My teacher doesn’t do it that way!

My Teacher Doesn't Do It That Way

How many times have we all heard that when helping with math? My kids were convinced that I was trying to teach them the ‘wrong way’ and that there was only one ‘right way’ — the way their teacher showed them!

I sometimes hear parents remark, “I don’t want to confuse them’ or ‘I can’t help them because that’s not the way I learned it’. I hasten to reassure them that there are many advantages to learning multiple solution paths for solving a problem!

Advantage 1: Students can take ownership of the solution path and find success.

Advantage 2: Finding a way which works for them allows students to understand thoroughly how and why it works. They can then apply it to a variety of other problems.

Advantage 3: In life, there ARE multiple solution paths to most problems! Mom may load the dishwasher in THIS way because it works best for her. Brother may load the dishwasher in THAT way because it make sense to him. Both ways work to get the dishes clean!

Advantage 4: Multiple solution paths open a world of rich mathematical discussions. Talk to your child about how they solved the problem and then show them how you solved it. I sometimes have students show ‘their way’ and demonstrate for classmates. They are so proud to be able to show a different solution path.

Advantage 5: Skilled mathematical thinkers have a variety of problem-solving strategies in their toolbox and can access them quickly and efficiently. They understand that the same strategy doesn’t work for all problems and is able to apply the best, most effective strategy for each problem they solve, almost effortlessly or without even thinking about it.

Advantage 6: Finding and using more than one way to solve problems MOTIVATES students to want to learn more! Children are naturally curious will more readily dive into problems and start exploring. This builds math confidence and promotes creative mathematical thought.

Here is a simple example of three solution paths:


Solution Path A: 12 x 5 = 60 Memorize and be ready to tell the answer

(yes, that is the way I learned it)


Solution Path B: 12 x 5 = 60 Break and Bridge method 12 = 10 + 2

10 x 5 = 50 and 2 x 5 = 10

50 + 10 = 60


Solution Path C: 12 x 5 = 60 Break and Bridge method 12 = 6 + 6

6 x 5 = 30 and 6 x 5 = 30

30 + 30 = 60

I often tell my students that ‘there is more than one way to get to Food City’. That’s our classroom language to explain that there are many solution paths to a problem and that it is fun to discover a new route!

Using multiple solution paths empowers students to tackle problems in their own way and to add strategies to their math toolbox. By sharing solution paths, we can all learn from each other.

What are your personal experiences of ‘my way or the highway’? As a math student, were you encouraged to think creatively or were you given THE way to solve? When helping your kids, do they insist on solving in only one way? How can you help them think more creatively? Share ideas with us!


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