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## Problem-Solving in Elementary School

Elementary students practice problem-solving and self-questioning techniques to improve reading and social and emotional learning skills.

In a school district in New Jersey, beginning in kindergarten each child is seen as a future problem solver with creative ideas that can help the world. Vince Caputo, superintendent of the Metuchen School District, explained that what drew him to the position was “a shared value for whole child education.”

Caputo’s first hire as superintendent was Rick Cohen, who works as both the district’s K–12 director of curriculum and principal of Moss Elementary School . Cohen is committed to integrating social and emotional learning (SEL) into academic curriculum and instruction by linking cognitive processes and guided self-talk.

Cohen’s first focus was kindergarten students. “I recommended Moss teachers teach just one problem-solving process to our 6-year-olds across all academic content areas and challenge students to use the same process for social problem-solving,” he explained.

## Reading and Social Problem-Solving

Moss Elementary classrooms use a specific process to develop problem-solving skills focused on tending to social and interpersonal relationships. The process also concentrates on building reading skills—specifically, decoding and comprehension.

Stop, Look, and Think. Students define the problem. As they read, they look at the pictures and text for clues, searching for information and asking, “What is important and what is not?” Social problem-solving aspect: Students look for signs of feelings in others’ faces, postures, and tone of voice.

Gather Information . Next, students explore what feelings they’re having and what feelings others may be having. As they read, they look at the beginning sound of a word and ask, “What else sounds like this?” Social problem-solving aspect: Students reflect on questions such as, “What word or words describe the feeling you see or hear in others? What word describes your feeling? How do you know, and how sure are you?”

Brainstorming . Then students seek different solutions. As they read, they wonder, “Does it sound right? Does it make sense? How else could it sound to make more sense? What other sounds do those letters make?” Social problem-solving aspect: Students reflect on questions such as, “How can you solve the problem or make the situation better? What else can you think of? What else can you try? What other ideas do you have?”

Pick the Best One. Next, students evaluate the solution. While reading, they scan for smaller words they know within larger, more difficult words. They read the difficult words the way they think they sound while asking, “Will it make sense to other people?” Social problem-solving aspect: Students reflect on prompts such as, “Pick the solution that you think will be best to solve the problem. Ask yourself, ‘What will happen if I do this—for me, and for others involved?’”

Go . In the next step, students make a plan and act. They do this by rereading the text. Social problem-solving aspect: Students are asked to try out what they will say and how they will say it. They’re asked to pick a good time to do this, when they’re willing to try it.

Check . Finally, students reflect and revise. After they have read, they ponder what exactly was challenging about what they read and, based on this, decide what to do next. Social problem-solving aspect: Students reflect on questions such as, “How did it work out? Did you solve the problem? How did others feel about what happened? What did you learn? What would you do if the same thing happened again?”

You can watch the Moss Elementary Problem Solvers video and see aspects of this process in action.

## The Process of Self-Questioning

Moss Elementary students and other students in the district are also taught structured self-questioning. Cohen notes, “We realized that many of our elementary students would struggle to generalize the same steps and thinking skills they previously used to figure out an unknown word in a text or resolve social conflicts to think through complex inquiries and research projects.” The solution? Teach students how to self-question, knowing they can also apply this effective strategy across contexts. The self-questioning process students use looks like this:

Stop and Think. “What’s the question?”

Gather Information. “How do I gather information? What are different sides of the issue?”

Brainstorm and Choose. “How do I select, organize, and choose the information? What are some ways to solve the problem? What’s the best choice?”

Plan and Try. “What does the plan look like? When and how can it happen? Who needs to be involved?”

Check & Revise. “How can I present the information? What did I do well? How can I improve?”

## The Benefits

Since using the problem-solving and self-questioning processes, the students at Moss Elementary have had growth in their scores for the last two years on the fifth-grade English language arts PARCC tests . However, as Cohen shares, “More important than preparing our students for the tests on state standards, there is evidence that we are also preparing them for the tests of life.”

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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?”

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## Related Resources

## About the author

## TeacherVision Editorial Staff

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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

Teaching problem solving.

Print Version

## 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.

## Teaching Guides

- Online Course Development Resources
- Principles & Frameworks
- Pedagogies & Strategies
- Reflecting & Assessing
- Challenges & Opportunities
- Populations & Contexts

## Quick Links

- Services for Departments and Schools
- Examples of Online Instructional Modules

## Mathematical Reasoning & Problem Solving

In this lesson, we’ll discuss mathematical reasoning and methods of problem solving with an eye toward helping your students make the best use of their reasoning skills when it comes to tackling complex problems.

## Previously Covered:

- Over the course of the previous lesson, we reviewed some basics about chance and probability, as well as some basics about sampling, surveys, etc. We also covered some ideas about data sets, how they’re represented, and how to interpret the results.

## Approaches to Problem Solving

When solving a mathematical problem, it is very common for a student to feel overwhelmed by the information or lack a clear idea about how to get started.

To help the students with their problem-solving “problem,” let’s look at some examples of mathematical problems and some general methods for solving problems:

Identify the following four-digit number when presented with the following information:

- One of the four digits is a 1.
- The digit in the hundreds place is three times the digit in the thousands place.
- The digit in the ones place is four times the digit in the ten’s place.
- The sum of all four digits is 13.
- The digit 2 is in the thousands place.

Help your students identify and prioritize the information presented.

In this particular example, we want to look for concrete information. Clue #1 tells us that one digit is a 1, but we’re not sure of its location, so we see if we can find a clue with more concrete information.

We can see that clue #5 gives us that kind of information and is the only clue that does, so we start from there.

Because this clue tells us that the thousands place digit is 2, we search for clues relevant to this clue. Clue #2 tells us that the digit in the hundreds place is three times that of the thousands place digit, so it is 6.

So now we need to find the tens and ones place digits, and see that clue #3 tells us that the digit in the ones place is four times the digit in the tens place. But we remember that clue #1 tells us that there’s a one somewhere, and since one is not four times any digit, we see that the one must be in the tens place, which leads us to the conclusion that the digit in the ones place is four. So then we conclude that our number is:

If you were following closely, you would notice that clue #4 was never used. It is a nice way to check our answer, since the digits of 2614 do indeed add up to be thirteen, but we did not need this clue to solve the problem.

Recall that the clues’ relevance were identified and prioritized as follows:

- clue #3 and clue #1

By identifying and prioritizing information, we were able to make the information given in the problem seem less overwhelming. We ordered the clues by relevance, with the most relevant clue providing us with a starting point to solve the problem. This method also utilized the more general method of breaking a problem into smaller and simpler parts to make it easier to solve.

Now let’s look at another mathematical problem and another general problem-solving method to help us solve it:

Two trees with heights of 20 m and 30 m respectively have ropes running from the top of each tree to the bottom of the other tree. The trees are 40 meters apart. We’ll assume that the ropes are pulled tight enough that we can ignore any bending or drooping. How high above the ground do the ropes intersect?

Let’s solve this problem by representing it in a visual way , in this case, a diagram:

You can see that we have a much simpler problem on our hands after drawing the diagram. A, B, C, D, E, and F are vertices of the triangles in the diagram. Now also notice that:

b = the base of triangle EFA

h = the height of triangle EFA and the height above the ground at which the ropes intersect

If we had not drawn this diagram, it would have been very hard to solve this problem, since we need the triangles and their properties to solve for h. Also, this diagram allows us to see that triangle BCA is similar to triangle EFC, and triangle DCA is similar to triangle EFA. Solving for h shows that the ropes intersect twelve meters above the ground.

Students frequently complain that mathematics is too difficult for them, because it is too abstract and unapproachable. Explaining mathematical reasoning and problem solving by using a variety of methods , such as words, numbers, symbols, charts, graphs, tables, diagrams, and concrete models can help students understand the problem better by making it more concrete and approachable.

Let’s try another one.

Given a pickle jar filled with marbles, about how many marbles does the jar contain?

Problems like this one require the student to make and use estimations . In this case, an estimation is all that is required, although, in more complex problems, estimates may help the student arrive at the final answer.

How would a student do this? A good estimation can be found by counting how many marbles are on the base of the jar and multiplying that by the number of marbles that make up the height of the marbles in the jar.

Now to make sure that we understand when and how to use these methods, let’s solve a problem on our own:

How many more faces does a cube have than a square pyramid?

Reveal Answer

The answer is B. To see how many more faces a cube has than a square pyramid, it is best to draw a diagram of a square pyramid and a cube:

From the diagrams above, we can see that the square pyramid has five faces and the cube has six. Therefore, the cube has one more face, so the answer is B.

Before we start having the same problem our model student in the beginning did—that is, being overwhelmed with too much information—let’s have a quick review of all the problem-solving methods we’ve discussed so far:

- Sort and prioritize relevant and irrelevant information.
- Represent a problem in different ways, such as words, symbols, concrete models, and diagrams.
- Generate and use estimations to find solutions to mathematical problems.

## Mathematical Mistakes

Along with learning methods and tools for solving mathematical problems, it is important to recognize and avoid ways to make mathematical errors. This section will review some common errors.

## Circular Arguments

These involve drawing a conclusion from a premise that is itself dependent on the conclusion. In other words, you are not actually proving anything. Circular reasoning often looks like deductive reasoning, but a quick examination will reveal that it’s far from it. Consider the following argument:

- Premise: Only an untrustworthy man would become an insurance salesman; the fact that insurance salesmen cannot be trusted is proof of this.
- Conclusion: Therefore, insurance salesmen cannot be trusted.

While this may be a simplistic example, you can see that there’s no logical procession in a circular argument.

## Assuming the Truth of the Converse

Simply put: The fact that A implies B doesn’t not necessarily mean that B implies A. For example, “All dogs are mammals; therefore, all mammals are dogs.”

## Assuming the Truth of the Inverse

Watch out for this one. You cannot automatically assume the inverse of a given statement is true. Consider the following true statement:

If you grew up in Minnesota , you’ve seen snow.

Now, notice that the inverse of this statement is not necessarily true:

If you didn’t grow up in Minnesota , you’ve never seen snow.

## Faulty Generalizations

This mistake (also known as inductive fallacy) can take many forms, the most common being assuming a general rule based on a specific instance: (“Bridge is a hard game; therefore, all card games are difficult.”) Be aware of more subtle forms of faulty generalizations.

## Faulty Analogies

It’s a mistake to assume that because two things are alike in one respect that they are necessarily alike in other ways too. Consider the faulty analogy below:

People who absolutely have to have a cup of coffee in the morning to get going are as bad as alcoholics who can’t cope without drinking.

False (or tenuous) analogies are often used in persuasive arguments.

Now that we’ve gone over some common mathematical mistakes, let’s look at some correct and effective ways to use mathematical reasoning.

Let’s look at basic logic, its operations, some fundamental laws, and the rules of logic that help us prove statements and deduce the truth. First off, there are two different styles of proofs: direct and indirect .

Whether it’s a direct or indirect proof, the engine that drives the proof is the if-then structure of a logical statement. In formal logic, you’ll see the format using the letters p and q, representing statements, as in:

If p, then q

An arrow is used to indicate that q is derived from p, like this:

This would be the general form of many types of logical statements that would be similar to: “if Joe has 5 cents, then Joe has a nickel or Joe has 5 pennies “. Basically, a proof is a flow of implications starting with the statement p and ending with the statement q. The stepping stones we use to link these statements in a logical proof on the way are called axioms or postulates , which are accepted logical tools.

A direct proof will attempt to lay out the shortest number of steps between p and q.

The goal of an indirect proof is exactly the same—it wants to show that q follows from p; however, it goes about it in a different manner. An indirect proof also goes by the names “proof by contradiction” or reductio ad absurdum . This type of proof assumes that the opposite of what you want to prove is true, and then shows that this is untenable or absurd, so, in fact, your original statement must be true.

Let’s see how this works using the isosceles triangle below. The indirect proof assumption is in bold.

Given: Triangle ABC is isosceles with B marking the vertex

Prove: Angles A and C are congruent.

Now, let’s work through this, matching our statements with our reasons.

- Triangle ABC is isosceles . . . . . . . . . . . . Given
- Angle A is the vertex . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Given
- Angles A and C are not congruent . . Indirect proof assumption
- Line AB is equal to line BC . . . . . . . . . . . Legs of an isosceles triangle are congruent
- Angles A and C are congruent . . . . . . . . The angles opposite congruent sides of a triangle are congruent
- Contradiction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Angles can’t be congruent and incongruent
- Angles A and C are indeed congruent . . . The indirect proof assumption (step 3) is wrong
- Therefore, if angles A and C are not incongruent, they are congruent.

## “Always, Sometimes, and Never”

Some math problems work on the mechanics that statements are “always”, “sometimes” and “never” true.

Example: x < x 2 for all real numbers x

We may be tempted to say that this statement is “always” true, because by choosing different values of x, like -2 and 3, we see that:

Example: For all primes x ≥ 3, x is odd.

This statement is “always” true. The only prime that is not odd is two. If we had a prime x ≥ 3 that is not odd, it would be divisible by two, which would make x not prime.

- Know and be able to identify common mathematical errors, such as circular arguments, assuming the truth of the converse, assuming the truth of the inverse, making faulty generalizations, and faulty use of analogical reasoning.
- Be familiar with direct proofs and indirect proofs (proof by contradiction).
- Be able to work with problems to identify “always,” “sometimes,” and “never” statements.

## K-5 Math Centers

K-5 math ideas, 3rd grade math, need help organizing your k-5 math block, math problem solving 101.

Have you ever given your students a money word problem where someone buys an item from a store, but your students come up with an answer where the person that bought the item ends up with more money than he or she came in with?

Word problem solving is one of those things that many of our children struggle with. When used effectively, questioning and dramatization can be powerful tools for our students to use when solving these types of problems.

I came up with this approach after co-teaching a lesson with a 3rd grade teachers. Her kids were having extreme difficulty comprehending a word problem she presented. So we devised a lesson that would help students better understand problem solving.

The approach we took included the use of several literacy skills, like reading comprehension and writing. First, we started the lesson with a “think aloud” modeled by the teacher.We read and displayed the problem below but excluded ALL of the numbers. See the images below:

The purpose of reading the problem without the numbers is to get the students to understand what is actually happening in the problem. Typically some students focus solely on keywords when solving word problems, but I do not advise using this approach exclusively. With math problems, the context of the problem and actions in the problem determine how the child should go about solving it.

## Read the Problem Without Numbers & Ask Questions:

After reading the problem (without numbers) to the students, I asked the following questions:

- Can you describe what is happening in your own words?
- What is the main idea of the problem?
- How could you act this out?

## Make a Plan & Ask Questions:

After the students articulated what was happening in the problem, we made a plan to solve the problem. I used the following guiding questions:

- Sample Answers include- We know that Kai has some goldfish. Kai donated or gave away some of the goldfish.
- Sample Answers include – We need to know how many goldfish Kai has. We also need to know how many he gave anyway. We also need to know how many bowls there are.
- Sample Answers include- We need to find out how many fish belong in each bowl.

The class discussed the answers to the questions above. As we discussed the questions above the responses were written out on a problem solving template.

As part of this process, we clarified student understanding of the problem and determined what we needed to find and do to solve the problem. Next, we walked the students through the process of showing their work using pictures. Lastly, we checked our answers by writing an equation that matched the pictures to finally solve the problem.

## Team Work Counts

After going through the process with the class, we decided to split the students into small groups of 3 and 4 to solve a math problem together. The groups were expected to use the same process that we used to solve the problem. It took a while but check out one of the final products below.

