When I pondered what my URL should be for my WyzAnt business card, the image of Stepping Stones appeared in my mind’s eye. Most challenges in life can be compared with crossing a stream or a river. When the water is shallow and the other side is not too far away, you wade into the water and walk across. You need to mind each step, pay attention to the current, but, if your footing is sure, you’ll make it to your destination with little trepidation.
Some challenges, however, seem more daunting than a meandering stream. You may find yourself on the bank of a raging river. The other side seems unreachable. If you focus too much on the obstacles, you may never leave the safety of your side of the shore. You may just give up. Or you may choose to dive in and hope for the best, only to find that you are being swept downstream, farther and farther from your destination.
Now, imagine that you have the power to create Stepping Stones in this river. The first one appears nearby, an easy jump from the shore. You take some time on this stone to develop the confidence you need to create another stone. Here, you take some more time and attention to gain a firm footing before you create the next stone. Soon you will find that you can easily hop from stone to stone, reducing the “big challenge” into a series of small steps.
In this way, the vast distance you must travel to get to other side of the river becomes unimportant. Your focus on the present and the past steps you took to get HERE are all that matters.
So it is with Mathematics. Each chapter in your textbook is based on information from the previous chapter. Each course, for the most part, requires the use of skills you developed in the previous course. If one stepping stone is slippery, because you were not able to build your confidence in the material, you will not be able to hop safely to the next stone. The sound of the rushing water drowns out any new information that can get you to the next step. You become stuck in the middle of the raging river.
When I work with students who are slipping, I divide each lesson into the Past and the Present. Gaps in knowledge of past material become evident as a student attempts to solve math problems that are part of the current material. I develop customized handouts that the student uses to practice the basic skills. As confidence is gained on each stepping stone from the past, the raging river quiets to a steady stream. The student can then open his or her senses to what is presently being taught, and, thereby, gain the ability to easily create the next stone.
Lately, I have been blessed with such determined students, that we are now using part of our lessons to learn Future material. We are creating Stepping Stones that the rest of class hasn’t even imagined yet!