My school uses Everyday Math at each grade level. Anyone who knows the Everyday Math program is aware that it uses In and Out Machines across grades. My students were very familiar and comfortable with In and Out Machines, until they encountered a different format of the exact same problem type in ScootPad.

ScootPad's In/Out tables look very different than those from Everyday Math
ScootPad’s In/Out tables look very different than those from Everyday Math

Maybe it was the addition of what looks like algebra to them or maybe it was simply the change in presentation. They bombed them. I mean they did awful. You would think they had never seen an In/Out problem before. And in some ways, they hadn’t. To them, certain problems look certain ways and then are solved by following certain steps. They were locked in to that procedural way of thinking. When faced with a new context where they had to apply their thinking in a new way, they fell apart. They had not yet mastered the conceptual basis of the problem–they only followed the series of steps they had memorized to find the solution.

Seeing familiar problems in an unfamiliar format really tripped my kids up!
Seeing familiar problems in an unfamiliar format really tripped my kids up!

When I realized what was going on, I gave the group a mini lesson, and I could see the “aha” happen in their eyes! Ohhh…math is about applying ideas to solve problems, not simply following rules on how to answer a determined set of questions. Especially with the new PARCC tests coming, it’s really important that my students understand the how and WHY of what they are doing. By solving problems with familiar concepts in new formats, my students have started to truly grasp concepts and think more critically instead of simply memorizing methodical steps.

What “aha” moments have you witnessed?

Cheers!
Dr. Michelle Anthony