Hints and One Helpful Question

I start off the year with groups working on puzzlers. I like that the students get to grapple in groups with fun(?) and tricky problems that are, at the very least, math adjacent.

This year the students started off with a neat problem, the Bridge Puzzle from TEDEd.

Juniors and Seniors in PreCalculus H, and HL Calculus worked on this problem for at least 10 minutes trying to find a solution.

One thing that I struggled with was being able to encourage students to continue to work through the problem. I think it was helpful to give this problem out without knowing the answer beforehand. Giving encouragement felt more natural (because even if I’m faking it, the students know that I probably know the answer).

Much discussion has been led on hints from Michael Pershan and how they might not be anywhere as easy to give or as useful as we might have imagined. But, with this one puzzler, I found the following question very useful when I’d notice that groups were stuck:

What have you tried that hasn’t worked?

This question allowed me to get many groups through sticking points without me giving information. The question was a nice reboot of stagnant group communication. It’s a small tweak for me, but it’s a type of question that I’ll certainly use more often in class.

4 thoughts on “Hints and One Helpful Question

  1. Pingback: BetterQs Blog | A Recursive Process

  2. Dan – there are two forms of a question I ask that has seemed to be successful – What do you wish you knew that you don’t have here? What really frustrates/annoys you about this problem?
    In each case, I have seen some ideas get kick started here when kids can focus on some key ideas.


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