A “One Problem Lesson Plan” that didn’t Go as Planned

I’ve been trying to incorporate more “one problem lesson plans” into my classroom this year.  My first few attempts were pretty successful.  My most recent one didn’t go quite as I had hoped.

I gave students this problem from 1 to 9 Puzzle.

I was disappointed at how many students had forgotten how to multiply fractions already, but at the same time I was happy to see them use their resources to figure it out before asking me how to.

I really didn’t expect this to be as much of a struggle as it was for students.  I don’t know if it was the fractions or what, but was like we were back to the first time I had given students a problem like this.  They didn’t know where to start, so many just sat there.  Ugh!

Shortly after students got in groups, I could tell this was going differently than the other times we did problems like this.  There were times throughout the class period that I thought about giving up, having students stop, and move on to the next lesson, but I decided to use this as an opportunity for myself to learn how to move students forward in situations like this.  I don’t know that this was the best approach to this, but here’s what I did.

1.  About five minutes into student work time on this problem when many students were “stuck on the escalator”, we talked about how students could get off the escalator.  They gave me a couple ideas of how to do this in the context of this problem.  (Scroll through this post from Sara Van Der Werf to read about the escalator and beagle video she shows her students.  I highly recommend using them in your classroom!)
2. A little while later when I noticed students getting “stuck on the escalator” again, I brought the class together and asked students to share anything they had figured out so far.  A few students shared fractions they had put in cells a and b.
3. A while later, I gave students one number in the puzzle – I think it was 7.  I told them I wasn’t sure if this was the only solution to the puzzle, there may be more, but for one of the solutions, this is where the 7 goes.  For whatever reason, this really got students going and excited to work again.
4. With about 5-10 minutes left in class and as the students energy started to work on the problem started to decrease again, I let students vote on what number they wanted me to give them next.  I think they voted for me to tell them where the 1 went.

By the end of class I think 2 groups out of about 10 had figured out the solution.

The homework for students that night was to spend 10 minutes working on the problem.

When we came back the next day, the majority of my students told me they spent 10 minutes on the problem, and in that time I think one or two students came up with a solution.  We did go over the answer the next day.  My students worked on the problem for an entire class period and most spent additional time on it at home, and around 5 students had a solution, yet I gave the entire class the solution.  Was this there right thing to do?  Probably not.  Should I have had students work on it again that night?  I don’t know.  When a problem like this is more of a struggle for students than I anticipated, I don’t know the right balance between giving them enough time to wrestle with the problem and burning them out/frustrating them too much with one task.

BUT I do know that because I, as the teacher, persisted through the lesson rather than giving up and moving on, I gave myself experience in this situation that I can use in future lessons that don’t go as planned and because of that, I don’t consider the lesson a complete fail.

And in case you’re interested, here is a solution to the problem.