Brooke Powers assigned her middle-school math class a probability exercise with no single correct answer and was monumentally frustrated by her kids' inability to accept the idea of a problem without a canonical solution. After a long and productive wrangle with her kids about how critical thinking works and why divergent problem-solving is much more important than mechanically calculating an answer that you could just get out of a computer, she salvaged the exercise and made something genuinely wonderful out of it.
When did we brainwash kids into thinking that math was about getting an answer? My students truly believe for some reason that math is about combining whatever numbers you can in whatever method that seems about right to get one “answer” and then call it a day. They rarely think about what they are doing as long as at the end of the day their answer is “correct”. Today they were given a task with no real correct answer and they lost it. It did however lead us to have a very productive discussion about that fact that they are lucky, after all they live in the 21 century where they can solve any computation problem with technology with no issue. The problem I told them lies in the fact that they have no idea how to interpret that answer. We talked about the need for them to stop worrying about if I think their answer is right and to start worrying about whether or not they thought their answer was right. I told them I was sorry someone (maybe me) broke their desire to think about math and instead taught them that math was a means to an end where there was always one right and one wrong answer and then I told them to try their assignment again.