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## How to Solve Math Problems

Last Updated: May 16, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Daron Cam . Daron Cam is an Academic Tutor and the Founder of Bay Area Tutors, Inc., a San Francisco Bay Area-based tutoring service that provides tutoring in mathematics, science, and overall academic confidence building. Daron has over eight years of teaching math in classrooms and over nine years of one-on-one tutoring experience. He teaches all levels of math including calculus, pre-algebra, algebra I, geometry, and SAT/ACT math prep. Daron holds a BA from the University of California, Berkeley and a math teaching credential from St. Mary's College. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 575,460 times.

Although math problems may be solved in different ways, there is a general method of visualizing, approaching and solving math problems that may help you to solve even the most difficult problem. Using these strategies can also help you to improve your math skills overall. Keep reading to learn about some of these math problem solving strategies.

## Understanding the Problem

- Draw a Venn diagram. A Venn diagram shows the relationships among the numbers in your problem. Venn diagrams can be especially helpful with word problems.
- Draw a graph or chart.
- Arrange the components of the problem on a line.
- Draw simple shapes to represent more complex features of the problem.

## Developing a Plan

## Solving the Problem

## Expert Q&A

- Seek help from your teacher or a math tutor if you get stuck or if you have tried multiple strategies without success. Your teacher or a math tutor may be able to easily identify what is wrong and help you to understand how to correct it. Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 1
- Keep practicing sums and diagrams. Go through the concept your class notes regularly. Write down your understanding of the methods and utilize it. Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0

## You Might Also Like

- ↑ Daron Cam. Math Tutor. Expert Interview. 29 May 2020.
- ↑ http://www.interventioncentral.org/academic-interventions/math/math-problem-solving-combining-cognitive-metacognitive-strategies
- ↑ http://tutorial.math.lamar.edu/Extras/StudyMath/ProblemSolving.aspx
- ↑ https://math.berkeley.edu/~gmelvin/polya.pdf

## About This Article

To solve a math problem, try rewriting the problem in your own words so it's easier to solve. You can also make a drawing of the problem to help you figure out what it's asking you to do. If you're still completely stuck, try solving a different problem that's similar but easier and then use the same steps to solve the harder problem. Even if you can't figure out how to solve it, try to make an educated guess instead of leaving the question blank. To learn how to come up with a solid plan to use to help you solve a math problem, scroll down! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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## Appendix A: Applications

Apply a problem-solving strategy to basic word problems, learning outcomes.

- Practice mindfulness with your attitude about word problems
- Apply a general problem-solving strategy to solve word problems

## Approach Word Problems with a Positive Attitude

The world is full of word problems. How much money do I need to fill the car with gas? How much should I tip the server at a restaurant? How many socks should I pack for vacation? How big a turkey do I need to buy for Thanksgiving dinner, and what time do I need to put it in the oven? If my sister and I buy our mother a present, how much will each of us pay?

Now that we can solve equations, we are ready to apply our new skills to word problems. Do you know anyone who has had negative experiences in the past with word problems? Have you ever had thoughts like the student in the cartoon below?

Negative thoughts about word problems can be barriers to success.

When we feel we have no control, and continue repeating negative thoughts, we set up barriers to success. We need to calm our fears and change our negative feelings.

Start with a fresh slate and begin to think positive thoughts like the student in the cartoon below. Read the positive thoughts and say them out loud.

When it comes to word problems, a positive attitude is a big step toward success.

If we take control and believe we can be successful, we will be able to master word problems.

Think of something that you can do now but couldn’t do three years ago. Whether it’s driving a car, snowboarding, cooking a gourmet meal, or speaking a new language, you have been able to learn and master a new skill. Word problems are no different. Even if you have struggled with word problems in the past, you have acquired many new math skills that will help you succeed now!

## Use a Problem-Solving Strategy for Word Problems

In earlier chapters, you translated word phrases into algebraic expressions, using some basic mathematical vocabulary and symbols. Since then you’ve increased your math vocabulary as you learned about more algebraic procedures, and you’ve had more practice translating from words into algebra.

