I'm so excited to be sharing my first blog post from The Primary Pack! Today I'm here to talk to you about teaching problem solving to students. I know, problem solving is a huge part of math instruction. We do it every day! I thought I was doing just fine in this area, but then I started to dig deeper. See, I've always given my kids tons of problems to solve, but I wasn't really teaching them how to be problem solvers.
Here was a common scenario in my classroom: I give my students a problem. "Annie saw 8 legs. How many deer did she see?" First, about 8 students shout out EIGHT! because it's the number they heard. Other students may start mentally working on the problem, while other still would wait for me to give them further direction on what to do to solve the problem. I've been working to help my students to be more independent in their problem solving this year by explicitly teaching them the problem solving process.
The resource I'm using to help me with this is Introduction to Problem Solving K-2 by Susan O'Connell. O'Connell's book is filled with tips and ideas to incorporate problem solving into your classroom daily and to get your students thinking critically about the problem.
So what IS the problem solving process, and what are problem solving strategies?
Since teaching the steps to the problem solving process and incorporating them into my daily instruction, my students are definitely much better problem solvers than ever before. They are more methodical in their thinking and more careful about planning their attack before they work on solving a problem.
Understand the question is the first step of the process, and it is a complex task. Here are some prompts form Susan O'Connell to help students with this.
What is the question?
Can you say it in your own words?
What information do you need to solve it?
Where will you find the information?
What about the other information? Why are you not using it?
What did you and your partner think you should do with the information to solve the problem?
Build an equation? What would the equation look like? Why?
Is there another way to solve it?
How are these ways alike or different?
Another great strategy she suggests is to use ONE set of data, and to ask different questions surrounding the data throughout the week. See the example below:
Some friends were picking flowers in a field.
The list shows the number of flowers picked by each child.
Number of Flowers
Jamie – 9
1. Jamie and Ben put their flowers in a vase. How many did they have altogether?
Tell how you figured out the answer.
2. Reese wanted to collect 16 shells. How many more will she need to collect? Tell
how you figured out the answer.
3. Ben wanted to pick a dozen flowers. How many more does he have to
pick to have a dozen? Tell how you figured out the answer.
4. TJ said he picked more flowers by himself than Harrison and Jamie picked
together. Is he right? Prove your answer.
5. The children wanted to pick 50 flowers altogether. Did they pick 50 flowers?
How do you know?
Finally, it's so important to foster positive attitudes when teaching problem solving. I have made some problem solving attitudes posters that are free in my TpT store here.
I'll be sharing more about how each step and strategy looks here on the blog. Be sure to stop back!