# Promote Struggle – A Hero’s Journey in Math Class

How many times have I seen a student give up before they even start an unfamiliar problem in my class? A lot! It happens way too much. How can we build resilience and determination in our students? One thing we can do is to let them experience unfamiliar problems regularly and help them struggle through the process of working on a solution.

Let me share with you how the Hero’s Journey story arc can help with learning productive struggle in math class.

While in Miami for the Apple Distinguished Educators Institute we saw a speaker from Pixar Randy Nelson discuss the aspects of Story. More specifically he spoke about the Hero’s Journey. That talk really hit home for me. Below is how I interpreted his message and how it relates to my classroom.

## A Hero’s Journey

All of these characters take a hero’s journey….

Since I’m a math teacher describing the Hero’s Journey is best done with……a graph (English teachers will know it’s shown as a cycle).

On a time vs. Tension graph the Hero’s Journey looks like this: Time is the length of the journey….or story. The tension is felt by the audience.

In the beginning the hero is introduced, the main conflict is introduced, his/her world starts to change. As the story continues the hero must battle the forces of evil & go through struggle. They must experience conflict. It’s the conflict that the hero learns about themselves. They learn their strengths and weaknesses. It’s the struggle that makes the ending awesome. Its the struggle that make the hero see the solution. It’s the lessons they’ve learned in the struggle that let’s them go aha! I know what I need to do! The story would mean nothing to the hero and the audience if the climax was much earlier in the timeline. As the story ends the character returns to a NEW normal. They take their learning and come out stronger on the other side.

This curve we see above is nothing new to us. This curve is what learners go through. It’s a Learner’s Journey too.

Now, if we take a look at our traditional math classrooms we have a format much like this:

Photo credit: Kyle Pearce

Let’s look at that structure on the Time Tension graph.

After we take up homework, we introduce the new lesson or topic or problem to work on. It’s unfamiliar so tension in our students starts to increase.  But what happens is that as the tension rises it immediately falls back down. And my good buddy Kyle Pearce mentioned to me that the tension doesn’t fall all the way back to the axis….a good number of our students feel that tension permanently.

Why does the tension fall immediately?

We make that happen. We relieve students of their pain by immediately telling them HOW to solve the problem.

It’s Our examples & solutions. Students don’t get a chance to struggle & discover, Therefore the math formula, strategy or algorithm means nothing to them! The memorizers will memorize and do ok, and the non-memorizers lose again. The ideas and strategies have no real value to them.

I think students should feel the need for the math they learn. They should experience struggle ….just like the hero.

Let’s take the old model of our lessons and transform it to match the Hero’s Journey. It’s the struggle that adds value to their learning. Let’s move the reveal of math rules etc farther in the timeline. Let’s let the students productively struggle through math problems. The reveal of the “math” will mean so much more after students see and/or feel the need for it.

Download the 3-page printable guide that will give you 3 actionable tips to build resilient problem solvers in your math classroom.

An example in my class this week came when I wanted to teach students how to determine an equation of a quadratic function when given some key points.

I gave them this simple Desmos Activity Builder slide from Match My Parabola

Students already knew about vertex form of a quadratic function so I knew they could put in most of this equation. It’s the “a” value that they really didn’t know how to get efficiently. So I saw a lot of this…

Students used trial and error to find -1/4 as the right “a” value. But we then asked “How do we know that’s the right one?” We then discussed plugging in a point to check to see if the right side equals the left side. They had a few more slides just like this but with different points. By the end of the last slide you could see that they really wanted a more efficient way of determining the “a” value than guessing and checking. This is where I stepped in and we discussed the idea of using one of the points and the equation to solve for the “a” value. Everyone was on board! They all had struggled before we discovered an efficient strategy. They all wanted it. If I had started class by showing them the first slide and then just telling them how to do it, I would see lack of understanding of why and bored faces.

It’s the struggle that makes the math worth it! Let’s let our students be Heroes. How are you promoting struggle in your classroom? I would love to hear of your ways. Leave a comment below.

Click here to grab the Desmos Activity Builder Activity I showed above.

## The Hero’s Journey & Pentomino Puzzles

To help you wrap your mind around the Hero’s Journey as a lesson model I’ve created a Hero’s Journey Lesson Template. The exercise is to choose a lesson you have coming up in your class. How can you modify that lesson so that the flow follows a hero’s journey? Use the template below to help plan your lesson out.

Exemplar: I used the template to model how I use the Pentomino Puzzles activity to teach solving linear equations.

You can see that we slowly build up the need for a helpful efficient strategy to solve the puzzles. When my students have struggled and persevered 3 or 4 times to solve a tough puzzle, the timing is now perfect for us to step in and help them develop that skill of solving equations.

