## Center for Teaching

Teaching problem solving.

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## Tips and Techniques

Expert vs. novice problem solvers, communicate.

- Have students identify specific problems, difficulties, or confusions . Don’t waste time working through problems that students already understand.
- If students are unable to articulate their concerns, determine where they are having trouble by asking them to identify the specific concepts or principles associated with the problem.
- In a one-on-one tutoring session, ask the student to work his/her problem out loud . This slows down the thinking process, making it more accurate and allowing you to access understanding.
- When working with larger groups you can ask students to provide a written “two-column solution.” Have students write up their solution to a problem by putting all their calculations in one column and all of their reasoning (in complete sentences) in the other column. This helps them to think critically about their own problem solving and helps you to more easily identify where they may be having problems. Two-Column Solution (Math) Two-Column Solution (Physics)

## Encourage Independence

- Model the problem solving process rather than just giving students the answer. As you work through the problem, consider how a novice might struggle with the concepts and make your thinking clear
- Have students work through problems on their own. Ask directing questions or give helpful suggestions, but provide only minimal assistance and only when needed to overcome obstacles.
- Don’t fear group work ! Students can frequently help each other, and talking about a problem helps them think more critically about the steps needed to solve the problem. Additionally, group work helps students realize that problems often have multiple solution strategies, some that might be more effective than others

## Be sensitive

- Frequently, when working problems, students are unsure of themselves. This lack of confidence may hamper their learning. It is important to recognize this when students come to us for help, and to give each student some feeling of mastery. Do this by providing positive reinforcement to let students know when they have mastered a new concept or skill.

## Encourage Thoroughness and Patience

- Try to communicate that the process is more important than the answer so that the student learns that it is OK to not have an instant solution. This is learned through your acceptance of his/her pace of doing things, through your refusal to let anxiety pressure you into giving the right answer, and through your example of problem solving through a step-by step process.

Experts (teachers) in a particular field are often so fluent in solving problems from that field that they can find it difficult to articulate the problem solving principles and strategies they use to novices (students) in their field because these principles and strategies are second nature to the expert. To teach students problem solving skills, a teacher should be aware of principles and strategies of good problem solving in his or her discipline .

The mathematician George Polya captured the problem solving principles and strategies he used in his discipline in the book How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (Princeton University Press, 1957). The book includes a summary of Polya’s problem solving heuristic as well as advice on the teaching of problem solving.

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## Teaching problem solving

Strategies for teaching problem solving apply across disciplines and instructional contexts. First, introduce the problem and explain how people in your discipline generally make sense of the given information. Then, explain how to apply these approaches to solve the problem.

## Introducing the problem

Explaining how people in your discipline understand and interpret these types of problems can help students develop the skills they need to understand the problem (and find a solution). After introducing how you would go about solving a problem, you could then ask students to:

- frame the problem in their own words
- define key terms and concepts
- determine statements that accurately represent the givens of a problem
- identify analogous problems
- determine what information is needed to solve the problem

## Working on solutions

In the solution phase, one develops and then implements a coherent plan for solving the problem. As you help students with this phase, you might ask them to:

- identify the general model or procedure they have in mind for solving the problem
- set sub-goals for solving the problem
- identify necessary operations and steps
- draw conclusions
- carry out necessary operations

You can help students tackle a problem effectively by asking them to:

- systematically explain each step and its rationale
- explain how they would approach solving the problem
- help you solve the problem by posing questions at key points in the process
- work together in small groups (3 to 5 students) to solve the problem and then have the solution presented to the rest of the class (either by you or by a student in the group)

In all cases, the more you get the students to articulate their own understandings of the problem and potential solutions, the more you can help them develop their expertise in approaching problems in your discipline.

## Teaching Problem-Solving Skills

Many instructors design opportunities for students to solve “problems”. But are their students solving true problems or merely participating in practice exercises? The former stresses critical thinking and decision making skills whereas the latter requires only the application of previously learned procedures.

Problem solving is often broadly defined as "the ability to understand the environment, identify complex problems, review related information to develop, evaluate strategies and implement solutions to build the desired outcome" (Fissore, C. et al, 2021). True problem solving is the process of applying a method – not known in advance – to a problem that is subject to a specific set of conditions and that the problem solver has not seen before, in order to obtain a satisfactory solution.

Below you will find some basic principles for teaching problem solving and one model to implement in your classroom teaching.

## Principles for teaching problem solving

- Model a useful problem-solving method . Problem solving can be difficult and sometimes tedious. Show students how to be patient and persistent, and how to follow a structured method, such as Woods’ model described below. Articulate your method as you use it so students see the connections.
- Teach within a specific context . Teach problem-solving skills in the context in which they will be used by students (e.g., mole fraction calculations in a chemistry course). Use real-life problems in explanations, examples, and exams. Do not teach problem solving as an independent, abstract skill.
- Help students understand the problem . In order to solve problems, students need to define the end goal. This step is crucial to successful learning of problem-solving skills. If you succeed at helping students answer the questions “what?” and “why?”, finding the answer to “how?” will be easier.
- Take enough time . When planning a lecture/tutorial, budget enough time for: understanding the problem and defining the goal (both individually and as a class); dealing with questions from you and your students; making, finding, and fixing mistakes; and solving entire problems in a single session.
- Ask questions and make suggestions . Ask students to predict “what would happen if …” or explain why something happened. This will help them to develop analytical and deductive thinking skills. Also, ask questions and make suggestions about strategies to encourage students to reflect on the problem-solving strategies that they use.
- Link errors to misconceptions . Use errors as evidence of misconceptions, not carelessness or random guessing. Make an effort to isolate the misconception and correct it, then teach students to do this by themselves. We can all learn from mistakes.

## Woods’ problem-solving model

Define the problem.

- The system . Have students identify the system under study (e.g., a metal bridge subject to certain forces) by interpreting the information provided in the problem statement. Drawing a diagram is a great way to do this.
- Known(s) and concepts . List what is known about the problem, and identify the knowledge needed to understand (and eventually) solve it.
- Unknown(s) . Once you have a list of knowns, identifying the unknown(s) becomes simpler. One unknown is generally the answer to the problem, but there may be other unknowns. Be sure that students understand what they are expected to find.
- Units and symbols . One key aspect in problem solving is teaching students how to select, interpret, and use units and symbols. Emphasize the use of units whenever applicable. Develop a habit of using appropriate units and symbols yourself at all times.
- Constraints . All problems have some stated or implied constraints. Teach students to look for the words "only", "must", "neglect", or "assume" to help identify the constraints.
- Criteria for success . Help students consider, from the beginning, what a logical type of answer would be. What characteristics will it possess? For example, a quantitative problem will require an answer in some form of numerical units (e.g., $/kg product, square cm, etc.) while an optimization problem requires an answer in the form of either a numerical maximum or minimum.

## Think about it

- “Let it simmer”. Use this stage to ponder the problem. Ideally, students will develop a mental image of the problem at hand during this stage.
- Identify specific pieces of knowledge . Students need to determine by themselves the required background knowledge from illustrations, examples and problems covered in the course.
- Collect information . Encourage students to collect pertinent information such as conversion factors, constants, and tables needed to solve the problem.

## Plan a solution

- Consider possible strategies . Often, the type of solution will be determined by the type of problem. Some common problem-solving strategies are: compute; simplify; use an equation; make a model, diagram, table, or chart; or work backwards.
- Choose the best strategy . Help students to choose the best strategy by reminding them again what they are required to find or calculate.

## Carry out the plan

- Be patient . Most problems are not solved quickly or on the first attempt. In other cases, executing the solution may be the easiest step.
- Be persistent . If a plan does not work immediately, do not let students get discouraged. Encourage them to try a different strategy and keep trying.

Encourage students to reflect. Once a solution has been reached, students should ask themselves the following questions:

- Does the answer make sense?
- Does it fit with the criteria established in step 1?
- Did I answer the question(s)?
- What did I learn by doing this?
- Could I have done the problem another way?

If you would like support applying these tips to your own teaching, CTE staff members are here to help. View the CTE Support page to find the most relevant staff member to contact.

- Fissore, C., Marchisio, M., Roman, F., & Sacchet, M. (2021). Development of problem solving skills with Maple in higher education. In: Corless, R.M., Gerhard, J., Kotsireas, I.S. (eds) Maple in Mathematics Education and Research. MC 2020. Communications in Computer and Information Science, vol 1414. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-81698-8_15
- Foshay, R., & Kirkley, J. (1998). Principles for Teaching Problem Solving. TRO Learning Inc., Edina MN. (PDF) Principles for Teaching Problem Solving (researchgate.net)
- Hayes, J.R. (1989). The Complete Problem Solver. 2nd Edition. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
- Woods, D.R., Wright, J.D., Hoffman, T.W., Swartman, R.K., Doig, I.D. (1975). Teaching Problem solving Skills.
- Engineering Education. Vol 1, No. 1. p. 238. Washington, DC: The American Society for Engineering Education.

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## Why Every Educator Needs to Teach Problem-Solving Skills

Strong problem-solving skills will help students be more resilient and will increase their academic and career success .

## Want to learn more about how to measure and teach students’ higher-order skills, including problem solving, critical thinking, and written communication?

Problem-solving skills are essential in school, careers, and life.

Problem-solving skills are important for every student to master. They help individuals navigate everyday life and find solutions to complex issues and challenges. These skills are especially valuable in the workplace, where employees are often required to solve problems and make decisions quickly and effectively.

Problem-solving skills are also needed for students’ personal growth and development because they help individuals overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. By developing strong problem-solving skills, students can improve their overall quality of life and become more successful in their personal and professional endeavors.

## Problem-Solving Skills Help Students…

develop resilience.

Problem-solving skills are an integral part of resilience and the ability to persevere through challenges and adversity. To effectively work through and solve a problem, students must be able to think critically and creatively. Critical and creative thinking help students approach a problem objectively, analyze its components, and determine different ways to go about finding a solution.

This process in turn helps students build self-efficacy . When students are able to analyze and solve a problem, this increases their confidence, and they begin to realize the power they have to advocate for themselves and make meaningful change.

When students gain confidence in their ability to work through problems and attain their goals, they also begin to build a growth mindset . According to leading resilience researcher, Carol Dweck, “in a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

## Set and Achieve Goals

Students who possess strong problem-solving skills are better equipped to set and achieve their goals. By learning how to identify problems, think critically, and develop solutions, students can become more self-sufficient and confident in their ability to achieve their goals. Additionally, problem-solving skills are used in virtually all fields, disciplines, and career paths, which makes them important for everyone. Building strong problem-solving skills will help students enhance their academic and career performance and become more competitive as they begin to seek full-time employment after graduation or pursue additional education and training.

## Resolve Conflicts

In addition to increased social and emotional skills like self-efficacy and goal-setting, problem-solving skills teach students how to cooperate with others and work through disagreements and conflicts. Problem-solving promotes “thinking outside the box” and approaching a conflict by searching for different solutions. This is a very different (and more effective!) method than a more stagnant approach that focuses on placing blame or getting stuck on elements of a situation that can’t be changed.

While it’s natural to get frustrated or feel stuck when working through a conflict, students with strong problem-solving skills will be able to work through these obstacles, think more rationally, and address the situation with a more solution-oriented approach. These skills will be valuable for students in school, their careers, and throughout their lives.

## Achieve Success

We are all faced with problems every day. Problems arise in our personal lives, in school and in our jobs, and in our interactions with others. Employers especially are looking for candidates with strong problem-solving skills. In today’s job market, most jobs require the ability to analyze and effectively resolve complex issues. Students with strong problem-solving skills will stand out from other applicants and will have a more desirable skill set.

In a recent opinion piece published by The Hechinger Report , Virgel Hammonds, Chief Learning Officer at KnowledgeWorks, stated “Our world presents increasingly complex challenges. Education must adapt so that it nurtures problem solvers and critical thinkers.” Yet, the “traditional K–12 education system leaves little room for students to engage in real-world problem-solving scenarios.” This is the reason that a growing number of K–12 school districts and higher education institutions are transforming their instructional approach to personalized and competency-based learning, which encourage students to make decisions, problem solve and think critically as they take ownership of and direct their educational journey.

## Problem-Solving Skills Can Be Measured and Taught

Research shows that problem-solving skills can be measured and taught. One effective method is through performance-based assessments which require students to demonstrate or apply their knowledge and higher-order skills to create a response or product or do a task.

## What Are Performance-Based Assessments?

With the No Child Left Behind Act (2002), the use of standardized testing became the primary way to measure student learning in the U.S. The legislative requirements of this act shifted the emphasis to standardized testing, and this led to a decline in nontraditional testing methods .

But many educators, policy makers, and parents have concerns with standardized tests. Some of the top issues include that they don’t provide feedback on how students can perform better, they don’t value creativity, they are not representative of diverse populations, and they can be disadvantageous to lower-income students.

While standardized tests are still the norm, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona is encouraging states and districts to move away from traditional multiple choice and short response tests and instead use performance-based assessment, competency-based assessments, and other more authentic methods of measuring students abilities and skills rather than rote learning.

Performance-based assessments measure whether students can apply the skills and knowledge learned from a unit of study. Typically, a performance task challenges students to use their higher-order skills to complete a project or process. Tasks can range from an essay to a complex proposal or design.

## Preview a Performance-Based Assessment

Want a closer look at how performance-based assessments work? Preview CAE’s K–12 and Higher Education assessments and see how CAE’s tools help students develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and written communication skills.

## Performance-Based Assessments Help Students Build and Practice Problem-Solving Skills

In addition to effectively measuring students’ higher-order skills, including their problem-solving skills, performance-based assessments can help students practice and build these skills. Through the assessment process, students are given opportunities to practically apply their knowledge in real-world situations. By demonstrating their understanding of a topic, students are required to put what they’ve learned into practice through activities such as presentations, experiments, and simulations.

This type of problem-solving assessment tool requires students to analyze information and choose how to approach the presented problems. This process enhances their critical thinking skills and creativity, as well as their problem-solving skills. Unlike traditional assessments based on memorization or reciting facts, performance-based assessments focus on the students’ decisions and solutions, and through these tasks students learn to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Performance-based assessments like CAE’s College and Career Readiness Assessment (CRA+) and Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+) provide students with in-depth reports that show them which higher-order skills they are strongest in and which they should continue to develop. This feedback helps students and their teachers plan instruction and supports to deepen their learning and improve their mastery of critical skills.

## Explore CAE’s Problem-Solving Assessments

CAE offers performance-based assessments that measure student proficiency in higher-order skills including problem solving, critical thinking, and written communication.

- College and Career Readiness Assessment (CCRA+) for secondary education and
- Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+) for higher education.

