What I learned from Grant Wiggins

I’m not even remotely knowledgeable about education theory, but I enjoyed reading Grant Wiggins’s writing. He had a wonderful ability to translate from abstract to concrete when talking about ideas in education and thanks to that ability I always had something to take away from his pieces.

One example in particular made a lasting impression on me. In his exchange with Patrick Honner roughly two years ago, he used the problem below as an example of a difficult problem:


The difficulty of the problem surprised me – only about 5% of US 12th graders answered it correctly. His writing forced me think about what made the problem so difficult. Part of that thinking was working through the problem with my kids:

Wiggins actually left a fun comment on the video which was a nice surprise for me.

Just a few weeks ago I was talking with my older son about cylinders and returned to look at the problem much more carefully:

A deep dive into a problem from Grant Wiggins / Patrick Honner

What I learned from this experience was that my own judgment of the difficulty of a problem isn’t relevant to anything. When my kids are struggling with a problem or concept, I give it more time and try my best to understand their difficulty. I’m now also much more suspicious when I see comments like “this isn’t a hard concept” floating around on line.

I don’t know enough about educational theory to know what theoretical framework his this cylinder problem fits into, but his use of this concrete example led to a pretty important step forward for me in thinking about how to talk about math with kids. I’m lucky to have seen it.

Rest in peace Grant Wiggins.

A lucky follow up to yesterday’s Mathcounts project

Yesterday we did a fun project checking out the outrageous speed of some of the Mathcounts participants:

The Insane Speed of the Mathcounts Final

One of the questions we studied in yesterday’s project involved finding the area of a rhombus. By lucky coincidence today my younger son and I started a section in our Prealgebra book about the area of quadrilaterals. I thought it would be fun to revisit the Mathcounts problem now that we have actually studied how to find the area of a rhombus.

First we just recapped how you find the area of a rhombus.

Next up, we took another look at the problem (and the insane speed) from yesterday:

Finally, we took a second crack at solving the problem now that we’ve learned a bit more about rhombuses. Really happy with the way my son talked through the problem here.

So, a pretty lucky coincidence starting a section related to one of the problems from yesterday’s project. It was really fun to see him work through the problem, and, of course, nice to have another gasp at the speed involved in the Mathcounts final.