Want to dive deeper into learning how to teach through the Hero’s Journey? Dive into our self-paced online math educator pd course.

# Hurry Up/Kill Time Math Classes – How Desmos Can Help

Seth Godin brought up an interesting idea: If you think about it, everyone at the airport is in one of two modes. In a hurry, or killing time. You can imagine it right now! That impatient person in the TSA line just waiting to speed walk to the gate, or the group of people jockeying for position to board the plane first. On the other hand the only other people are just waiting around to speed up!

This is also happening in math classrooms. Both teachers and students.
Students want to hurray through lessons, get the homework done, move onto the next thing. Or they are just killing time. Teachers are hurrying up to start lessons, give examples, get the ideas out, give the homework. Some teachers are just waiting around until the day ends.

But this is not all students. Some are focused on learning to learn. And this is not all teachers. Many like you and me are actively making moments that matter in our students lives. Let’s help others slow down the “Hurry up to wait” classrooms.

One way I do this is to create and share those moments that matter through enhancing classroom discussions through a tech tool that creates discussions, not limits them like so many others do.

Watch,

Let’s Slow down the hurryers and energize the waiters. Let’s enhance our classrooms together. Check out a list of over 25 of my custom Desmos activities plus check out the hundreds of activities on  teacher.desmos.com  like the Pentomino Puzzles activity.

Here is a transcript of the audio in the video:

Hey, I’m Jon Orr, a math teacher from Chatham Ontario, Canada.

I’ve been on a mission lately to make moments in my math class memorable. Like you remember specific moments in your life because they were meaningful. Something that sticks with you. When I think back to my experiences as a math student I remember grade 4. I thought I was a master multiplier. My teacher even gave me stickers for doing extra work….and these stickers weren’t just normal stickers they were the ones that stand off the page like puffy stickers. You know, the ones that make the book not close all the way.

That sticks with me because of the feelings that go with the moments. I want to create those for my students; not with stickers, but memorable math moments. Like moments that students will remember years later. Like I have students years after my course still remember the toy car lesson we did or the pentomino puzzle solving lesson! I want this for every student in my class.

One tool that I think does this amazingly well is Desmos. And I’m not talking about just the online calculator. I’m talking about the earth shattering online activities that they create for us to teach with for free!

What I love is that each activity they build helps me make those moments. And they do that by allowing my students to show their thinking in interesting ways, they allow me quickly assess on the fly the abilities in my room…and they allow my students to have discussions! The tech creates discussions!

Here is one task that is great. Pentomino puzzles.

The activity is super easy to get into, just move this tile around until you cover a sum of 65. You can see students can easily share their thinking and strategies. I have kids use 1 device for 2 people so they can talk about their strategies. It keeps that collaboration I’m looking for. But then each new task builds towards solving the problems using an algebraic approach! I get kids to learn how to solve equations through this puzzling type of game!

As a teacher I get to see what student is on what screen, allowing me to help kids that need help and allow kids to move forward that are ready for it.

I can pause the screen on everyone’s devices so we can discuss strategies. The software is built to enhance classroom culture and discussions, not limit them like other tech does.

So one recommendation for you to try to make math moments matter for all your students is to explore the activities on teacher.desmos.com.

Thanks,

Find out more on desmos over on my website mrorr-isageek.com where I share all my custom made desmos activities and many other resources and ideas for your math classroom.

Take care.

# 10 Tools in My Teaching Day

Looking to stay productive? Wonder what tools are out there to keep organized? I’ve tried a lot of tools, apps, websites over the last few years; some I kept using and some I tossed away. Here are the 10 tools that I use on a regular basis in my teaching in a video blog format!! If video is not for you scroll below to read the transcript.

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This was my first go at a video post and I would love to know what you think. Think I should keep doing it? Think I should stick to just text? Let me know in the comments below or send me an email. For real, I would love your feedback!!

# My Favourite Desmos Feature

If you follow me you know Desmos is my go-to software for graphing and calculator functions with my students. I'm pretty excited to let you know that coming soon I'll release a 3 part video series on using Desmos in the classroom to enhance classroom discussions. To get started I wanted to share my favourite Desmos feature: The Moveable Point Watch the 1 min 44 second video: Can't see the video? Click here to see the post page. Sign Up below to get notified when the 3 part series goes live. You won't want to miss it!! p.s. Here are the activities seen in the video. The Great Collide Charge: Edited Sugar Sugar Pondering Percent Pentomino Puzzles Or You can also download the free Multi-Touch Book from iBooks to use on your iPad Beautiful Functions