Our solution also includes instructional materials, practice models, and professional development.

We can help you create a program to build students’ problem-solving skills that includes:

- Measuring students’ problem-solving skills through a performance-based assessment
- Using the problem-solving assessment data to inform instruction and tailor interventions
- Teaching students problem-solving skills and providing practice opportunities in real-life scenarios
- Supporting educators with quality professional development

Get started with our problem-solving assessment tools to measure and build students’ problem-solving skills today! These skills will be invaluable to students now and in the future.

## Ready to Get Started?

Learn more about cae’s suite of products and let’s get started measuring and teaching students important higher-order skills like problem solving..

## Teaching problem solving: Let students get ‘stuck’ and ‘unstuck’

Subscribe to the center for universal education bulletin, kate mills and km kate mills literacy interventionist - red bank primary school helyn kim helyn kim former brookings expert @helyn_kim.

October 31, 2017

This is the second in a six-part blog series on teaching 21st century skills , including problem solving , metacognition , critical thinking , and collaboration , in classrooms.

In the real world, students encounter problems that are complex, not well defined, and lack a clear solution and approach. They need to be able to identify and apply different strategies to solve these problems. However, problem solving skills do not necessarily develop naturally; they need to be explicitly taught in a way that can be transferred across multiple settings and contexts.

Here’s what Kate Mills, who taught 4 th grade for 10 years at Knollwood School in New Jersey and is now a Literacy Interventionist at Red Bank Primary School, has to say about creating a classroom culture of problem solvers:

Helping my students grow to be people who will be successful outside of the classroom is equally as important as teaching the curriculum. From the first day of school, I intentionally choose language and activities that help to create a classroom culture of problem solvers. I want to produce students who are able to think about achieving a particular goal and manage their mental processes . This is known as metacognition , and research shows that metacognitive skills help students become better problem solvers.

I begin by “normalizing trouble” in the classroom. Peter H. Johnston teaches the importance of normalizing struggle , of naming it, acknowledging it, and calling it what it is: a sign that we’re growing. The goal is for the students to accept challenge and failure as a chance to grow and do better.

I look for every chance to share problems and highlight how the students— not the teachers— worked through those problems. There is, of course, coaching along the way. For example, a science class that is arguing over whose turn it is to build a vehicle will most likely need a teacher to help them find a way to the balance the work in an equitable way. Afterwards, I make it a point to turn it back to the class and say, “Do you see how you …” By naming what it is they did to solve the problem , students can be more independent and productive as they apply and adapt their thinking when engaging in future complex tasks.

After a few weeks, most of the class understands that the teachers aren’t there to solve problems for the students, but to support them in solving the problems themselves. With that important part of our classroom culture established, we can move to focusing on the strategies that students might need.

Here’s one way I do this in the classroom:

I show the broken escalator video to the class. Since my students are fourth graders, they think it’s hilarious and immediately start exclaiming, “Just get off! Walk!”

When the video is over, I say, “Many of us, probably all of us, are like the man in the video yelling for help when we get stuck. When we get stuck, we stop and immediately say ‘Help!’ instead of embracing the challenge and trying new ways to work through it.” I often introduce this lesson during math class, but it can apply to any area of our lives, and I can refer to the experience and conversation we had during any part of our day.

Research shows that just because students know the strategies does not mean they will engage in the appropriate strategies. Therefore, I try to provide opportunities where students can explicitly practice learning how, when, and why to use which strategies effectively so that they can become self-directed learners.

For example, I give students a math problem that will make many of them feel “stuck”. I will say, “Your job is to get yourselves stuck—or to allow yourselves to get stuck on this problem—and then work through it, being mindful of how you’re getting yourselves unstuck.” As students work, I check-in to help them name their process: “How did you get yourself unstuck?” or “What was your first step? What are you doing now? What might you try next?” As students talk about their process, I’ll add to a list of strategies that students are using and, if they are struggling, help students name a specific process. For instance, if a student says he wrote the information from the math problem down and points to a chart, I will say: “Oh that’s interesting. You pulled the important information from the problem out and organized it into a chart.” In this way, I am giving him the language to match what he did, so that he now has a strategy he could use in other times of struggle.

The charts grow with us over time and are something that we refer to when students are stuck or struggling. They become a resource for students and a way for them to talk about their process when they are reflecting on and monitoring what did or did not work.

For me, as a teacher, it is important that I create a classroom environment in which students are problem solvers. This helps tie struggles to strategies so that the students will not only see value in working harder but in working smarter by trying new and different strategies and revising their process. In doing so, they will more successful the next time around.

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## 5 Teaching Mathematics Through Problem Solving

Janet Stramel

In his book “How to Solve It,” George Pólya (1945) said, “One of the most important tasks of the teacher is to help his students. This task is not quite easy; it demands time, practice, devotion, and sound principles. The student should acquire as much experience of independent work as possible. But if he is left alone with his problem without any help, he may make no progress at all. If the teacher helps too much, nothing is left to the student. The teacher should help, but not too much and not too little, so that the student shall have a reasonable share of the work.” (page 1)

What is a problem in mathematics? A problem is “any task or activity for which the students have no prescribed or memorized rules or methods, nor is there a perception by students that there is a specific ‘correct’ solution method” (Hiebert, et. al., 1997). Problem solving in mathematics is one of the most important topics to teach; learning to problem solve helps students develop a sense of solving real-life problems and apply mathematics to real world situations. It is also used for a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts. Learning “math facts” is not enough; students must also learn how to use these facts to develop their thinking skills.

According to NCTM (2010), the term “problem solving” refers to mathematical tasks that have the potential to provide intellectual challenges for enhancing students’ mathematical understanding and development. When you first hear “problem solving,” what do you think about? Story problems or word problems? Story problems may be limited to and not “problematic” enough. For example, you may ask students to find the area of a rectangle, given the length and width. This type of problem is an exercise in computation and can be completed mindlessly without understanding the concept of area. Worthwhile problems includes problems that are truly problematic and have the potential to provide contexts for students’ mathematical development.

There are three ways to solve problems: teaching for problem solving, teaching about problem solving, and teaching through problem solving.

Teaching for problem solving begins with learning a skill. For example, students are learning how to multiply a two-digit number by a one-digit number, and the story problems you select are multiplication problems. Be sure when you are teaching for problem solving, you select or develop tasks that can promote the development of mathematical understanding.

Teaching about problem solving begins with suggested strategies to solve a problem. For example, “draw a picture,” “make a table,” etc. You may see posters in teachers’ classrooms of the “Problem Solving Method” such as: 1) Read the problem, 2) Devise a plan, 3) Solve the problem, and 4) Check your work. There is little or no evidence that students’ problem-solving abilities are improved when teaching about problem solving. Students will see a word problem as a separate endeavor and focus on the steps to follow rather than the mathematics. In addition, students will tend to use trial and error instead of focusing on sense making.

Teaching through problem solving focuses students’ attention on ideas and sense making and develops mathematical practices. Teaching through problem solving also develops a student’s confidence and builds on their strengths. It allows for collaboration among students and engages students in their own learning.

Consider the following worthwhile-problem criteria developed by Lappan and Phillips (1998):

- The problem has important, useful mathematics embedded in it.
- The problem requires high-level thinking and problem solving.
- The problem contributes to the conceptual development of students.
- The problem creates an opportunity for the teacher to assess what his or her students are learning and where they are experiencing difficulty.
- The problem can be approached by students in multiple ways using different solution strategies.
- The problem has various solutions or allows different decisions or positions to be taken and defended.
- The problem encourages student engagement and discourse.
- The problem connects to other important mathematical ideas.
- The problem promotes the skillful use of mathematics.
- The problem provides an opportunity to practice important skills.

Of course, not every problem will include all of the above. Sometimes, you will choose a problem because your students need an opportunity to practice a certain skill.

Key features of a good mathematics problem includes:

- It must begin where the students are mathematically.
- The feature of the problem must be the mathematics that students are to learn.
- It must require justifications and explanations for both answers and methods of solving.

Problem solving is not a neat and orderly process. Think about needlework. On the front side, it is neat and perfect and pretty.

But look at the b ack.

It is messy and full of knots and loops. Problem solving in mathematics is also like this and we need to help our students be “messy” with problem solving; they need to go through those knots and loops and learn how to solve problems with the teacher’s guidance.

When you teach through problem solving , your students are focused on ideas and sense-making and they develop confidence in mathematics!

## Mathematics Tasks and Activities that Promote Teaching through Problem Solving

## Choosing the Right Task

Selecting activities and/or tasks is the most significant decision teachers make that will affect students’ learning. Consider the following questions:

- Teachers must do the activity first. What is problematic about the activity? What will you need to do BEFORE the activity and AFTER the activity? Additionally, think how your students would do the activity.
- What mathematical ideas will the activity develop? Are there connections to other related mathematics topics, or other content areas?
- Can the activity accomplish your learning objective/goals?

## Low Floor High Ceiling Tasks

By definition, a “ low floor/high ceiling task ” is a mathematical activity where everyone in the group can begin and then work on at their own level of engagement. Low Floor High Ceiling Tasks are activities that everyone can begin and work on based on their own level, and have many possibilities for students to do more challenging mathematics. One gauge of knowing whether an activity is a Low Floor High Ceiling Task is when the work on the problems becomes more important than the answer itself, and leads to rich mathematical discourse [Hover: ways of representing, thinking, talking, agreeing, and disagreeing; the way ideas are exchanged and what the ideas entail; and as being shaped by the tasks in which students engage as well as by the nature of the learning environment].

The strengths of using Low Floor High Ceiling Tasks:

- Allows students to show what they can do, not what they can’t.
- Provides differentiation to all students.
- Promotes a positive classroom environment.
- Advances a growth mindset in students
- Aligns with the Standards for Mathematical Practice

Examples of some Low Floor High Ceiling Tasks can be found at the following sites:

- YouCubed – under grades choose Low Floor High Ceiling
- NRICH Creating a Low Threshold High Ceiling Classroom
- Inside Mathematics Problems of the Month

## Math in 3-Acts

Math in 3-Acts was developed by Dan Meyer to spark an interest in and engage students in thought-provoking mathematical inquiry. Math in 3-Acts is a whole-group mathematics task consisting of three distinct parts:

Act One is about noticing and wondering. The teacher shares with students an image, video, or other situation that is engaging and perplexing. Students then generate questions about the situation.

In Act Two , the teacher offers some information for the students to use as they find the solutions to the problem.

Act Three is the “reveal.” Students share their thinking as well as their solutions.

“Math in 3 Acts” is a fun way to engage your students, there is a low entry point that gives students confidence, there are multiple paths to a solution, and it encourages students to work in groups to solve the problem. Some examples of Math in 3-Acts can be found at the following websites:

- Dan Meyer’s Three-Act Math Tasks
- Graham Fletcher3-Act Tasks ]
- Math in 3-Acts: Real World Math Problems to Make Math Contextual, Visual and Concrete

## Number Talks

Number talks are brief, 5-15 minute discussions that focus on student solutions for a mental math computation problem. Students share their different mental math processes aloud while the teacher records their thinking visually on a chart or board. In addition, students learn from each other’s strategies as they question, critique, or build on the strategies that are shared.. To use a “number talk,” you would include the following steps:

- The teacher presents a problem for students to solve mentally.
- Provide adequate “ wait time .”
- The teacher calls on a students and asks, “What were you thinking?” and “Explain your thinking.”
- For each student who volunteers to share their strategy, write their thinking on the board. Make sure to accurately record their thinking; do not correct their responses.
- Invite students to question each other about their strategies, compare and contrast the strategies, and ask for clarification about strategies that are confusing.

“Number Talks” can be used as an introduction, a warm up to a lesson, or an extension. Some examples of Number Talks can be found at the following websites:

- Inside Mathematics Number Talks
- Number Talks Build Numerical Reasoning

## Saying “This is Easy”

“This is easy.” Three little words that can have a big impact on students. What may be “easy” for one person, may be more “difficult” for someone else. And saying “this is easy” defeats the purpose of a growth mindset classroom, where students are comfortable making mistakes.

When the teacher says, “this is easy,” students may think,

- “Everyone else understands and I don’t. I can’t do this!”
- Students may just give up and surrender the mathematics to their classmates.
- Students may shut down.

Instead, you and your students could say the following:

- “I think I can do this.”
- “I have an idea I want to try.”
- “I’ve seen this kind of problem before.”

Tracy Zager wrote a short article, “This is easy”: The Little Phrase That Causes Big Problems” that can give you more information. Read Tracy Zager’s article here.

## Using “Worksheets”

Do you want your students to memorize concepts, or do you want them to understand and apply the mathematics for different situations?

What is a “worksheet” in mathematics? It is a paper and pencil assignment when no other materials are used. A worksheet does not allow your students to use hands-on materials/manipulatives [Hover: physical objects that are used as teaching tools to engage students in the hands-on learning of mathematics]; and worksheets are many times “naked number” with no context. And a worksheet should not be used to enhance a hands-on activity.

Students need time to explore and manipulate materials in order to learn the mathematics concept. Worksheets are just a test of rote memory. Students need to develop those higher-order thinking skills, and worksheets will not allow them to do that.

One productive belief from the NCTM publication, Principles to Action (2014), states, “Students at all grade levels can benefit from the use of physical and virtual manipulative materials to provide visual models of a range of mathematical ideas.”

You may need an “activity sheet,” a “graphic organizer,” etc. as you plan your mathematics activities/lessons, but be sure to include hands-on manipulatives. Using manipulatives can

- Provide your students a bridge between the concrete and abstract
- Serve as models that support students’ thinking
- Provide another representation
- Support student engagement
- Give students ownership of their own learning.

Adapted from “ The Top 5 Reasons for Using Manipulatives in the Classroom ”.

any task or activity for which the students have no prescribed or memorized rules or methods, nor is there a perception by students that there is a specific ‘correct’ solution method

should be intriguing and contain a level of challenge that invites speculation and hard work, and directs students to investigate important mathematical ideas and ways of thinking toward the learning

involves teaching a skill so that a student can later solve a story problem

when we teach students how to problem solve

teaching mathematics content through real contexts, problems, situations, and models

a mathematical activity where everyone in the group can begin and then work on at their own level of engagement

20 seconds to 2 minutes for students to make sense of questions

Mathematics Methods for Early Childhood Copyright © 2021 by Janet Stramel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

## Share This Book

## Center for Teaching Innovation

Resource library.

- Establishing Community Agreements and Classroom Norms
- Sample group work rubric
- Problem-Based Learning Clearinghouse of Activities, University of Delaware

## Problem-Based Learning

Problem-based learning (PBL) is a student-centered approach in which students learn about a subject by working in groups to solve an open-ended problem. This problem is what drives the motivation and the learning.

