Let’s talk about giving students steps to solve equations. I think that we introduce rules, algorithms, and steps too early in Algebra. Giving students steps has a place in teaching math, but a lot of times, it is too much and too soon. When we introduce the “correct” way of finding a solution without first giving students a chance to try for themselves, we are taking away an opportunity for students to discover what they can do. Not only does this inhibit the evolution of their problem solving skills, but it also drains the joy of discovery, leaving many students to believe that math is nothing more than a rigid class meant to turn them into human calculators.

I recently covered two-step equations with my 7th graders. I left it up to the students to find the solution without giving them the prescribed way to solve it, and guess what - they discovered a way! They figured out how to reach the solution by creating their own “algorithm.” Now, is it possible that this “algorithm” they used will fall apart when they move on to multi-step equations? Yes, it’s possible. But that gives them the opportunity to improve their method, until it actually starts to look like the steps I would have given to begin with. They can then solve a problem, not because they were told how, but because they figured out the way.... true problem solving.

Giving them the steps before letting them try for themselves is similar to giving them a crutch when teaching them to walk. They may quickly learn to walk, but they may come to rely only on the crutches they are given, never knowing what their own legs are capable of. The more we let them discover and think for themselves, both their problem solving skills and confidence will improve. It’s far more rewarding for a student to know that they can critically think than that they can do the same thing a calculator does. I’m not teaching robots or computers - I’m teaching future problem solvers!

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