Where Do Your Students Max Out?

Some of my tweets this week have gone insane.  Hedge (@approx_normal) and I have started Insanity Max 30  (Read: Twitter Math Camp is in LA this summer).  One of the major components is to write down the time in which you “max out” or take a break for the first time.  The obvious goal is to increase your time before maxing out with each consecutive workout.

This exercising format made me think about my own students and their ability to push further before maxing out.  The knee-jerk reaction for students is to seek clarification from the teacher rather than from their small group when they get stuck.  My personal take on this phenomenon is that students are fairly certain that the teacher will be able to provide the necessary clarification, whereas their classmates may not.  Regardless of their reasoning, I want to create an environment in my class where students try to push as far as they can before asking me for help.

Tomorrow being the last Friday before winter break, I’m going to take the opportunity to test them on their brain endurance.  Their task: the Catwalk Mystery problem I’ve shared before.  Unless, of course, the Problem Solving Fairy appears in my dreams and gives me something better.  You never know.  Dreams can be strange.

This problem seems suitable for a few reasons:

  • It provides an appropriate challenge for a class with a wide range of mathematical fluency.
  • It is well-suited for group work.
  • There are multiple ways in which to approach the problem.
  • There are specific places in the problem in which I know students will struggle, but I know it’s possible for them to unstick themselves.
  • Based on assumptions they make about the problem, they may arrive at different solutions.

My goal is for them to progress through the problem as long as possible without asking me for assistance.  When they feel like they are roadblocked, they can max out, ask a question and then get right back into the game.  But I want them to challenge themselves to take as few “breaks” as possible and arrive at a confident answer.  So send some good brain vibes up toward Minnesota because these kids are about to test their limits.


  1. That Insantiy Max:30 stuff looks crazy (pardon the pun). I used to do the original Insanity and found I would hit my “max out” point a lot earlier than I’d like to admit. I think the key to getting better was being able to predict when I was out about to hit. Right before I was about to flop on the ground, I would slow it down and focus on doing each exercise carefully, correctly, and not at all quickly. I could catch my breath, and master the exercise, but maybe fall behind the rest of the group for only a little while. Maybe that approach will help some during your exercises, and perhaps your students during this catwalk challenge.

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