## Why Use Problem-Based Learning?

Nilson (2010) lists the following learning outcomes that are associated with PBL. A well-designed PBL project provides students with the opportunity to develop skills related to:

- Working in teams.
- Managing projects and holding leadership roles.
- Oral and written communication.
- Self-awareness and evaluation of group processes.
- Working independently.
- Critical thinking and analysis.
- Explaining concepts.
- Self-directed learning.
- Applying course content to real-world examples.
- Researching and information literacy.
- Problem solving across disciplines.

## Considerations for Using Problem-Based Learning

Rather than teaching relevant material and subsequently having students apply the knowledge to solve problems, the problem is presented first. PBL assignments can be short, or they can be more involved and take a whole semester. PBL is often group-oriented, so it is beneficial to set aside classroom time to prepare students to work in groups and to allow them to engage in their PBL project.

Students generally must:

- Examine and define the problem.
- Explore what they already know about underlying issues related to it.
- Determine what they need to learn and where they can acquire the information and tools necessary to solve the problem.
- Evaluate possible ways to solve the problem.
- Solve the problem.
- Report on their findings.

## Getting Started with Problem-Based Learning

- Articulate the learning outcomes of the project. What do you want students to know or be able to do as a result of participating in the assignment?
- Create the problem. Ideally, this will be a real-world situation that resembles something students may encounter in their future careers or lives. Cases are often the basis of PBL activities. Previously developed PBL activities can be found online through the University of Delaware’s PBL Clearinghouse of Activities .
- Establish ground rules at the beginning to prepare students to work effectively in groups.
- Introduce students to group processes and do some warm up exercises to allow them to practice assessing both their own work and that of their peers.
- Consider having students take on different roles or divide up the work up amongst themselves. Alternatively, the project might require students to assume various perspectives, such as those of government officials, local business owners, etc.
- Establish how you will evaluate and assess the assignment. Consider making the self and peer assessments a part of the assignment grade.

Nilson, L. B. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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## How to Teach Kids Problem-Solving Skills

KidStock / Blend Images / Getty Images

- Steps to Follow
- Allow Consequences

Whether your child can't find their math homework or has forgotten their lunch, good problem-solving skills are the key to helping them manage their life.

A 2010 study published in Behaviour Research and Therapy found that kids who lack problem-solving skills may be at a higher risk of depression and suicidality. Additionally, the researchers found that teaching a child problem-solving skills can improve mental health .

You can begin teaching basic problem-solving skills during preschool and help your child sharpen their skills into high school and beyond.

## Why Problem-Solving Skills Matter

Kids face a variety of problems every day, ranging from academic difficulties to problems on the sports field. Yet few of them have a formula for solving those problems.

Kids who lack problem-solving skills may avoid taking action when faced with a problem.

Rather than put their energy into solving the problem, they may invest their time in avoiding the issue. That's why many kids fall behind in school or struggle to maintain friendships .

Other kids who lack problem-solving skills spring into action without recognizing their choices. A child may hit a peer who cuts in front of them in line because they are not sure what else to do.

Or, they may walk out of class when they are being teased because they can't think of any other ways to make it stop. Those impulsive choices may create even bigger problems in the long run.

## The 5 Steps of Problem-Solving

Kids who feel overwhelmed or hopeless often won't attempt to address a problem. But when you give them a clear formula for solving problems, they'll feel more confident in their ability to try. Here are the steps to problem-solving:

- Identify the problem . Just stating the problem out loud can make a big difference for kids who are feeling stuck. Help your child state the problem, such as, "You don't have anyone to play with at recess," or "You aren't sure if you should take the advanced math class."
- Develop at least five possible solutions . Brainstorm possible ways to solve the problem. Emphasize that all the solutions don't necessarily need to be good ideas (at least not at this point). Help your child develop solutions if they are struggling to come up with ideas. Even a silly answer or far-fetched idea is a possible solution. The key is to help them see that with a little creativity, they can find many different potential solutions.
- Identify the pros and cons of each solution . Help your child identify potential positive and negative consequences for each potential solution they identified.
- Pick a solution. Once your child has evaluated the possible positive and negative outcomes, encourage them to pick a solution.
- Test it out . Tell them to try a solution and see what happens. If it doesn't work out, they can always try another solution from the list that they developed in step two.

## Practice Solving Problems

When problems arise, don’t rush to solve your child’s problems for them. Instead, help them walk through the problem-solving steps. Offer guidance when they need assistance, but encourage them to solve problems on their own. If they are unable to come up with a solution, step in and help them think of some. But don't automatically tell them what to do.

When you encounter behavioral issues, use a problem-solving approach. Sit down together and say, "You've been having difficulty getting your homework done lately. Let's problem-solve this together." You might still need to offer a consequence for misbehavior, but make it clear that you're invested in looking for a solution so they can do better next time.

Use a problem-solving approach to help your child become more independent.

If they forgot to pack their soccer cleats for practice, ask, "What can we do to make sure this doesn't happen again?" Let them try to develop some solutions on their own.

Kids often develop creative solutions. So they might say, "I'll write a note and stick it on my door so I'll remember to pack them before I leave," or "I'll pack my bag the night before and I'll keep a checklist to remind me what needs to go in my bag."

Provide plenty of praise when your child practices their problem-solving skills.

## Allow for Natural Consequences

Natural consequences may also teach problem-solving skills. So when it's appropriate, allow your child to face the natural consequences of their action. Just make sure it's safe to do so.

For example, let your teenager spend all of their money during the first 10 minutes you're at an amusement park if that's what they want. Then, let them go for the rest of the day without any spending money.

This can lead to a discussion about problem-solving to help them make a better choice next time. Consider these natural consequences as a teachable moment to help work together on problem-solving.

Becker-Weidman EG, Jacobs RH, Reinecke MA, Silva SG, March JS. Social problem-solving among adolescents treated for depression . Behav Res Ther . 2010;48(1):11-18. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2009.08.006

Pakarinen E, Kiuru N, Lerkkanen M-K, Poikkeus A-M, Ahonen T, Nurmi J-E. Instructional support predicts childrens task avoidance in kindergarten . Early Child Res Q . 2011;26(3):376-386. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2010.11.003

Schell A, Albers L, von Kries R, Hillenbrand C, Hennemann T. Preventing behavioral disorders via supporting social and emotional competence at preschool age . Dtsch Arztebl Int . 2015;112(39):647–654. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2015.0647

Cheng SC, She HC, Huang LY. The impact of problem-solving instruction on middle school students’ physical science learning: Interplays of knowledge, reasoning, and problem solving . EJMSTE . 2018;14(3):731-743.

Vlachou A, Stavroussi P. Promoting social inclusion: A structured intervention for enhancing interpersonal problem‐solving skills in children with mild intellectual disabilities . Support Learn . 2016;31(1):27-45. doi:10.1111/1467-9604.12112

Öğülmüş S, Kargı E. The interpersonal cognitive problem solving approach for preschoolers . Turkish J Educ . 2015;4(17347):19-28. doi:10.19128/turje.181093

American Academy of Pediatrics. What's the best way to discipline my child? .

Kashani-Vahid L, Afrooz G, Shokoohi-Yekta M, Kharrazi K, Ghobari B. Can a creative interpersonal problem solving program improve creative thinking in gifted elementary students? . Think Skills Creat . 2017;24:175-185. doi:10.1016/j.tsc.2017.02.011

Shokoohi-Yekta M, Malayeri SA. Effects of advanced parenting training on children's behavioral problems and family problem solving . Procedia Soc Behav Sci . 2015;205:676-680. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.09.106

By Amy Morin, LCSW Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.

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## Problem-Solving

## Jabberwocky

Problem-solving is the ability to identify and solve problems by applying appropriate skills systematically.

Problem-solving is a process—an ongoing activity in which we take what we know to discover what we don't know. It involves overcoming obstacles by generating hypo-theses, testing those predictions, and arriving at satisfactory solutions.

Problem-solving involves three basic functions:

Seeking information

Generating new knowledge

Making decisions

Problem-solving is, and should be, a very real part of the curriculum. It presupposes that students can take on some of the responsibility for their own learning and can take personal action to solve problems, resolve conflicts, discuss alternatives, and focus on thinking as a vital element of the curriculum. It provides students with opportunities to use their newly acquired knowledge in meaningful, real-life activities and assists them in working at higher levels of thinking (see Levels of Questions ).

Here is a five-stage model that most students can easily memorize and put into action and which has direct applications to many areas of the curriculum as well as everyday life:

## Expert Opinion

Here are some techniques that will help students understand the nature of a problem and the conditions that surround it:

- List all related relevant facts.
- Make a list of all the given information.
- Restate the problem in their own words.
- List the conditions that surround a problem.
- Describe related known problems.

## It's Elementary

For younger students, illustrations are helpful in organizing data, manipulating information, and outlining the limits of a problem and its possible solution(s). Students can use drawings to help them look at a problem from many different perspectives.

Understand the problem. It's important that students understand the nature of a problem and its related goals. Encourage students to frame a problem in their own words.

Describe any barriers. Students need to be aware of any barriers or constraints that may be preventing them from achieving their goal. In short, what is creating the problem? Encouraging students to verbalize these impediments is always an important step.

Identify various solutions. After the nature and parameters of a problem are understood, students will need to select one or more appropriate strategies to help resolve the problem. Students need to understand that they have many strategies available to them and that no single strategy will work for all problems. Here are some problem-solving possibilities:

Create visual images. Many problem-solvers find it useful to create “mind pictures” of a problem and its potential solutions prior to working on the problem. Mental imaging allows the problem-solvers to map out many dimensions of a problem and “see” it clearly.

Guesstimate. Give students opportunities to engage in some trial-and-error approaches to problem-solving. It should be understood, however, that this is not a singular approach to problem-solving but rather an attempt to gather some preliminary data.

Create a table. A table is an orderly arrangement of data. When students have opportunities to design and create tables of information, they begin to understand that they can group and organize most data relative to a problem.

Use manipulatives. By moving objects around on a table or desk, students can develop patterns and organize elements of a problem into recognizable and visually satisfying components.

Work backward. It's frequently helpful for students to take the data presented at the end of a problem and use a series of computations to arrive at the data presented at the beginning of the problem.

Look for a pattern. Looking for patterns is an important problem-solving strategy because many problems are similar and fall into predictable patterns. A pattern, by definition, is a regular, systematic repetition and may be numerical, visual, or behavioral.

Create a systematic list. Recording information in list form is a process used quite frequently to map out a plan of attack for defining and solving problems. Encourage students to record their ideas in lists to determine regularities, patterns, or similarities between problem elements.

Try out a solution. When working through a strategy or combination of strategies, it will be important for students to …

Keep accurate and up-to-date records of their thoughts, proceedings, and procedures. Recording the data collected, the predictions made, and the strategies used is an important part of the problem solving process.

Try to work through a selected strategy or combination of strategies until it becomes evident that it's not working, it needs to be modified, or it is yielding inappropriate data. As students become more proficient problem-solvers, they should feel comfortable rejecting potential strategies at any time during their quest for solutions.

Monitor with great care the steps undertaken as part of a solution. Although it might be a natural tendency for students to “rush” through a strategy to arrive at a quick answer, encourage them to carefully assess and monitor their progress.

Feel comfortable putting a problem aside for a period of time and tackling it at a later time. For example, scientists rarely come up with a solution the first time they approach a problem. Students should also feel comfortable letting a problem rest for a while and returning to it later.

Evaluate the results. It's vitally important that students have multiple opportunities to assess their own problem-solving skills and the solutions they generate from using those skills. Frequently, students are overly dependent upon teachers to evaluate their performance in the classroom. The process of self-assessment is not easy, however. It involves risk-taking, self-assurance, and a certain level of independence. But it can be effectively promoted by asking students questions such as “How do you feel about your progress so far?” “Are you satisfied with the results you obtained?” and “Why do you believe this is an appropriate response to the problem?”

## Featured High School Resources

## Related Resources

## About the author

## TeacherVision Editorial Staff

The TeacherVision editorial team is comprised of teachers, experts, and content professionals dedicated to bringing you the most accurate and relevant information in the teaching space.

- Our Mission

## 6 Tips for Teaching Math Problem-Solving Skills

Solving word problems is tougher than computing with numbers, but elementary teachers can guide students to do the deep thinking involved.

A growing concern with students is the ability to problem-solve, especially with complex, multistep problems. Data shows that students struggle more when solving word problems than they do with computation , and so problem-solving should be considered separately from computation. Why?

Consider this. When we’re on the way to a new destination and we plug in our location to a map on our phone, it tells us what lane to be in and takes us around any detours or collisions, sometimes even buzzing our watch to remind us to turn. When I experience this as a driver, I don’t have to do the thinking. I can think about what I’m going to cook for dinner, not paying much attention to my surroundings other than to follow those directions. If I were to be asked to go there again, I wouldn’t be able to remember, and I would again seek help.

If we can switch to giving students strategies that require them to think instead of giving them too much support throughout the journey to the answer, we may be able to give them the ability to learn the skills to read a map and have several ways to get there.

Here are six ways we can start letting students do this thinking so that they can go through rigorous problem-solving again and again, paving their own way to the solution.

## 1. Link problem-solving to reading

When we can remind students that they already have many comprehension skills and strategies they can easily use in math problem-solving, it can ease the anxiety surrounding the math problem. For example, providing them with strategies to practice, such as visualizing, acting out the problem with math tools like counters or base 10 blocks, drawing a quick sketch of the problem, retelling the story in their own words, etc., can really help them to utilize the skills they already have to make the task less daunting.

We can break these skills into specific short lessons so students have a bank of strategies to try on their own. Here's an example of an anchor chart that they can use for visualizing . Breaking up comprehension into specific skills can increase student independence and help teachers to be much more targeted in their problem-solving instruction. This allows students to build confidence and break down the barriers between reading and math to see they already have so many strengths that are transferable to all problems.

## 2. Avoid boxing students into choosing a specific operation

It can be so tempting to tell students to look for certain words that might mean a certain operation. This might even be thoroughly successful in kindergarten and first grade, but just like when our map tells us where to go, that limits students from becoming deep thinkers. It also expires once they get into the upper grades, where those words could be in a problem multiple times, creating more confusion when students are trying to follow a rule that may not exist in every problem.

We can encourage a variety of ways to solve problems instead of choosing the operation first. In first grade, a problem might say, “Joceline has 13 stuffed animals and Jordan has 17. How many more does Jordan have?” Some students might choose to subtract, but a lot of students might just count to find the amount in between. If we tell them that “how many more” means to subtract, we’re taking the thinking out of the problem altogether, allowing them to go on autopilot without truly solving the problem or using their comprehension skills to visualize it.

