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.

2 thoughts on “What I learned from Grant Wiggins

  1. I only recently started reading Grant Wiggin’s work and was really saddened to hear of his passing. He made a significant contribution to the thinking of so many teachers and gave us all so much.

    Also, thanks for re-sharing this activity.

  2. I’m very late to the party on this post but I tried this one out with my son tonight and he really liked it. I think he literally said “Wow that’s cool” when he discovered the triangles.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s