New Year Resolution: Incorporate “Moore” Problem Solving in my Classroom

Four students sitting next to each other studying

I want to learn MOORE about it.

No, I didn’t misspell it, and my word processor didn’t miss anything. I’ve been thinking about New Year’s, resolutions, and all of that, and a colleague got me thinking. She vowed to have 52 new experiences this year. Sounds so simplistic, yet it’s really quite powerful. Think about it: instead of restricting yourself in some way (“I have to lose weight”) or making yourself do something you dislike (“I have to exercise more”), you give yourself some new opportunities to learn and grow. (I’m not saying those are bad things, but there’s a lot of research about the short duration of many resolutions!) What motivates you?  Imagine the impact of positive resolutions. The human brain is innately wired to want to be curious; we’re designed to learnRead one of the many books on the market about how we think and why we do what we do…like Thinking, Fast and Slow.  Or, as it’s timely, The Power of Habit.

How does that tie in to “Moore?” Well, let us take a few minutes to learn about R. L. Moore. Moore’s methodology for teaching has been associated with discovery learning, inquiry-based learning, Socratic method, constructivism, and more, yet are seemingly too limited to define his teaching method. Robert Lee Moore was a twentieth century mathematician (1882-1974) who is credited with some of the most significant work in topology. His method disallowed students from using texts during the learning process, minimalised the use of lectures in class, and did not require collaboration between classmates. “It is in essence a Socratic method that encourages students to solve problems using their own skills of critical analysis and creativity. Moore summed it up in just eleven words : ‘That student is taught the best who is told the least.’”  (A Quick Start Guide to the Moore Method, document co-authored by W. Ted Mahavier, E. Lee May, and G. Edgar Parker, with input from Robert Eslinger. 7 July 2006)

I want to ignite in my students the power to ask questions, explore, discover concepts. How do I get my students to engage in activities making sense of mathematics? Of course many students would argue they don’t need to know how to factor in order to function professionally. My response is that the purpose of our course is not just to acquire math facts but to help them learn to THINK. I wrote last year about this concept, too; today’s citizen needs an arsenal of problem solving techniques for everyday life. By engaging in activities in the classroom that force students to make sense of material, they develop problem solving skills. Should my students leave my classroom with “all the answers,” or should they leave with some unanswered questions and the skillset to look for answers?

I can’t ask my students to do something I’m not willing to do. Do I read a book or two, or attend a workshop and leave with questions and a desire to grow professionally? Is my learning sometimes challenging and confusing as I sort materials and make sense of new information? That’s exactly what we want to encourage in our students, and exactly what I want more of for myself. So my goal this year is to challenge myself to grow intellectually; I’m not so sure I am quite ready to digest 52 new theories or projects, but I can make a goal of reading a new professional book a month, or attending a workshop, or diving into some online training.

Here’s a book for you to start with: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. It’s interesting, and there are some practical applications for all of us, whether it’s in the classroom, the courtroom, or the living room at home.



About the Author
Diane Hollister

Diane Hollister

Diane Hollister has been teaching college courses since 1992. In June 2015, she resigned from her full-time position at Reading Area Community College in Reading, Pennsylvania, where all the math courses have undergone some level of redesign. She still teaches online there and now is part of Pearson’s Efficacy team, helping instructors to implement programs and strategies that bolster student success.

She is intrigued by neurobiological research and learning theory, and she was quick to adopt adaptive learning as a new tool in her courses. Not only does she strive to help her students succeed, but Diane enjoys the collaboration with her peers. She has taught a variety of courses and loves learning how new technology and resources can help students be more successful.

Read more of her articles about math, ICTCM, and quantitative reasoning.