Facing Fear

It’s always fascinating to me to watch students step into a new classroom and immediately search for their social comfort zone.  Students aren’t unique in this phenomenon; they are just the group of humans in which I interact the most.  Today being the first day of school, the visible and invisible social boundaries that students draw between one another were clear as I silently observed.

As someone who struggled fitting into a unique social group growing up, I’m most interested in encouraging kids to break away from their cliques. After reading much of what Ilana Horn has written on the subject, I also began to see links between being socially extroverted and status in the mathematics classroom.  For example, kids who are quiet and mostly keep to themselves don’t often have opportunities to display their “smartness,” whereas an outgoing kid willing to contribute voluntarily to class discussion would have their “smartness showcased regularly.  Interestingly enough, when doing the “personality coordinates” activity with my college algebra class today, one group created this graph:  IMG_6508

They defined social achievements as number of friends and academic achievements as GPA.  It allowed us to have a nice discussion about grades and overall intelligence as well as some lovely talk regarding different definitions of social achievement. I look forward to continuing these conversations over the course of the trimester and challenging them to let their popularity guards down.

On a similar note, I tried the Blanket Challenge in my Algebra 2 class.  If you have not read this chapter in Powerful Problem Solving, I’m not sure why you are still sitting here.  Go read it! What impressed me with this group of kids, was they were willing to step out of physical comfort in order to achieve the result they wanted.  IMG_6505 IMG_6506

On the first day of school, in a class that’s tough to adjust to, I can’t begin to express how proud I am of this group of kids for their willingness to work together respectfully and successfully.  I’m hoping to build on the results from this activity in the days to come.


    • Two of the three groups were successful. A member of one of the successful groups went to help the third group. It was a nice moment. We debriefed by talking about what worked and what would have made this more challenging. I asked “if this was a group of 10 year olds, what do you think would have been different?” Interesting responses. We made a connection to math and how you usually need to get uncomfortable in order to be successful with difficult tasks. That seemed to resonate. Great activity. Thanks, Max!

  1. Cool! What would have made it more challenging, I wonder? What helped the groups that were successful? I love the connection to math you articulated. This one is interesting for me because I read about it before I got to do it in real life so I solved it “in my head” — it felt like doing math because I was thinking about the constraints and being kind of systematic in moving the imaginary people and blanket. It took all of the communication stuff out of the challenge, which is weird too… Anyway thanks for sharing and letting me notice and wonder!

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