You have also translated word sentences into algebraic equations and solved some word problems. The word problems applied math to everyday situations. You had to restate the situation in one sentence, assign a variable, and then write an equation to solve. This method works as long as the situation is familiar to you and the math is not too complicated.

Now we’ll develop a strategy you can use to solve any word problem. This strategy will help you become successful with word problems. We’ll demonstrate the strategy as we solve the following problem.

Pete bought a shirt on sale for $[latex]18[/latex], which is one-half the original price. What was the original price of the shirt?

Solution: Step 1. Read the problem. Make sure you understand all the words and ideas. You may need to read the problem two or more times. If there are words you don’t understand, look them up in a dictionary or on the Internet.

- In this problem, do you understand what is being discussed? Do you understand every word?

Step 2. Identify what you are looking for. It’s hard to find something if you are not sure what it is! Read the problem again and look for words that tell you what you are looking for!

- In this problem, the words “what was the original price of the shirt” tell you what you are looking for: the original price of the shirt.

Step 3. Name what you are looking for. Choose a variable to represent that quantity. You can use any letter for the variable, but it may help to choose one that helps you remember what it represents.

- Let [latex]p=[/latex] the original price of the shirt

Step 4. Translate into an equation. It may help to first restate the problem in one sentence, with all the important information. Then translate the sentence into an equation.

Step 6. Check the answer in the problem and make sure it makes sense.

- We found that [latex]p=36[/latex], which means the original price was [latex]\text{\$36}[/latex]. Does [latex]\text{\$36}[/latex] make sense in the problem? Yes, because [latex]18[/latex] is one-half of [latex]36[/latex], and the shirt was on sale at half the original price.

Step 7. Answer the question with a complete sentence.

- The problem asked “What was the original price of the shirt?” The answer to the question is: “The original price of the shirt was [latex]\text{\$36}[/latex].”

If this were a homework exercise, our work might look like this:

We list the steps we took to solve the previous example.

## Problem-Solving Strategy

- Read the word problem. Make sure you understand all the words and ideas. You may need to read the problem two or more times. If there are words you don’t understand, look them up in a dictionary or on the internet.
- Identify what you are looking for.
- Name what you are looking for. Choose a variable to represent that quantity.
- Translate into an equation. It may be helpful to first restate the problem in one sentence before translating.
- Solve the equation using good algebra techniques.
- Check the answer in the problem. Make sure it makes sense.
- Answer the question with a complete sentence.

For a review of how to translate algebraic statements into words, watch the following video.

Let’s use this approach with another example.

Yash brought apples and bananas to a picnic. The number of apples was three more than twice the number of bananas. Yash brought [latex]11[/latex] apples to the picnic. How many bananas did he bring?

In the next example, we will apply our Problem-Solving Strategy to applications of percent.

Nga’s car insurance premium increased by [latex]\text{\$60}[/latex], which was [latex]\text{8%}[/latex] of the original cost. What was the original cost of the premium?

- Write Algebraic Expressions from Statements: Form ax+b and a(x+b). Authored by : James Sousa (Mathispower4u.com) for Lumen Learning. Located at : https://youtu.be/Hub7ku7UHT4 . License : CC BY: Attribution
- Question ID 142694, 142722, 142735, 142761. Authored by : Lumen Learning. License : CC BY: Attribution . License Terms : IMathAS Community License, CC-BY + GPL
- Prealgebra. Provided by : OpenStax. License : CC BY: Attribution . License Terms : Download for free at http://cnx.org/contents/[email protected]

## Study Smarter

17 maths problem solving strategies to boost your learning.

Worded problems getting the best of you? With this list of maths problem-solving strategies , you'll overcome any maths hurdle that comes your way.

Friday, 3rd June 2022

- What are strategies?

