What do you do when you see a problem full of weird things you’ve never seen before?

Or a super-long problem?

Or just a problem that combines things you’ve learned in a way you’ve never encountered?

What MOST people do is look at the problem, and as soon as they register it as “unfamiliar,” they give up.

They think, “I don’t know how to do EVERYTHING in this problem, so I must not know how to do it AT ALL.”

Like, “If I don’t know everything, I don’t know anything.”

But my students and I have encountered a fascinating phenomenon.

Hidden inside most “seemingly impossible” problems is a tiny crumb of do-ability.

If you find this tiny crumb and you start there…

… a lot of times, that’s all you need to get started…

… and once you get started, a lot of times, that’s all you need to get going… and solve it!

For example, a student of mine came across a problem that combined a bunch of negative and positive integers with brackets and parentheses:

[(-8*5)-(6*-9)](-2*3)

My student’s first reaction was, “I don’t know how to do this.”

Then she realized that she DID know how to do 8 times 5… (to quote her, she said, “I could do 8 times 5 like in second grade”)

…and then she remembered that negative 8 times negative 5 is positive…

…and by finding the “tiny crumb of do-ability”, she was actually able to get started and complete the entire “scary/impossible problem.” It actually took her less than a minute to do the whole thing!

And she observed, “All I had to do was use what I learned in 2nd grade,” just in a slightly more complex combination than before.

For another example, another student of mine got stumped when practicing translating English into math, a problem like, “The difference of seven times n and three is twenty-seven.”

Her first reaction was, “I haven’t learned this yet.”

She looked for the little piece she did know… which was that ‘is twenty-seven’ translates into EQUALS 27.

Once she got started with that little piece, she was able to build out from there, that ‘seven n’ is 7n, and ‘the difference of seven times n and three’ is 7n-3, all the way to the full translation, 7n-3=27.

To quote one of my students on how she felt after we worked on this approach together, “Problems are never so hard when you break them down. You can’t judge a problem by its length or numbers. Even if it just looks really hard, you have to break it down.”

So the next time you encounter a problem that just stops you in your tracks, looks super long or complicated, or overwhelms you with unfamiliar symbols, look for the tiny crumb of do-ability.

Even if it seems insignificantly small, a lot of the time it’s all you need to get on your way to the solution.

This is also a great way to practice deliberately being with the UNKNOWN and setting yourself up for revelations and lightbulb moments, like I wrote about in “Do you wish your kid could feel like Albert Einstein while doing math?”

Do you wish your passionate, unique, visionary kid could be supported in breaking things down and experiencing math as fun, do-able, and creative? Then let’s get you started with your application to my powerful private tutoring programs!

This application includes the super valuable opportunity to speak with me one-on-one and get clear about exactly what’s going on in your family’s math situation.

Just click here to get started with your special application.

Once your application is received, we’ll set up a special phone call to explore whether or not my magical math tutoring programs would be a fit for your family! I’m excited to connect with you!

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A 5th grader goes from believing “math doesn’t like me” to singing and dancing about math while wearing a purple tutu