## 3. Revisit ‘representation’

The word “representation” can be misleading. It seems like something to do after the process of solving. When students think they have to go straight to solving, they may not realize that they need a step in between to be able to support their understanding of what’s actually happening in the problem first.

Using an anchor chart like one of these ( lower grade , upper grade ) can help students to choose a representation that most closely matches what they’re visualizing in their mind. Once they sketch it out, it can give them a clearer picture of different ways they could solve the problem.

Think about this problem: “Varush went on a trip with his family to his grandmother’s house. It was 710 miles away. On the way there, three people took turns driving. His mom drove 214 miles. His dad drove 358 miles. His older sister drove the rest. How many miles did his sister drive?”

If we were to show this student the anchor chart, they would probably choose a number line or a strip diagram to help them understand what’s happening.

If we tell students they must always draw base 10 blocks in a place value chart, that doesn’t necessarily match the concept of this problem. When we ask students to match our way of thinking, we rob them of critical thinking practice and sometimes confuse them in the process.

## 4. Give time to process

Sometimes as educators, we can feel rushed to get to everyone and everything that’s required. When solving a complex problem, students need time to just sit with a problem and wrestle with it, maybe even leaving it and coming back to it after a period of time.

This might mean we need to give them fewer problems but go deeper with those problems we give them. We can also speed up processing time when we allow for collaboration and talk time with peers on problem-solving tasks.

## 5. Ask questions that let Students do the thinking

Questions or prompts during problem-solving should be very open-ended to promote thinking. Telling a student to reread the problem or to think about what tools or resources would help them solve it is a way to get them to try something new but not take over their thinking.

These skills are also transferable across content, and students will be reminded, “Good readers and mathematicians reread.”

## 6. Spiral concepts so students frequently use problem-solving skills

When students don’t have to switch gears in between concepts, they’re not truly using deep problem-solving skills. They already kind of know what operation it might be or that it’s something they have at the forefront of their mind from recent learning. Being intentional within their learning stations and assessments about having a variety of rigorous problem-solving skills will refine their critical thinking abilities while building more and more resilience throughout the school year as they retain content learning in the process.

Problem-solving skills are so abstract, and it can be tough to pinpoint exactly what students need. Sometimes we have to go slow to go fast. Slowing down and helping students have tools when they get stuck and enabling them to be critical thinkers will prepare them for life and allow them multiple ways to get to their own destination.

## The Lesson Study Group

at Mills College

## Teaching Through Problem-solving

- TTP in Action

## What is Teaching Through Problem-Solving?

In Teaching Through Problem-solving (TTP), students learn new mathematics by solving problems. Students grapple with a novel problem, present and discuss solution strategies, and together build the next concept or procedure in the mathematics curriculum.

Teaching Through Problem-solving is widespread in Japan, where students solve problems before a solution method or procedure is taught. In contrast, U.S. students spend most of their time doing exercises– completing problems for which a solution method has already been taught.

## Why Teaching Through Problem-Solving?

As students build their mathematical knowledge, they also:

- Learn to reason mathematically, using prior knowledge to build new ideas
- See the power of their explanations and carefully written work to spark insights for themselves and their classmates
- Expect mathematics to make sense
- Enjoy solving unfamiliar problems
- Experience mathematical discoveries that naturally deepen their perseverance

## Phases of a TTP Lesson

Teaching Through Problem-solving flows through four phases as students 1. Grasp the problem, 2. Try to solve the problem independently, 3. Present and discuss their work (selected strategies), and 4. Summarize and reflect.

Click on the arrows below to find out what students and teachers do during each phase and to see video examples.

- 1. Grasp the Problem
- 2. Try to Solve
- 3. Present & Discuss
- 4. Summarize & Reflect
- New Learning

## WHAT STUDENTS DO

- Understand the problem and develop interest in solving it.
- Consider what they know that might help them solve the problem.

## WHAT TEACHERS DO

- Show several student journal reflections from the prior lesson.
- Pose a problem that students do not yet know how to solve.
- Interest students in the problem and in thinking about their own related knowledge.
- Independently try to solve the problem.
- Do not simply following the teacher’s solution example.
- Allow classmates to provide input after some independent thinking time.
- Circulate, using seating chart to note each student’s solution approach.
- Identify work to be presented and discussed at board.
- Ask individual questions to spark more thinking if some students finish quickly or don’t get started.
- Present and explain solution ideas at the board, are questioned by classmates and teacher. (2-3 students per lesson)
- Actively make sense of the presented work and draw out key mathematical points. (All students)
- Strategically select and sequence student presentations of work at the board, to build the new mathematics. (Incorrect approaches may be included.)
- Monitor student discussion: Are all students noticing the important mathematical ideas?
- Add teacher moves (questions, turn-and-talk, votes) as needed to build important mathematics.
- Consider what they learned and share their thoughts with class, to help formulate class summary of learning. Copy summary into journal.
- Write journal reflection on their own learning from the lesson.
- Write on the board a brief summary of what the class learned during the lesson, using student ideas and words where possible.
- Ask students to write in their journals about what they learned during the lesson.

## How Do Teachers Support Problem-solving?

Although students do much of the talking and questioning in a TTP lesson, teachers play a crucial role. The widely-known 5 Practices for Orchestrating Mathematical Discussions were based in part on TTP . Teachers study the curriculum, anticipate student thinking, and select and sequence the student presentations that allow the class to build the new mathematics. Classroom routines for presentation and discussion of student work, board organization, and reflective mathematics journals work together to allow students to do the mathematical heavy lifting. To learn more about journals, board work, and discussion in TTP, as well as see other TTP resources and examples of TTP in action, click on the respective tabs near the top of this page.

## Additional Readings

## Can’t find a resource you need? Get in touch.

- What is Lesson Study?
- Why Lesson Study?
- Teacher Learning
- Content Resources
- Teaching Through Problem-solving (TTP)
- School-wide Lesson Study
- U.S. Networks
- International Networks

## Problem-Solving Method in Teaching

The problem-solving method is a highly effective teaching strategy that is designed to help students develop critical thinking skills and problem-solving abilities . It involves providing students with real-world problems and challenges that require them to apply their knowledge, skills, and creativity to find solutions. This method encourages active learning, promotes collaboration, and allows students to take ownership of their learning.

## Table of Contents

Definition of problem-solving method.

Problem-solving is a process of identifying, analyzing, and resolving problems. The problem-solving method in teaching involves providing students with real-world problems that they must solve through collaboration and critical thinking. This method encourages students to apply their knowledge and creativity to develop solutions that are effective and practical.

## Meaning of Problem-Solving Method

The meaning and Definition of problem-solving are given by different Scholars. These are-

Woodworth and Marquis(1948) : Problem-solving behavior occurs in novel or difficult situations in which a solution is not obtainable by the habitual methods of applying concepts and principles derived from past experience in very similar situations.

Skinner (1968): Problem-solving is a process of overcoming difficulties that appear to interfere with the attainment of a goal. It is the procedure of making adjustments in spite of interference

## Benefits of Problem-Solving Method

The problem-solving method has several benefits for both students and teachers. These benefits include:

- Encourages active learning: The problem-solving method encourages students to actively participate in their own learning by engaging them in real-world problems that require critical thinking and collaboration
- Promotes collaboration: Problem-solving requires students to work together to find solutions. This promotes teamwork, communication, and cooperation.
- Builds critical thinking skills: The problem-solving method helps students develop critical thinking skills by providing them with opportunities to analyze and evaluate problems
- Increases motivation: When students are engaged in solving real-world problems, they are more motivated to learn and apply their knowledge.
- Enhances creativity: The problem-solving method encourages students to be creative in finding solutions to problems.

## Steps in Problem-Solving Method

The problem-solving method involves several steps that teachers can use to guide their students. These steps include

- Identifying the problem: The first step in problem-solving is identifying the problem that needs to be solved. Teachers can present students with a real-world problem or challenge that requires critical thinking and collaboration.
- Analyzing the problem: Once the problem is identified, students should analyze it to determine its scope and underlying causes.
- Generating solutions: After analyzing the problem, students should generate possible solutions. This step requires creativity and critical thinking.
- Evaluating solutions: The next step is to evaluate each solution based on its effectiveness and practicality
- Selecting the best solution: The final step is to select the best solution and implement it.

## Verification of the concluded solution or Hypothesis

The solution arrived at or the conclusion drawn must be further verified by utilizing it in solving various other likewise problems. In case, the derived solution helps in solving these problems, then and only then if one is free to agree with his finding regarding the solution. The verified solution may then become a useful product of his problem-solving behavior that can be utilized in solving further problems. The above steps can be utilized in solving various problems thereby fostering creative thinking ability in an individual.

The problem-solving method is an effective teaching strategy that promotes critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration. It provides students with real-world problems that require them to apply their knowledge and skills to find solutions. By using the problem-solving method, teachers can help their students develop the skills they need to succeed in school and in life.

- Jonassen, D. (2011). Learning to solve problems: A handbook for designing problem-solving learning environments. Routledge.
- Hmelo-Silver, C. E. (2004). Problem-based learning: What and how do students learn? Educational Psychology Review, 16(3), 235-266.
- Mergendoller, J. R., Maxwell, N. L., & Bellisimo, Y. (2006). The effectiveness of problem-based instruction: A comparative study of instructional methods and student characteristics. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 1(2), 49-69.
- Richey, R. C., Klein, J. D., & Tracey, M. W. (2011). The instructional design knowledge base: Theory, research, and practice. Routledge.
- Savery, J. R., & Duffy, T. M. (2001). Problem-based learning: An instructional model and its constructivist framework. CRLT Technical Report No. 16-01, University of Michigan. Wojcikowski, J. (2013). Solving real-world problems through problem-based learning. College Teaching, 61(4), 153-156

## Teaching Problem Solving in Math

- Freebies , Math , Planning

Every year my students can be fantastic at math…until they start to see math with words. For some reason, once math gets translated into reading, even my best readers start to panic. There is just something about word problems, or problem-solving, that causes children to think they don’t know how to complete them.

Every year in math, I start off by teaching my students problem-solving skills and strategies. Every year they moan and groan that they know them. Every year – paragraph one above. It was a vicious cycle. I needed something new.

I put together a problem-solving unit that would focus a bit more on strategies and steps in hopes that that would create problem-solving stars.

## The Problem Solving Strategies

First, I wanted to make sure my students all learned the different strategies to solve problems, such as guess-and-check, using visuals (draw a picture, act it out, and modeling it), working backward, and organizational methods (tables, charts, and lists). In the past, I had used worksheet pages that would introduce one and provide the students with plenty of problems practicing that one strategy. I did like that because students could focus more on practicing the strategy itself, but I also wanted students to know when to use it, too, so I made sure they had both to practice.

I provided students with plenty of practice of the strategies, such as in this guess-and-check game.

There’s also this visuals strategy wheel practice.

I also provided them with paper dolls and a variety of clothing to create an organized list to determine just how many outfits their “friend” would have.

Then, as I said above, we practiced in a variety of ways to make sure we knew exactly when to use them. I really wanted to make sure they had this down!

Anyway, after I knew they had down the various strategies and when to use them, then we went into the actual problem-solving steps.

## The Problem Solving Steps

I wanted students to understand that when they see a story problem, it isn’t scary. Really, it’s just the equation written out in words in a real-life situation. Then, I provided them with the “keys to success.”

S tep 1 – Understand the Problem. To help students understand the problem, I provided them with sample problems, and together we did five important things:

- read the problem carefully
- restated the problem in our own words
- crossed out unimportant information
- circled any important information
- stated the goal or question to be solved

We did this over and over with example problems.

Once I felt the students had it down, we practiced it in a game of problem-solving relay. Students raced one another to see how quickly they could get down to the nitty-gritty of the word problems. We weren’t solving the problems – yet.

Then, we were on to Step 2 – Make a Plan . We talked about how this was where we were going to choose which strategy we were going to use. We also discussed how this was where we were going to figure out what operation to use. I taught the students Sheila Melton’s operation concept map.

We talked about how if you know the total and know if it is equal or not, that will determine what operation you are doing. So, we took an example problem, such as:

Sheldon wants to make a cupcake for each of his 28 classmates. He can make 7 cupcakes with one box of cupcake mix. How many boxes will he need to buy?

We started off by asking ourselves, “Do we know the total?” We know there are a total of 28 classmates. So, yes, we are separating. Then, we ask, “Is it equal?” Yes, he wants to make a cupcake for EACH of his classmates. So, we are dividing: 28 divided by 7 = 4. He will need to buy 4 boxes. (I actually went ahead and solved it here – which is the next step, too.)

Step 3 – Solving the problem . We talked about how solving the problem involves the following:

- taking our time
- working the problem out
- showing all our work
- estimating the answer
- using thinking strategies

We talked specifically about thinking strategies. Just like in reading, there are thinking strategies in math. I wanted students to be aware that sometimes when we are working on a problem, a particular strategy may not be working, and we may need to switch strategies. We also discussed that sometimes we may need to rethink the problem, to think of related content, or to even start over. We discussed these thinking strategies:

- switch strategies or try a different one
- rethink the problem
- think of related content
- decide if you need to make changes
- check your work
- but most important…don’t give up!

To make sure they were getting in practice utilizing these thinking strategies, I gave each group chart paper with a letter from a fellow “student” (not a real student), and they had to give advice on how to help them solve their problem using the thinking strategies above.

Finally, Step 4 – Check It. This is the step that students often miss. I wanted to emphasize just how important it is! I went over it with them, discussing that when they check their problems, they should always look for these things:

- compare your answer to your estimate
- check for reasonableness
- check your calculations
- add the units
- restate the question in the answer
- explain how you solved the problem

Then, I gave students practice cards. I provided them with example cards of “students” who had completed their assignments already, and I wanted them to be the teacher. They needed to check the work and make sure it was completed correctly. If it wasn’t, then they needed to tell what they missed and correct it.

To demonstrate their understanding of the entire unit, we completed an adorable lap book (my first time ever putting together one or even creating one – I was surprised how well it turned out, actually). It was a great way to put everything we discussed in there.

Once we were all done, students were officially Problem Solving S.T.A.R.S. I just reminded students frequently of this acronym.

Stop – Don’t rush with any solution; just take your time and look everything over.

Think – Take your time to think about the problem and solution.

Act – Act on a strategy and try it out.

Review – Look it over and see if you got all the parts.

Wow, you are a true trooper sticking it out in this lengthy post! To sum up the majority of what I have written here, I have some problem-solving bookmarks FREE to help you remember and to help your students!

You can grab these problem-solving bookmarks for FREE by clicking here .

