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Teachers are finding that when students are encouraged to find multiple solutions and ways to solve a problem, there are benefits when a math curriculum encourages mental flexibility.

It seemed like a simple problem for the third graders in Theresa Gilbert’s Green Acres Elementary class.  how could they draw 12 pairs of shoes?  Instead of memorizing facts, students set to work, drawing ways to represent 12 pairs of shoes, or 24 shoes.

As part of the Common Core Curriculum, students have to show their work.  They are also asked multiple ways to find solutions to a problem.

The basic problem Gilbert put to her students was this:  If a shoe store employee has 24 laces, how many pairs of shoes can be laced?

Students were asked to draw pictures, write sentences – number sentences, that is.  Some of the results truly showed how the students thought.

One 8 year old showed 12 circles on his whiteboard radiating out from a “24” in the center. He called it a “number bond” like legs on a squid relate to the whole.  He then drew a matching diagram with 2 circles labeled “12”.  Then he wrote the equation – “12 times 2 equals 24”.

According to Gilbert, the objective is to get students talking to each other.  They compare work with a partner and present their results and explanations to the class.  She presented the new math curriculum, called Eureka, to parents earlier.  At first it may seem that students are doing more work for a simple result, but Gilbert says that the process will help later, when students are taking algebra in middle and high school.