Sunday, October 31, 2010

Try again! Fail again! Fail better!

Students: Were you feeling discouraged by the difficulty of the problems you tried at our math circle on Friday evening?

If you found yourself struggling and flailing about and feeling lost, that means you are in the right place!

The problems we work on at math circle are supposed to be a LOT harder than the problems you get in regular school classes. Struggling, flailing about, feeling lost a lot--that is what mathematics is all about.

Mathematician Lillian Pierce has great advice on learning mathematics in an interview in the latest issue of Girls Angle Bulletin:

Enjoy math!

Especially, enjoy challenges!

Math is just like any other skill: practice counts.

Also, have courage and confidence in your abilities. Don't shy away from failing to solve something immediately: try out your ideas, make mistakes, learn from your mistakes.

The struggle itself is one of the most important parts of your practice.

Try again!

Fail again!

Fail better!


When you have been beating your head against a problem for a while, and getting nowhere, leave it and move on to other problems, struggle with those for a while, then come back with a new perspective. Sometimes just finding a partner so you can share what you've been trying can help a lot. Even if your partner is just as lost as you are, the simple act of explaining aloud what you've been trying may help to clarify the problem in your own mind. And perhaps you have a great approach but finding a small blind spot your partner can help you spot will make all the difference.

Remember: practice counts! And practice means making mistakes! It is OKAY to make mistakes, lots and lots of mistakes at our math circle meetings. If you are NOT making mistakes at our meetings, you are doing the wrong problems!

Don't be embarrassed about making mistakes at our meetings! All of us make mistakes. Celebrate your mistakes! Learning from your mistakes, your half-baked ideas, your false starts--that is the essence of problem solving.

Our math circle is a place where it's really, really okay to make mistakes! Don't be afraid. Enjoy that space and freedom to make mistakes! It's a treasure! Share your mistakes and what you've learned from them.

1 comment:

Tanstaafl said...

This is a great post and answers one of the biggest problems we have at our own math circle. Many students have been conditioned by their schools and parents to believe that if they don't easily get 95%+ of new material on the first sitting then they must be in the "wrong class."