You can do any of these ideas without having to purchase anything. However, if you are looking to save some time and energy, then they are all found in my Math Workshop Problem Solving Unit . The unit is for grade three, but it may work for other grade levels. The practice problems are all for the early third-grade level.

- freebie , Math Workshop , Problem Solving

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## What is Problem Solving? (Steps, Techniques, Examples)

By Status.net Editorial Team on May 7, 2023 — 5 minutes to read

## What Is Problem Solving?

Definition and importance.

Problem solving is the process of finding solutions to obstacles or challenges you encounter in your life or work. It is a crucial skill that allows you to tackle complex situations, adapt to changes, and overcome difficulties with ease. Mastering this ability will contribute to both your personal and professional growth, leading to more successful outcomes and better decision-making.

## Problem-Solving Steps

The problem-solving process typically includes the following steps:

- Identify the issue : Recognize the problem that needs to be solved.
- Analyze the situation : Examine the issue in depth, gather all relevant information, and consider any limitations or constraints that may be present.
- Generate potential solutions : Brainstorm a list of possible solutions to the issue, without immediately judging or evaluating them.
- Evaluate options : Weigh the pros and cons of each potential solution, considering factors such as feasibility, effectiveness, and potential risks.
- Select the best solution : Choose the option that best addresses the problem and aligns with your objectives.
- Implement the solution : Put the selected solution into action and monitor the results to ensure it resolves the issue.
- Review and learn : Reflect on the problem-solving process, identify any improvements or adjustments that can be made, and apply these learnings to future situations.

## Defining the Problem

To start tackling a problem, first, identify and understand it. Analyzing the issue thoroughly helps to clarify its scope and nature. Ask questions to gather information and consider the problem from various angles. Some strategies to define the problem include:

- Brainstorming with others
- Asking the 5 Ws and 1 H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How)
- Analyzing cause and effect
- Creating a problem statement

## Generating Solutions

Once the problem is clearly understood, brainstorm possible solutions. Think creatively and keep an open mind, as well as considering lessons from past experiences. Consider:

- Creating a list of potential ideas to solve the problem
- Grouping and categorizing similar solutions
- Prioritizing potential solutions based on feasibility, cost, and resources required
- Involving others to share diverse opinions and inputs

## Evaluating and Selecting Solutions

Evaluate each potential solution, weighing its pros and cons. To facilitate decision-making, use techniques such as:

- SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
- Decision-making matrices
- Pros and cons lists
- Risk assessments

After evaluating, choose the most suitable solution based on effectiveness, cost, and time constraints.

## Implementing and Monitoring the Solution

Implement the chosen solution and monitor its progress. Key actions include:

- Communicating the solution to relevant parties
- Setting timelines and milestones
- Assigning tasks and responsibilities
- Monitoring the solution and making adjustments as necessary
- Evaluating the effectiveness of the solution after implementation

Utilize feedback from stakeholders and consider potential improvements. Remember that problem-solving is an ongoing process that can always be refined and enhanced.

## Problem-Solving Techniques

During each step, you may find it helpful to utilize various problem-solving techniques, such as:

- Brainstorming : A free-flowing, open-minded session where ideas are generated and listed without judgment, to encourage creativity and innovative thinking.
- Root cause analysis : A method that explores the underlying causes of a problem to find the most effective solution rather than addressing superficial symptoms.
- SWOT analysis : A tool used to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to a problem or decision, providing a comprehensive view of the situation.
- Mind mapping : A visual technique that uses diagrams to organize and connect ideas, helping to identify patterns, relationships, and possible solutions.

## Brainstorming

When facing a problem, start by conducting a brainstorming session. Gather your team and encourage an open discussion where everyone contributes ideas, no matter how outlandish they may seem. This helps you:

- Generate a diverse range of solutions
- Encourage all team members to participate
- Foster creative thinking

When brainstorming, remember to:

- Reserve judgment until the session is over
- Encourage wild ideas
- Combine and improve upon ideas

## Root Cause Analysis

For effective problem-solving, identifying the root cause of the issue at hand is crucial. Try these methods:

- 5 Whys : Ask “why” five times to get to the underlying cause.
- Fishbone Diagram : Create a diagram representing the problem and break it down into categories of potential causes.
- Pareto Analysis : Determine the few most significant causes underlying the majority of problems.

## SWOT Analysis

SWOT analysis helps you examine the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats related to your problem. To perform a SWOT analysis:

- List your problem’s strengths, such as relevant resources or strong partnerships.
- Identify its weaknesses, such as knowledge gaps or limited resources.
- Explore opportunities, like trends or new technologies, that could help solve the problem.
- Recognize potential threats, like competition or regulatory barriers.

SWOT analysis aids in understanding the internal and external factors affecting the problem, which can help guide your solution.

## Mind Mapping

A mind map is a visual representation of your problem and potential solutions. It enables you to organize information in a structured and intuitive manner. To create a mind map:

- Write the problem in the center of a blank page.
- Draw branches from the central problem to related sub-problems or contributing factors.
- Add more branches to represent potential solutions or further ideas.

Mind mapping allows you to visually see connections between ideas and promotes creativity in problem-solving.

## Examples of Problem Solving in Various Contexts

In the business world, you might encounter problems related to finances, operations, or communication. Applying problem-solving skills in these situations could look like:

- Identifying areas of improvement in your company’s financial performance and implementing cost-saving measures
- Resolving internal conflicts among team members by listening and understanding different perspectives, then proposing and negotiating solutions
- Streamlining a process for better productivity by removing redundancies, automating tasks, or re-allocating resources

In educational contexts, problem-solving can be seen in various aspects, such as:

- Addressing a gap in students’ understanding by employing diverse teaching methods to cater to different learning styles
- Developing a strategy for successful time management to balance academic responsibilities and extracurricular activities
- Seeking resources and support to provide equal opportunities for learners with special needs or disabilities

Everyday life is full of challenges that require problem-solving skills. Some examples include:

- Overcoming a personal obstacle, such as improving your fitness level, by establishing achievable goals, measuring progress, and adjusting your approach accordingly
- Navigating a new environment or city by researching your surroundings, asking for directions, or using technology like GPS to guide you
- Dealing with a sudden change, like a change in your work schedule, by assessing the situation, identifying potential impacts, and adapting your plans to accommodate the change.
- How to Resolve Employee Conflict at Work [Steps, Tips, Examples]
- How to Write Inspiring Core Values? 5 Steps with Examples
- 30 Employee Feedback Examples (Positive & Negative)

## Learning to Teach Mathematics Through Problem Solving

- Open access
- Published: 21 April 2022
- Volume 57 , pages 407–423, ( 2022 )

## Cite this article

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While there has been much research focused on beginning teachers; and mathematical problem solving in the classroom, little is known about beginning primary teachers’ learning to teach mathematics through problem solving. This longitudinal study examined what supported beginning teachers to start and sustain teaching mathematics through problem solving in their first 2 years of teaching. Findings show ‘sustaining’ required a combination of three factors: (i) participation in professional development centred on problem solving (ii) attending subject-specific complementary professional development initiatives alongside colleagues from their school; and (iii) an in-school colleague who also teaches mathematics through problem solving. If only one factor is present, in this study attending the professional development focussed on problem solving, the result was little movement towards a problem solving based pedagogy. Recommendations for supporting beginning teachers to embed problem solving are included.

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## Introduction

For many years curriculum documents worldwide have positioned mathematics as a problem solving endeavour (e.g., see Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2018 ; Ministry of Education, 2007 ). There is evidence however that even with this prolonged emphasis, problem solving has not become a significant presence in many classrooms (Felmer et al., 2019 ). Research has reported on a multitude of potential barriers, even for experienced teachers (Clarke et al., 2007 ; Holton, 2009 ). At the same time it is widely recognised that beginning teachers encounter many challenges as they start their careers, and that these challenges are particularly compelling when seeking to implement ambitious methods of teaching, such as problem solving (Wood et al., 2012 ).

Problem solving has been central to mathematics knowledge construction from the beginning of human history (Felmer et al., 2019 ). Teaching and learning mathematics through problem solving supports learners’ development of deep and conceptual understandings (Inoue et al., 2019 ), and is regarded as an effective way of catering for diversity (Hunter et al., 2018 ). While the importance and challenge of mathematical problem solving in school classrooms is not questioned, the promotion and enabling of problem solving is a contentious endeavour (English & Gainsburg, 2016 ). One debate centres on whether to teach mathematics through problem solving or to teach problem solving in and of itself. Recent scholarship (and this research) leans towards teaching mathematics through problem solving as a means for students to learn mathematics and come to appreciate what it means to do mathematics (Schoenfeld, 2013 ).

Problem solving has been defined in a multitude of ways over the years. Of central importance to problem solving as it is explored in this research study is Schoenfeld’s ( 1985 ) proposition that, “if one has ready access to a solution schema for a mathematical task, that task is an exercise and not a problem” (p. 74). A more recent definition of what constitutes a mathematical problem from Mamona-Downs and Mamona ( 2013 ) also emphasises the centrality of the learner not knowing how to proceed, highlighting that problems cannot be solved by procedural effort alone. These are important distinctions because traditional school texts and programmes often position problems and problem solving as an ‘add-on’ providing a practice opportunity for a previously taught, specific procedure. Given the range of learners in any education setting an important point to also consider is that what constitutes a problem for some students may not be a problem for others (Schoenfeld, 2013 ).

A research focus exploring what supports beginning teachers’ learning about teaching mathematics through problem solving is particularly relevant at this time given calls for an increased curricular focus on mathematical practices such as problem solving (Grootenboer et al., 2021 ) and recent recommendations from an expert advisory panel on the English-medium Mathematics and Statistics curriculum in Aotearoa (Royal Society Te Apārangi, 2021 ). The ninth recommendation from this report advocates for the provision of sustained professional learning in mathematics and statistics for all teachers of Years 0–8. With regard to beginning primary teachers, the recommendation goes further suggesting that ‘mathematics and statistics professional learning’ (p. 36) be considered as compulsory in the first 2 years of teaching. This research explores what the nature of that professional learning might involve, with a focus on problem solving.

## Scoping the Context for Learning and Sustaining Problem Solving

The literature reviewed for this study draws from two key fields: the nature of support and professional development effective for beginning teachers; and specialised supports helping teachers to employ problem solving pedagogies.

## Beginning Teachers, Support and Professional Development

A teacher’s early years in the profession are regarded as critical in terms of constructing a professional practice (Feiman-Nemser, 2003 ) and avoiding high attrition (Karlberg & Bezzina, 2020 ). Research has established that beginning teachers need professional development opportunities geared specifically to their needs (Fantilli & McDougall, 2009 ) and their contexts (Gaikhorst, et al., 2017 ). Providing appropriate support is not an uncontentious matter with calls for institutions to come together and collaborate to provide adequate and ongoing support (Karlberg & Bezzina, 2020 ). The proposal is that support is needed from both within and beyond the beginning teacher’s school; and begins with effective pre-service teacher preparation (Keese et al., 2022 ).

Within schools where beginning teachers regard the support they receive positively, collaboration, encouragement and ‘involved colleagues’ are considered as vital; with the guidance of a 'buddy’ identified as some of the most valuable in-school support activities (Gaikhorst et al., 2014 ). Cameron et al.’s ( 2007 ) research in Aotearoa reports beginning teachers joining collaborative work cultures had greater opportunities to talk about teaching with their colleagues, share planning and resources, examine students’ work, and benefit from the collective expertise of team members.

Opportunities to participate in networks beyond the beginning teacher’s school have also been identified as being important for teacher induction (Akiri & Dori, 2021 ; Cameron et al., 2007 ). Fantilli & McDougall ( 2009 ) in their Canadian study found beginning teachers reported a need for many support and professional development opportunities including subject-specific (e.g., mathematics) workshops prior to and throughout the year. Akiri and Dori ( 2021 ) also refer to the need for specialised support from subject-specific mentors. This echoes the findings of Wood et al. ( 2012 ) who advocate that given the complexity of learning to teach mathematics, induction support specific to mathematics, and rich opportunities to learn are not only desirable but essential.

Akiri and Dori ( 2021 ) describe three levels of mentoring support for beginning teachers including individual mentoring, group mentoring and mentoring networks with all three facilitating substantive professional growth. Of relevance to this paper are individual and group mentoring. Individual mentoring involves pairing an experienced teacher with a beginning teacher, so that a beginning teacher’s learning is supported. Group mentoring involves a group of teachers working with one or more mentors, with participants receiving guidance from their mentor(s) (Akiri & Dori, 2021 ). Findings from Akiri and Dori suggest that of the varying forms of mentoring, individual mentoring contributes the most for beginning teachers’ professional learning.

## Teachers Learning to Teach Mathematics Through Problem Solving

Learning to teach mathematics through problem solving begins in pre-service teacher education. It has been shown that providing pre-service teachers with opportunities to engage in problem solving as learners can be productive (Bailey, 2015 ). Opportunities to practise content-specific instructional strategies such as problem solving during student teaching has also been positively associated with first-year teachers’ enactment of problem solving (Youngs et al., 2022 ).

The move from pre-service teacher education to the classroom can be fraught for beginning teachers (Feiman-Nemser, 2003 ), and all the more so for beginning teachers attempting to teach mathematics through problem solving (Wood et al., 2012 ). In a recent study (Darragh & Radovic, 2019 ) it has been shown that an individual willingness to change to a problem-based pedagogy may not be enough to sustain a change in practice in the long term, particularly if there is a contradiction with the context and ‘norms’ (e.g., school curriculum) within which a teacher is working. Cady et al. ( 2006 ) explored the beliefs and practices of two teachers from pre-service teacher education through to becoming experienced teachers. One teacher who initially adopted reform practices reverted to traditional beliefs about the learning and teaching of mathematics. In contrast, the other teacher implemented new practices only after understanding these and gaining teaching experience. Participation in mathematically focused professional development and involvement in resource development were thought to favourably influence the second teacher.

Lesson structures have been found to support teachers learning to teach mathematics through problem solving. Sullivan et al. ( 2016 ) explored the use of a structure comprising four phases: launching, exploring, summarising and consolidating. Teachers in Australia and Aotearoa have reported the structure as productive and feasible (Ingram et al., 2019 ; Sullivan et al., 2016 ). Teaching using challenging tasks (such as in problem solving) and a structure have been shown to accommodate student diversity, a pressing concern for many teachers. Student diversity has often been managed by grouping students according to perceived levels of capability (called ability grouping). Research identifies this practice as problematic, excluding and marginalising disadvantaged groups of students (e.g., see Anthony & Hunter, 2017 ). The lesson structure explored by Sullivan et al. ( 2016 ) caters for diversity by deliberately differentiating tasks, providing enabling and extending prompts. Extending prompts are offered to students who finish an original task quickly and ideally elicit abstraction and generalisation. Enabling prompts involve reducing the number of steps, simplifying the numbers, and/or varying forms of representation for students who cannot initially proceed, with the explicit intention that students then return to the original task.

