Growing up were you a “math person?” Did you enjoy a good algorithm to solve or computing a multi-step word problem? Students as early as kindergarten classify themselves as a “math person” or on the contrary, “not a math person.” Students place themselves into these categories for a variety of reasons: past math experiences, parental influence, mindset or personality type. One PCM personality type allows students to process the world around them using data and logic. Their brains work like computers and they crave information. They also tend to believe they are “math people.” Thinker students enjoy processing math equations and spitting out answers. They feel proud when they get the right answer and love recognition of their work. However, thinkers sometimes hit a bump in the road when math moves from concrete equations and computation to real-life application. I was able to see one of my thinker students hit this bump in the road when my students launched a class business.
My students have a passion for art. We decided to launch a class business to showcase their art while allowing them to explore entrepreneurship. We made the students 100% in charge of the business. My thinker loved it! He could think logically about production sequencing, which paper would be the most sustainable and most affordable as well as how we could best budget our money. The other students really looked to my thinker to help logically guide our company. He took great pride his quick mental computations and our perfect products.
After the initial launch, we morphed our math time into “business meetings.” These business meetings were a way for my students transition from number computation to application of critical thinking skills. One day during our business meeting, I asked my students to calculate the cost of five products. A buzz filled our room and my students quickly turned to their math buddies and began discussing strategies. I noticed my thinker friend’s wheels were turning. As I walked around the room, I see students using traditional algorithms, breaking numbers apart into more friendly numbers and drawing illustrations in their journals. I get to my thinker friend and he’s written nothing in his journal. You see these numbers were growing bigger and bigger and were getting too difficult for my thinker to compute mentally. I notice his growing distress and ask to join him at his table. He gives me a nod. With frustration in his voice he tells me he knows he needs to add the supply costs but he doesn’t know the equation. I intentionally did not give the students the equation because I wanted them to choose their own strategy for solving. I can see my decision has rattled my little thinker. So, to help him escape distress, I use his preferred channel of communication. I simply ask him a few questions to guide him through the beginning stages of solving. I ask what numbers we are adding. He quickly spits our supply costs back at me. I smile and remind him of our addition strategies and ask which is his favorite. Without skipping a beat, he lets me know that he only solves problems using algorithms. So, I know he has the information he needs and understands the process of addition. What’s the hold up? I realize my little thinker is scared of making a mistake when solving in his journal. He is keeping himself guarded from potential failure. I reminded him that I value his thinking and I appreciate his hard work. As I walk back around the room, I see him pick up his pencil and begin to write in his journal. When all the students are done solving we have a “strategy share.” The students love sharing their strategies take pride in getting to write their strategy on the board in their favorite color marker. I can tell my thinker is not eager to share. One by one my students share their answers and write their strategies on the board. He chooses not to share, which was totally fine. We had a great discussion and the kids were excited to have calculated such a large sum and also spending a lot of money.
On the way to lunch, I checked in with my thinker. He was very quiet and was very much still in distress. I walk up beside him and ask if he enjoyed today’s “business meeting.” He aggressively turned and told me it was the worst math lesson ever and it was all my fault. Having dealt with thinker distress my entire life personally, I was unphased by his aggression and tone. I ask my thinker to tell me what was most difficult for him. He sits down and begins to talk incestantly. He shares for 10 minutes without taking a breath. He logically gives me information about my lesson, my teaching style, why the numbers were so hard for him and more. I take a breath and begin to share how impressed I was by his work and his thinking. He looked up at me puzzled. He was dumbfounded that I was proud of him when he hadn’t even solved the problem. He began to process in his little thinker brain, then gave me a grin and ran off to lunch. For my thinker friend, the answer had always been more important than the process and he’d always had answer.
A few weeks have passed, business is booming and in turn, our “business meetings” are happening daily. My little thinker has grown so much in such a short time. He is becoming more open to solving problems using critical thinking strategies and application not just mental computation. He has even opened up to trying new strategies and not just his trusty algorithm. By meeting my thinker’s psychological needs, valuing his work and communicating with him in his preference, he was able to be step outside of his comfort zone and grow as a learner.
About the Author
Katelyn Patterson is currently the second-grade teacher and STEAM coordinator at MUSE School, CA. Katelyn received her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from the University of Alabama. After graduation, Katelyn was recruited to work at the first STEAM elementary school in the world, teaching and developing curriculum. Katelyn went on to receive her Master’s degree in Childhood Psychology and Counseling. Katelyn moved to Los Angeles in 2014 and found her home at MUSE. It was there she was introduced to the Process Communication Model. Coming from the educational psychology realm, PCM was a breath of fresh air. PCM embodied Katelyn’s teaching philosophy that all children need different things as learners and individuals. As a base thinker phase promoter, PCM also gave Katelyn new tools to connect and understand students, their parents and peers. Katelyn is currently studying to become a PCM Trainer. In her free time, she enjoys checking things off her lists, spending time with her husband, eating delicious new foods, travelling and going to baseball games.
You can find out more about MUSE school in California here
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