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Grades 3-8. Creating a Classroom of Mathematics Problem Solvers. Grace. Ben. Jonah. Tricia. Mahreah. Ruby. Bain Family.

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Grades 3 8

Grades 3-8

Creating a Classroom of Mathematics Problem Solvers

Bain family







Bain Family

This is our family at the summit of Mt. Ellinor in Olympic National Park. It was a great family adventure. We saw many adults turn around before reaching the summit, but we pressed on and enjoyed the summit with a few mountain goats.

My background

1998 graduate of Martin Luther College with a double major in education and music.

2004 earned post-baccalaureate Wisconsin state teaching license.

Ten-time classroom supervisor of student teachers.

2010 graduate of Martin Luther College with a Master of Science in Education degree—instruction emphasis.

My Background

The importance of mathematics defining problem solving
The importance of Mathematics in education and music.& Defining Problem Solving

TIMSS in education and music.

  • International studies; comparing eighth graders

  • TIMSS = Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study

  • 1995: U.S. ranked 28th out of 41 countries

  • 1999: U.S. ranked 19th out of 34 countries

  • 2003: U.S. ranked 15th out of 45 countries

  • 2007: U.S. ranked 9th out of 47

Why is math important for our country? in education and music.

Why is math important for our church?

Why is math important for our students?

National mathematics advisory panel

Foundations for Success: The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel (2008)

“The eminence, safety, and well-being of nations have been entwined for centuries with the ability of their people to deal with sophisticated quantitative ideas. Leading societies have commanded mathematical skills that have brought them advantages in medicine and health, in technology and commerce, in navigation and exploration, in defense and finance, and in the ability to understand past failures and to forecast future developments.” (p. xi)

National Mathematics Advisory Panel

Is this problem solving
Is this Problem Solving? Mathematics Advisory Panel

  • In the numeral 78,965, what does the 8 mean?

  • These were the scores for the spelling tests: 25, 19, 16, 25, 18, 19, 25, 24, 25, 23. What is the median?

  • 70 * 18 = ______

  • Tatiana gets her teeth cleaned every 6 months. If her last appointment was in February, when is her next appointment?

  • Beth’s allowance is $2.50 more than Kesia’s. Beth’s allowance is $7.50. What is Kesia’s allowance?

  • 3/8 of 40 is ______.

  • Josie has 327 photographs. She can put 12 photos on each page of her scrapbook. Estimate the number of scrapbook pages she will need.

  • How can you find the value of 183 using your calculator?

Definitions of problem solving

NCSM Mathematics Advisory Panel

(National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics)


(National Council of Teachers of Mathematics)

“the process of applying previously acquired knowledge to new and unfamiliar situations”

“problem solving means engaging in a task for which the solution method is not known in advance”

Definitions of problem solving

Features of problem solving

Meir Ben- Mathematics Advisory PanelHur

Joan M. Kenney

“Problem solving requires analysis, heuristics, and reasoning toward self-defined goals”

a process that involves such actions as modeling, formulating, transforming, manipulating, inferring, and communicating

Features of Problem Solving

Teaching problem solving
Teaching Problem Solving Mathematics Advisory Panel


Key Words Mathematics Advisory Panel


Process by George Pólya

Teacher’s Role


What words tell a person to multiply? Mathematics Advisory Panel

What words tell a person to subtract?

What words do you notice are particularly troublesome to your students?

An example of teaching key words

“Two flags are similar. One flag is three times as long as the other flag. The length of the smaller flag is 8 in. What is the length of the larger flag?”

An Example of Teaching Key words

What does research say

Undermines real problem solving the other flag. The length of the smaller flag is 8 in. What is the length of the larger flag?”

Make problem solving a mechanical process which makes students prone to errors

Understanding the language of mathematics is important.

“Two flags are similar. One flag is three times as long as the other flag. The length of the larger flag is 8 in. What is the length of the smaller flag?”

Ben-Hur, M. (2006). Concept-rich mathematics instruction: Building a strong foundation for reasoning and problem solving. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Xin, Y. P. (2008). The effect of schema-based instruction in solving mathematics word problems: An emphasis on prealgebra conceptualization of multiplicative relations. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 39(5), 526-551.

What does research say?

Literature strategies for math words

Word Wall the other flag. The length of the smaller flag is 8 in. What is the length of the larger flag?”

Math Word Dictionary

Vocabulary Cards

Semantic Feature Analysis

Literature Strategies for Math Words

Strategies instruction
Strategies Instruction the other flag. The length of the smaller flag is 8 in. What is the length of the larger flag?”

Ways to introduce

One Way the other flag. The length of the smaller flag is 8 in. What is the length of the larger flag?”

Another Way

  • Teacher models the strategy.

  • Students work on problems using that strategy.

  • Teacher models the strategy.

