# The Power of Productive Struggle in the Math Classroom

Figuring out the missing “x” integer in the equation isn’t always easy. When it comes to math, some answers aren’t straightforward, and some problems simply stump and frustrate students. But struggling to find the right answer shouldn’t be seen as a sign of failure! In productive struggle, perseverance and effort are just as important as solving the problem.

In order to succeed in math, students need to learn to overcome obstacles, think creatively to solve problems, and enjoy the process along the way. And through productive struggle, students learn to do just that! You may even find that students' negative feelings toward math are diminished as the focus shifts toward their individual ideas and experiences in math.

Read on to learn how supporting productive struggle can benefit both you and your students, and discover how to implement it in the math classroom!

### What is productive struggle?

Productive struggle refers to effortful learning that empowers students to solve problems and think outside the box. Often described as “the sweet spot of learning,” productive struggle is the point at which students are challenged but not overwhelmed. This balance is important as it ensures students are engaged and can rely on previous knowledge to think outside of the box!

Through productive struggle, students solve problems they may have never seen before and develop skills like perseverance and grit. If students do get discouraged, teachers can provide reassurance to ensure they continue to try new strategies to tackle the problem. With productive struggle, students are better prepared for increasingly rigorous math and new math problems.

### Why is productive struggle important in the math classroom?

What makes the productive struggle process so important for learning math? There are numerous benefits to productive struggle for both students and teachers.

**Develop deeper conceptual understanding**- The productive struggle process requires students to use their own reasoning and background knowledge to come up with solutions. Doing so helps students develop a deeper, conceptual understanding of math and critical thinking skills.**Enhanced problem-solving skills**- When students are encouraged to problem-solve on their own it builds their math confidence and growth mindsets, lessening their dependency on spoon-fed answers. Newly developed problem-solving skills can be used to tackle increasingly rigorous math problems in the future!**Support student-centered learning**- In productive struggle, students take the lead in their learning. Students are engaged in independent and peer learning activities as the teacher facilitates. Student-centered learning helps develop problem-solving skills, encourages cooperation, and improves engagement.**Create a better understanding of students’ needs**- Because students are at the center of productive struggle, teachers can hear and observe students' understanding and misconceptions. As teachers circle the classroom, they can gather data and provide real-time support. This information can later be used to better shape improved lesson plans to meet all students' needs.

### How do you promote productive struggle in the math classroom?

When a student is struggling in math, your initial instinct may be to step in. However, when productive struggle is implemented, students are equipped with the tools to take on any challenge in math without fear. Support students in productive struggle in your math classroom with these teaching tips.

**Give students time**- Don’t make the mistake of rushing through math lessons. Allow students to think and work through tasks. Slowing down the learning process helps students retain information.**Scaffold students’ thinking**- It may be tempting to show a struggling student what to do. Instead, while students are at work, ask them scaffolding questions to get them thinking.**Avoid giving hints**- Productive struggle is all about letting students try things on their own. If students do ask for help, try offering different starting points or problem-solving strategies. Encourage them to try and solve the problem on their own. Embrace the momentary silence to provide ample think-time between questions.**Provide non-routine problems**- Not every math problem can be solved with a formula. Expose students to non-routine problems and real-world scenarios, which will challenge them to think critically.**Foster a math growth mindset**- Every student is capable of being a math problem solver. Help students think positively about themselves and their abilities through growth mindset affirmations.**Showcase problem-solving**- In math, students can take many different paths that lead them to the solution, so it’s important to show the various strategies and methods to solve a problem. Encourage students to showcase and share their problem-solving processes with their peers too.**Praise perseverance**- Make sure to celebrate students’ perseverance and problem-solving efforts. Doing so will help students understand that math isn’t always about getting the right answer.**Create a collaborative classroom environment**- Allow students to work together to solve problems. That way students can learn social-emotional skills like relationship building, all while growing their math skills and perseverance.

### Productive struggle resources

Find additional resources to support students in productive struggle with ExploreLearning math solutions. Take the fear out of math and foster problem-solving and math confidence with our resources for tackling the largest math challenges!

**Grades 2+ **

The most effective system for mastering math facts

**Grades 3+ **

Game-based program helps students learn fractions

**Grades 3-12 **

Math and science simulations that excite curiosity and inquiry

Sign up to get the latest updates from ExploreLearning via occasional email.