Jeremy Côté

When it Clicks

Think of a topic you really understand. One where your understanding is so clear that you know there’s no other way it could be.

Here’s the thing: Not everyone feels the same! Many people might even be confused about it.

There’s an opportunity here for teaching, for giving others the gift of what you see and know.

I recently had such a moment while working with a student on fractions. The student liked to picture fractions as pieces of a whole object. They were then struggling with adding fractions with different denominators.

The key insight is to transform the fractions to have common denominators, and then you can add the numerators. But instead of trying to jump straight to the arithmetic, I met the student where they were. I started with their picture and showed them how transforming a fraction is the same as chopping up the pictures into a greater number of equal pieces.

Two representations of the fraction 1/4. On the left is a circle cut into four pieces, with one part shaded. On the right is a circle cut into eight pieces, with two parts shaded.

For some reason, this explanation clicked with the student. “It’s that easy?” they said in disbelief.

I couldn’t help but smile at their expression of wonder. In that moment, I think the student saw mathematics as something they could do. Something clicked in their minds, and they could see the concept clearly.

As a teacher, this was a beautiful moment. I want to stress that this explanation might not work for everyone. The work I did was simply seeing where the student was in the moment and meeting them there.

Sometimes, all it takes is a change in perspective, a shift that illuminates a corner of a concept that was previously in shadow. And then, it becomes so obvious that the person doesn’t know how they ever didn’t see it this way.

My job as an teacher is to search for these moments. To create the conditions for a person to flourish and make things click.