## Benefits to Using this Process:

- Students understood what the problem is asking them to do
- Students are required to think and communicate as a team
- Students avoid making errors that can come with only using keywords
- Students are required to record their math reasoning using the problem solving template
- After using this process a couple of times, students get used to explaining and justifying their answers
- You become the facilitator of the learning by asking more questions, thereby making students independent thinkers

## Things to Consider Include:

- This process in NOT quick. It requires TIME. You should not rush the process and expect to have it completed in 20 – 30 minutes in one day.
- This process is not a one time lesson. Students may not get it the first time. It should be seen a routine that can be used when solving word problems.

Be sure to let me know how this process works in your classroom in the comments below.

- Read more about: K-5 Math Ideas

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Problem Solving

## Problem or Exercise?

The main activity of mathematics is solving problems. However, what most people experience in most mathematics classrooms is practice exercises. An exercise is different from a problem.

In a problem , you probably don’t know at first how to approach solving it. You don’t know what mathematical ideas might be used in the solution. Part of solving a problem is understanding what is being asked, and knowing what a solution should look like. Problems often involve false starts, making mistakes, and lots of scratch paper!

In an exercise , you are often practicing a skill. You may have seen a teacher demonstrate a technique, or you may have read a worked example in the book. You then practice on very similar assignments, with the goal of mastering that skill.

Note: What is a problem for some people may be an exercise for other people who have more background knowledge! For a young student just learning addition, this might be a problem:

But for you, that is an exercise!

Both problems and exercises are important in mathematics learning. But we should never forget that the ultimate goal is to develop more and better skills (through exercises) so that we can solve harder and more interesting problems.

Learning math is a bit like learning to play a sport. You can practice a lot of skills:

- hitting hundreds of forehands in tennis so that you can place them in a particular spot in the court,
- breaking down strokes into the component pieces in swimming so that each part of the stroke is more efficient,
- keeping control of the ball while making quick turns in soccer,
- shooting free throws in basketball,
- catching high fly balls in baseball,

But the point of the sport is to play the game. You practice the skills so that you are better at playing the game. In mathematics, solving problems is playing the game!

## On Your Own

For each question below, decide if it is a problem or an exercise . (You do not need to solve the problems! Just decide which category it fits for you.) After you have labeled each one, compare your answers with a partner.

1. This clock has been broken into three pieces. If you add the numbers in each piece, the sums are consecutive numbers.(Note: Consecutive numbers are whole numbers that appear one after the other, such as 1, 2, 3, 4 or 13, 14, 15. )

Can you break another clock into a different number of pieces so that the sums are consecutive numbers? Assume that each piece has at least two numbers and that no number is damaged (e.g. 12 isn’t split into two digits 1 and 2).

2. A soccer coach began the year with a $500 budget. By the end of December, the coach spent $450. How much money in the budget was not spent?

3. What is the product of 4,500 and 27?

4. Arrange the digits 1–6 into a “difference triangle” where each number in the row below is the difference of the two numbers above it.

5. Simplify the following expression:

7. You have eight coins and a balance scale. The coins look alike, but one of them is a counterfeit. The counterfeit coin is lighter than the others. You may only use the balance scale two times. How can you find the counterfeit coin?

8. How many squares, of any possible size, are on a standard 8 × 8 chess board?

9. What number is 3 more than half of 20?

10. Find the largest eight-digit number made up of the digits 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, and 4 such that the 1’s are separated by one digit, the 2’s are separated by two digits, the 3’s by three digits, and the 4’s by four digits.

Mathematics for Elementary Teachers Copyright © 2018 by Michelle Manes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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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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## Developing Problem-Solving Skills for Kids | Strategies & Tips

We've made teaching problem-solving skills for kids a whole lot easier! Keep reading and comment below with any other tips you have for your classroom!

## Problem-Solving Skills for Kids: The Real Deal

Picture this: You've carefully created an assignment for your class. The step-by-step instructions are crystal clear. During class time, you walk through all the directions, and the response is awesome. Your students are ready! It's finally time for them to start working individually and then... 8 hands shoot up with questions. You hear one student mumble in the distance, "Wait, I don't get this" followed by the dreaded, "What are we supposed to be doing again?"

When I was a new computer science teacher, I would have this exact situation happen. As a result, I would end up scrambling to help each individual student with their problems until half the class period was eaten up. I assumed that in order for my students to learn best, I needed to be there to help answer questions immediately so they could move forward and complete the assignment.

Here's what I wish I had known when I started teaching coding to elementary students - the process of grappling with an assignment's content can be more important than completing the assignment's product. That said, not every student knows how to grapple, or struggle, in order to get to the "aha!" moment and solve a problem independently. The good news is, the ability to creatively solve problems is not a fixed skill. It can be learned by students, nurtured by teachers, and practiced by everyone!

Your students are absolutely capable of navigating and solving problems on their own. Here are some strategies, tips, and resources that can help:

## Problem-Solving Skills for Kids: Student Strategies

These are strategies your students can use during independent work time to become creative problem solvers.

## 1. Go Step-By-Step Through The Problem-Solving Sequence

Post problem-solving anchor charts and references on your classroom wall or pin them to your Google Classroom - anything to make them accessible to students. When they ask for help, invite them to reference the charts first.

## 2. Revisit Past Problems

If a student gets stuck, they should ask themself, "Have I ever seen a problem like this before? If so, how did I solve it?" Chances are, your students have tackled something similar already and can recycle the same strategies they used before to solve the problem this time around.

## 3. Document What Doesn’t Work

Sometimes finding the answer to a problem requires the process of elimination. Have your students attempt to solve a problem at least two different ways before reaching out to you for help. Even better, encourage them write down their "Not-The-Answers" so you can see their thought process when you do step in to support. Cool thing is, you likely won't need to! By attempting to solve a problem in multiple different ways, students will often come across the answer on their own.

## 4. "3 Before Me"

Let's say your students have gone through the Problem Solving Process, revisited past problems, and documented what doesn't work. Now, they know it's time to ask someone for help. Great! But before you jump into save the day, practice "3 Before Me". This means students need to ask 3 other classmates their question before asking the teacher. By doing this, students practice helpful 21st century skills like collaboration and communication, and can usually find the info they're looking for on the way.

## Problem-Solving Skills for Kids: Teacher Tips

These are tips that you, the teacher, can use to support students in developing creative problem-solving skills for kids.

## 1. Ask Open Ended Questions

When a student asks for help, it can be tempting to give them the answer they're looking for so you can both move on. But what this actually does is prevent the student from developing the skills needed to solve the problem on their own. Instead of giving answers, try using open-ended questions and prompts. Here are some examples:

## 2. Encourage Grappling

Grappling is everything a student might do when faced with a problem that does not have a clear solution. As explained in this article from Edutopia , this doesn't just mean perseverance! Grappling is more than that - it includes critical thinking, asking questions, observing evidence, asking more questions, forming hypotheses, and constructing a deep understanding of an issue.

There are lots of ways to provide opportunities for grappling. Anything that includes the Engineering Design Process is a good one! Examples include:

- Engineering or Art Projects
- Design-thinking challenges
- Computer science projects
- Science experiments

## 3. Emphasize Process Over Product

For elementary students, reflecting on the process of solving a problem helps them develop a growth mindset . Getting an answer "wrong" doesn't need to be a bad thing! What matters most are the steps they took to get there and how they might change their approach next time. As a teacher, you can support students in learning this reflection process.

## 4. Model The Strategies Yourself!

As creative problem-solving skills for kids are being learned, there will likely be moments where they are frustrated or unsure. Here are some easy ways you can model what creative problem-solving looks and sounds like.

- Ask clarifying questions if you don't understand something
- Admit when don't know the correct answer
- Talk through multiple possible outcomes for different situations
- Verbalize how you’re feeling when you find a problem

Practicing these strategies with your students will help create a learning environment where grappling, failing, and growing is celebrated!

## Problem-Solving Skill for Kids

Did we miss any of your favorites? Comment and share them below!

## Looking to add creative problem solving to your class?

Learn more about Kodable's free educator plan or create your free account today to get your students coding!

## Kodable has everything you need to teach kids to code!

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## Problem solving facts for kids

Problem solving is a mental activity related to intelligence and thinking . It consists of finding solutions to problems. A problem is a situation that needs to be changed. It suggests that the solution is not totally obvious, for then it would not be a problem. A great deal of human life is spent solving problems. Social life is based on the notion that together we might solve problems which we could not as individuals.

The word "problem" comes from a Greek word meaning an "obstacle" (something that is in your way). If someone has a problem, they have to find a way of solving the problem. The way to solve it is called a solution. Some problem-solving techniques have been developed and used in artificial intelligence , computer science , engineering , and mathematics . Some are related to mental problem-solving techniques studied in gestalt psychology , cognitive psychology . and chess .

Problems can be classified as ill-defined or well-defined. Ill-defined problems are those that do not have clear goals, solution paths, or expected solution. An example is how to face threats which might perhaps be made in the future. Well-defined problems have specific goals, clearly defined solution paths, and clear expected solutions. These problems also allow for more initial planning than ill-defined problems.

Being able to solve problems involves the ability to understand what the goal of the problem is and what rules could be applied to solving the problem. Sometimes the problem requires abstract thinking and coming up with a creative solution.

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Problem Solving in Mathematics Education pp 1–39 Cite as

## Problem Solving in Mathematics Education

- Peter Liljedahl 6 ,
- Manuel Santos-Trigo 7 ,
- Uldarico Malaspina 8 &
- Regina Bruder 9
- Open Access
- First Online: 28 June 2016

86k Accesses

16 Citations

Part of the ICME-13 Topical Surveys book series (ICME13TS)

Problem solving in mathematics education has been a prominent research field that aims at understanding and relating the processes involved in solving problems to students’ development of mathematical knowledge and problem solving competencies. The accumulated knowledge and field developments include conceptual frameworks to characterize learners’ success in problem solving activities, cognitive, metacognitive, social and affective analysis, curriculum proposals, and ways to foster problem solving approaches. In the survey, four interrelated areas are reviewed: (i) the relevance of heuristics in problem solving approaches—why are they important and what research tells us about their use? (ii) the need to characterize and foster creative problem solving approaches—what type of heuristics helps learners think of and practice creative solutions? (iii) the importance for learners to formulate and pursue their own problems; and (iv) the role played by the use of both multiple purpose and ad hoc mathematical action types of technologies in problem solving activities—what ways of reasoning do learners construct when they rely on the use of digital technologies and how technology and technology approaches can be reconciled?

- Mathematical Problem
- Prospective Teacher
- Creative Process
- Digital Technology
- Mathematical Task

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Download chapter PDF

Mathematical problem solving has long been seen as an important aspect of mathematics, the teaching of mathematics, and the learning of mathematics. It has infused mathematics curricula around the world with calls for the teaching of problem solving as well as the teaching of mathematics through problem solving. And as such, it has been of interest to mathematics education researchers for as long as our field has existed. More relevant, mathematical problem solving has played a part in every ICME conference, from 1969 until the forthcoming meeting in Hamburg, wherein mathematical problem solving will reside most centrally within the work of Topic Study 19: Problem Solving in Mathematics Education. This booklet is being published on the occasion of this Topic Study Group.

To this end, we have assembled four summaries looking at four distinct, yet inter-related, dimensions of mathematical problem solving. The first summary, by Regina Bruder, is a nuanced look at heuristics for problem solving. This notion of heuristics is carried into Peter Liljedahl’s summary, which looks specifically at a progression of heuristics leading towards more and more creative aspects of problem solving. This is followed by Luz Manuel Santos Trigo’s summary introducing us to problem solving in and with digital technologies. The last summary, by Uldarico Malaspina Jurado, documents the rise of problem posing within the field of mathematics education in general and the problem solving literature in particular.

Each of these summaries references in some critical and central fashion the works of George Pólya or Alan Schoenfeld. To the initiated researchers, this is no surprise. The seminal work of these researchers lie at the roots of mathematical problem solving. What is interesting, though, is the diverse ways in which each of the four aforementioned contributions draw on, and position, these works so as to fit into the larger scheme of their respective summaries. This speaks to not only the depth and breadth of these influential works, but also the diversity with which they can be interpreted and utilized in extending our thinking about problem solving.

Taken together, what follows is a topical survey of ideas representing the diversity of views and tensions inherent in a field of research that is both a means to an end and an end onto itself and is unanimously seen as central to the activities of mathematics.

## 1 Survey on the State-of-the-Art

1.1 role of heuristics for problem solving—regina bruder.

The origin of the word heuristic dates back to the time of Archimedes and is said to have come out of one of the famous stories told about this great mathematician and inventor. The King of Syracuse asked Archimedes to check whether his new wreath was really made of pure gold. Archimedes struggled with this task and it was not until he was at the bathhouse that he came up with the solution. As he entered the tub he noticed that he had displaced a certain amount of water. Brilliant as he was, he transferred this insight to the issue with the wreath and knew he had solved the problem. According to the legend, he jumped out of the tub and ran from the bathhouse naked screaming, “Eureka, eureka!”. Eureka and heuristic have the same root in the ancient Greek language and so it has been claimed that this is how the academic discipline of “heuristics” dealing with effective approaches to problem solving (so-called heurisms) was given its name. Pólya ( 1964 ) describes this discipline as follows:

Heuristics deals with solving tasks. Its specific goals include highlighting in general terms the reasons for selecting those moments in a problem the examination of which could help us find a solution. (p. 5)

This discipline has grown, in part, from examining the approaches to certain problems more in detail and comparing them with each other in order to abstract similarities in approach, or so-called heurisms. Pólya ( 1949 ), but also, inter alia, Engel ( 1998 ), König ( 1984 ) and Sewerin ( 1979 ) have formulated such heurisms for mathematical problem tasks. The problem tasks examined by the authors mentioned are predominantly found in the area of talent programmes, that is, they often go back to mathematics competitions.

In 1983 Zimmermann provided an overview of heuristic approaches and tools in American literature which also offered suggestions for mathematics classes. In the German-speaking countries, an approach has established itself, going back to Sewerin ( 1979 ) and König ( 1984 ), which divides school-relevant heuristic procedures into heuristic tools, strategies and principles, see also Bruder and Collet ( 2011 ).

Below is a review of the conceptual background of heuristics, followed by a description of the effect mechanisms of heurisms in problem-solving processes.

## 1.1.1 Research Review on the Promotion of Problem Solving

In the 20th century, there has been an advancement of research on mathematical problem solving and findings about possibilities to promote problem solving with varying priorities (c.f. Pehkonen 1991 ). Based on a model by Pólya ( 1949 ), in a first phase of research on problem solving, particularly in the 1960s and the 1970s, a series of studies on problem-solving processes placing emphasis on the importance of heuristic strategies (heurisms) in problem solving has been carried out. It was assumed that teaching and learning heuristic strategies, principles and tools would provide students with an orientation in problem situations and that this could thus improve students’ problem-solving abilities (c.f. for instance, Schoenfeld 1979 ). This approach, mostly researched within the scope of talent programmes for problem solving, was rather successful (c.f. for instance, Sewerin 1979 ). In the 1980s, requests for promotional opportunities in everyday teaching were given more and more consideration: “ problem solving must be the focus of school mathematics in the 1980s ” (NCTM 1980 ). For the teaching and learning of problem solving in regular mathematics classes, the current view according to which cognitive, heuristic aspects were paramount, was expanded by certain student-specific aspects, such as attitudes, emotions and self-regulated behaviour (c.f. Kretschmer 1983 ; Schoenfeld 1985 , 1987 , 1992 ). Kilpatrick ( 1985 ) divided the promotional approaches described in the literature into five methods which can also be combined with each other.

Osmosis : action-oriented and implicit imparting of problem-solving techniques in a beneficial learning environment

Memorisation : formation of special techniques for particular types of problem and of the relevant questioning when problem solving

Imitation : acquisition of problem-solving abilities through imitation of an expert

Cooperation : cooperative learning of problem-solving abilities in small groups

Reflection : problem-solving abilities are acquired in an action-oriented manner and through reflection on approaches to problem solving.

