Over the past few years I have noticed that my pupils are becoming less confident when faced with challenging problems. If they read a problem and don’t know how they are going to work out the final answer they have a tendency to give up and not even try it.

Part of the problem is that the pupils are scared of making a mistake. How do I get my pupils to make an attempt at a problem even if they don’t know where they will end up?

I wonder if part of the problem is the type of question that they commonly face. Below is a question from one of our textbooks for S2 pupils.

This is a very structured question. It takes the pupil through the problem step by step. Holding their hand at every step.

Would this be a better problem?

Or – would it be even better as this?Am I doing my pupils a disservice by giving them too many parts to a question? I think that it would be beneficial for my pupils if I gave them less structured questions even if it means they struggle initially. Yes the problem would take more time but in the long run it will surely help.

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Not to mention our habit of giving students problems from pages entitled “Pythagorean Theorem” or “Cosine Law”. So instead of thinking, “what do I know that might help me solve this problem?” I think, “how do I make Pythagoras solve this problem?” Or instead of thinking of “what factors do I need to determine to decide if it should be cosine law or sine law?” I look to how Cosine law will be applied. For your post, “What would be worth the most, a solid gold cylinder or another that is twice as wide but half as tall?”

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Absolutely. We have a real problem by teaching maths in discrete topics that don’t allow pupils to decide how best to solve the problem. Really like your cylinder question.

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