## Understand the problem

Devise a plan, carry out the plan, look back and reflect, practise makes progress.

Problem-solving is a critical life skill that everyone needs. Whether you're dealing with everyday issues or complex challenges, being able to solve problems effectively can make a big difference to your quality of life.

While there is no one 'right' way to solve a problem, having a toolkit of different techniques that you can draw upon will give you the best chance of success. In this article, we'll explore 17 different math problem-solving strategies you can start using immediately to deepen your learning and improve your skills.

## What are maths problem-solving strategies?

Before we get into the strategies themselves, let's take a step back and answer the question: what are these strategies? In simple terms, these are methods we use to solve mathematical problems—essential for anyone learning how to study maths . These can be anything from asking open-ended questions to more complex concepts like the use of algebraic equations.

The beauty of these techniques is they go beyond strictly mathematical application. It's more about understanding a given problem, thinking critically about it and using a variety of methods to find a solution.

## Polya's 4-step process for solving problems

We're going to use Polya's 4-step model as the framework for our discussion of problem-solving activities . This was developed by Hungarian mathematician George Polya and outlined in his 1945 book How to Solve It. The steps are as follows:

We'll go into more detail on each of these steps as well as take a look at some specific problem-solving strategies that can be used at each stage.

This may seem like an obvious one, but it's crucial that you take the time to understand what the problem is asking before trying to solve it. Especially with a math word problem , in which the question is often disguised in language, it's easy for children to misinterpret what's being asked.

Here are some questions you can ask to help you understand the problem:

Do I understand all the words used in the problem?

What am I asked to find or show?

Can I restate the problem in my own words?

Can I think of a picture or diagram that might help me understand the problem?

Is there enough information to enable me to find a solution?

Is there anything I need to find out first in order to find the answer?

What information is extra or irrelevant?

Once you've gone through these questions, you should have a good understanding of what the problem is asking. Now let's take a look at some specific strategies that can be used at this stage.

## 1. Read the problem aloud

This is a great strategy for younger students who are still learning to read. By reading the problem aloud, they can help to clarify any confusion and better understand what's being asked. Teaching older students to read aloud slowly is also beneficial as it encourages them to internalise each word carefully.

## 2. Summarise the information

Using dot points or a short sentence, list out all the information given in the problem. You can even underline the keywords to focus on the important information. This will help to organise your thoughts and make it easier to see what's given, what's missing, what's relevant and what isn't.

## 3. Create a picture or diagram

This is a no-brainer for visual learners. By drawing a picture,let's say with division problems, you can better understand what's being asked and identify any information that's missing. It could be a simple sketch or a more detailed picture, depending on the problem.

## 4. Act it out

Visualising a scenario can also be helpful. It can enable students to see the problem in a different way and develop a more intuitive understanding of it. This is especially useful for math word problems that are set in a particular context. For example, if a problem is about two friends sharing candy, kids can act out the problem with real candy to help them understand what's happening.

## 5. Use keyword analysis

What does this word tell me? Which operations do I need to use? Keyword analysis involves asking questions about the words in a problem in order to work out what needs to be done. There are certain key words that can hint at what operation you need to use.

How many more?

How many left?

Equal parts

Once you understand the problem, it's time to start thinking about how you're going to solve it. This is where having a plan is vital. By taking the time to think about your approach, you can save yourself a lot of time and frustration later on.

There are many methods that can be used to figure out a pathway forward, but the key is choosing an appropriate one that will work for the specific problem you're trying to solve. Not all students understand what it means to plan a problem so we've outlined some popular problem-solving techniques during this stage.

## 6. Look for a pattern

Sometimes, the best way to solve a problem is to look for a pattern. This could be a number, a shape pattern or even just a general trend that you can see in the information given. Once you've found it, you can use it to help you solve the problem.

## 7. Guess and check

While not the most efficient method, guess and check can be helpful when you're struggling to think of an answer or when you're dealing with multiple possible solutions. To do this, you simply make a guess at the answer and then check to see if it works. If it doesn't, you make another systematic guess and keep going until you find a solution that works.

