One is the answer to the previous POTW. And one is the latest POTW. My colleagues and I have a good time trying to figure them out ourselves before the answers arrive.

That student I mentioned above, he is a kid with low self-esteem. He's bright, but was not working to potential.Somewhere along the way, he was allowed to believe that minimum effort is all that is required, and if it's hard, quit. Not in my room!:)

 The day he solved the POTW, he proclaimed his news to  teachers in the hallway, the lunchroom, the office, he was so proud!  The Problem of the Week, it's not just math.


  1. Wow! Congrats to this student and congrats to you for making the decision to include Problems of the Week. I checked out the resource you cited and it sounds wonderful, BUT I teach first grade. Do you know of a similar resource for lower grades?????
    An Open Door

    1. Thank you Camille! Unfortunately, I do not know of any resources for the younger ones. :(

  2. So awesome. I'm subscribing immediately. Your post made me want to cry joyful, educational tears.