Kilpatrick ( 1985 ) views as success when heuristic approaches are explained to students, clarified by means of examples and trained through the presentation of problems. The need of making students aware of heuristic approaches is by now largely accepted in didactic discussions. Differences in varying approaches to promoting problem-solving abilities rather refer to deciding which problem-solving strategies or heuristics are to imparted to students and in which way, and not whether these should be imparted at all or not.

## 1.1.2 Heurisms as an Expression of Mental Agility

The activity theory, particularly in its advancement by Lompscher ( 1975 , 1985 ), offers a well-suited and manageable model to describe learning activities and differences between learners with regard to processes and outcomes in problem solving (c.f. Perels et al. 2005 ). Mental activity starts with a goal and the motive of a person to perform such activity. Lompscher divides actual mental activity into content and process. Whilst the content in mathematical problem-solving consists of certain concepts, connections and procedures, the process describes the psychological processes that occur when solving a problem. This course of action is described in Lompscher by various qualities, such as systematic planning, independence, accuracy, activity and agility. Along with differences in motivation and the availability of expertise, it appears that intuitive problem solvers possess a particularly high mental agility, at least with regard to certain contents areas.

According to Lompscher, “flexibility of thought” expresses itself

… by the capacity to change more or less easily from one aspect of viewing to another one or to embed one circumstance or component into different correlations, to understand the relativity of circumstances and statements. It allows to reverse relations, to more or less easily or quickly attune to new conditions of mental activity or to simultaneously mind several objects or aspects of a given activity (Lompscher 1975 , p. 36).

These typical manifestations of mental agility can be focused on in problem solving by mathematical means and can be related to the heurisms known from the analyses of approaches by Pólya et al. (c.f. also Bruder 2000 ):

Reduction : Successful problem solvers will intuitively reduce a problem to its essentials in a sensible manner. To achieve such abstraction, they often use visualisation and structuring aids, such as informative figures, tables, solution graphs or even terms. These heuristic tools are also very well suited to document in retrospect the approach adopted by the intuitive problem solvers in a way that is comprehensible for all.

Reversibility : Successful problem solvers are able to reverse trains of thought or reproduce these in reverse. They will do this in appropriate situations automatically, for instance, when looking for a key they have mislaid. A corresponding general heuristic strategy is working in reverse.

Minding of aspects : Successful problem solvers will mind several aspects of a given problem at the same time or easily recognise any dependence on things and vary them in a targeted manner. Sometimes, this is also a matter of removing barriers in favour of an idea that appears to be sustainable, that is, by simply “hanging on” to a certain train of thought even against resistance. Corresponding heurisms are, for instance, the principle of invariance, the principle of symmetry (Engel 1998 ), the breaking down or complementing of geometric figures to calculate surface areas, or certain terms used in binomial formulas.

Change of aspects : Successful problem solvers will possibly change their assumptions, criteria or aspects minded in order to find a solution. Various aspects of a given problem will be considered intuitively or the problem be viewed from a different perspective, which will prevent “getting stuck” and allow for new insights and approaches. For instance, many elementary geometric propositions can also be proved in an elegant vectorial manner.

Transferring : Successful problem solvers will be able more easily than others to transfer a well-known procedure to another, sometimes even very different context. They recognise more easily the “framework” or pattern of a given task. Here, this is about own constructions of analogies and continual tracing back from the unknown to the known.

Intuitive, that is, untrained good problem solvers, are, however, often unable to access these flexibility qualities consciously. This is why they are also often unable to explain how they actually solved a given problem.

To be able to solve problems successfully, a certain mental agility is thus required. If this is less well pronounced in a certain area, learning how to solve problems means compensating by acquiring heurisms. In this case, insufficient mental agility is partly “offset” through the application of knowledge acquired by means of heurisms. Mathematical problem-solving competences are thus acquired through the promotion of manifestations of mental agility (reduction, reversibility, minding of aspects and change of aspects). This can be achieved by designing sub-actions of problem solving in connection with a (temporarily) conscious application of suitable heurisms. Empirical evidence for the success of the active principle of heurisms has been provided by Collet ( 2009 ).

Against such background, learning how to solve problems can be established as a long-term teaching and learning process which basically encompasses four phases (Bruder and Collet 2011 ):

Intuitive familiarisation with heuristic methods and techniques.

Making aware of special heurisms by means of prominent examples (explicit strategy acquisition).

Short conscious practice phase to use the newly acquired heurisms with differentiated task difficulties.

Expanding the context of the strategies applied.

In the first phase, students are familiarised with heurisms intuitively by means of targeted aid impulses and questions (what helped us solve this problem?) which in the following phase are substantiated on the basis of model tasks, are given names and are thus made aware of their existence. The third phase serves the purpose of a certain familiarisation with the new heurisms and the experience of competence through individualised practising at different requirement levels, including in the form of homework over longer periods. A fourth and delayed fourth phase aims at more flexibility through the transfer to other contents and contexts and the increasingly intuitive use of the newly acquired heurisms, so that students can enrich their own problem-solving models in a gradual manner. The second and third phases build upon each other in close chronological order, whilst the first phase should be used in class at all times.

All heurisms can basically be described in an action-oriented manner by means of asking the right questions. The way of asking questions can thus also establish a certain kind of personal relation. Even if the teacher presents and suggests the line of basic questions with a prototypical wording each time, students should always be given the opportunity to find “their” wording for the respective heurism and take a note of it for themselves. A possible key question for the use of a heuristic tool would be: How to illustrate and structure the problem or how to present it in a different way?

Unfortunately, for many students, applying heuristic approaches to problem solving will not ensue automatically but will require appropriate early and long-term promoting. The results of current studies, where promotion approaches to problem solving are connected with self-regulation and metacognitive aspects, demonstrate certain positive effects of such combination on students. This field of research includes, for instance, studies by Lester et al. ( 1989 ), Verschaffel et al. ( 1999 ), the studies on teaching method IMPROVE by Mevarech and Kramarski ( 1997 , 2003 ) and also the evaluation of a teaching concept on learning how to solve problems by the gradual conscious acquisition of heurisms by Collet and Bruder ( 2008 ).

## 1.2 Creative Problem Solving—Peter Liljedahl

There is a tension between the aforementioned story of Archimedes and the heuristics presented in the previous section. Archimedes, when submersing himself in the tub and suddenly seeing the solution to his problem, wasn’t relying on osmosis, memorisation, imitation, cooperation, or reflection (Kilpatrick 1985 ). He wasn’t drawing on reduction, reversibility, minding of aspects, change of aspect, or transfer (Bruder 2000 ). Archimedes was stuck and it was only, in fact, through insight and sudden illumination that he managed to solve his problem. In short, Archimedes was faced with a problem that the aforementioned heuristics, and their kind, would not help him to solve.

According to some, such a scenario is the definition of a problem. For example, Resnick and Glaser ( 1976 ) define a problem as being something that you do not have the experience to solve. Mathematicians, in general, agree with this (Liljedahl 2008 ).

Any problem in which you can see how to attack it by deliberate effort, is a routine problem, and cannot be an important discover. You must try and fail by deliberate efforts, and then rely on a sudden inspiration or intuition or if you prefer to call it luck. (Dan Kleitman, participant cited in Liljedahl 2008 , p. 19).

Problems, then, are tasks that cannot be solved by direct effort and will require some creative insight to solve (Liljedahl 2008 ; Mason et al. 1982 ; Pólya 1965 ).

## 1.2.1 A History of Creativity in Mathematics Education

In 1902, the first half of what eventually came to be a 30 question survey was published in the pages of L’Enseignement Mathématique , the journal of the French Mathematical Society. The authors, Édouard Claparède and Théodore Flournoy, were two Swiss psychologists who were deeply interested in the topics of mathematical discovery, creativity and invention. Their hope was that a widespread appeal to mathematicians at large would incite enough responses for them to begin to formulate some theories about this topic. The first half of the survey centered on the reasons for becoming a mathematician (family history, educational influences, social environment, etc.), attitudes about everyday life, and hobbies. This was eventually followed, in 1904, by the publication of the second half of the survey pertaining, in particular, to mental images during periods of creative work. The responses were sorted according to nationality and published in 1908.

During this same period Henri Poincaré (1854–1912), one of the most noteworthy mathematicians of the time, had already laid much of the groundwork for his own pursuit of this same topic and in 1908 gave a presentation to the French Psychological Society in Paris entitled L’Invention mathématique —often mistranslated to Mathematical Creativity Footnote 1 (c.f. Poincaré 1952 ). At the time of the presentation Poincaré stated that he was aware of Claparède and Flournoy’s work, as well as their results, but expressed that they would only confirm his own findings. Poincaré’s presentation, as well as the essay it spawned, stands to this day as one of the most insightful, and thorough treatments of the topic of mathematical discovery, creativity, and invention.

Just at this time, I left Caen, where I was living, to go on a geological excursion under the auspices of the School of Mines. The incident of the travel made me forget my mathematical work. Having reached Coutances, we entered an omnibus to go some place or other. At the moment when I put my foot on the step, the idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it, that the transformations I had used to define the Fuschian functions were identical with those of non-Euclidean geometry. I did not verify the idea; I should not have had the time, as, upon taking my seat in the omnibus, I went on with the conversation already commenced, but I felt a perfect certainty. On my return to Caen, for conscience’ sake, I verified the results at my leisure. (Poincaré 1952 , p. 53)

So powerful was his presentation, and so deep were his insights into his acts of invention and discovery that it could be said that he not so much described the characteristics of mathematical creativity, as defined them. From that point forth mathematical creativity, or even creativity in general, has not been discussed seriously without mention of Poincaré’s name.

Inspired by this presentation, Jacques Hadamard (1865–1963), a contemporary and a friend of Poincaré’s, began his own empirical investigation into this fascinating phenomenon. Hadamard had been critical of Claparède and Flournoy’s work in that they had not adequately treated the topic on two fronts. As exhaustive as the survey appeared to be, Hadamard felt that it failed to ask some key questions—the most important of which was with regard to the reason for failures in the creation of mathematics. This seemingly innocuous oversight, however, led directly to his second and “most important criticism” (Hadamard 1945 ). He felt that only “first-rate men would dare to speak of” (p. 10) such failures. So, inspired by his good friend Poincaré’s treatment of the subject Hadamard retooled the survey and gave it to friends of his for consideration—mathematicians such as Henri Poincaré and Albert Einstein, whose prominence were beyond reproach. Ironically, the new survey did not contain any questions that explicitly dealt with failure. In 1943 Hadamard gave a series of lectures on mathematical invention at the École Libre des Hautes Études in New York City. These talks were subsequently published as The Psychology of Mathematical Invention in the Mathematical Field (Hadameard 1945 ).

Hadamard’s classic work treats the subject of invention at the crossroads of mathematics and psychology. It provides not only an entertaining look at the eccentric nature of mathematicians and their rituals, but also outlines the beliefs of mid twentieth-century mathematicians about the means by which they arrive at new mathematics. It is an extensive exploration and extended argument for the existence of unconscious mental processes. In essence, Hadamard took the ideas that Poincaré had posed and, borrowing a conceptual framework for the characterization of the creative process from the Gestaltists of the time (Wallas 1926 ), turned them into a stage theory. This theory still stands as the most viable and reasonable description of the process of mathematical creativity.

## 1.2.2 Defining Mathematical Creativity

The phenomena of mathematical creativity, although marked by sudden illumination, actually consist of four separate stages stretched out over time, of which illumination is but one stage. These stages are initiation, incubation, illumination, and verification (Hadamard 1945 ). The first of these stages, the initiation phase, consists of deliberate and conscious work. This would constitute a person’s voluntary, and seemingly fruitless, engagement with a problem and be characterized by an attempt to solve the problem by trolling through a repertoire of past experiences. This is an important part of the inventive process because it creates the tension of unresolved effort that sets up the conditions necessary for the ensuing emotional release at the moment of illumination (Hadamard 1945 ; Poincaré 1952 ).

Following the initiation stage the solver, unable to come up with a solution stops working on the problem at a conscious level and begins to work on it at an unconscious level (Hadamard 1945 ; Poincaré 1952 ). This is referred to as the incubation stage of the inventive process and can last anywhere from several minutes to several years. After the period of incubation a rapid coming to mind of a solution, referred to as illumination , may occur. This is accompanied by a feeling of certainty and positive emotions (Poincaré 1952 ). Although the processes of incubation and illumination are shrouded behind the veil of the unconscious there are a number of things that can be deduced about them. First and foremost is the fact that unconscious work does, indeed, occur. Poincaré ( 1952 ), as well as Hadamard ( 1945 ), use the very real experience of illumination, a phenomenon that cannot be denied, as evidence of unconscious work, the fruits of which appear in the flash of illumination. No other theory seems viable in explaining the sudden appearance of solution during a walk, a shower, a conversation, upon waking, or at the instance of turning the conscious mind back to the problem after a period of rest (Poincaré 1952 ). Also deducible is that unconscious work is inextricably linked to the conscious and intentional effort that precedes it.

There is another remark to be made about the conditions of this unconscious work: it is possible, and of a certainty it is only fruitful, if it is on the one hand preceded and on the other hand followed by a period of conscious work. These sudden inspirations never happen except after some days of voluntary effort which has appeared absolutely fruitless and whence nothing good seems to have come … (Poincaré 1952 , p. 56)

Hence, the fruitless efforts of the initiation phase are only seemingly so. They not only set up the aforementioned tension responsible for the emotional release at the time of illumination, but also create the conditions necessary for the process to enter into the incubation phase.

Illumination is the manifestation of a bridging that occurs between the unconscious mind and the conscious mind (Poincaré 1952 ), a coming to (conscious) mind of an idea or solution. What brings the idea forward to consciousness is unclear, however. There are theories of the aesthetic qualities of the idea, effective surprise/shock of recognition, fluency of processing, or breaking functional fixedness. For reasons of brevity I will only expand on the first of these.

Poincaré proposed that ideas that were stimulated during initiation remained stimulated during incubation. However, freed from the constraints of conscious thought and deliberate calculation, these ideas would begin to come together in rapid and random unions so that “their mutual impacts may produce new combinations” (Poincaré 1952 ). These new combinations, or ideas, would then be evaluated for viability using an aesthetic sieve, which allows through to the conscious mind only the “right combinations” (Poincaré 1952 ). It is important to note, however, that good or aesthetic does not necessarily mean correct. Correctness is evaluated during the verification stage.

The purpose of verification is not only to check for correctness. It is also a method by which the solver re-engages with the problem at the level of details. That is, during the unconscious work the problem is engaged with at the level of ideas and concepts. During verification the solver can examine these ideas in closer details. Poincaré succinctly describes both of these purposes.

As for the calculations, themselves, they must be made in the second period of conscious work, that which follows the inspiration, that in which one verifies the results of this inspiration and deduces their consequences. (Poincaré 1952 , p. 62)

Aside from presenting this aforementioned theory on invention, Hadamard also engaged in a far-reaching discussion on a number of interesting, and sometimes quirky, aspects of invention and discovery that he had culled from the results of his empirical study, as well as from pertinent literature. This discussion was nicely summarized by Newman ( 2000 ) in his commentary on the elusiveness of invention.