## 8. Working backwards

Regressive reasoning, or working backwards, involves starting with a potential answer and working your way back to figure out how you would get there. This is often used when trying to solve problems that have multiple steps. By starting with the end in mind, you can work out what each previous step would need to be in order to arrive at the answer.

## 9. Use a formula

There will be some problems where a specific formula needs to be used in order to solve it. Let's say we're calculating the cost of flooring panels in a rectangular room (6m x 9m) and we know that the panels cost $15 per sq. metre.

There is no mention of the word 'area', and yet that is exactly what we need to calculate. The problem requires us to use the formula for the area of a rectangle (A = l x w) in order to find the total cost of the flooring panels.

## 10. Eliminate the possibilities

When there are a lot of possibilities, one approach could be to start by eliminating the answers that don't work. This can be done by using a process of elimination or by plugging in different values to see what works and what doesn't.

## 11. Use direct reasoning

Direct reasoning, also known as top-down or forward reasoning, involves starting with what you know and then using that information to try and solve the problem . This is often used when there is a lot of information given in the problem.

By breaking the problem down into smaller chunks, you can start to see how the different pieces fit together and eventually work out a solution.

## 12. Solve a simpler problem

One of the most effective methods for solving a difficult problem is to start by solving a simpler version of it. For example, in order to solve a 4-step linear equation with variables on both sides, you could start by solving a 2-step one. Or if you're struggling with the addition of algebraic fractions, go back to solving regular fraction addition first.

Once you've mastered the easier problem, you can then apply the same knowledge to the challenging one and see if it works.

## 13. Solve an equation

Another common problem-solving technique is setting up and solving an equation. For instance, let's say we need to find a number. We know that after it was doubled, subtracted from 32, and then divided by 4, it gave us an answer of 6. One method could be to assign this number a variable, set up an equation, and solve the equation by 'backtracking and balancing the equation'.

Now that you have a plan, it's time to implement it. This is where you'll put your problem-solving skills to the test and see if your solution actually works. There are a few things to keep in mind as you execute your plan:

## 14. Be systematic

When trying different methods or strategies, it's important to be systematic in your approach. This means trying one problem-solving strategy at a time and not moving on until you've exhausted all possibilities with that particular approach.

## 15. Check your work

Once you think you've found a solution, it's important to check your work to make sure that it actually works. This could involve plugging in different values or doing a test run to see if your solution works in all cases.

## 16. Be flexible

If your initial plan isn't working, don't be afraid to change it. There is no one 'right' way to solve a problem, so feel free to try different things, seek help from different resources and continue until you find a more efficient strategy or one that works.

## 17. Don't give up

It's important to persevere when trying to solve a difficult problem. Just because you can't see a solution right away doesn't mean that there isn't one. If you get stuck, take a break and come back to the problem later with fresh eyes. You might be surprised at what you're able to see after taking some time away from it.

Once you've solved the problem, take a step back and reflect on the process that you went through. Most middle school students forget this fundamental step. This will help you to understand what worked well and what could be improved upon next time.

Whether you do this after a math test or after an individual problem, here are some questions to ask yourself:

What was the most challenging part of the problem?

Was one method more effective than another?

Would you do something differently next time?

What have you learned from this experience?

By taking the time to reflect on your process you'll be able to improve upon it in future and become an even better problem solver. Make sure you write down any insights so that you can refer back to them later.

There is never only one way to solve math problems. But the best way to become a better problem solver is to practise, practise, practise! The more you do it, the better you'll become at identifying different strategies, and the more confident you'll feel when faced with a challenging problem.

The list we've covered is by no means exhaustive, but it's a good starting point for you to begin your journey. When you get stuck, remember to keep an open mind. Experiment with different approaches. Different word problems. Be prepared to go back and try something new. And most importantly, don't forget to have fun!