Recognising the established challenges teachers encounter when learning about teaching mathematics through problem solving, and the paucity of recent research focussing on beginning teachers learning about teaching mathematics in this way, this paper draws on data from a 2 year longitudinal study. The study was guided by the research question:

What supports beginning teachers’ implementation of a problem solving pedagogy for the teaching and learning of mathematics?

## Research Methodology and Methods

Data were gathered from three beginning primary teachers who had completed a 1 year graduate diploma programme in primary teacher education the previous year. The beginning teachers had undertaken a course in mathematics education (taught by the author for half of the course) as part of the graduate diploma. An invitation to be involved in the research was sent to the graduate diploma cohort at the end of the programme. Three beginning teachers indicated their interest and remained involved for the 2 year research period. The teachers had all secured their first teaching positions, and were teaching at different year levels at three different schools. Julia (pseudonyms have been used for all names) was teaching year 0–2 (5–6 years) at a small rural school; Charlotte, year 5–6 (9–10 years) at a large urban city school; and Reine, year 7–8 (11–12 years), at another small rural school. All three beginning teachers taught at their respective schools, teaching the same year levels in both years of the study. Ethical approval was sought and given by the author’s university ethics committee. Informed consent was gained from the teachers, school principals and involved parents and children.

Participatory action research was selected as the approach in the study because of its emphasis on the participation and collaboration of all those involved (Townsend, 2013 ). Congruent with the principles of action research, activities and procedures were negotiated throughout both years in a responsive and emergent way. The author acted as a co-participant with the teachers, aiming to improve practice, to challenge and reorient thinking, and transform contexts for children’s learning (Locke et al., 2013 ). The author’s role included facilitating the research-based problem solving workshops (see below), contributing her experience as a mathematics educator and researcher. The beginning teachers were involved in making sense of their own practice related to their particular sites and context.

The first step in the research process was a focus group discussion before the beginning teachers commenced their first year of teaching. This discussion included reflecting on their learning about problem solving during the mathematics education course; and envisaging what would be helpful to support implementation. It was agreed that a series of workshops would be useful. Two were subsequently held in the first year of the study, each for three hours, at the end of terms one and two. Four workshops were held during the second year, one during each term. At the end of the first year the author suggested a small number of experienced teachers who teach mathematics through problem solving join the workshops for the second year. The presence of these teachers was envisaged to support the beginning teachers’ learning. The beginning teachers agreed, and an invitation was extended to four teachers from other schools whom the author knew (e.g., through professional subject associations). The focus of the research remained the same, namely exploring what supported beginning teachers to implement a problem solving pedagogy.

Each workshop began with sharing and oral reflections about recent problem solving experiences, including successes and challenges. Key workshop tasks included developing a shared understanding of what constitutes problem solving, participating in solving mathematical problems (modelled using a lesson structure (Sullivan et al., 2016 ), and learning techniques such as asking questions. A time for reflective writing was provided at the end of each workshop to record what had been learned and an opportunity to set goals.

During the first focus group discussion it was also decided the author would visit and observe the beginning teachers teaching a problem solving lesson (or two) in term three or four of each year. A semi-structured interview between the author and each beginning teacher took place following each observed lesson. The beginning teachers also had an opportunity to ask questions as they reflected on the lesson, and feedback was given as requested. A second focus group discussion was held at the end of the first year (an approximate midpoint in the research), and a final focus group discussion was held at the end of the second year.

All focus group discussions, problem solving workshops, observations and interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. Field notes of workshops (recorded by the author), reflections from the beginning teachers (written at the end of each workshop), and lesson observation notes (recorded by the author) were also gathered. The final data collected included occasional emails between each beginning teacher and the author.

## Data Analysis

The analysis reported in this paper drew on all data sets, primarily using inductive thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006 ). The research question guided the key question for analysis, namely: What supports beginning teachers’ implementation of a problem solving pedagogy for the teaching and learning of mathematics? Alongside this question, consideration was also given to the challenges beginning teachers encountered as they implemented a problem solving pedagogy. Data familiarisation was developed through reading and re-reading the whole body of data. This process informed data analysis and the content for each subsequent workshop and focus group discussions. Colour-coding and naming of themes included comparing and contrasting data from each beginning teacher and throughout the 2-year period. As a theme was constructed (Braun & Clarke, 2006 ) subsequent data was checked to ascertain whether the theme remained valid and/or whether it changed during the 2 years. Three key themes emerged revealing what supported the beginning teachers’ developing problem solving pedagogy, and these constitute the focus for this paper.

Mindful of the time pressures beginning teachers experience in their early years, the author undertook responsibility for data analysis. The author’s understanding of the unfolding ‘story’ of each beginning teacher’s experiences and the emerging themes were shared with the beginning teachers, usually at the beginning of a workshop, focus group discussion or observation. Through this process the author’s understandings were checked and clarified. This iterative process of member checking (Lincoln & Guba, 1985 ) began at a mid-point during the first year, once a significant body of data had been gathered. At a later point in the analysis and writing, the beginning teachers also had an opportunity to read, check and/or amend quotes chosen to exemplify their thinking and experiences.

## Findings and Discussion

In this section the three beginning teachers’ experiences at the start of the 2 year research timeframe is briefly described, followed by the first theme centred on the use of a lesson structure including prompts for differentiation. The second and third themes are presented together, starting with a brief outline of each beginning teacher’s ‘story’ providing the context within which the themes emerged. Sharing the ‘story’ of each beginning teacher and including their ‘voice’ through quotes acknowledges them and their experiences as central to this research.

The beginning teachers’ pre-service teacher education set the scene for learning about teaching mathematics through problem solving. A detailed list brainstormed during the first focus group discussion suggested a developing understanding from their shared pre-service mathematics education course. In their first few weeks of teaching, all three beginning teachers implemented a few problems. It transpired however this inclusion of problem solving occurred only while children were being assessed and grouped. Following this, all three followed a traditional format of skill-based (with a focus on number) mathematics, taught using ability groups. The beginning teachers’ trajectories then varied with Julia and Reine both eventually adopting a pedagogy primarily based on problem solving, while Charlotte employed a traditional skill-based mathematics using a combination of whole class and small group teaching.

## A Lesson Structure that Caters for Diversity Supports Early Efforts

Data show that developing familiarity with a lesson structure including prompts for differentiation supported the beginning teachers’ early efforts with a problem solving pedagogy. This addressed a key issue that emerged during the first workshop. During the workshop while a ‘list’ of ideas for teaching a problem solving lesson was co-constructed, considerable concern was expressed about catering for a range of learners when introducing and working with a problem. For example, Charlotte queried, “ Well, what happens when you are trying to do something more complicated, and we’re (referring to children) sitting here going, ‘I’ve no idea what you're talking about” ? Reine suggested keeping some children with the teacher, thinking he would say, “ If you’re unsure of any part stay behind” . He was unsure however about how he would then maintain the integrity of the problem.

It was in light of this discussion that a lesson structure with differentiated prompts (Sullivan et al., 2016 ) was introduced, experienced and reflected on during the second workshop. While the co-constructed list developed during the first workshop had included many components of Sullivan’s lesson structure, (e.g., a consideration of ‘extensions’) there had been no mention of ‘enabling prompts’. Now, with the inclusion of both enabling and extending prompts, the beginning teachers’ discussion revealed them starting to more fully envisage the possibilities of using a problem solving approach, and being able to cater for all children. Reine commented that, “… you can give the entire class a problem, you've just got to have a plan, [and] your enabling and extension prompts” . Charlotte was also now considering and valuing the possibility of having a whole class work on the same problem. She said, “I think … it’s important and it’s useful for your whole class to be working on the same thing. And … have enablers and extenders to make sure that everyone feels successful” . Julia also referred to the planning prompts. She thought it would be key to “plan it well so that we’ve got enabling and extending prompts” .

## Successful Problem Solving Lessons

Following the second workshop all three beginning teachers were observed teaching a lesson using the structure. These lessons delighted the beginning teachers, with them noting prolonged engagement of children, the children’s learning and being able to cater for all learners. Reine commented on how excited and engaged the children were, saying they were, “ just so enthusiastic about it ”. In Charlotte’s words, “ it really worked ”, and Julia enthusiastically pondered this could be “ the only way you teach maths !”.

During the focus group discussion at the end of the first year, all three reflected on the value of the lesson structure. Reine called it a ‘framework’ commenting,

I like the framework. So from start to finish, how you go through that whole lesson. So how you set it up and then you go through the phases… I like the prompts that we went through…. knowing where you could go, if they’re like, ‘What do I do?’ And then if they get it too easy then ‘Where can you go?’ So you've got all these little avenues.

Charlotte also valued the lesson structure for the breadth of learning that could occur, explaining,

… it really helped, and really worked. So I found that useful for me and my class ‘cause they really understood. And I think also making sure that you know all the ins and outs of a problem. So where could they go? What do you need to know? What do they need to know?

While the beginning teachers’ pre-service teacher education and the subsequent research process, including the use of the lesson structure, supported the beginning teachers’ early efforts teaching mathematics through problem solving, two key factors further enabled two of the beginning teachers (Julia and Reine) to sustain a problem solving pedagogy. These were:

Being involved in complementary mathematics professional development alongside members of their respective school staff (a form of group mentoring); and

Having a colleague in the same school teaching mathematics through problem solving (a form of individual mentoring).

Charlotte did not have these opportunities and she indicated this limited her implementation. Data for these findings for each teacher are presented below.

## Complementary Professional Development and Problem Solving Colleague in Same School

Julia began to significantly implement problem solving from the second term in the first year. This coincided with her attending a 2-day workshop (with staff from her school) that focused on the use of problem solving to support children who are not achieving at expected levels (see ALiM: Accelerated Learning in Maths—Ministry of Education, 2022 ). She explained, “ … I did the PD with (colleague’s name), which was really helpful. And we did lots of talking about rich learning tasks and problem solving tasks…. And what it means ”. Following this, Julia reported using rich tasks and problem solving in her mathematics teaching in a regular (at least weekly) and ongoing way.

During the observation in term three of the first year Julia again referred to the impact of having a colleague also teaching mathematics through problem solving. When asked what she believed had supported her to become a teacher who teaches mathematics in this way she firstly identified her involvement in the research project, and then spoke about her colleague. She said, “ I’m really lucky one of our other teachers is doing the ALiM project… So we’re kind of bouncing off each other a little bit with resources and activities, and things like that. So that’s been really good ”.

At the beginning of the second year, Julia reiterated this point again. On this occasion she said having a colleague teaching mathematics through problem solving, “ made a huge difference for me last year ”, explaining the value included having someone to talk with on a daily basis. Mid-way through the second year Julia repeated her opinion about the value of frequent contact with a practising problem solving colleague. Whereas her initial comments spoke of the impact in terms of being “ a little bit ”, later references recount these as ‘ huge ’ and ‘ enabling ’. She described:

a huge effect… it enabled me. Cause I mean these workshops are really helpful. But when it’s only once a term, having [colleague] there just enabled me to kind of bounce ideas off. And if I did a lesson that didn’t work very well, we could talk about why that was, and actually talk about what the learning was instead…. . It was being able to reflect together, but also share ideas. It was amazing.

Julia’s comments raise two points. It is likely that participating in the ALiM professional development (which could be conceived as a form of group mentoring) consolidated the learning she first encountered during pre-service teacher education and later extended through her involvement in the research. Having a colleague (in essence, an individual mentor) within the same school teaching mathematics through problem solving appears to be another factor that supported Julia to implement problem solving in a more sustained way. Julia’s comments allude to a number of reasons for this, including: (i) the more frequent discussion opportunities with a colleague who understands what it means for children to learn mathematics through problem solving; (ii) being able to share and plan suitable activities and resources; and (iii) as a means for reflection, particularly when challenges were encountered.

Reine’s mathematics programme throughout the first year was based on ability groups and could be described as traditional. He occasionally used some mathematical problems as ‘extension activities’ for ‘higher level’ children, or as ‘fillers’. In the second year, Reine moved to working with mixed ability groups (where students work together in small groups with varying levels of perceived capability) and initially implemented problem solving approximately once a fortnight. In thinking back to these lessons he commented, “ We weren’t really unpacking one problem properly, it was just lots of busy stuff ”. A significant shift occurred in Reine’s practice to teaching mathematics primarily by problem solving towards the last half of the second year. He explained, “ I really ramped up towards terms three and four, where it’s more picking one problem across the whole maths class but being really, really conscious of that problem. Low entry, high ceiling, and doing more of it too ”.

Reine attributed this change to a number of factors. In response to a question about what he considered led to the change he explained,

… having this, talking about this stuff, trialling it and then with our PD at school with the research into ability grouping... We’ve got a lot of PD saying why it can be harmful to group on ability, and that’s been that last little kick I needed, I think. And with other teachers trialling this as well. Our senior teacher has flipped her whole maths program and just does problem solving.

Like Julia, Reine firstly referred to his involvement in the research project including having opportunities to try problems in his class and discuss his experiences within the research group. He then told of a colleague teaching at his school leading school-wide professional development focussed on the pitfalls of ability grouping in mathematics (e.g., see Clarke, 2021 ) and instead using problem solving tasks. He also referred to having another teacher also teaching mathematics through problem solving. It is interesting to consider that having positive experiences in pre-service teacher education, the positive and encouraging support of colleagues (Reine’s principal and co-teacher in both years), regular participation in ongoing professional development (the problem solving workshops), and having a highly successful one-off problem solving teaching experience (the first year observation) were not enough for Reine to meaningfully sustain problem solving in his first year of teaching.

As for Julia, pivotal factors leading to a sustaining of problem solving teaching practice in the second year included complementary mathematics professional development (a form of group mentoring) and at least one other teacher (acting as an individual mentor) in the same school teaching mathematics through problem solving. It could be argued that pre-service teacher education and the problem solving workshops ‘paved the way’ for Julia and Reine to make a change. However, for both, the complementary professional development and presence of a colleague also teaching through problem solving were pivotal. It is also interesting to note that three of the four experienced teachers in the larger research group taught at the same level as Reine (see Table 1 below) yet he did not relate this to the significant change in his practice observed towards the end of the second year.

