Students who are presented with unfamiliar concepts, asked to work through them, and then taught the solution significantly outperform those who are taught through formal instruction and problem-solving. The approach is both utterly intuitive—we learn from mistakes—and completely counter-intuitive: letting kids flail around with unfamiliar math concepts seems both inefficient and potentially damaging to their confidence.
Kapur believes that struggle activates parts of the brain that trigger deeper learning. Students have to figure out three critical things: what they know, the limits of what they know, and exactly what they do not know. Floundering first elevates the learning from knowing a formula to understanding it, and applying it in unfamiliar contexts.