The essence and beauty of mathematics lies in its freedom. So while these strategies provide nice frameworks, the best work is done by those who are comfortable with exploration outside the rules, and of course, failure! So go forth, make mistakes and learn from them. After all, that's how we improve our problem-solving skills and ability.

Lastly, don't be afraid to ask for help. If you're struggling to solve math word problems, there's no shame in seeking assistance from a certified Melbourne maths tutor . In every lesson at Math Minds, our expert teachers encourage students to think creatively, confidently and courageously.

If you're looking for a mentor who can guide you through these methods, introduce you to other problem-solving activities and help you to understand Mathematics in a deeper way - get in touch with our team today. Sign up for your free online maths assessment and discover a world of new possibilities.

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- What is Problem Solving?

## What is problem solving?

On this page we discuss "What is problem polving?" under three headings: introduction, four stages of problem solving, and the scientific approach.

## Introduction

Naturally enough, problem solving is about solving problems. And we’ll restrict ourselves to thinking about mathematical problems here even though problem solving in school has a wider goal. When you think about it, the whole aim of education is to equip students to solve problems.

But problem solving also contributes to mathematics itself. Mathematics consists of skills and processes. The skills are things that we are all familiar with. These include the basic arithmetical processes and the algorithms that go with them. They include algebra in all its levels as well as sophisticated areas such as the calculus. This is the side of the subject that is largely represented in the Strands of Number and Algebra, Geometry and Measurement and Statistics.

On the other hand, the processes of mathematics are the ways of using the skills creatively in new situations. Mathematical processes include problem solving, logic and reasoning, and communicating ideas. These are the parts of mathematics that enable us to use the skills in a wide variety of situations.

It is worth starting by distinguishing between the three words "method", "answer" and "solution". By "method" we mean the means used to get an answer. This will generally involve one or more Problem Solving Strategies . On the other hand, we use "answer" to mean a number, quantity or some other entity that the problem is asking for. Finally, a "solution" is the whole process of solving a problem, including the method of obtaining an answer and the answer itself.

method + answer = solution

But how do we do Problem Solving? There are four basic steps. Pólya enunciated these in 1945 but all of them were known and used well before then. Pólya’s four stages of problem solving are listed below.

## Four stages of problem solving

1. Understand and explore the problem 2. Find a strategy 3. Use the strategy to solve the problem 4. Look back and reflect on the solution.

Although we have listed the four stages in order, for difficult problems it may not be possible to simply move through them consecutively to produce an answer. It is frequently the case that students move backwards and forwards between and across the steps.

You can't solve a problem unless you can first understand it. This requires not only knowing what you have to find but also the key pieces of information that need to be put together to obtain the answer.

Students will often not be able to absorb all the important information of a problem in one go. It will almost always be necessary to read a problem several times, both at the start and while working on it. With younger students it is worth repeating the problem and then asking them to put the question in their own words. Older students might use a highlighter to mark the important parts of the problem.

Finding a strategy tends to suggest that it is a simple matter to think of an appropriate strategy. However, for many problems students may find it necessary to play around with the information before they are able to think of a strategy that might produce a solution. This exploratory phase will also help them to understand the problem better and may make them aware of some piece of information that they had neglected after the first reading.

Having explored the problem and decided on a strategy, the third step, solve the problem , can be attempted. Hopefully now the problem will be solved and an answer obtained. During this phase it is important for the students to keep a track of what they are doing. This is useful to show others what they have done and it is also helpful in finding errors should the right answer not be found.

At this point many students, especially mathematically able ones, will stop. But it is worth getting them into the habit of looking back over what they have done. There are several good reasons for this. First of all it is good practice for them to check their working and make sure that they have not made any errors. Second, it is vital to make sure that the answer they obtained is in fact the answer to the problem. Third, in looking back and thinking a little more about the problem, students are often able to see another way of solving the problem. This new solution may be a nicer solution than the original and may give more insight into what is really going on. Finally, students may be able to generalise or extend the problem.