Charlotte’s mathematics programme during the first year was also traditional, teaching skill-based mathematics using ability groups. At the beginning of the second year Charlotte moved to teaching her class as a whole group, using flexible grouping as needed (children are grouped together in response to learning needs with regard to a specific idea at a point in time, rather than perceived notions of ability). She reported that she occasionally taught a lesson using problem solving in the first year, and approximately once or twice a term in the second year. Charlotte did not have opportunities for professional development in mathematics nor did she have a colleague in the same school teaching mathematics through problem solving. Pondering this, Charlotte said,

It would have been helpful if I had someone else in my school doing the same thing. I just thought about when you were saying the other lady was doing it [referring to Julia’s colleague]. You know, someone that you can just kind of back-and-forth like. I find with Science, I usually plan with this other lady, and we share ideas and plan together. We come up with some really cool stuff whereas I don’t really have the same thing for this.

Based on her experiences with teaching science it is clear Charlotte recognised the value of working alongside a colleague. In this, her view aligns with what Julia and Reine experienced.

Table 1 provides a summary of the variables for each beginning teacher, and whether a sustained implementation of teaching mathematics through problem solving occurred.

The table shows two variables common to Julia and Reine, the beginning teachers who began and sustained problem solving. They both participated in complementary professional development with colleagues from their school, and the presence of a colleague, also at their school, teaching mathematics through problem solving. Given that Julia was able to implement problem solving in the absence of a ‘research workshop colleague’ teaching at the same year level, and Reine’s lack of comment about the potential impact of this, suggests that this was not a key factor enabling a sustained implementation of problem solving.

Attributing the changes in Julia and Reine’s teaching practice primarily to their involvement in complementary professional development attended by members of their school staff, and the presence of at least one other teacher teaching mathematics through problem solving in their school, is further supported by a consideration of the timing of the changes. The data shows that while Julia could be considered an ‘early adopter’, Reine changed his practice reasonably late in the 2 year period. Julia’s early adoption of teaching mathematics through problem solving coincided with her involvement, early in the 2 years, in the professional development and opportunity to work alongside a problem solving practising colleague. Reine encountered these similar conditions towards the end of the 2 years and it is notable that this was the point at which he changed his practice. That problem solving did not become embedded or frequent within Charlotte’s mathematics programme tends to support the argument.

Understanding what supports primary teachers to teach mathematics through problem solving at the beginning of their careers is important because all students, including those taught by beginning teachers, need opportunities to develop high-level thinking, reasoning, and problem solving skills. It is also important in light of recent calls for mathematics curricula to include more emphasis on mathematical practices (such as problem solving) (e.g., see Grootenboer et al., 2021 ); and the Royal Society Te Apārangi report ( 2021 ). Findings from this research suggest that learning about problem solving during pre-service teacher education is enough for beginning teachers to trial teaching mathematics in this way. Early efforts were supported by gaining experience with a lesson structure that specifically attends to diversity. The lesson structure prompted the beginning teachers to anticipate different children’s responses, and consider how they would respond to these. An increased confidence and sense of security to trial teaching mathematics through problem solving was enabled, based on their more in-depth preparation. Beginning teachers finding the lesson structure useful extends the findings of Sullivan et al. ( 2016 ) in Australia and Ingram et al. ( 2019 ) in Aotearoa to include less experienced teachers.

In order for teaching mathematics through problem solving to be sustained however, a combination of three factors, subsequent to pre-service teacher education, was needed: (i) active participation in problem solving workshops (in this context provided by the research-based problem solving workshops); (ii) attending complementary professional development initiatives alongside colleagues from their school (a form of group mentoring); and (iii) the presence of an in-school colleague who also teaches mathematics through problem solving (a form of individual mentoring). It seems possible these three factors acted synergistically resulting in Julia and Reine being able to sustain implementation. If only one factor is present, in this study attending the problem solving workshops, and despite a genuine interest in using a problem based pedagogy, the result was limited movement towards this way of teaching.

Akiri and Dori ( 2021 ) have reported that individual mentoring contributes the most to beginning teachers’ professional growth. In a manner consistent with these findings, an in-school colleague (who in essence was acting as an individual mentor) played a critical role in supporting Reine and Julia. However, while Akiri and Dori, amongst others (e.g., Cameron et al., 2007 ; Karlberg & Bezzina, 2020 ), have identified the value of supportive, approachable colleagues, for both Julia and Reine it was important that their colleague was supportive and approachable, and actively engaged in teaching mathematics through problem solving. Having supportive and approachable colleagues, as Reine experienced in his first year, on their own were not enough to support a sustained problem solving pedagogy.

## Implications for Productive Professional Learning and Development

This study sought to explore the conditions that supported problem solving for beginning teachers, each in their unique context and from their perspective. The research did not examine how the teaching of mathematics through problem solving affected children’s learning. However, multiple sets of data were collected and analysed over a 2-year period. While it is neither possible nor appropriate to make claims as to generalisability some suggestions for productive beginning teacher professional learning and development are offered.

Given the first years of teaching constitute a particular and critical phase of teacher learning (Karlberg & Bezzina, 2020 ) and the findings from this research, it is imperative that well-funded, subject-focussed support occurs throughout a beginning teacher’s first 2 years of teaching. This is consistent with the ninth recommendation in the Royal Society Te Apārangi report ( 2021 ) suggesting compulsory professional learning during the induction period (2 years in Aotearoa New Zealand). Participation in subject-specific professional development has been recognised to favourably influence new teachers’ efforts to adopt reform practices such as problem solving (Cady et al., 2006 ).

Findings from this study suggest professional development opportunities that complement each other support beginning teacher learning. In the first instance complementarity needs to be with what beginning teachers have learned during their pre-service teacher education. In this study, the research-based problem solving workshops served this role. Complementarity between varying forms of professional development also appears to be important. Furthermore, as indicated by Julia and Reine’s experiences, subsequent professional development need not be on exactly the same topic. Rather, it can be complementary in the sense that there is an underlying congruence in philosophy and/or focus on a particular issue. For example, it emerged in the problem solving workshops, that being able to cater for diversity was a central concern for the beginning teachers. Attending to this issue within the problem solving workshops via the introduction of a lesson structure that enabled differentiation, was congruent with the nature of the professional development in the two schools: ALiM in Julia’s school, and mixed ability grouping and teaching mathematics through problem solving in Reine’s school. All three of these settings were focussed on positively responding to diversity in learning needs.

The presence of a colleague within the same school teaching mathematics through problem solving also appears to be pivotal. This is consistent with Darragh and Radovic ( 2019 ) who have shown the significant impact a teacher’s school context has on their potential to sustain problem based pedagogies in mathematics. Given that problem solving is not prevalent in many primary classrooms, it would seem clear that colleagues who have yet to learn about teaching mathematics through problem solving, particularly those that have a role supporting beginning teachers, will also require access to professional development opportunities. It seems possible that beginning and experienced teachers learning together is a potential pathway forward. Finding such pathways will be critical if mathematical problem solving is to be consistently implemented in primary classrooms.

Finally, these implications together with calls for institutions to collaborate to provide adequate and ongoing support for new teachers (Karlberg & Bezzina, 2020 ) suggest there is a need for pre-service teacher educators, professional development providers and the Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand to work together to support beginning teachers’ starting and sustaining teaching mathematics through problem solving pedagogies.

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Bailey, J. Learning to Teach Mathematics Through Problem Solving. NZ J Educ Stud 57 , 407–423 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40841-022-00249-0

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## Guidance for Parents to Help Their Children Learn Mathematics

by Robert Schoen | October 5, 2020 Blog

In many households, expectations for parents to be involved in helping their children learn mathematics feels higher now than ever.

We think that all parents can benefit from having a few guiding principles for supporting their child’s math learning at home.

Claire Riddell and Laura Steele are two experienced teachers who compiled some recommendations to share with parents. Their recommendations are consistent with a CGI approach to teaching. The recommendations are provided below.

We are always on the lookout for good resources and ideas to support parent involvement in their child’s mathematics learning. We may expand the TiPS website to create a section that focuses directly on parent involvement.

If you know of useful resources to support parent involvement, please let us know so that we can share them with others. You can send them directly to me at [email protected] .

For now, I hope you Claire and Laura’s tips to be useful.

## Helping Your Child Learn Math at Home

All children are natural problem solvers. We offer a few suggestions to help you work with your child at home to learn math.

## Three Things to Consider

Let your child do the thinking and the talking. One of the most important things you can do is listen. Your role as a listener is crucial to assisting your child’s development. Invite your child to share his or her strategy for solving problems and be patient while they try to explain. As you know, trying to explain something that you are still learning can be difficult and uncomfortable. You can help your child to learn by being a patient listener and providing opportunities for them to try to explain multiple times in different ways.

Everyday items in your household can be math tools. Regardless of the problem’s context, many household items can help your child solve problems. Cheerios, pennies, rocks, dry beans, toys, and so much more can be used by your child to solve problems. Before your child starts working, gather a set of items to have within reach for your child to use while solving problems.

Focus more on the process and less on the answer. Compliment your child’s effort, sense making, and attempts to express their ideas in words and in writing. While we ultimately want children to arrive at a correct answer, the real learning and thinking happens while they are solving the problem. Celebrate the process.

## Three Questions to Ask

- “How did you get [your answer]?” Avoid asking “what is your answer” and instead ask your child to explain his or her thinking. Children sometimes arrive at an incorrect answer, but when given the opportunity to explain their solution, they identify and correct their own mistakes.
- “How did you know to do that?” Children often think if you ask them a question about how they solve a problem, it indicates their answer is wrong. Asking, “How did you know to do that?” encourages children to share their reasoning and thinking. Get in the habit of asking questions often so your child knows that explaining themselves is just a part of doing math.
- “Can you explain how you did that?” Children memorize math facts, which is good, but we can learn about the depth of their understanding when we ask children to demonstrate on paper or with math tools what their thinking looks like in a concrete form. Answers like, “I am smart” or “I just knew that” do not show a depth of knowledge. However, when asked to demonstrate their thinking in concrete ways or through verbal explanations, you’ll have a better understanding of their child’s mathematics knowledge.

## Three Things to Try (When Your Child Seems Stuck)

- Focus on what your child does know and understand. Does your child understand the problem? Instead of showing them how to solve it, ask them to explain what they know about the problem. If it is a story problem, ask your child to picture the story in their mind or draw a picture of what is happening.
- Invite your child to draw a picture of the problem or act it out with objects. By creating a concrete representation, the problem can become less abstract and children are better able to access what the problem is asking and find possible solutions.
- Don’t be afraid to leave a problem. Ask your child, “Would you like to continue with this problem, or would you like to come back to it later?” Giving your child the permission to choose whether to continue or not is empowering. Being a part of the decision-making process may empower your child and help them to grow as a person. Of course, if it is a mandatory homework assignment, it will need to be revisited in the allotted time (if the choice was to come back later), and the child will need to consider that too.

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Robert C. Schoen, Ph.D., is an associate professor of mathematics education in the School of Teacher Education at Florida State University. He is also the Associate Director of LSI’s Florida Center for Research in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (FCR–STEM) and the founder and director of Teaching is Problem Solving . His research involves mathematical cognition, the mathematical education of teachers, the development and validation of educational and psychological measurement instruments, and evaluation of the effectiveness of educational interventions.

## Explained: Importance of critical thinking, problem-solving skills in curriculum

F uture careers are no longer about domain expertise or technical skills. Rather, critical thinking and problem-solving skills in employees are on the wish list of every big organization today. Even curriculums and pedagogies across the globe and within India are now requiring skilled workers who are able to think critically and are analytical.

The reason for this shift in perspective is very simple.

These skills provide a staunch foundation for comprehensive learning that extends beyond books or the four walls of the classroom. In a nutshell, critical thinking and problem-solving skills are a part of '21st Century Skills' that can help unlock valuable learning for life.

Over the years, the education system has been moving away from the system of rote and other conventional teaching and learning parameters.

They are aligning their curriculums to the changing scenario which is becoming more tech-driven and demands a fusion of critical skills, life skills, values, and domain expertise. There's no set formula for success.

Rather, there's a defined need for humans to be more creative, innovative, adaptive, agile, risk-taking, and have a problem-solving mindset.

In today's scenario, critical thinking and problem-solving skills have become more important because they open the human mind to multiple possibilities, solutions, and a mindset that is interdisciplinary in nature.

Therefore, many schools and educational institutions are deploying AI and immersive learning experiences via gaming, and AR-VR technologies to give a more realistic and hands-on learning experience to their students that hone these abilities and help them overcome any doubt or fear.

## ADVANTAGES OF CRITICAL THINKING AND PROBLEM-SOLVING IN CURRICULUM

Ability to relate to the real world: Instead of theoretical knowledge, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills encourage students to look at their immediate and extended environment through a spirit of questioning, curiosity, and learning. When the curriculum presents students with real-world problems, the learning is immense.

Confidence, agility & collaboration : Critical thinking and problem-solving skills boost self-belief and confidence as students examine, re-examine, and sometimes fail or succeed while attempting to do something.

They are able to understand where they may have gone wrong, attempt new approaches, ask their peers for feedback and even seek their opinion, work together as a team, and learn to face any challenge by responding to it.

Willingness to try new things: When problem-solving skills and critical thinking are encouraged by teachers, they set a robust foundation for young learners to experiment, think out of the box, and be more innovative and creative besides looking for new ways to upskill.

It's important to understand that merely introducing these skills into the curriculum is not enough. Schools and educational institutions must have upskilling workshops and conduct special training for teachers so as to ensure that they are skilled and familiarized with new teaching and learning techniques and new-age concepts that can be used in the classrooms via assignments and projects.

Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are two of the most sought-after skills. Hence, schools should emphasise the upskilling of students as a part of the academic curriculum.

The article is authored by Dr Tassos Anastasiades, Principal- IB, Genesis Global School, Noida.

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Generative AI is transforming the software development industry. AI-powered coding tools are assisting programmers in their workflows, while jobs in AI continue to increase. But the shift is also evident in academia—one of the major avenues through which the next generation of software engineers learn how to code.

Computer science students are embracing the technology, using generative AI to help them understand complex concepts, summarize complicated research papers, brainstorm ways to solve a problem, come up with new research directions, and, of course, learn how to code.

“Students are early adopters and have been actively testing these tools,” says Johnny Chang , a teaching assistant at Stanford University pursuing a master’s degree in computer science. He also founded the AI x Education conference in 2023, a virtual gathering of students and educators to discuss the impact of AI on education.

So as not to be left behind, educators are also experimenting with generative AI. But they’re grappling with techniques to adopt the technology while still ensuring students learn the foundations of computer science.

“It’s a difficult balancing act,” says Ooi Wei Tsang , an associate professor in the School of Computing at the National University of Singapore . “Given that large language models are evolving rapidly, we are still learning how to do this.”