The celebrated phrenologist Gall said mathematical ability showed itself in a bump on the head, the location of which he specified. The psychologist Souriau, we are told, maintained that invention occurs by “pure chance”, a valuable theory. It is often suggested that creative ideas are conjured up in “mathematical dreams”, but this attractive hypothesis has not been verified. Hadamard reports that mathematicians were asked whether “noises” or “meteorological circumstances” helped or hindered research [..] Claude Bernard, the great physiologist, said that in order to invent “one must think aside”. Hadamard says this is a profound insight; he also considers whether scientific invention may perhaps be improved by standing or sitting or by taking two baths in a row. Helmholtz and Poincaré worked sitting at a table; Hadamard’s practice is to pace the room (“Legs are the wheels of thought”, said Emile Angier); the chemist J. Teeple was the two-bath man. (p. 2039)

## 1.2.3 Discourses on Creativity

Creativity is a term that can be used both loosely and precisely. That is, while there exists a common usage of the term there also exists a tradition of academic discourse on the subject. A common usage of creative refers to a process or a person whose products are original, novel, unusual, or even abnormal (Csíkszentmihályi 1996 ). In such a usage, creativity is assessed on the basis of the external and observable products of the process, the process by which the product comes to be, or on the character traits of the person doing the ‘creating’. Each of these usages—product, process, person—is the roots of the discourses (Liljedahl and Allan 2014 ) that I summarize here, the first of which concerns products.

Consider a mother who states that her daughter is creative because she drew an original picture. The basis of such a statement can lie either in the fact that the picture is unlike any the mother has ever seen or unlike any her daughter has ever drawn before. This mother is assessing creativity on the basis of what her daughter has produced. However, the standards that form the basis of her assessment are neither consistent nor stringent. There does not exist a universal agreement as to what she is comparing the picture to (pictures by other children or other pictures by the same child). Likewise, there is no standard by which the actual quality of the picture is measured. The academic discourse that concerns assessment of products, on the other hand, is both consistent and stringent (Csíkszentmihályi 1996 ). This discourse concerns itself more with a fifth, and as yet unmentioned, stage of the creative process; elaboration . Elaboration is where inspiration becomes perspiration (Csíkszentmihályi 1996 ). It is the act of turning a good idea into a finished product, and the finished product is ultimately what determines the creativity of the process that spawned it—that is, it cannot be a creative process if nothing is created. In particular, this discourse demands that the product be assessed against other products within its field, by the members of that field, to determine if it is original AND useful (Csíkszentmihályi 1996 ; Bailin 1994 ). If it is, then the product is deemed to be creative. Note that such a use of assessment of end product pays very little attention to the actual process that brings this product forth.

The second discourse concerns the creative process. The literature pertaining to this can be separated into two categories—a prescriptive discussion of the creativity process and a descriptive discussion of the creativity process. Although both of these discussions have their roots in the four stages that Wallas ( 1926 ) proposed makes up the creative process, they make use of these stages in very different ways. The prescriptive discussion of the creative process is primarily focused on the first of the four stages, initiation , and is best summarized as a cause - and - effect discussion of creativity, where the thinking processes during the initiation stage are the cause and the creative outcome are the effects (Ghiselin 1952 ). Some of the literature claims that the seeds of creativity lie in being able to think about a problem or situation analogically. Other literature claims that utilizing specific thinking tools such as imagination, empathy, and embodiment will lead to creative products. In all of these cases, the underlying theory is that the eventual presentation of a creative idea will be precipitated by the conscious and deliberate efforts during the initiation stage. On the other hand, the literature pertaining to a descriptive discussion of the creative process is inclusive of all four stages (Kneller 1965 ; Koestler 1964 ). For example, Csíkszentmihályi ( 1996 ), in his work on flow attends to each of the stages, with much attention paid to the fluid area between conscious and unconscious work, or initiation and incubation. His claim is that the creative process is intimately connected to the enjoyment that exists during times of sincere and consuming engagement with a situation, the conditions of which he describes in great detail.

The third, and final, discourse on creativity pertains to the person. This discourse is space dominated by two distinct characteristics, habit and genius. Habit has to do with the personal habits as well as the habits of mind of people that have been deemed to be creative. However, creative people are most easily identified through their reputation for genius. Consequently, this discourse is often dominated by the analyses of the habits of geniuses as is seen in the work of Ghiselin ( 1952 ), Koestler ( 1964 ), and Kneller ( 1965 ) who draw on historical personalities such as Albert Einstein, Henri Poincaré, Vincent Van Gogh, D.H. Lawrence, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Igor Stravinsky, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to name a few. The result of this sort of treatment is that creative acts are viewed as rare mental feats, which are produced by extraordinary individuals who use extraordinary thought processes.

These different discourses on creativity can be summed up in a tension between absolutist and relativist perspectives on creativity (Liljedahl and Sriraman 2006 ). An absolutist perspective assumes that creative processes are the domain of genius and are present only as precursors to the creation of remarkably useful and universally novel products. The relativist perspective, on the other hand, allows for every individual to have moments of creativity that may, or may not, result in the creation of a product that may, or may not, be either useful or novel.

Between the work of a student who tries to solve a problem in geometry or algebra and a work of invention, one can say there is only a difference of degree. (Hadamard 1945 , p. 104).

Regardless of discourse, however, creativity is not “part of the theories of logical forms” (Dewey 1938 ). That is, creativity is not representative of the lock-step logic and deductive reasoning that mathematical problem solving is often presumed to embody (Bibby 2002 ; Burton 1999 ). Couple this with the aforementioned demanding constraints as to what constitutes a problem, where then does that leave problem solving heuristics? More specifically, are there creative problem solving heuristics that will allow us to resolve problems that require illumination to solve? The short answer to this question is yes—there does exist such problem solving heuristics. To understand these, however, we must first understand the routine problem solving heuristics they are built upon. In what follows, I walk through the work of key authors and researchers whose work offers us insights into progressively more creative problem solving heuristics for solving true problems.

## 1.2.4 Problem Solving by Design

In a general sense, design is defined as the algorithmic and deductive approach to solving a problem (Rusbult 2000 ). This process begins with a clearly defined goal or objective after which there is a great reliance on relevant past experience, referred to as repertoire (Bruner 1964 ; Schön 1987 ), to produce possible options that will lead towards a solution of the problem (Poincaré 1952 ). These options are then examined through a process of conscious evaluations (Dewey 1933 ) to determine their suitability for advancing the problem towards the final goal. In very simple terms, problem solving by design is the process of deducing the solution from that which is already known.

Mayer ( 1982 ), Schoenfeld ( 1982 ), and Silver ( 1982 ) state that prior knowledge is a key element in the problem solving process. Prior knowledge influences the problem solver’s understanding of the problem as well as the choice of strategies that will be called upon in trying to solve the problem. In fact, prior knowledge and prior experiences is all that a solver has to draw on when first attacking a problem. As a result, all problem solving heuristics incorporate this resource of past experiences and prior knowledge into their initial attack on a problem. Some heuristics refine these ideas, and some heuristics extend them (c.f. Kilpatrick 1985 ; Bruder 2000 ). Of the heuristics that refine, none is more influential than the one created by George Pólya (1887–1985).

## 1.2.5 George Pólya: How to Solve It

In his book How to Solve It (1949) Pólya lays out a problem solving heuristic that relies heavily on a repertoire of past experience. He summarizes the four-step process of his heuristic as follows:

Understanding the Problem

First. You have to understand the problem.

What is the unknown? What are the data? What is the condition?

Is it possible to satisfy the condition? Is the condition sufficient to determine the unknown? Or is it insufficient? Or redundant? Or contradictory?

Draw a figure. Introduce suitable notation.

Separate the various parts of the condition. Can you write them down?

Devising a Plan

Second. Find the connection between the data and the unknown. You may be obliged to consider auxiliary problems if an immediate connection cannot be found. You should obtain eventually a plan of the solution.

Have you seen it before? Or have you seen the same problem in a slightly different form?

Do you know a related problem? Do you know a theorem that could be useful?

Look at the unknown! And try to think of a familiar problem having the same or a similar unknown.

Here is a problem related to yours and solved before. Could you use it? Could you use its result? Could you use its method? Should you introduce some auxiliary element in order to make its use possible?

Could you restate the problem? Could you restate it still differently? Go back to definitions.

If you cannot solve the proposed problem try to solve first some related problem. Could you imagine a more accessible related problem? A more general problem? A more special problem? An analogous problem? Could you solve a part of the problem? Keep only a part of the condition, drop the other part; how far is the unknown then determined, how can it vary? Could you derive something useful from the data? Could you think of other data appropriate to determine the unknown? Could you change the unknown or data, or both if necessary, so that the new unknown and the new data are nearer to each other?

Did you use all the data? Did you use the whole condition? Have you taken into account all essential notions involved in the problem?

Carrying Out the Plan

Third. Carry out your plan.

Carrying out your plan of the solution, check each step. Can you see clearly that the step is correct? Can you prove that it is correct?

Looking Back

Fourth. Examine the solution obtained.

Can you check the result? Can you check the argument?

Can you derive the solution differently? Can you see it at a glance?

Can you use the result, or the method, for some other problem?

The emphasis on auxiliary problems, related problems, and analogous problems that are, in themselves, also familiar problems is an explicit manifestation of relying on a repertoire of past experience. This use of familiar problems also requires an ability to deduce from these related problems a recognizable and relevant attribute that will transfer to the problem at hand. The mechanism that allows for this transfer of knowledge between analogous problems is known as analogical reasoning (English 1997 , 1998 ; Novick 1988 , 1990 , 1995 ; Novick and Holyoak 1991 ) and has been shown to be an effective, but not always accessible, thinking strategy.

Step four in Pólya’s heuristic, looking back, is also a manifestation of utilizing prior knowledge to solve problems, albeit an implicit one. Looking back makes connections “in memory to previously acquired knowledge [..] and further establishes knowledge in long-term memory that may be elaborated in later problem-solving encounters” (Silver 1982 , p. 20). That is, looking back is a forward-looking investment into future problem solving encounters, it sets up connections that may later be needed.

Pólya’s heuristic is a refinement on the principles of problem solving by design. It not only makes explicit the focus on past experiences and prior knowledge, but also presents these ideas in a very succinct, digestible, and teachable manner. This heuristic has become a popular, if not the most popular, mechanism by which problem solving is taught and learned.

## 1.2.6 Alan Schoenfeld: Mathematical Problem Solving

The work of Alan Schoenfeld is also a refinement on the principles of problem solving by design. However, unlike Pólya ( 1949 ) who refined these principles at a theoretical level, Schoenfeld has refined them at a practical and empirical level. In addition to studying taught problem solving strategies he has also managed to identify and classify a variety of strategies, mostly ineffectual, that students invoke naturally (Schoenfeld 1985 , 1992 ). In so doing, he has created a better understanding of how students solve problems, as well as a better understanding of how problems should be solved and how problem solving should be taught.

For Schoenfeld, the problem solving process is ultimately a dialogue between the problem solver’s prior knowledge, his attempts, and his thoughts along the way (Schoenfeld 1982 ). As such, the solution path of a problem is an emerging and contextually dependent process. This is a departure from the predefined and contextually independent processes of Pólya’s ( 1949 ) heuristics. This can be seen in Schoenfeld’s ( 1982 ) description of a good problem solver.

To examine what accounts for expertise in problem solving, you would have to give the expert a problem for which he does not have access to a solution schema. His behavior in such circumstances is radically different from what you would see when he works on routine or familiar “non-routine” problems. On the surface his performance is no longer proficient; it may even seem clumsy. Without access to a solution schema, he has no clear indication of how to start. He may not fully understand the problem, and may simply “explore it for a while until he feels comfortable with it. He will probably try to “match” it to familiar problems, in the hope it can be transformed into a (nearly) schema-driven solution. He will bring up a variety of plausible things: related facts, related problems, tentative approaches, etc. All of these will have to be juggled and balanced. He may make an attempt solving it in a particular way, and then back off. He may try two or three things for a couple of minutes and then decide which to pursue. In the midst of pursuing one direction he may go back and say “that’s harder than it should be” and try something else. Or, after the comment, he may continue in the same direction. With luck, after some aborted attempts, he will solve the problem. (p. 32-33)

Aside from demonstrating the emergent nature of the problem solving process, this passage also brings forth two consequences of Schoenfeld’s work. The first of these is the existence of problems for which the solver does not have “access to a solution schema”. Unlike Pólya ( 1949 ), who’s heuristic is a ‘one size fits all (problems)’ heuristic, Schoenfeld acknowledges that problem solving heuristics are, in fact, personal entities that are dependent on the solver’s prior knowledge as well as their understanding of the problem at hand. Hence, the problems that a person can solve through his or her personal heuristic are finite and limited.

The second consequence that emerges from the above passage is that if a person lacks the solution schema to solve a given problem s/he may still solve the problem with the help of luck . This is an acknowledgement, if only indirectly so, of the difference between problem solving in an intentional and mechanical fashion verses problem solving in a more creative fashion, which is neither intentional nor mechanical (Pehkonen 1997 ).

## 1.2.7 David Perkins: Breakthrough Thinking

As mentioned, many consider a problem that can be solved by intentional and mechanical means to not be worthy of the title ‘problem’. As such, a repertoire of past experiences sufficient for dealing with such a ‘problem’ would disqualify it from the ranks of ‘problems’ and relegate it to that of ‘exercises’. For a problem to be classified as a ‘problem’, then, it must be ‘problematic’. Although such an argument is circular it is also effective in expressing the ontology of mathematical ‘problems’.

Perkins ( 2000 ) also requires problems to be problematic. His book Archimedes’ Bathtub: The Art and Logic of Breakthrough Thinking (2000) deals with situations in which the solver has gotten stuck and no amount of intentional or mechanical adherence to the principles of past experience and prior knowledge is going to get them unstuck. That is, he deals with problems that, by definition, cannot be solved through a process of design [or through the heuristics proposed by Pólya ( 1949 ) and Schoenfeld ( 1985 )]. Instead, the solver must rely on the extra-logical process of what Perkins ( 2000 ) calls breakthrough thinking .

Perkins ( 2000 ) begins by distinguishing between reasonable and unreasonable problems. Although both are solvable, only reasonable problems are solvable through reasoning. Unreasonable problems require a breakthrough in order to solve them. The problem, however, is itself inert. It is neither reasonable nor unreasonable. That quality is brought to the problem by the solver. That is, if a student cannot solve a problem by direct effort then that problem is deemed to be unreasonable for that student. Perkins ( 2000 ) also acknowledges that what is an unreasonable problem for one person is a perfectly reasonable problem for another person; reasonableness is dependent on the person.

This is not to say that, once found, the solution cannot be seen as accessible through reason. During the actual process of solving, however, direct and deductive reasoning does not work. Perkins ( 2000 ) uses several classic examples to demonstrate this, the most famous being the problem of connecting nine dots in a 3 × 3 array with four straight lines without removing pencil from paper, the solution to which is presented in Fig. 1 .

Nine dots—four lines problem and solution

To solve this problem, Perkins ( 2000 ) claims that the solver must recognize that the constraint of staying within the square created by the 3 × 3 array is a self-imposed constraint. He further claims that until this is recognized no amount of reasoning is going to solve the problem. That is, at this point in the problem solving process the problem is unreasonable. However, once this self-imposed constraint is recognized the problem, and the solution, are perfectly reasonable. Thus, the solution of an, initially, unreasonable problem is reasonable.

The problem solving heuristic that Perkins ( 2000 ) has constructed to deal with solvable, but unreasonable, problems revolves around the idea of breakthrough thinking and what he calls breakthrough problems . A breakthrough problem is a solvable problem in which the solver has gotten stuck and will require an AHA! to get unstuck and solve the problem. Perkins ( 2000 ) poses that there are only four types of solvable unreasonable problems, which he has named wilderness of possibilities , the clueless plateau , narrow canyon of exploration , and oasis of false promise . The names for the first three of these types of problems are related to the Klondike gold rush in Alaska, a time and place in which gold was found more by luck than by direct and systematic searching.