Generalising a problem means creating a problem that has the original problem as a special case. So a problem about three pigs may be changed into one which has any number of pigs.

In Problem 4 of What is a Problem? , there is a problem on towers. The last part of that problem asks how many towers can be built for any particular height. The answer to this problem will contain the answer to the previous three questions. There we were asked for the number of towers of height one, two and three. If we have some sort of formula, or expression, for any height, then we can substitute into that formula to get the answer for height three, for instance. So the "any" height formula is a generalisation of the height three case. It contains the height three case as a special example.

Extending a problem is a related idea. Here though, we are looking at a new problem that is somehow related to the first one. For instance, a problem that involves addition might be looked at to see if it makes any sense with multiplication. A rather nice problem is to take any whole number and divide it by two if it’s even and multiply it by three and add one if it’s odd. Keep repeating this manipulation. Is the answer you get eventually 1? We’ll do an example. Let’s start with 34. Then we get

34 → 17 → 52 → 26 → 13 → 40 → 20 → 10 → 5 → 16 → 8 → 4 → 2 → 1

We certainly got to 1 then. Now it turns out that no one in the world knows if you will always get to 1 this way, no matter where you start. That’s something for you to worry about. But where does the extension come in? Well we can extend this problem, by just changing the 3 to 5. So this time instead of dividing by 2 if the number is even and multiplying it by three and adding one if it’s odd, try dividing by 2 if the number is even and multiplying it by 5 and adding one if it’s odd. This new problem doesn’t contain the first one as a special case, so it’s not a generalisation. It is an extension though – it’s a problem that is closely related to the original.

It is by this method of generalisation and extension that mathematics makes great strides forward. Up until Pythagoras’ time, many right-angled triangles were known. For instance, it was known that a triangle with sides 3, 4 and 5 was a right-angled triangle. Similarly people knew that triangles with sides 5, 12 and 13, and 7, 24 and 25 were right angled. Pythagoras’ generalisation was to show that EVERY triangle with sides a, b, c was a right-angled triangle if and only if a 2 + b 2 = c 2 .

This brings us to an aspect of problem solving that we haven’t mentioned so far. That is justification (or proof). Your students may often be able to guess what the answer to a problem is but their solution is not complete until they can justify their answer.

Now in some problems it is hard to find a justification. Indeed you may believe that it is not something that any of the class can do. So you may be happy that the students can find an answer. However, bear in mind that this justification is what sets mathematics apart from every other discipline. Consequently the justification step is an important one that shouldn’t be missed too often.

## Scientific approach

Another way of looking at the Problem Solving process is what might be called the scientific approach. We show this in the diagram below.

Here the problem is given and initially the idea is to experiment with it or explore it in order to get some feeling as to how to proceed. After a while it is hoped that the solver is able to make a conjecture or guess what the answer might be. If the conjecture is true it might be possible to prove or justify it. In that case the looking back process sets in and an effort is made to generalise or extend the problem. In this case you have essentially chosen a new problem and so the whole process starts over again.

Sometimes, however, the conjecture is wrong and so a counter-example is found. This is an example that contradicts the conjecture. In that case another conjecture is sought and you have to look for a proof or another counterexample.

Some problems are too hard so it is necessary to give up. Now you may give up so that you can take a rest, in which case it is a ‘for now’ giving up. Actually this is a good problem solving strategy. Often when you give up for a while your subconscious takes over and comes up with a good idea that you can follow. On the other hand, some problems are so hard that you eventually have to give up ‘for ever’. There have been many difficult problems throughout history that mathematicians have had to give up on.

Want to create or adapt books like this? Learn more about how Pressbooks supports open publishing practices.

## 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.

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## The 10 Must-Know Math Problem Solving Techniques for Every Student

- February 2, 2023

Math is a subject that has been feared by many for generations. From simple arithmetic to complex equations, math can seem like a never-ending series of obstacles. However, solving math problems can become much easier and less intimidating with the right techniques.

