Tag Archives: #engagemath

What Happens if We Make a Mistake?

My husband Phil and I have been involved in this great program called Cool Little Kids.  It’s Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for young children (3-6) that are experience signs of anxious behaviour.  It’s a parent program to learn strategies to help your children overcome anxieties. We’ve only attended 2 sessions so far we’ve already learned so much to help our daughter Keelyn.

Something that I’ve taken away both session is the question “what do you think will happen if you do x”.  It’s a great way to start conversation with children and allow them to express how they feel.

I used this idea with my class this week during a math lesson.  I gave them the open-ended task for perimeter “How many figures can you create with a perimeter of 16cm?”  Many were up for the challenge and problem solved a bunch of creative solutions.  A couple were frustrated and expressed “I can’t do it” and one didn’t even try.  I asked those kids “what do you think will happen if you make a mistake”.  You could see their thoughts turning and one student said “I’ll get a bad mark on my report card” and another said “I’ll look dumb” and another said “I’ll feel frustrated”. Finally a fourth student said “I think that if we keep making mistakes we will still learn about perimeter.”  When I inquired what do you mean? He said, “well if you keep drawing figures and counting the perimeter you are learning how to figure it out”. I smiled for this answer was perfect and really profound for a 9 year old.

We brought the question back to the whole class as a discussion and talked about how taking a chance and trying out something even if it isn’t something we are comfortable with and even if we make a mistake has a ton of value and a ton of learning.  I feel like my students really got it.  In fact the next day we did a perimeter/minecraft art activity where the kids did block letters for their names or initials like text in minecraft (I was quickly corrected that it was pixels not blocks) and had to calculate the perimeter.  My most reluctant student happily created his letters and even calculated the perimeter without the normal worry lines on his face.  Maybe it was pairing the activity with the name “minecraft” that made him give it a shot – but I like to think it was the pep talk about making mistakes.  I guess time will tell!

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