The wilderness of possibilities is a term given to a problem that has many tempting directions but few actual solutions. This is akin to a prospector searching for gold in the Klondike. There is a great wilderness in which to search, but very little gold to be found. The clueless plateau is given to problems that present the solver with few, if any, clues as to how to solve it. The narrow canyon of exploration is used to describe a problem that has become constrained in such a way that no solution now exists. The nine-dot problem presented above is such a problem. The imposed constraint that the lines must lie within the square created by the array makes a solution impossible. This is identical to the metaphor of a prospector searching for gold within a canyon where no gold exists. The final type of problem gets its name from the desert. An oasis of false promise is a problem that allows the solver to quickly get a solution that is close to the desired outcome; thereby tempting them to remain fixed on the strategy that they used to get this almost-answer. The problem is, that like the canyon, the solution does not exist at the oasis; the solution strategy that produced an almost-answer is incapable of producing a complete answer. Likewise, a desert oasis is a false promise in that it is only a reprieve from the desolation of the dessert and not a final destination.

Believing that there are only four ways to get stuck, Perkins ( 2000 ) has designed a problem solving heuristic that will “up the chances” of getting unstuck. This heuristic is based on what he refers to as “the logic of lucking out” (p. 44) and is built on the idea of introspection. By first recognizing that they are stuck, and then recognizing that the reason they are stuck can only be attributed to one of four reasons, the solver can access four strategies for getting unstuck, one each for the type of problem they are dealing with. If the reason they are stuck is because they are faced with a wilderness of possibilities they are to begin roaming far, wide, and systematically in the hope of reducing the possible solution space to one that is more manageable. If they find themselves on a clueless plateau they are to begin looking for clues, often in the wording of the problem. When stuck in a narrow canyon of possibilities they need to re-examine the problem and see if they have imposed any constraints. Finally, when in an oasis of false promise they need to re-attack the problem in such a way that they stay away from the oasis.

Of course, there are nuances and details associated with each of these types of problems and the strategies for dealing with them. However, nowhere within these details is there mention of the main difficulty inherent in introspection; that it is much easier for the solver to get stuck than it is for them to recognize that they are stuck. Once recognized, however, the details of Perkins’ ( 2000 ) heuristic offer the solver some ways for recognizing why they are stuck.

## 1.2.8 John Mason, Leone Burton, and Kaye Stacey: Thinking Mathematically

The work of Mason et al. in their book Thinking Mathematically ( 1982 ) also recognizes the fact that for each individual there exists problems that will not yield to their intentional and mechanical attack. The heuristic that they present for dealing with this has two main processes with a number of smaller phases, rubrics, and states. The main processes are what they refer to as specializing and generalizing. Specializing is the process of getting to know the problem and how it behaves through the examination of special instances of the problem. This process is synonymous with problem solving by design and involves the repeated oscillation between the entry and attack phases of Mason et al. ( 1982 ) heuristic. The entry phase is comprised of ‘getting started’ and ‘getting involved’ with the problem by using what is immediately known about it. Attacking the problem involves conjecturing and testing a number of hypotheses in an attempt to gain greater understanding of the problem and to move towards a solution.

At some point within this process of oscillating between entry and attack the solver will get stuck, which Mason et al. ( 1982 ) refer to as “an honourable and positive state, from which much can be learned” (p. 55). The authors dedicate an entire chapter to this state in which they acknowledge that getting stuck occurs long before an awareness of being stuck develops. They proposes that the first step to dealing with being stuck is the simple act of writing STUCK!

The act of expressing my feelings helps to distance me from my state of being stuck. It frees me from incapacitating emotions and reminds me of actions that I can take. (p. 56)

The next step is to reengage the problem by examining the details of what is known, what is wanted, what can be introduced into the problem, and what has been introduced into the problem (imposed assumptions). This process is engaged in until an AHA!, which advances the problem towards a solution, is encountered. If, at this point, the problem is not completely solved the oscillation is then resumed.

At some point in this process an attack on the problem will yield a solution and generalizing can begin. Generalizing is the process by which the specifics of a solution are examined and questions as to why it worked are investigated. This process is synonymous with the verification and elaboration stages of invention and creativity. Generalization may also include a phase of review that is similar to Pólya’s ( 1949 ) looking back.

## 1.2.9 Gestalt: The Psychology of Problem Solving

The Gestalt psychology of learning believes that all learning is based on insights (Koestler 1964 ). This psychology emerged as a response to behaviourism, which claimed that all learning was a response to external stimuli. Gestalt psychologists, on the other hand, believed that there was a cognitive process involved in learning as well. With regards to problem solving, the Gestalt school stands firm on the belief that problem solving, like learning, is a product of insight and as such, cannot be taught. In fact, the theory is that not only can problem solving not be taught, but also that attempting to adhere to any sort of heuristic will impede the working out of a correct solution (Krutestkii 1976 ). Thus, there exists no Gestalt problem solving heuristic. Instead, the practice is to focus on the problem and the solution rather than on the process of coming up with a solution. Problems are solved by turning them over and over in the mind until an insight, a viable avenue of attack, presents itself. At the same time, however, there is a great reliance on prior knowledge and past experiences. The Gestalt method of problem solving, then, is at the same time very different and very similar to the process of design.

Gestalt psychology has not fared well during the evolution of cognitive psychology. Although it honours the work of the unconscious mind it does so at the expense of practicality. If learning is, indeed, entirely based on insight then there is little point in continuing to study learning. “When one begins by assuming that the most important cognitive phenomena are inaccessible, there really is not much left to talk about” (Schoenfeld 1985 , p. 273). However, of interest here is the Gestalt psychologists’ claim that focus on problem solving methods creates functional fixedness (Ashcraft 1989 ). Mason et al. ( 1982 ), as well as Perkins ( 2000 ) deal with this in their work on getting unstuck.

## 1.2.10 Final Comments

Mathematics has often been characterized as the most precise of all sciences. Lost in such a misconception is the fact that mathematics often has its roots in the fires of creativity, being born of the extra-logical processes of illumination and intuition. Problem solving heuristics that are based solely on the processes of logical and deductive reasoning distort the true nature of problem solving. Certainly, there are problems in which logical deductive reasoning is sufficient for finding a solution. But these are not true problems. True problems need the extra-logical processes of creativity, insight, and illumination, in order to produce solutions.

Fortunately, as elusive as such processes are, there does exist problem solving heuristics that incorporate them into their strategies. Heuristics such as those by Perkins ( 2000 ) and Mason et al. ( 1982 ) have found a way of combining the intentional and mechanical processes of problem solving by design with the extra-logical processes of creativity, illumination, and the AHA!. Furthermore, they have managed to do so without having to fully comprehend the inner workings of this mysterious process.

## 1.3 Digital Technologies and Mathematical Problem Solving—Luz Manuel Santos-Trigo

Mathematical problem solving is a field of research that focuses on analysing the extent to which problem solving activities play a crucial role in learners’ understanding and use of mathematical knowledge. Mathematical problems are central in mathematical practice to develop the discipline and to foster students learning (Pólya 1945 ; Halmos 1994 ). Mason and Johnston-Wilder ( 2006 ) pointed out that “The purpose of a task is to initiate mathematically fruitful activity that leads to a transformation in what learners are sensitized to notice and competent to carry out” (p. 25). Tasks are essential for learners to elicit their ideas and to engage them in mathematical thinking. In a problem solving approach, what matters is the learners’ goals and ways to interact with the tasks. That is, even routine tasks can be a departure point for learners to extend initial conditions and transform them into some challenging activities.

Thus, analysing and characterizing ways in which mathematical problems are formulated (Singer et al. 2015 ) and the process involved in pursuing and solving those problems generate important information to frame and structure learning environments to guide and foster learners’ construction of mathematical concepts and problem solving competences (Santos-Trigo 2014 ). Furthermore, mathematicians or discipline practitioners have often been interested in unveiling and sharing their own experience while developing the discipline. As a results, they have provided valuable information to characterize mathematical practices and their relations to what learning processes of the discipline entails. It is recognized that the work of Pólya ( 1945 ) offered not only bases to launch several research programs in problem solving (Schoenfeld 1992 ; Mason et al. 1982 ); but also it became an essential resource for teachers to orient and structure their mathematical lessons (Krulik and Reys 1980 ).

## 1.3.1 Research Agenda

A salient feature of a problem solving approach to learn mathematics is that teachers and students develop and apply an enquiry or inquisitive method to delve into mathematical concepts and tasks. How are mathematical problems or concepts formulated? What types of problems are important for teachers/learners to discuss and engage in mathematical reasoning? What mathematical processes and ways of reasoning are involved in understanding mathematical concepts and solving problems? What are the features that distinguish an instructional environment that fosters problem-solving activities? How can learners’ problem solving competencies be assessed? How can learners’ problem solving competencies be characterized and explained? How can learners use digital technologies to understand mathematics and to develop problem-solving competencies? What ways of reasoning do learners construct when they use digital technologies in problem solving approaches? These types of questions have been important in the problem solving research agenda and delving into them has led researchers to generate information and results to support and frame curriculum proposals and learning scenarios. The purpose of this section is to present and discuss important themes that emerged in problem solving approaches that rely on the systematic use of several digital technologies.

In the last 40 years, the accumulated knowledge in the problem solving field has shed lights on both a characterization of what mathematical thinking involves and how learners can construct a robust knowledge in problem solving environments (Schoenfeld 1992 ). In this process, the field has contributed to identify what types of transformations traditional learning scenarios might consider when teachers and students incorporate the use of digital technologies in mathematical classrooms. In this context, it is important to briefly review what main themes and developments the field has addressed and achieved during the last 40 years.

## 1.3.2 Problem Solving Developments

There are traces of mathematical problems and solutions throughout the history of civilization that explain the humankind interest for identifying and exploring mathematical relations (Kline 1972 ). Pólya ( 1945 ) reflects on his own practice as a mathematician to characterize the process of solving mathematical problems through four main phases: Understanding the problem, devising a plan, carrying out the plan, and looking back. Likewise, Pólya ( 1945 ) presents and discusses the role played by heuristic methods throughout all problem solving phases. Schoenfeld ( 1985 ) presents a problem solving research program based on Pólya’s ( 1945 ) ideas to investigate the extent to which problem solving heuristics help university students to solve mathematical problems and to develop a way of thinking that shows consistently features of mathematical practices. As a result, he explains the learners’ success or failure in problem solving activities can be characterized in terms their mathematical resources and ways to access them, cognitive and metacognitive strategies used to represent and explore mathematical tasks, and systems of beliefs about mathematics and solving problems. In addition, Schoenfeld ( 1992 ) documented that heuristics methods as illustrated in Pólya’s ( 1945 ) book are ample and general and do not include clear information and directions about how learners could assimilate, learn, and use them in their problem solving experiences. He suggested that students need to discuss what it means, for example, to think of and examining special cases (one important heuristic) in finding a closed formula for series or sequences, analysing relationships of roots of polynomials, or focusing on regular polygons or equilateral/right triangles to find general relations about these figures. That is, learners need to work on examples that lead them to recognize that the use of a particular heuristic often involves thinking of different type of cases depending on the domain or content involved. Lester and Kehle ( 2003 ) summarize themes and methodological shifts in problem solving research up to 1995. Themes include what makes a problem difficult for students and what it means to be successful problem solvers; studying and contrasting experts and novices’ problem solving approaches; learners’ metacognitive, beliefs systems and the influence of affective behaviours; and the role of context; and social interactions in problem solving environments. Research methods in problem solving studies have gone from emphasizing quantitative or statistical design to the use of cases studies and ethnographic methods (Krutestkii ( 1976 ). Teaching strategies also evolved from being centred on teachers to the active students’ engagement and collaboration approaches (NCTM 2000 ). Lesh and Zawojewski ( 2007 ) propose to extend problem solving approaches beyond class setting and they introduce the construct “model eliciting activities” to delve into the learners’ ideas and thinking as a way to engage them in the development of problem solving experiences. To this end, learners develop and constantly refine problem-solving competencies as a part of a learning community that promotes and values modelling construction activities. Recently, English and Gainsburg ( 2016 ) have discussed the importance of modeling eliciting activities to prepare and develop students’ problem solving experiences for 21st Century challenges and demands.

Törner et al. ( 2007 ) invited mathematics educators worldwide to elaborate on the influence and developments of problem solving in their countries. Their contributions show a close relationship between countries mathematical education traditions and ways to frame and implement problem solving approaches. In Chinese classrooms, for example, three instructional strategies are used to structure problem solving lessons: one problem multiple solutions , multiple problems one solution , and one problem multiple changes . In the Netherlands, the realistic mathematical approach permeates the students’ development of problem solving competencies; while in France, problem solving activities are structured in terms of two influential frameworks: The theory of didactical situations and anthropological theory of didactics.

In general, problem solving frameworks and instructional approaches came from analysing students’ problem solving experiences that involve or rely mainly on the use of paper and pencil work. Thus, there is a need to re-examined principles and frameworks to explain what learners develop in learning environments that incorporate systematically the coordinated use of digital technologies (Hoyles and Lagrange 2010 ). In this perspective, it becomes important to briefly describe and identify what both multiple purpose and ad hoc technologies can offer to the students in terms of extending learning environments and representing and exploring mathematical tasks. Specifically, a task is used to identify features of mathematical reasoning that emerge through the use digital technologies that include both mathematical action and multiple purpose types of technologies.

## 1.3.3 Background

Digital technologies are omnipresent and their use permeates and shapes several social and academic events. Mobile devices such as tablets or smart phones are transforming the way people communicate, interact and carry out daily activities. Churchill et al. ( 2016 ) pointed out that mobile technologies provide a set of tools and affordances to structure and support learning environments in which learners continuously interact to construct knowledge and solve problems. The tools include resources or online materials, efficient connectivity to collaborate and discuss problems, ways to represent, explore and store information, and analytical and administration tools to management learning activities. Schmidt and Cohen ( 2013 ) stated that nowadays it is difficult to imagine a life without mobile devices, and communication technologies are playing a crucial role in generating both cultural and technical breakthroughs. In education, the use of mobile artefacts and computers offers learners the possibility of continuing and extending peers and groups’ mathematical discussions beyond formal settings. In this process, learners can also consult online materials and interact with experts, peers or more experienced students while working on mathematical tasks. In addition, dynamic geometry systems (GeoGebra) provide learners a set of affordances to represent and explore dynamically mathematical problems. Leung and Bolite-Frant ( 2015 ) pointed out that tools help activate an interactive environment in which teachers and students’ mathematical experiences get enriched. Thus, the digital age brings new challenges to the mathematics education community related to the changes that technologies produce to curriculum, learning scenarios, and ways to represent, explore mathematical situations. In particular, it is important to characterize the type of reasoning that learners can develop as a result of using digital technologies in their process of learning concepts and solving mathematical problems.

## 1.3.4 A Focus on Mathematical Tasks

Mathematical tasks are essential elements for engaging learners in mathematical reasoning which involves representing objects, identifying and exploring their properties in order to detect invariants or relationships and ways to support them. Watson and Ohtani ( 2015 ) stated that task design involves discussions about mathematical content and students’ learning (cognitive perspective), about the students’ experiences to understand the nature of mathematical activities; and about the role that tasks played in teaching practices. In this context, tasks are the vehicle to present and discuss theoretical frameworks for supporting the use of digital technology, to analyse the importance of using digital technologies in extending learners’ mathematical discussions beyond formal settings, and to design ways to foster and assess the use of technologies in learners’ problem solving environments. In addition, it is important to discuss contents, concepts, representations and strategies involved in the process of using digital technologies in approaching the tasks. Similarly, it becomes essential to discuss what types of activities students will do to learn and solve the problems in an environment where the use of technologies fosters and values the participation and collaboration of all students. What digital technologies are important to incorporate in problem solving approaches? Dynamic Geometry Systems can be considered as a milestone in the development of digital technologies. Objects or mathematical situations can be represented dynamically through the use of a Dynamic Geometry System and learners or problem solvers can identify and examine mathematical relations that emerge from moving objects within the dynamic model (Moreno-Armella and Santos-Trigo 2016 ).

