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Support Discomfort with Ambiguity in Math & Science


Mathematics Science ^21st Century Skills All Ages Strategy


Flexible Thinking Self-regulation Abstract Reasoning

Support Discomfort with Ambiguity in Math & Science

If your student is most concerned about getting the 'right answer' in math and science rather than the process

Instruction And Practice

  1. Objective: Students will grow more comfortable tackling math and science problems that feel abstract, ambiguous, or seem not to follow an expected or concrete path to solving.
  2. For students who are uncomfortable with ambiguity or not knowing the answer right away, continued reassurance, encouragement, and confidence building is key. Help students realize that confusion is normal and experienced by everyone, even classmates who might not show or admit it. Often the greatest amount of confusion precedes the "aha" moment or breakthrough in understanding. Place an emphasis on persevering through the challenge rather than a singular focus on getting the right answer.
  3. Provide safe opportunities for questions and discussion, away from peers if necessary.
  4. Avoid an over-emphasis on following a structured rubric, and more focus on conceptual understanding. Rubrics can cause more confusion when a problem doesn't exactly follow the rule.

Why It Works (the Science Of Learning)!

Everyone experiences some amount of discomfort with novel and abstract concepts. Some students do not show their discomfort or are simply more comfortable with the level of uncertainty. Other students might feel alone in their confusion, assume they are "not good at it" and give up as a result. Encouraging children with a simple "you're almost there" can be the support they need to work through the difficulty. And of course, success breeds confidence and self-confidence fosters learning.