Tips to Encourage Risk-Taking

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Tips to Encourage Risk-Taking

We’re risk takers here at Spirit of Math Schools.


No, we’re not talking about skydiving or bungee jumping, but risk taking in mathematics. In our program, we push our students to take a leap of faith and step outside their comfort zone to take on challenging mathematical concepts. Tackling intimidating concepts in math involves taking a risk. The risk of failure. The risk of having to try again. The risk of getting it wrong. At Spirit of Math, we:

  • Promote cooperation - Pushing students to take a risk by sharing their unique ideas with their peers.
  • Inspire confidence - Encouraging students tot take risks, so they know what they’re capable of.
  • Release the genius in every child - Influencing creative thinking, which is heavily dependant on the ability to take risks.

We want our students to take these risks by pushing themselves to do more than they think they can.

Take our Spirit of Math contests for example. Being willing to take a risk is critical to participating in any math contest. In a competitive environment, participants must accept the risk of failure or not meeting their own expectations.

A student with the willingness to take risks is more likely to develop skills in perseverance, along with logical and creative thinking.


“The future of this world is dependent on our children being able to do the math – not just the arithmetic – not just exploring and creating – but taking the risks to think mathematically,” explains Spirit of Math CEO and founder Kim Langen. 

Here are a few ways to promote risk taking among your students:


Look at the question, not the answer 
In the memorization of steps and formulas, students’ focus is shifted to the answer rather than the question. Promote risk taking by starting with a question, which will encourage students to engage in conversation and debate. With the open-endedness of a question, students will be more inclined to take a risk as they explore a variety of ways to answer it. Their answer might not always be correct, but in their risk taking, there is growth.


Don’t be afraid to let students struggle

Giving students more time to struggle with a problem allows them more time to think. By allowing your students time to struggle with a question, you are promoting risk taking and comprehensive thinking, while deepening curiosity and observation.


While as a teacher, you may be tempted to step in as your students struggle, but don’t! Let your students know you are confident in their ability to work through the problem together on their own.


Allowing students freedom to struggle is put on display in the way our student tackle POW (Problem of the Week) questions. At the end of every class, they get together in groups of three or four to tackle the problem together.

In a student’s struggle with a problem, they will ask questions, observe, and won’t be afraid to take a risk. They’ll be more willing to risk failure and take a stab at a problem’s solution, and whether they’re right or wrong, the classroom will erupt in debate as they look at the problem from different perspectives.  


Don’t always be the “answer key”  

As the teacher, students will always come to you for answers, but you won’t always have them. Encourage students to be inquisitive and ask questions. As the teacher, it is your role to guide them towards the answer, not simply provide it. When a unique question is posed by a student, figure out the solution together as a class by drawing everyone in through engagement, conversation and debate. When a student knows he or she is able to ask questions, they’ll feel more comfortable taking a risk.


What’s more, giving your students a chance to debate amongst themselves creates a learning environment where your students become the teachers. You are showing your confidence in their skills and abilities to teach each other and learn from their diverse ideas and approaches.


Explore all ideas, even if they’re wrong

There is no such thing as a “bad” idea. By being open to ALL of your students’ ideas, you are opening your classroom to deep thinking. Even a “wrong” idea is a learning opportunity. If a student says “2^3 = 6,” explore that concept’s consequences by studying, disproving and debating it.  It’s better to be shown why you’re wrong, rather than simply being told so.


How do you encourage your student or child to take risks? Let us know your thoughts! Agree? Disagree? Be sure to Engage and share your thoughts with the Spirit of Math community! 


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