How do we do skills in a problem-solving oriented class?

You’ve got a really awesome, quick answer for me, right? This one’s easy-peasy?

I’ve been having many conversations about how to include skills/review in a class that is much more centered around problem-solving. It really helps when students can efficiently and effectively calculate with positive and negative numbers, solve equations, etc. How do we get that to happen?

So, how to incorporate these skills without compromising values/the classroom? My first idea was to have 5 minute math sessions 3 days/week, emphasizing to students that this was about improving YOUR score and keeping everything fresh. Quick, clean, done.

But … is 5 MM really the best for this task of review/skill retention? First of all, if a student is really stuck on how to do something effectively and efficiently, 5 MM is not going to help him/her get smarter. ┬áSecond, even if I frame 5MM as a competition against yourself, we don’t care how you’re doing just that you’re getting better, etc., the practice still comes from a place of competition and drill.

Plus, I went to a talk this weekend that included a statistic about how large a percent of people remember 5 MM as literally harmful.

So, enter Number Stories, about which I learned in “What’s Math Got to Do with It?” (good book). With a number story, the teacher posts any problem that one could reasonably choose to do in one’s head on the board. Students then solve it in their head, giving a thumbs up when they have reached the answer. After some large percentage of students have thumbs up, students share different methods for doing the problem in their head.

Why is this (maybe) better? It decreases competition, but more importantly, students who try to do problems in their head inefficiently are expending incredible mental energy on calculation, rather than other areas of a problem. Having students share their methods opens up pathways for students who do not yet have as efficient methods. Everyone wins! (I think?)

Now, how to track data connected to number stories for my educator goals is another story …

What are your thoughts on how best to incorporate skills and review into a task-oriented class?