Friday, September 9, 2016

The Power of the Nevermind Strategy

It was the third day of class and we were going over a problem I had given the students as homework.  The problem was a little tricky and the intention of it was for me to get a better understanding of their ability to reason mathematically and show/explain their thinking.  The class discussion revolved around the sharing of  the different strategies that were used to solve the problem.  We were comparing strategies and discussing our understanding of proportional relationships and unit rates when something happened.  A girl in the class started sharing her strategy.  I was modeling it on the board with visuals, and then she stopped.  "Nevermind," she said and looked down sheepishly.  The other students looked at her.  I could see it in their faces.  This is seventh grade after all.  Some were judging her as if her mistake somehow made them and their math ability superior.  Others felt bad and were making a promise to themselves to never participate in class in case the same embarrassing thing should happen to them.  It was in that split second that I said something that took the class in a whole new direction.  "Does anyone know the name of Lucy's strategy?  I call it the "Nevermind Strategy".  Have any of you ever started a problem and then realized that your approach was not leading you to the correct answer?"  Hands started to go up and smiles came across many of the faces in class, including Lucy.  We continued to talk through the math of Lucy's approach to the problem, why it was not going to work, what information it would lead us to, and what we could change to make that strategy work for this problem.

The key to the nevermind strategy is to not let kids stop when they get to the nevermind (or just kidding) part of their problem solving process.  This is a golden opportunity to see problem solving in action and create a classroom that values (and does not judge) mistakes, wrong answers, and sharing our thinking.  What do we do when we realize we are on the wrong path?  Much like the guess and check strategy there is a lot of math reasoning and number sense involved in realizing that your answer needs adjusting and calculating what adjustments will make it better.  The nevermind strategy opens up the class discussion to see who else tried something that didn't work.  Often times my favorite conversations start, not by asking who has an answer and how did you get it, but instead by asking "Does anyone have an answer they know is wrong?"

In my classroom I want students to take risks, explore new things, and feel comfortable making mistakes and sharing them.  By giving this a name, such as the nevermind strategy, it seems to have somehow legitimatized it in the minds of my students.  I plan to continue emphasizing this strategy in my class this year.  When students are stuck on a problem I will encourage them to use the nevermind strategy.  They can try something and if it doesn't work they can adjust accordingly.  Some students claim they don't know how to do a problem or they don't know where to start.  Often this is because students feel they need to have all the answers before they even start.  I am going to challenge that this year in my classroom with the use of the nevermind strategy.  I will teach my students to be flawsome!