  • Students work on problems which may or may not use the modeled strategy.

Ways to Introduce

Types of strategies
Types of Strategies the other flag. The length of the smaller flag is 8 in. What is the length of the larger flag?”

  • Make a Model or Diagram

  • Make a Table or List

  • Look for Patterns

  • Use an Equation or Formula

  • Consider a Simpler Case

  • Guess and Check/Test

  • Work Backward

  • Others?

Using a Formula the other flag. The length of the smaller flag is 8 in. What is the length of the larger flag?”

Make a Model or Diagram

Perimeter of a square : P = 4S.

Using this formula, students could determine the side lengths for each of the squares as 10 inches and 9 inches.

Area of a square: A = S2.

Larger square = 100 in.2

Smaller square = 81 in.2

The difference between the areas of the two squares is found by subtracting the smaller area from the larger area.

Use graph paper to draw one square inside the other.

Count the squares to find the difference.

“One square has a perimeter of 40 inches. A second square has a perimeter of 36 inches. What is the positive difference in the areas of the two squares?”

What does research say1

Teaching strategies improves mathematics problem solving abilities.

Teaching strategies does not improve overall math achievement.

Teachers need to avoid teaching strategies as an algorithm.

Rickard, A. (2005). Evolution of a teacher’s problem solving instruction: A case study of aligning teaching practice with reform in middle school mathematics. Research in Middle Level Education Online, 29(1), 1-15.

Higgins, K. M. (1997). The effect of year-long instruction in mathematical problem solving on middle-school students’ attitudes, beliefs, and abilities. Journal of Experimental Education, 66(1).

Jitendra, A., DiPipi, C. M., & Perron-Jones, N. (2002). An exploratory study of schema-based word-problem-solving instruction for middle school students with learning disabilities: An emphasis on conceptual and procedural understanding. Journal of Special Education, 36(1), 23-38.

Mastromatteo, M. (1994). Problem solving in mathematics: A classroom research. Teaching and Change, 1(2), 182-189.

Schoenfeld, A. H. (1988). When good teaching leads to bad results: The disasters of “well-taught” mathematics courses. Educational Psychologist, 23(2), 145-166.

What does Research Say?

Process by george p lya
Process by George abilities.PÓlya

The elements of the process

Understand the Problem abilities.

Make a Plan

Follow/adjust the Plan

Look Back

The Elements of the Process

Understanding the problem

Define important words. abilities.

Identify necessary and unnecessary information.

Stating what is known and unknown.

Determine if other information is needed.

Decide if calculations need to be made prior to another calculation.

Rephrase the problem.

Consider this: pose a problem situation without a question.

Understanding the Problem

Make a plan

Select a strategy abilities.

Use what is known to determine how to find a solution

The goal would be that students be able to explain, with reasons, why they think their strategy could work.

Make a Plan

Follow adjust the plan

Students carry out the plan they made. abilities.

Students show the work that they do, and they may be asked to write explanations.

Students adjust their plan if they notice something isn’t working or they have determined a better way to solve the problem.

Follow/adjust the Plan

Look back

Very valuable! abilities.

Check that solution fits problem.

Consider strategy choices and their consequences.

Create related problem(s) that could be solved the same way.

Offer changes to the problem and infer their affect on the solution.

Connect to other problems already studied.

Make generalizations.

Look Back

Address misconceptions

Undergeneralizations abilities.

Ex.: 3:4 and ¾ are different things

Ex.: “=“ only means perform operations to find answer


Ex.: Multiplying two numbers makes a bigger number

Ex.: Misapplication of regrouping

Ex.: Finding common denominators when multiplying fractions.

Address Misconceptions

The environment

Foster a classroom environment friendly to asking questions. abilities.

Adjust content to meet student needs.

Use a wide variety of activities.

Allow time for exploration.

Organize and represent concepts in different ways.

Pose probing questions to foster meta-cognition.

Model meta-cognition.

Promote dialogue.

The Environment

Problem solving form

Creates a framework to help students see the importance of explaining why they are doing what they are doing.

Use in groups or individually.

Can be used in portfolios to share with parents at conferences or for student self-reflection of progress.

Problem Solving Form

Anecdotal records

Teacher notes while observing problem solving explaining why they are doing what they are doing.

Listen for evidence the student seeks information to fully understand the problem.

Consider a student’s ability to persevere.

Note use of appropriate strategies.

Listen to student oral explanations for misconceptions or proper conceptual understanding.

Look for algorithmic errors.

Anecdotal Records

Checklist or rubric

Much the same as anecdotal records, but this may be scored from viewing written work.

A rubric may be formed using Pólya’s process or specific to the learning goals of the lesson.

Share whatever rubric you use with students and make sure they understand it.

Provide opportunities for self-evaluation.

Checklist or Rubric

Questions or comments
Questions or Comments? from viewing written work.