## Less Emphasis on Syntax, More on Problem Solving

The fundamentals and skills themselves are evolving. Most introductory computer science courses focus on code syntax and getting programs to run, and while knowing how to read and write code is still essential, testing and debugging—which aren’t commonly part of the syllabus—now need to be taught more explicitly.

“We’re seeing a little upping of that skill, where students are getting code snippets from generative AI that they need to test for correctness,” says Jeanna Matthews , a professor of computer science at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y.

Another vital expertise is problem decomposition. “This is a skill to know early on because you need to break a large problem into smaller pieces that an LLM can solve,” says Leo Porter , an associate teaching professor of computer science at the University of California, San Diego . “It’s hard to find where in the curriculum that’s taught—maybe in an algorithms or software engineering class, but those are advanced classes. Now, it becomes a priority in introductory classes.”

“Given that large language models are evolving rapidly, we are still learning how to do this.” —Ooi Wei Tsang, National University of Singapore

As a result, educators are modifying their teaching strategies. “I used to have this singular focus on students writing code that they submit, and then I run test cases on the code to determine what their grade is,” says Daniel Zingaro , an associate professor of computer science at the University of Toronto Mississauga . “This is such a narrow view of what it means to be a software engineer, and I just felt that with generative AI, I’ve managed to overcome that restrictive view.”

Zingaro, who coauthored a book on AI-assisted Python programming with Porter, now has his students work in groups and submit a video explaining how their code works. Through these walk-throughs, he gets a sense of how students use AI to generate code, what they struggle with, and how they approach design, testing, and teamwork.

“It’s an opportunity for me to assess their learning process of the whole software development [life cycle]—not just code,” Zingaro says. “And I feel like my courses have opened up more and they’re much broader than they used to be. I can make students work on larger and more advanced projects.”

Ooi echoes that sentiment, noting that generative AI tools “will free up time for us to teach higher-level thinking—for example, how to design software, what is the right problem to solve, and what are the solutions. Students can spend more time on optimization, ethical issues, and the user-friendliness of a system rather than focusing on the syntax of the code.”

## Avoiding AI’s Coding Pitfalls

But educators are cautious given an LLM’s tendency to hallucinate . “We need to be teaching students to be skeptical of the results and take ownership of verifying and validating them,” says Matthews.

Matthews adds that generative AI “can short-circuit the learning process of students relying on it too much.” Chang agrees that this overreliance can be a pitfall and advises his fellow students to explore possible solutions to problems by themselves so they don’t lose out on that critical thinking or effective learning process. “We should be making AI a copilot—not the autopilot—for learning,” he says.

“We should be making AI a copilot—not the autopilot—for learning.” —Johnny Chang, Stanford University

Other drawbacks include copyright and bias. “I teach my students about the ethical constraints—that this is a model built off other people’s code and we’d recognize the ownership of that,” Porter says. “We also have to recognize that models are going to represent the bias that’s already in society.”

Adapting to the rise of generative AI involves students and educators working together and learning from each other. For her colleagues, Matthews’s advice is to “try to foster an environment where you encourage students to tell you when and how they’re using these tools. Ultimately, we are preparing our students for the real world, and the real world is shifting, so sticking with what you’ve always done may not be the recipe that best serves students in this transition.”

Porter is optimistic that the changes they’re applying now will serve students well in the future. “There’s this long history of a gap between what we teach in academia and what’s actually needed as skills when students arrive in the industry,” he says. “There’s hope on my part that we might help close the gap if we embrace LLMs.”

- How Coders Can Survive—and Thrive—in a ChatGPT World ›
- AI Coding Is Going From Copilot to Autopilot ›
- OpenAI Codex ›

Rina Diane Caballar is a writer covering tech and its intersections with science, society, and the environment. An IEEE Spectrum Contributing Editor, she's a former software engineer based in Wellington, New Zealand.

Yes! Great summary of how things are evolving with AI. I’m a retired coder (BS comp sci) and understand the fundamentals of developing systems. Learning the lastest systems is now the greatest challenge. I was intrigued by Ansible to help me manage my homelab cluster, but who wants to learn one more scripting language? Turns out ChatGPT4 knows the syntax, semantics, and work flow of Ansible and all I do is tell is to “install log2ram on all my proxmox servers” and I get a playbook that does just that. The same with Docker Compose scripts. Wow.

## Disney's Robots Use Rockets to Stick the Landing

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## Revolutionizing Career Readiness: The Role of Tech in Work-Based Learning Programs

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This is a recap of a session from the 2024 ASU+GSV Summit. Watch the full session below.

In today's rapidly evolving job market, there's a crisis brewing: students are increasingly ill-prepared for the workforce. Entry-level positions are vanishing with the rise of AI and universities are struggling to prepare students for on-the-job success, leaving many feeling stranded and unqualified. But amidst this challenge lies an opportunity to bridge the gap between education and employment through innovative solutions like work-based learning programs.

Lack of Work-Based Learning Opportunities

According to a recent report from ECMC and VICE Media, a staggering 79% of high school students recognize the importance of on-the-job learning experiences during their postsecondary education. However, only half of them have access to career exploration programs. This glaring disparity underscores the urgent need for a shift in educational paradigms.

The Solution: Third-Party Organizations Connecting Employers and Learners

Enter tech-driven enterprises like Juvo Ventures , a pioneering early-stage venture capital firm founded in 2019. They're at the forefront of redefining career readiness by championing initiatives that connect students with real-world work experiences. Leaders like Dr. Courtney Hills McBeth , provost and chief academic officer at Western Governors University ( WGU ), and Katie Fang , founder and CEO of SchooLinks, which focuses on college and career readiness, are also leading the charge in revolutionizing traditional education models.

Dana Stephenson , co-founder and CEO of Riipen , a work-based learning platform for educators, learners and employers emphasized the importance of providing students with practical experience throughout their educational journey at the 2024 ASU+GSV Summit. He highlighted the shift away from relying solely on post-graduation employment as a launching pad for careers, advocating instead for early and continuous exposure to real-world scenarios.

Dr. Ryan Craig , managing director of Achieve Partners , stressed the need for scalable solutions that seamlessly integrate employers into the education ecosystem. “You have to make it so easy that it’s turnkey for employers,” he said, underscoring the pivotal role of intermediaries in facilitating work-based learning experiences and streamlining pathways to employment.

A Plea for Universities to Reprioritize

Dr. Hills McBeth said a key issue is focus, funding and scale, stating, “Most traditional higher ed has invested in athletics and alumni engagement and advancement offices rather than investing in employer engagement.”

WGU is changing that as a university that has prioritized student experience and career outcomes from the start. A nonprofit founded in 1997 by 19 U.S. governors, the online university supports students through job-aligned degree programs crafted with input from employers and built for career success. Organizations that hire WGU grads are reaping the rewards with a healthy 98% of employers saying WGU graduates meet or exceed their expectations.

Making it Easier for Employers to Connect with Learners

Solving the career-readiness challenge is not just about connecting students with opportunities; it's also about empowering employers, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, to actively participate in shaping the future workforce. Stephenson pointed out that many companies are eager to collaborate and engage with educational institutions to identify and nurture talent, citing the success of Juvo Ventures.

One key takeaway from this discussion is the importance of making work-based learning programs accessible and adaptable. Whether it's through shorter-duration, lower-intensity experiences or more immersive apprenticeships, flexibility is paramount to accommodating the diverse needs of students and employers alike.

More Focused State Standards

There's a growing consensus on the need for clearer, more prescriptive college and career readiness standards. Ryan Craig highlighted the current generic nature of state-level standards and calls for a more tailored approach to ensure students are equipped with the skills demanded by today's job market.

A Collaborative Effort

The revolution in career readiness isn't just about preparing students for specific jobs; it's about cultivating a mindset of adaptability, resilience, and continuous learning. By harnessing the power of technology and collaboration between states, organizations, universities, and learners, we can transform education from a passive experience into a dynamic journey that empowers individuals to thrive in an ever-changing world.

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Make students articulate their problem solving process . In a one-on-one tutoring session, ask the student to work his/her problem out loud. This slows down the thinking process, making it more accurate and allowing you to access understanding. When working with larger groups you can ask students to provide a written "two-column solution.".

Strategies for teaching problem solving apply across disciplines and instructional contexts. First, introduce the problem and explain how people in your discipline generally make sense of the given information. Then, explain how to apply these approaches to solve the problem. Introducing the problem Explaining how people in your discipline understand and interpret these types of problems can ...

Problem solving is a necessary skill in all disciplines and one that the Sheridan Center is focusing on as part of the Brown Learning Collaborative, which provides students the opportunity to achieve new levels of excellence in six key skills traditionally honed in a liberal arts education - critical reading, writing, research, data ...

Some common problem-solving strategies are: compute; simplify; use an equation; make a model, diagram, table, or chart; or work backwards. Choose the best strategy. Help students to choose the best strategy by reminding them again what they are required to find or calculate. Be patient.

Teaching students problem-solving skills and providing practice opportunities in real-life scenarios; Supporting educators with quality professional development; Get started with our problem-solving assessment tools to measure and build students' problem-solving skills today! These skills will be invaluable to students now and in the future.

Teaching problem solving: Let students get 'stuck' and 'unstuck'. This is the second in a six-part blog series on teaching 21st century skills, including problem solving , metacognition ...

Teaching about problem solving begins with suggested strategies to solve a problem. For example, "draw a picture," "make a table," etc. You may see posters in teachers' classrooms of the "Problem Solving Method" such as: 1) Read the problem, 2) Devise a plan, 3) Solve the problem, and 4) Check your work. There is little or no ...

Nilson (2010) lists the following learning outcomes that are associated with PBL. A well-designed PBL project provides students with the opportunity to develop skills related to: Working in teams. Managing projects and holding leadership roles. Oral and written communication. Self-awareness and evaluation of group processes. Working independently.

Here are the steps to problem-solving: . Identify the problem. Just stating the problem out loud can make a big difference for kids who are feeling stuck. Help your child state the problem, such as, "You don't have anyone to play with at recess," or "You aren't sure if you should take the advanced math class."

How does it work? Step 1: Identify a PROBLEM you encounter in your teaching. Step 2: Identify possible REASONS for the problem Step 3: Explore STRATEGIES to address the problem. This site supplements our 1-on-1 teaching consultations. CONTACT US to talk with an Eberly colleague in person!

"teaching problem solving" because some of the research on analytical thinking has been done by physics, mathematics and engineering professors. These professors have a par-ticular interest in the solution of mathematical or numerical problems, but the scope of problem solving is much wider than that. I view problem solving as a subset of the ...

Problem-solving is the ability to identify and solve problems by applying appropriate skills systematically. Problem-solving is a process—an ongoing activity in which we take what we know to discover what we don't know. It involves overcoming obstacles by generating hypo-theses, testing those predictions, and arriving at satisfactory solutions.

1. Link problem-solving to reading. When we can remind students that they already have many comprehension skills and strategies they can easily use in math problem-solving, it can ease the anxiety surrounding the math problem. For example, providing them with strategies to practice, such as visualizing, acting out the problem with math tools ...

Teaching and learning mathematics today looks very different than the way it was 20 or even 10 years ago. In the past, teachers used the "I Do-You Do" approach to teaching, where basically they showed students how to solve a problem, making sure to follow specific steps and rules, and students were expected to copy the exact procedure and solve similar problems.

In "teaching through problem solving," on the other hand, the goal is for students to learn precisely that mathematical idea that the curriculum calls for them to learn next. A "teaching through problem solving" lesson would begin with the teacher setting up the context and introducing the problem. Students then work on the problem for ...

Download. Teaching Through Problem-solving flows through four phases as students 1. Grasp the problem, 2. Try to solve the problem independently, 3. Present and discuss their work (selected strategies), and 4. Summarize and reflect. Click on the arrows below to find out what students and teachers do during each phase and to see video examples.

Brief. Problem solving plays an important role in mathematics and should have a prominent role in the mathematics education of K-12 students. However, knowing how to incorporate problem solving meaningfully into the mathematics curriculum is not necessarily obvious to mathematics teachers. (The term "problem solving" refers to mathematical ...

1. Define the problem. Diagnose the situation so that your focus is on the problem, not just its symptoms. Helpful problem-solving techniques include using flowcharts to identify the expected steps of a process and cause-and-effect diagrams to define and analyze root causes.. The sections below help explain key problem-solving steps.

The problem-solving method is an effective teaching strategy that promotes critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration. It provides students with real-world problems that require them to apply their knowledge and skills to find solutions. By using the problem-solving method, teachers can help their students develop the skills they need to ...

Step 1 - Understand the Problem. To help students understand the problem, I provided them with sample problems, and together we did five important things: read the problem carefully. restated the problem in our own words. crossed out unimportant information. circled any important information.

The problem-solving process typically includes the following steps: Identify the issue: Recognize the problem that needs to be solved. Analyze the situation: Examine the issue in depth, gather all relevant information, and consider any limitations or constraints that may be present. Generate potential solutions: Brainstorm a list of possible ...

Teaching and learning mathematics through problem solving supports learners' development of deep and conceptual understandings (Inoue et al., 2019 ), and is regarded as an effective way of catering for diversity (Hunter et al., 2018 ). While the importance and challenge of mathematical problem solving in school classrooms is not questioned ...

Focus more on the process and less on the answer. Compliment your child's effort, sense making, and attempts to express their ideas in words and in writing. While we ultimately want children to arrive at a correct answer, the real learning and thinking happens while they are solving the problem. Celebrate the process.

Willingness to try new things: When problem-solving skills and critical thinking are encouraged by teachers, they set a robust foundation for young learners to experiment, think out of the box ...

Understanding the link between problem-solving skills and language learning can be a game-changer in how you approach acquiring a new language or teaching it to others. Whether you're a student ...

As you prepare for the problem-solving career of your dreams, look to WGU. We offer more than 75 online, accredited bachelor's and master's programs in IT, business, education, and healthcare. Each program is designed with input from industry experts, granting you the skills that employers love to see.

Computer science students are embracing the technology, using generative AI to help them understand complex concepts, summarize complicated research papers, brainstorm ways to solve a problem ...

Entry-level positions are vanishing with the rise of AI and universities are struggling to prepare students for on-the-job success, leaving many feeling stranded and unqualified. But amidst this challenge lies an opportunity to bridge the gap between education and employment through innovative solutions like work-based learning programs.

A systematic problem-solving process may be used for any child suspected of being an eligible individual, and nothing in this chapter nor in Part B of the Act shall be construed to limit the applicability of a systematic problem-solving process to children suspected of having a certain type of disability. Iowa Admin. Code r. 281-41.313

This episode contains descriptions of an alleged sexual liaison. What happened when Stormy Daniels took the stand for eight hours in the first criminal trial of former President Donald J. Trump?