Friday, October 5, 2012

Give the Most Difficult Math Problems FIRST!

We as math teachers typically give the easiest problems first in our classes.  Then the problems get more and more difficult as we move along in the class.  Then finally we give the most difficult problem.  Sometimes we don't even have time for this problem because we have spent so much time on the easier questions.  Our homework assignments are the same.  We give 20 problems that get more and more difficult.  Then you get to the "Word Problem"  which is usually skipped by the student.  They are thinking that their teacher will go over it the next day. 



I think we should give the most difficult problem FIRST!  Then we use the easy questions to help us get to the solution.  When we do the most difficult problem first we showing students this is what we expect all to accomplish.  We give it PRIORITY!  When we go straight to the hardest question we show how vital all of the easy questions are to help us get to the tough question.  There is a NEED for the easy questions and not just busy work. 



This sounds really easy to implement.  But I'm having a hard time doing it.  My traditional teacher mind takes over and I can't seem to switch.  However, I'm also finding that you must get the right problem(s) to start with so that this can happen effectively. 

What are your thoughts?  Do you buy in?  How can we accomplish this?

Best

6 comments:

Teri Ferguson said...

I agree. I like it when I do this, but like you, I often revert to habit--traditional teacher mode. I have found that when I present the most difficult problem first, and then tell the students that for today it won't get any harder than that one, it improves their attitude toward the rest of the problems. I started trying that approach when I learned in a Master's class that brain research supports this method. But now I can't remember why...

kristin said...

I totally agree! Someone once suggested to only give word problems for homework, as one way to get them to do them. I will try the hard problem first, this week.

how to climb said...

thanks for the posts. good blog.

Jesse said...

I've been a big fan of this approach in general because I think it actually saves time overall. Like you said, it also prevents the whole "avoiding the word problem" thing.

I've found that planning out one good example based on starting with a "hard" problem and using "easy" problems to lead the way to the solution helps me to actually do it when I'm in the moment and teaching.

thescamdog said...

Nice post.

There are good problems/questions in most of our books. They'e just in the wrong place. They come at the end of the exercises, after the basic ones. I've often suggested that these good questions should be moved up front as a starting point, rather than an end point.

Dave Sladkey said...

I like your idea of doing the word problems first. How about we put our homework in the order they should complete it. For example: page 265 31, 25, 23, 19, 17, 11, 9, 5, 1.
Also, do we need to reorder our tests to have the hardest questions first?