## Math Problem Solving Techniques:

These 10 math problem solving techniques are designed to help you overcome any math problem, no matter how difficult it may seem.

- Math Problem Solving Techniques: Read and Understand the Problem
- Math Problem Solving Techniques: Create a Plan
- Math Problem Solving Techniques: Use Visual Aids
- Math Problem Solving Techniques: Practice Estimation
- Math Problem Solving Techniques: Check Your Work
- Math Problem Solving Techniques: Use the Order of Operations
- Math Problem Solving Techniques: Keep It Simple
- Math Problem Solving Techniques: Learn by Doing
- Math Problem Solving Techniques: Seek Help When Needed
- Math Problem Solving Techniques: Keep a Positive Attitude

## 1. Read and Understand the Problem

The first step in solving any math problem is understanding what the problem is asking. Read the problem carefully and ensure you know the question before solving it. If there is anything you need help understanding, feel free to ask your teacher or tutor for clarification.

You May Also Like: Math Quiz: A Day at School with Spider-Man

## 2. Create a Plan

Once you understand the problem, the next step is to create a plan. This could mean creating a simple arithmetic formula, drawing a diagram, or listing the steps you need to take to solve the problem. Having a plan before you start solving the problem will help you stay organized and focused.

## 3. Use Visual Aids

Visual aids can be incredibly helpful when solving math problems. Diagrams, graphs, and charts can help you understand complex issues and see relationships between variables. If you need help understanding a problem, try drawing a diagram or chart to help you see the problem in a new way.

## 4. Practice Estimation

Estimation is a useful technique for solving math problems, especially when dealing large numbers. By estimating the answer, you can quickly see if your answer is in the right range and adjust accordingly.

## 5. Check Your Work

It’s always a good idea to check your work after solving a problem. It will help you catch any mistakes you may have made and ensure that you have the correct answer. Checking your work is especially important when solving complex problems or working with decimals and fractions.

## 6. Use the Order of Operations

The order of operations is a set of rules that dictate how they should perform mathematical functions. By following the order of operations, you can ensure that your answer is correct and avoid making mistakes.

## 7. Keep It Simple

When solving a math problem, it’s easy to get bogged down in complex calculations and formulas. However, keeping things simple often leads to a quicker and more accurate solution. Try to simplify the problem as much as possible and only use the necessary calculations.

## 8. Learn by Doing

The best way to improve your math skills is to practice, practice, practice. You will become more familiar with the techniques and formulas you need to know by solving math problems regularly. The more you practice, the better you will get at solving math problems.

## 9. Seek Help When Needed

If you’re struggling with a particular math problem, don’t hesitate to seek help. Whether it’s from a teacher, tutor, or online resources, getting help can make all the difference.

## 10. Keep a Positive Attitude

Finally, keeping a positive attitude when solving math problems is important. Math can be challenging, but approaching it with a positive attitude can make all the difference. Believe in yourself and your abilities, and don’t give up. With the right techniques and a positive attitude, you can solve any math problem.

In conclusion, solving math problems doesn’t have to be a struggle. By following these 10 techniques, you can make math easier and more manageable. Whether a student or a professional, these tips will help you overcome any math problem and improve your math skills. So the next time you’re faced with a difficult math problem, remember these techniques. With these techniques, you’ll be able to solve any math problem with ease.

Anyway, don’t miss your chance to showcase your knowledge and skills in Mathematics by participating in the Kangaroo Math Competition 2023 , registration is now open!

Registration can be done through our website 👉 CONTESTHUB

Q: What is the first step in solving a math problem? A: The first step in solving a math problem is to read and understand the problem.

Q: What is Estimation in math? A: Estimation in math approximates a value or solution to a problem.

Q: What is the best way to improve my math skills? A: The best way to improve your math skills is to practice, practice, practice. You will become more familiar with the techniques and formulas you need to know by solving math problems regularly.

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