Leung and Bolite-Frant ( 2015 ) stated that “dynamic geometry software can be used in task design to cover a large epistemic spectrum from drawing precise robust geometrical figures to exploration of new geometric theorems and development of argumentation discourse” (p. 195). As a result, learners not only need to develop skills and strategies to construct dynamic configuration of problems; but also ways of relying on the tool’s affordances (quantifying parameters or objects attributes, generating loci, graphing objects behaviours, using sliders, or dragging particular elements within the configuration) in order to identify and support mathematical relations. What does it mean to represent and explore an object or mathematical situation dynamically?

A simple task that involves a rhombus and its inscribed circle is used to illustrate how a dynamic representation of these objects and embedded elements can lead learners to identify and examine mathematical properties of those objects in the construction of the configuration. To this end, learners are encouraged to pose and pursue questions to explain the behaviours of parameters or attributes of the family of objects that is generated as a result of moving a particular element within the configuration.

## 1.3.5 A Task: A Dynamic Rhombus

Figure 2 represents a rhombus APDB and its inscribed circle (O is intersection of diagonals AD and BP and the radius of the inscribed circle is the perpendicular segment from any side of the rhombus to point O), vertex P lies on a circle c centred at point A. Circle c is only a heuristic to generate a family of rhombuses. Thus, point P can be moved along circle c to generate a family of rhombuses. Indeed, based on the symmetry of the circle it is sufficient to move P on the semicircle B’CA to draw such a family of rhombuses.

A dynamic construction of a rhombus

## 1.3.6 Posing Questions

A goal in constructing a dynamic model or configuration of problems is always to identify and explore mathematical properties and relations that might result from moving objects within the model. How do the areas of both the rhombus and the inscribed circle behave when point P is moved along the arc B’CB? At what position of point P does the area of the rhombus or inscribed circle reach the maximum value? The coordinates of points S and Q (Fig. 3 ) are the x -value of point P and as y -value the corresponding area values of rhombus ABDP and the inscribed circle respectively. Figure 2 shows the loci of points S and Q when point P is moved along arc B’CB. Here, finding the locus via the use of GeoGebra is another heuristic to graph the area behaviour without making explicit the algebraic model of the area.

Graphic representation of the area variation of the family of rhombuses and inscribed circles generated when P is moved through arc B’CB

The area graphs provide information to visualize that in that family of generated rhombuses the maximum area value of the inscribed circle and rhombus is reached when the rhombus becomes a square (Fig. 4 ). That is, the controlled movement of particular objects is an important strategy to analyse the area variation of the family of rhombuses and their inscribed circles.

Visualizing the rhombus and the inscribed circle with maximum area

It is important to observe the identification of points P and Q in terms of the position of point P and the corresponding areas and the movement of point P was sufficient to generate both area loci. That is, the graph representation of the areas is achieved without having an explicit algebraic expression of the area variation. Clearly, the graphic representations provide information regarding the increasing or decreasing interval of both areas; it is also important to explore what properties both graphic representations hold. The goal is to argue that the area variation of the rhombus represents an ellipse and the area of the inscribed circle represents a parabola. An initial argument might involve selecting five points on each locus and using the tool to draw the corresponding conic section (Fig. 5 ). In this case, the tool affordances play an important role in generating the graphic representation of the areas’ behaviours and in identifying properties of those representations. In this context, the use of the tool can offer learners the opportunity to problematize (Santos-Trigo 2007 ) a simple mathematical object (rhombus) as a means to search for mathematical relations and ways to support them.

Drawing the conic section that passes through five points

## 1.3.7 Looking for Different Solutions Methods

Another line of exploration might involve asking for ways to construct a rhombus and its inscribed circle: Suppose that the side of the rhombus and the circle are given, how can you construct the rhombus that has that circle inscribed? Figure 6 shows the given data, segment A 1 B 1 and circle centred at O and radius OD. The initial goal is to draw the circle tangent to the given segment. To this end, segment AB is congruent to segment A 1 B 1 and on this segment a point P is chosen and a perpendicular to segment AB that passes through point P is drawn. Point C is on this perpendicular and the centre of a circle with radius OD and h is the perpendicular to line PC that passes through point C. Angle ACB changes when point P is moved along segment AB and point E and F are the intersection of line h and the circle with centre M the midpoint of AB and radius MA (Fig. 6 ).

Drawing segment AB tangent to the given circle

Figure 7 a shows the right triangle AFB as the base to construct the rhombus and the inscribed circle and Fig. 7 b shows the second solution based on triangle AEB.

a Drawing the rhombus and the inscribed circle. b Drawing the second solution

Another approach might involve drawing the given circle centred at the origin and the segment as EF with point E on the y-axis. Line OC is perpendicular to segment EF and the locus of point C when point E moves along the y-axis intersects the given circle (Fig. 8 a, b). Both figures show two solutions to draw the rhombus that circumscribe the given circle.

a and b Another solution that involves finding a locus of point C

In this example, the GeoGebra affordances not only are important to construct a dynamic model of the task; but also offer learners and opportunity to explore relations that emerge from moving objects within the model. As a result, learners can rely on different concepts and strategies to solve the tasks. The idea in presenting this rhombus task is to illustrate that the use of a Dynamic Geometry System provides affordances for learners to construct dynamic representation of mathematical objects or problems, to move elements within the representation to pose questions or conjectures to explain invariants or patterns among involved parameters; to search for arguments to support emerging conjectures, and to develop a proper language to communicate results.

## 1.3.8 Looking Back

Conceptual frameworks used to explain learners’ construction of mathematical knowledge need to capture or take into account the different ways of reasoning that students might develop as a result of using a set of tools during the learning experiences. Figure 9 show some digital technologies that learners can use for specific purpose at the different stages of problem solving activities.

The coordinated use of digital tools to engage learners in problem solving experiences

The use of a dynamic system (GeoGebra) provides a set of affordances for learners to conceptualize and represent mathematical objects and tasks dynamically. In this process, affordances such as moving objects orderly (dragging), finding loci of objects, quantifying objects attributes (lengths, areas, angles, etc.), using sliders to vary parameters, and examining family of objects became important to look for invariance or objects relationships. Likewise, analysing the parameters or objects behaviours within the configuration might lead learners to identify properties to support emerging mathematical relations. Thus, with the use of the tool, learners might conceptualize mathematical tasks as an opportunity for them to engage in mathematical activities that include constructing dynamic models of tasks, formulating conjectures, and always looking for different arguments to support them. Similarly, learners can use an online platform to share their ideas, problem solutions or questions in a digital wall and others students can also share ideas or solution methods and engaged in mathematical discussions that extend mathematical classroom activities.

## 1.4 Problem Posing: An Overview for Further Progress—Uldarico Malaspina Jurado

Problem posing and problem solving are two essential aspects of the mathematical activity; however, researchers in mathematics education have not emphasized their attention on problem posing as much as problem solving. In that sense, due to its importance in the development of mathematical thinking in students since the first grades, we agree with Ellerton’s statement ( 2013 ): “for too long, successful problem solving has been lauded as the goal; the time has come for problem posing to be given a prominent but natural place in mathematics curricula and classrooms” (pp. 100–101); and due to its importance in teacher training, with Abu-Elwan’s statement ( 1999 ):

While teacher educators generally recognize that prospective teachers require guidance in mastering the ability to confront and solve problems, what is often overlooked is the critical fact that, as teachers, they must be able to go beyond the role as problem solvers. That is, in order to promote a classroom situation where creative problem solving is the central focus, the practitioner must become skillful in discovering and correctly posing problems that need solutions. (p. 1)

Scientists like Einstein and Infeld ( 1938 ), recognized not only for their notable contributions in the fields they worked, but also for their reflections on the scientific activity, pointed out the importance of problem posing; thus it is worthwhile to highlight their statement once again:

The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skills. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old questions from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science. (p. 92)

Certainly, it is also relevant to remember mathematician Halmos’s statement ( 1980 ): “I do believe that problems are the heart of mathematics, and I hope that as teachers (…) we will train our students to be better problem posers and problem solvers than we are” (p. 524).

An important number of researchers in mathematics education has focused on the importance of problem posing, and we currently have numerous, very important publications that deal with different aspects of problem posing related to the mathematics education of students in all educational levels and to teacher training.

## 1.4.1 A Retrospective Look

Kilpatrick ( 1987 ) marked a historical milestone in research related to problem posing and points out that “problem formulating should be viewed not only as a goal of instruction but also as a means of instruction” (Kilpatrick 1987 , p. 123); and he also emphasizes that, as part of students’ education, all of them should be given opportunities to live the experience of discovering and posing their own problems. Drawing attention to the few systematic studies on problem posing performed until then, Kilpatrick contributes defining some aspects that required studying and investigating as steps prior to a theoretical building, though he warns, “attempts to teach problem-formulating skills, of course, need not await a theory” (p. 124).

Kilpatrick refers to the “Source of problems” and points out how virtually all problems students solve have been posed by another person; however, in real life “many problems, if not most, must be created or discovered by the solver, who gives the problem an initial formulation” (p. 124). He also points out that problems are reformulated as they are being solved, and he relates this to investigation, reminding us what Davis ( 1985 ) states that, “what typically happens in a prolonged investigation is that problem formulation and problem solution go hand in hand, each eliciting the other as the investigation progresses” (p. 23). He also relates it to the experiences of software designers, who formulate an appropriate sequence of sub-problems to solve a problem. He poses that a subject to be examined by teachers and researchers “is whether, by drawing students’ attention to the reformulating process and given them practice in it, we can improve their problem solving performance” (p. 130). He also points out that problems may be a mathematical formulation as a result of exploring a situation and, in that sense, “school exercises in constructing mathematical models of a situation presented by the teacher are intended to provide students with experiences in formulating problems.” (p. 131).

Another important section of Kilpatrick’s work ( 1987 ) is Processes of Problem Formulating , in which he considers association, analogy, generalization and contradiction. He believes the use of concept maps to represent concept organization, as cognitive scientists Novak and Gowin suggest, might help to comprehend such concepts, stimulate creative thinking about them, and complement the ideas Brown and Walter ( 1983 ) give for problem posing by association. Further, in the section “Understanding and developing problem formulating abilities”, he poses several questions, which have not been completely answered yet, like “Perhaps the central issue from the point of view of cognitive science is what happens when someone formulates the problem? (…) What is the relation between problem formulating, problem solving and structured knowledge base? How rich a knowledge base is needed for problem formulating? (…) How does experience in problem formulating add to knowledge base? (…) What metacognitive processes are needed for problem formulating?”

It is interesting to realize that some of these questions are among the unanswered questions proposed and analyzed by Cai et al. ( 2015 ) in Chap. 1 of the book Mathematical Problem Posing (Singer et al. 2015 ). It is worth stressing the emphasis on the need to know the cognitive processes in problem posing, an aspect that Kilpatrick had already posed in 1987, as we just saw.

## 1.4.2 Researches and Didactic Experiences

Currently, there are a great number of publications related to problem posing, many of which are research and didactic experiences that gather the questions posed by Kilpatrick, which we just commented. Others came up naturally as reflections raised in the framework of problem solving, facing the natural requirement of having appropriate problems to use results and suggestions of researches on problem solving, or as a response to a thoughtful attitude not to resign to solving and asking students to solve problems that are always created by others. Why not learn and teach mathematics posing one’s own problems?

## 1.4.3 New Directions of Research

Singer et al. ( 2013 ) provides a broad view about problem posing that links problem posing experiences to general mathematics education; to the development of abilities, attitudes and creativity; and also to its interrelation with problem solving, and studies on when and how problem-solving sessions should take place. Likewise, it provides information about research done regarding ways to pose new problems and about the need for teachers to develop abilities to handle complex situations in problem posing contexts.

Singer et al. ( 2013 ) identify new directions in problem posing research that go from problem-posing task design to the development of problem-posing frameworks to structure and guide teachers and students’ problem posing experiences. In a chapter of this book, Leikin refers to three different types of problem posing activities, associated with school mathematics research: (a) problem posing through proving; (b) problem posing for investigation; and (c) problem posing through investigation. This classification becomes evident in the problems posed in a course for prospective secondary school mathematics teachers by using a dynamic geometry environment. Prospective teachers posed over 25 new problems, several of which are discussed in the article. The author considers that, by developing this type of problem posing activities, prospective mathematics teachers may pose different problems related to a geometric object, prepare more interesting lessons for their students, and thus gradually develop their mathematical competence and their creativity.

## 1.4.4 Final Comments

This overview, though incomplete, allows us to see a part of what problem posing experiences involve and the importance of this area in students mathematical learning. An important task is to continue reflecting on the questions posed by Kilpatrick ( 1987 ), as well as on the ones that come up in the different researches aforementioned. To continue progressing in research on problem posing and contribute to a greater consolidation of this research line, it will be really important that all mathematics educators pay more attention to problem posing, seek to integrate approaches and results, and promote joint and interdisciplinary works. As Singer et al. ( 2013 ) say, going back to Kilpatrick’s proposal ( 1987 ),

Problem posing is an old issue. What is new is the awareness that problem posing needs to pervade the education systems around the world, both as a means of instruction (…) and as an object of instruction (…) with important targets in real-life situations. (p. 5)

Although it can be argued that there is a difference between creativity, discovery, and invention (see Liljedahl and Allan 2014 ) for the purposes of this book these will be assumed to be interchangeable.

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## Further Reading

Boaler, J. (1997). Experiencing school mathematics: Teaching styles, sex, and setting . Buckingham, PA: Open University Press.

Borwein, P., Liljedahl, P., & Zhai, H. (2014). Mathematicians on creativity. Mathematical Association of America.

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Gardner, M. (1982). Aha! gotcha: Paradoxes to puzzle and delight . New York, NY: W. H. Freeman and Company.

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Hersh, D. (1997). What is mathematics, really? . New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Root-Bernstein, R., & Root-Bernstein, M. (1999). Sparks of genius: The thirteen thinking tools of the world’s most creative people . Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Zeitz, P. (2006). The art and craft of problem solving . New York, NY: Willey.

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Liljedahl, P., Santos-Trigo, M., Malaspina, U., Bruder, R. (2016). Problem Solving in Mathematics Education. In: Problem Solving in Mathematics Education. ICME-13 Topical Surveys. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-40730-2_1

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## Word Problems Explained For Elementary School Teachers & Parents

Sophie bartlett.

Solving word problems in elementary school is an essential part of the math curriculum. Here are over 30 math word problems to practice with children, plus expert guidance on how to solve them.

This blog is part of our series of blogs designed for teachers, schools, and parents supporting home learning .

## What is a word problem?

Isn’t brilliant arithmetic enough, mastery helps children to explore math in greater depth, how to teach children to solve word problems , math word problems for kindergarten to grade 5, topic based word problems.

A word problem in math is a math question written as one sentence or more that requires children to apply their math knowledge to a ‘real-life’ scenario.

This means that children must be familiar with the vocabulary associated with the mathematical symbols they are used to, in order to make sense of the word problem.

For example:

## Word Problems Grade 4 Number and Base 10

11 grade 4 number and base 10 questions to develop your students' reasoning and problem solving skills.

In short, no. Students need to build good reading comprehension, even in math. Overtime math problems become increasingly complex and require students to possess deep conceptual understanding and the ability to recall and apply knowledge rapidly and accurately.

As students progress through their mathematical education, they will need to be able to apply mathematical reasoning and develop mathematical arguments and proofs using math language. They will also need to be dynamic, applying their math knowledge to a variety of increasingly sophisticated problems.

## To support this schools are adopting a ‘mastery’ approach to math

“Teaching for mastery”, is defined with these components:

- Math teaching for mastery rejects the idea that a large proportion of people ‘just can’t do math’.
- All students are encouraged by the belief that by working hard at math they can succeed.
- Procedural fluency and conceptual understanding are developed in tandem because each supports the development of the other.
- Significant time is spent developing deep knowledge of the key ideas that are needed to support future learning. The structure and connections within the mathematics are emphasized, so that students develop deep learning that can be sustained.

