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.