Back to: Module: Helping Students Do Math

## Setup

It’s hard to say exactly where Jessica started falling behind in math. But it’s safe to say that 4th grade math was a frustrating time in Jessica’s life.

Adding and subtracting had been fine, although a bit boring at times. Multiplication and division weren’t too bad as long as she could remember the rules. But 4th grade was when math really began sounding like a foreign language to her, and she started giving up. In fact, she knew exactly when it all began. It was mid-November and she had missed a week of school due to some nasty stomach bug. Her math teacher had told her not to worry about what she missed, but just to jump back in when she got back.

When Jessica did return to school, she was presented with a handout full of shapes. The directions told her to find the shapes that had a “line of symmetry.” Jessica had no idea what that meant. She started to raise her hand, but then she noticed that her teacher seemed a bit stressed out about something, and she didn’t want to bother him. She just decided to guess. She thought that symmetry might mean something about being the same, so she just circled all the shapes that looked roughly the same.

She wasn’t too surprised the following day when she got a paper full of red ink. Even worse was the torture of the next week where the teacher kept talking about things like rotational symmetry and reflection symmetry; there was even a lesson about an airplane of symmetry or something like that. She still didn’t even know what this symmetry thing was! Jessica just put her head down on her desk a lot and waited for the next topic where she planned to jump in with a fresh start. Little did she realize that the next few weeks would deal with areas and volumes, which were based on the concept of symmetry. And after that, there were lessons that depended on finding the area or volume, and so on. You get the idea.

## Challenge Questions

(to be answered independently or in a group)

- How could the teacher have handled this situation in a way that would have been more beneficial to Jessica?
- What could Jessica have done to take responsibility for her own learning?
- Think of a time when you felt overwhelmed when you were trying to learn something new. How did you react? What could have been done—either by yourself or others—that would have helped you to learn the material better?