(The Essence of Maths Teaching for Mastery, 2016)

Fluency in arithmetic is important; however, with this often lies the common misconception that once a child has learned the number skills appropriate to their grade level/age, they should be progressed to the next grade level/age of number skills.

The mastery approach encourages exploring the breadth and depth of these math concepts (once fluency is secure) through reasoning and problem solving.

Here are two simple strategies that can be applied to many word problems before solving them.

- What do you already know?
- How can this problem be drawn/represented pictorially?

Let’s see how this can be applied to word problems to help achieve the answer.

## Solving a simple word problem

There are 28 students in a class.

The teacher has 8 liters of orange juice.

She pours 225 milliliters of orange juice for every student.

How much orange juice is left over?

1. What do you already know?

- There are 1,000ml in 1 liter
- Pours = liquid leaving the bottle = subtraction
- For every = multiply
- Left over = requires subtraction at some point

2. How can this problem be drawn/represented pictorially?

The bar model , also known as strip diagram , is always a great way of representing problems. However, if you are not familiar with this, there are always other ways of drawing it out.

Read more: What is a bar model

For example, for this question, you could draw 28 students (or stick man x 28) with ‘225 ml’ above each one and then a half-empty bottle with ‘8 liters’ marked at the top.

Now to put the math to work. This is a 5th grade multi-step problem, so we need to use what we already know and what we’ve drawn to break down the steps.

## Solving a more complex, mixed word problem

Mara is in a bookshop.

She buys one book for $6.99 and another that costs $3.40 more than the first book.

She pays using a $20 bill.

What change does Mara get? (What is the remainder?)

- More than = add
- Using decimals means I will have to line up the decimal points correctly in calculations
- Change from money = subtract

See this example of bar modelling for this question:

Now to put the math to work using what we already know and what we’ve drawn to break down the steps.

Mara is in a bookshop.

She buys one book for $6.99 and another that costs $3.40 more than the first book. 1) $6.99 + ($6.99 + $3.40) = $17.38

What change does Mara get? 2) $20 – $17.38 = $2.62

The more children learn about math as they go through elementary school, the trickier the word problems they face will become.

Below you will find some information about the types of word problems your child will be coming up against on a year by year basis, and how word problems apply to each elementary grade.

## Word problems in kindergarten

Throughout kindergarten a child is likely to be introduced to word problems with the help of concrete resources (manipulatives, such as pieces of physical apparatus like coins, cards, counters or number lines) to help them understand the problem.

An example of a word problem for kindergarten would be

Chris has 3 red bounce balls and 2 green bounce balls. How many bounce balls does Chris have in all?

## Word problems in 1st grade

First grade is a continuation of kindergarten when it comes to word problems, with children still using concrete resources to help them understand and visualize the problems they are working on

An example of a word problem for first grade would be:

A class of 10 children each have 5 pencils in their pencil cases. How many pencils are there in total?

## Word problems in 2nd grade

In second grade, children will move away from using concrete resources when solving word problems, and move towards using written methods. Teachers will begin to demonstrate the adding and subtracting within 100, adding up to 4- two-digit numbers at a time.

This is also the year in which 2-step word problems will be introduced. This is a problem which requires two individual calculations to be completed.

## 2nd grade word problem: geometry properties of shape

Shaun is making shapes out of plastic straws.

At the vertices where the straws meet, he uses blobs of modeling clay to fix them together

Here are some of the shapes he makes:

One of Sean’s shapes is a triangle. Which is it? Explain your answer.

Answer: shape B as a triangle has 3 sides (straws) and 3 vertices, or angles (clay)

## 2nd grade word problem: statistics

2nd grade is collecting pebbles. This pictogram shows the different numbers of pebbles each group finds.

## Word problems in 3rd grade

At this stage of their elementary school career, children should feel confident using the written method for addition and subtraction. They will begin multiplying and dividing within 100.

This year children will be presented with a variety of problems, including 2-step problems and be expected to work out the appropriate method required to solve each one.

## 3rd grade word problem: number and place value

My number has four digits and has a 7 in the hundreds place.

The digit which has the highest value in my number is 2.

The digit which has the lowest value in my number is 6.

My number has 3 fewer tens than hundreds.

What is my number?

Answer: 2,746

## Word problems in 4th grade

One and two-step word problems continue in fourth grade, but this is also the year that children will be introduced to word problems containing decimals.

## 4th grade word problem: fractions and decimals

Stan, Frank and John are washing their cars outside their houses.

Stan has washed 0.5 of his car.

Frank has washed 1/5 of his car.

Norm has washed 2/5 of his car.

Who has washed the most?

Explain your answer.

Answer: Stan (he has washed 0.5 whereas Frank has only washed 0.2 and Norm 0.4)

## Word problems in 5th grade

In fifth grade children move on from 2-step word problems to multi-step word problems . These will include fractions and decimals.

Here are some examples of the types of math word problems in fifth grade will have to solve.

## 5th grade word problem: ratio and proportion

The Angel of the North is a large statue in England. It is 20 meters tall and 54 meters wide.

Ally makes a scale model of the Angel of the North. Her model is 40 centimeters tall. How wide is her model?

Answer: 108cm

## 5th grade word problem: algebra

Amina is making designs with two different shapes.

She gives each shape a value.

Calculate the value of each shape.

Answer: 36 (hexagon) and 25.

## 5th grade word problem: measurement

Answer: 1.7 liters or 1,700ml

The following examples give you an idea of the kinds of math word problems your child will encounter in elementary school

## 4th grade word problem: place value

This machine subtracts one hundredth each time the button is pressed. The starting number is 8.43. What number will the machine show if the button is pressed six times? Answer: 8.37

Download free number and place value word problems for grades 2, 3, 4 and 5

## 2nd grade word problem: addition and subtraction

Sam has 64 sweets. He gets given 12 more. He then gives 22 away. How many sweets is he left with? Answer: 54

Download free addition and subtraction word problems for for grades 2, 3, 4 and 5

## 2nd grade word problem: addition

Sammy thinks of a number. He subtracts 70. His new number is 12. What was the number Sammy thought of? Answer: 82

## 5th grade word problem: subtraction

The temperature at 7pm was 4oC. By midnight, it had dropped by 9 degrees. What was the temperature at midnight? Answer: -5oC

## 3rd grade word problem: multiplication

Eggs are sold in boxes of 12. The egg boxes are delivered to stores in crates. Each crate holds 9 boxes. How many eggs are in a crate? Answer: 108

Download free multiplication word problems for grades 2, 3, 4 and 5.

## 5th grade word problem: division

A factory produces 3,572 paint brushes every day. They are packaged into boxes of 19. How many boxes does the factory produce every day? Answer: 188

Download free division word problems for grades 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Free resource: Use these four operations word problems to practice addition, subtraction, multiplication and division all together.

## 4th grade word problem: fractions

At the end of every day, a chocolate factory has 1 and 2/6 boxes of chocolates left over. How many boxes of chocolates are left over by the end of a week? Answer: 9 and 2/6 or 9 and 1/3

Download free fractions and decimals word problems for grades 2, 3, 4 and 5.

## 2nd grade word problem: money

Lucy and Noor found some money on the playground at recess. Lucy found 2 dimes and 1 penny, and Noor found 2 quarters and a dime. How many cents did Lucy and Noor find? Answer: Lucy = $0.21, Noor = $0.60; $0.21 + $0.61 = $0.81

## 3rd grade word problem: area

A rectangle measures 6cm by 5cm.

What is its area? Answer: 30cm2

## 3rd grade word problem: perimeter

The swimming pool at the Sunshine Inn hotel is 20m long and 7m wide. Mary swims around the edge of the pool twice. How many meters has she swum? Answer: 108m

## 5th grade word problem: ratio (crossover with measurement)

A local council has spent the day painting double yellow lines. They use 1 pot of yellow paint for every 100m of road they paint. How many pots of paint will they need to paint a 2km stretch of road? Answer: 20 pots

## 5th grade word problem: PEMDAS

Draw a pair of parentheses in one of these calculations so that they make two different answers. What are the answers?

50 – 10 × 5 =

## 5th grade word problem: volume

This large cuboid has been made by stacking shipping containers on a boat. Each individual shipping container has a length of 6m, a width of 4m and a height of 3m. What is the volume of the large cuboid? Answer: 864m3

## Remember: The word problems can change but the math won’t

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Original research article, mathematical problem-solving through cooperative learning—the importance of peer acceptance and friendships.

- 1 Department of Education, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
- 2 Department of Education, Culture and Communication, Malardalen University, Vasteras, Sweden
- 3 School of Natural Sciences, Technology and Environmental Studies, Sodertorn University, Huddinge, Sweden
- 4 Faculty of Education, Gothenburg University, Gothenburg, Sweden

Mathematical problem-solving constitutes an important area of mathematics instruction, and there is a need for research on instructional approaches supporting student learning in this area. This study aims to contribute to previous research by studying the effects of an instructional approach of cooperative learning on students’ mathematical problem-solving in heterogeneous classrooms in grade five, in which students with special needs are educated alongside with their peers. The intervention combined a cooperative learning approach with instruction in problem-solving strategies including mathematical models of multiplication/division, proportionality, and geometry. The teachers in the experimental group received training in cooperative learning and mathematical problem-solving, and implemented the intervention for 15 weeks. The teachers in the control group received training in mathematical problem-solving and provided instruction as they would usually. Students (269 in the intervention and 312 in the control group) participated in tests of mathematical problem-solving in the areas of multiplication/division, proportionality, and geometry before and after the intervention. The results revealed significant effects of the intervention on student performance in overall problem-solving and problem-solving in geometry. The students who received higher scores on social acceptance and friendships for the pre-test also received higher scores on the selected tests of mathematical problem-solving. Thus, the cooperative learning approach may lead to gains in mathematical problem-solving in heterogeneous classrooms, but social acceptance and friendships may also greatly impact students’ results.

## Introduction

The research on instruction in mathematical problem-solving has progressed considerably during recent decades. Yet, there is still a need to advance our knowledge on how teachers can support their students in carrying out this complex activity ( Lester and Cai, 2016 ). Results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) show that only 53% of students from the participating countries could solve problems requiring more than direct inference and using representations from different information sources ( OECD, 2019 ). In addition, OECD (2019) reported a large variation in achievement with regard to students’ diverse backgrounds. Thus, there is a need for instructional approaches to promote students’ problem-solving in mathematics, especially in heterogeneous classrooms in which students with diverse backgrounds and needs are educated together. Small group instructional approaches have been suggested as important to promote learning of low-achieving students and students with special needs ( Kunsch et al., 2007 ). One such approach is cooperative learning (CL), which involves structured collaboration in heterogeneous groups, guided by five principles to enhance group cohesion ( Johnson et al., 1993 ; Johnson et al., 2009 ; Gillies, 2016 ). While CL has been well-researched in whole classroom approaches ( Capar and Tarim, 2015 ), few studies of the approach exist with regard to students with special educational needs (SEN; McMaster and Fuchs, 2002 ). This study contributes to previous research by studying the effects of the CL approach on students’ mathematical problem-solving in heterogeneous classrooms, in which students with special needs are educated alongside with their peers.

Group collaboration through the CL approach is structured in accordance with five principles of collaboration: positive interdependence, individual accountability, explicit instruction in social skills, promotive interaction, and group processing ( Johnson et al., 1993 ). First, the group tasks need to be structured so that all group members feel dependent on each other in the completion of the task, thus promoting positive interdependence. Second, for individual accountability, the teacher needs to assure that each group member feels responsible for his or her share of work, by providing opportunities for individual reports or evaluations. Third, the students need explicit instruction in social skills that are necessary for collaboration. Fourth, the tasks and seat arrangements should be designed to promote interaction among group members. Fifth, time needs to be allocated to group processing, through which group members can evaluate their collaborative work to plan future actions. Using these principles for cooperation leads to gains in mathematics, according to Capar and Tarim (2015) , who conducted a meta-analysis on studies of cooperative learning and mathematics, and found an increase of .59 on students’ mathematics achievement scores in general. However, the number of reviewed studies was limited, and researchers suggested a need for more research. In the current study, we focused on the effect of CL approach in a specific area of mathematics: problem-solving.

Mathematical problem-solving is a central area of mathematics instruction, constituting an important part of preparing students to function in modern society ( Gravemeijer et al., 2017 ). In fact, problem-solving instruction creates opportunities for students to apply their knowledge of mathematical concepts, integrate and connect isolated pieces of mathematical knowledge, and attain a deeper conceptual understanding of mathematics as a subject ( Lester and Cai, 2016 ). Some researchers suggest that mathematics itself is a science of problem-solving and of developing theories and methods for problem-solving ( Hamilton, 2007 ; Davydov, 2008 ).

Problem-solving processes have been studied from different perspectives ( Lesh and Zawojewski, 2007 ). Problem-solving heuristics Pólya, (1948) has largely influenced our perceptions of problem-solving, including four principles: understanding the problem, devising a plan, carrying out the plan, and looking back and reflecting upon the suggested solution. Schoenfield, (2016) suggested the use of specific problem-solving strategies for different types of problems, which take into consideration metacognitive processes and students’ beliefs about problem-solving. Further, models and modelling perspectives on mathematics ( Lesh and Doerr, 2003 ; Lesh and Zawojewski, 2007 ) emphasize the importance of engaging students in model-eliciting activities in which problem situations are interpreted mathematically, as students make connections between problem information and knowledge of mathematical operations, patterns, and rules ( Mousoulides et al., 2010 ; Stohlmann and Albarracín, 2016 ).

Not all students, however, find it easy to solve complex mathematical problems. Students may experience difficulties in identifying solution-relevant elements in a problem or visualizing appropriate solution to a problem situation. Furthermore, students may need help recognizing the underlying model in problems. For example, in two studies by Degrande et al. (2016) , students in grades four to six were presented with mathematical problems in the context of proportional reasoning. The authors found that the students, when presented with a word problem, could not identify an underlying model, but rather focused on superficial characteristics of the problem. Although the students in the study showed more success when presented with a problem formulated in symbols, the authors pointed out a need for activities that help students distinguish between different proportional problem types. Furthermore, students exhibiting specific learning difficulties may need additional support in both general problem-solving strategies ( Lein et al., 2020 ; Montague et al., 2014 ) and specific strategies pertaining to underlying models in problems. The CL intervention in the present study focused on supporting students in problem-solving, through instruction in problem-solving principles ( Pólya, 1948 ), specifically applied to three models of mathematical problem-solving—multiplication/division, geometry, and proportionality.

Students’ problem-solving may be enhanced through participation in small group discussions. In a small group setting, all the students have the opportunity to explain their solutions, clarify their thinking, and enhance understanding of a problem at hand ( Yackel et al., 1991 ; Webb and Mastergeorge, 2003 ). In fact, small group instruction promotes students’ learning in mathematics by providing students with opportunities to use language for reasoning and conceptual understanding ( Mercer and Sams, 2006 ), to exchange different representations of the problem at hand ( Fujita et al., 2019 ), and to become aware of and understand groupmates’ perspectives in thinking ( Kazak et al., 2015 ). These opportunities for learning are created through dialogic spaces characterized by openness to each other’s perspectives and solutions to mathematical problems ( Wegerif, 2011 ).

However, group collaboration is not only associated with positive experiences. In fact, studies show that some students may not be given equal opportunities to voice their opinions, due to academic status differences ( Langer-Osuna, 2016 ). Indeed, problem-solvers struggling with complex tasks may experience negative emotions, leading to uncertainty of not knowing the definite answer, which places demands on peer support ( Jordan and McDaniel, 2014 ; Hannula, 2015 ). Thus, especially in heterogeneous groups, students may need additional support to promote group interaction. Therefore, in this study, we used a cooperative learning approach, which, in contrast to collaborative learning approaches, puts greater focus on supporting group cohesion through instruction in social skills and time for reflection on group work ( Davidson and Major, 2014 ).

Although cooperative learning approach is intended to promote cohesion and peer acceptance in heterogeneous groups ( Rzoska and Ward, 1991 ), previous studies indicate that challenges in group dynamics may lead to unequal participation ( Mulryan, 1992 ; Cohen, 1994 ). Peer-learning behaviours may impact students’ problem-solving ( Hwang and Hu, 2013 ) and working in groups with peers who are seen as friends may enhance students’ motivation to learn mathematics ( Deacon and Edwards, 2012 ). With the importance of peer support in mind, this study set out to investigate whether the results of the intervention using the CL approach are associated with students’ peer acceptance and friendships.

## The Present Study

In previous research, the CL approach has shown to be a promising approach in teaching and learning mathematics ( Capar and Tarim, 2015 ), but fewer studies have been conducted in whole-class approaches in general and students with SEN in particular ( McMaster and Fuchs, 2002 ). This study aims to contribute to previous research by investigating the effect of CL intervention on students’ mathematical problem-solving in grade 5. With regard to the complexity of mathematical problem-solving ( Lesh and Zawojewski, 2007 ; Degrande et al., 2016 ; Stohlmann and Albarracín, 2016 ), the CL approach in this study was combined with problem-solving principles pertaining to three underlying models of problem-solving—multiplication/division, geometry, and proportionality. Furthermore, considering the importance of peer support in problem-solving in small groups ( Mulryan, 1992 ; Cohen, 1994 ; Hwang and Hu, 2013 ), the study investigated how peer acceptance and friendships were associated with the effect of the CL approach on students’ problem-solving abilities. The study aimed to find answers to the following research questions:

a) What is the effect of CL approach on students’ problem-solving in mathematics?

b) Are social acceptance and friendship associated with the effect of CL on students’ problem-solving in mathematics?

## Participants

The participants were 958 students in grade 5 and their teachers. According to power analyses prior to the start of the study, 1,020 students and 51 classes were required, with an expected effect size of 0.30 and power of 80%, provided that there are 20 students per class and intraclass correlation is 0.10. An invitation to participate in the project was sent to teachers in five municipalities via e-mail. Furthermore, the information was posted on the website of Uppsala university and distributed via Facebook interest groups. As shown in Figure 1 , teachers of 1,165 students agreed to participate in the study, but informed consent was obtained only for 958 students (463 in the intervention and 495 in the control group). Further attrition occurred at pre- and post-measurement, resulting in 581 students’ tests as a basis for analyses (269 in the intervention and 312 in the control group). Fewer students (n = 493) were finally included in the analyses of the association of students’ social acceptance and friendships and the effect of CL on students’ mathematical problem-solving (219 in the intervention and 274 in the control group). The reasons for attrition included teacher drop out due to sick leave or personal circumstances (two teachers in the control group and five teachers in the intervention group). Furthermore, some students were sick on the day of data collection and some teachers did not send the test results to the researchers.

FIGURE 1 . Flow chart for participants included in data collection and data analysis.

As seen in Table 1 , classes in both intervention and control groups included 27 students on average. For 75% of the classes, there were 33–36% of students with SEN. In Sweden, no formal medical diagnosis is required for the identification of students with SEN. It is teachers and school welfare teams who decide students’ need for extra adaptations or special support ( Swedish National Educational Agency, 2014 ). The information on individual students’ type of SEN could not be obtained due to regulations on the protection of information about individuals ( SFS 2009 ). Therefore, the information on the number of students with SEN on class level was obtained through teacher reports.

TABLE 1 . Background characteristics of classes and teachers in intervention and control groups.

## Intervention

The intervention using the CL approach lasted for 15 weeks and the teachers worked with the CL approach three to four lessons per week. First, the teachers participated in two-days training on the CL approach, using an especially elaborated CL manual ( Klang et al., 2018 ). The training focused on the five principles of the CL approach (positive interdependence, individual accountability, explicit instruction in social skills, promotive interaction, and group processing). Following the training, the teachers introduced the CL approach in their classes and focused on group-building activities for 7 weeks. Then, 2 days of training were provided to teachers, in which the CL approach was embedded in activities in mathematical problem-solving and reading comprehension. Educational materials containing mathematical problems in the areas of multiplication and division, geometry, and proportionality were distributed to the teachers ( Karlsson and Kilborn, 2018a ). In addition to the specific problems, adapted for the CL approach, the educational materials contained guidance for the teachers, in which problem-solving principles ( Pólya, 1948 ) were presented as steps in problem-solving. Following the training, the teachers applied the CL approach in mathematical problem-solving lessons for 8 weeks.

Solving a problem is a matter of goal-oriented reasoning, starting from the understanding of the problem to devising its solution by using known mathematical models. This presupposes that the current problem is chosen from a known context ( Stillman et al., 2008 ; Zawojewski, 2010 ). This differs from the problem-solving of the textbooks, which is based on an aim to train already known formulas and procedures ( Hamilton, 2007 ). Moreover, it is important that students learn modelling according to their current abilities and conditions ( Russel, 1991 ).

In order to create similar conditions in the experiment group and the control group, the teachers were supposed to use the same educational material ( Karlsson and Kilborn, 2018a ; Karlsson and Kilborn, 2018b ), written in light of the specified view of problem-solving. The educational material is divided into three areas—multiplication/division, geometry, and proportionality—and begins with a short teachers’ guide, where a view of problem solving is presented, which is based on the work of Polya (1948) and Lester and Cai (2016) . The tasks are constructed in such a way that conceptual knowledge was in focus, not formulas and procedural knowledge.

## Implementation of the Intervention

To ensure the implementation of the intervention, the researchers visited each teachers’ classroom twice during the two phases of the intervention period, as described above. During each visit, the researchers observed the lesson, using a checklist comprising the five principles of the CL approach. After the lesson, the researchers gave written and oral feedback to each teacher. As seen in Table 1 , in 18 of the 23 classes, the teachers implemented the intervention in accordance with the principles of CL. In addition, the teachers were asked to report on the use of the CL approach in their teaching and the use of problem-solving activities embedding CL during the intervention period. As shown in Table 1 , teachers in only 11 of 23 classes reported using the CL approach and problem-solving activities embedded in the CL approach at least once a week.

## Control Group

The teachers in the control group received 2 days of instruction in enhancing students’ problem-solving and reading comprehension. The teachers were also supported with educational materials including mathematical problems Karlsson and Kilborn (2018b) and problem-solving principles ( Pólya, 1948 ). However, none of the activities during training or in educational materials included the CL approach. As seen in Table 1 , only 10 of 25 teachers reported devoting at least one lesson per week to mathematical problem-solving.

## Tests of Mathematical Problem-Solving

Tests of mathematical problem-solving were administered before and after the intervention, which lasted for 15 weeks. The tests were focused on the models of multiplication/division, geometry, and proportionality. The three models were chosen based on the syllabus of the subject of mathematics in grades 4 to 6 in the Swedish National Curriculum ( Swedish National Educational Agency, 2018 ). In addition, the intention was to create a variation of types of problems to solve. For each of these three models, there were two tests, a pre-test and a post-test. Each test contained three tasks with increasing difficulty ( Supplementary Appendix SA ).

The tests of multiplication and division (Ma1) were chosen from different contexts and began with a one-step problem, while the following two tasks were multi-step problems. Concerning multiplication, many students in grade 5 still understand multiplication as repeated addition, causing significant problems, as this conception is not applicable to multiplication beyond natural numbers ( Verschaffel et al., 2007 ). This might be a hindrance in developing multiplicative reasoning ( Barmby et al., 2009 ). The multi-step problems in this study were constructed to support the students in multiplicative reasoning.

Concerning the geometry tests (Ma2), it was important to consider a paradigm shift concerning geometry in education that occurred in the mid-20th century, when strict Euclidean geometry gave way to other aspects of geometry like symmetry, transformation, and patterns. van Hiele (1986) prepared a new taxonomy for geometry in five steps, from a visual to a logical level. Therefore, in the tests there was a focus on properties of quadrangles and triangles, and how to determine areas by reorganising figures into new patterns. This means that structure was more important than formulas.

The construction of tests of proportionality (M3) was more complicated. Firstly, tasks on proportionality can be found in many different contexts, such as prescriptions, scales, speeds, discounts, interest, etc. Secondly, the mathematical model is complex and requires good knowledge of rational numbers and ratios ( Lesh et al., 1988 ). It also requires a developed view of multiplication, useful in operations with real numbers, not only as repeated addition, an operation limited to natural numbers ( Lybeck, 1981 ; Degrande et al., 2016 ). A linear structure of multiplication as repeated addition leads to limitations in terms of generalization and development of the concept of multiplication. This became evident in a study carried out in a Swedish context ( Karlsson and Kilborn, 2018c ). Proportionality can be expressed as a/b = c/d or as a/b = k. The latter can also be expressed as a = b∙k, where k is a constant that determines the relationship between a and b. Common examples of k are speed (km/h), scale, and interest (%). An important pre-knowledge in order to deal with proportions is to master fractions as equivalence classes like 1/3 = 2/6 = 3/9 = 4/12 = 5/15 = 6/18 = 7/21 = 8/24 … ( Karlsson and Kilborn, 2020 ). It was important to take all these aspects into account when constructing and assessing the solutions of the tasks.

The tests were graded by an experienced teacher of mathematics (4 th author) and two students in their final year of teacher training. Prior to grading, acceptable levels of inter-rater reliability were achieved by independent rating of students’ solutions and discussions in which differences between the graders were resolved. Each student response was to be assigned one point when it contained a correct answer and two points when the student provided argumentation for the correct answer and elaborated on explanation of his or her solution. The assessment was thus based on quality aspects with a focus on conceptual knowledge. As each subtest contained three questions, it generated three student solutions. So, scores for each subtest ranged from 0 to 6 points and for the total scores from 0 to 18 points. To ascertain that pre- and post-tests were equivalent in degree of difficulty, the tests were administered to an additional sample of 169 students in grade 5. Test for each model was conducted separately, as students participated in pre- and post-test for each model during the same lesson. The order of tests was switched for half of the students in order to avoid the effect of the order in which the pre- and post-tests were presented. Correlation between students’ performance on pre- and post-test was .39 ( p < 0.000) for tests of multiplication/division; .48 ( p < 0.000) for tests of geometry; and .56 ( p < 0.000) for tests of proportionality. Thus, the degree of difficulty may have differed between pre- and post-test.

## Measures of Peer Acceptance and Friendships

To investigate students’ peer acceptance and friendships, peer nominations rated pre- and post-intervention were used. Students were asked to nominate peers who they preferred to work in groups with and who they preferred to be friends with. Negative peer nominations were avoided due to ethical considerations raised by teachers and parents ( Child and Nind, 2013 ). Unlimited nominations were used, as these are considered to have high ecological validity ( Cillessen and Marks, 2017 ). Peer nominations were used as a measure of social acceptance, and reciprocated nominations were used as a measure of friendship. The number of nominations for each student were aggregated and divided by the number of nominators to create a proportion of nominations for each student ( Velásquez et al., 2013 ).

## Statistical Analyses

Multilevel regression analyses were conducted in R, lme4 package Bates et al. (2015) to account for nestedness in the data. Students’ classroom belonging was considered as a level 2 variable. First, we used a model in which students’ results on tests of problem-solving were studied as a function of time (pre- and post) and group belonging (intervention and control group). Second, the same model was applied to subgroups of students who performed above and below median at pre-test, to explore whether the CL intervention had a differential effect on student performance. In this second model, the results for subgroups of students could not be obtained for geometry tests for subgroup below median and for tests of proportionality for subgroup above median. A possible reason for this must have been the skewed distribution of the students in these subgroups. Therefore, another model was applied that investigated students’ performances in math at both pre- and post-test as a function of group belonging. Third, the students’ scores on social acceptance and friendships were added as an interaction term to the first model. In our previous study, students’ social acceptance changed as a result of the same CL intervention ( Klang et al., 2020 ).

The assumptions for the multilevel regression were assured during the analyses ( Snijders and Bosker, 2012 ). The assumption of normality of residuals were met, as controlled by visual inspection of quantile-quantile plots. For subgroups, however, the plotted residuals deviated somewhat from the straight line. The number of outliers, which had a studentized residual value greater than ±3, varied from 0 to 5, but none of the outliers had a Cook’s distance value larger than 1. The assumption of multicollinearity was met, as the variance inflation factors (VIF) did not exceed a value of 10. Before the analyses, the cases with missing data were deleted listwise.

## What Is the Effect of the CL Approach on Students’ Problem-Solving in Mathematics?

As seen in the regression coefficients in Table 2 , the CL intervention had a significant effect on students’ mathematical problem-solving total scores and students’ scores in problem solving in geometry (Ma2). Judging by mean values, students in the intervention group appeared to have low scores on problem-solving in geometry but reached the levels of problem-solving of the control group by the end of the intervention. The intervention did not have a significant effect on students’ performance in problem-solving related to models of multiplication/division and proportionality.

TABLE 2 . Mean scores (standard deviation in parentheses) and unstandardized multilevel regression estimates for tests of mathematical problem-solving.

The question is, however, whether CL intervention affected students with different pre-test scores differently. Table 2 includes the regression coefficients for subgroups of students who performed below and above median at pre-test. As seen in the table, the CL approach did not have a significant effect on students’ problem-solving, when the sample was divided into these subgroups. A small negative effect was found for intervention group in comparison to control group, but confidence intervals (CI) for the effect indicate that it was not significant.

## Is Social Acceptance and Friendships Associated With the Effect of CL on Students’ Problem-Solving in Mathematics?

As seen in Table 3 , students’ peer acceptance and friendship at pre-test were significantly associated with the effect of the CL approach on students’ mathematical problem-solving scores. Changes in students’ peer acceptance and friendships were not significantly associated with the effect of the CL approach on students’ mathematical problem-solving. Consequently, it can be concluded that being nominated by one’s peers and having friends at the start of the intervention may be an important factor when participation in group work, structured in accordance with the CL approach, leads to gains in mathematical problem-solving.

TABLE 3 . Mean scores (standard deviation in parentheses) and unstandardized multilevel regression estimates for tests of mathematical problem-solving, including scores of social acceptance and friendship in the model.

In light of the limited number of studies on the effects of CL on students’ problem-solving in whole classrooms ( Capar and Tarim, 2015 ), and for students with SEN in particular ( McMaster and Fuchs, 2002 ), this study sought to investigate whether the CL approach embedded in problem-solving activities has an effect on students’ problem-solving in heterogeneous classrooms. The need for the study was justified by the challenge of providing equitable mathematics instruction to heterogeneous student populations ( OECD, 2019 ). Small group instructional approaches as CL are considered as promising approaches in this regard ( Kunsch et al., 2007 ). The results showed a significant effect of the CL approach on students’ problem-solving in geometry and total problem-solving scores. In addition, with regard to the importance of peer support in problem-solving ( Deacon and Edwards, 2012 ; Hwang and Hu, 2013 ), the study explored whether the effect of CL on students’ problem-solving was associated with students’ social acceptance and friendships. The results showed that students’ peer acceptance and friendships at pre-test were significantly associated with the effect of the CL approach, while change in students’ peer acceptance and friendships from pre- to post-test was not.

The results of the study confirm previous research on the effect of the CL approach on students’ mathematical achievement ( Capar and Tarim, 2015 ). The specific contribution of the study is that it was conducted in classrooms, 75% of which were composed of 33–36% of students with SEN. Thus, while a previous review revealed inconclusive findings on the effects of CL on student achievement ( McMaster and Fuchs, 2002 ), the current study adds to the evidence of the effect of the CL approach in heterogeneous classrooms, in which students with special needs are educated alongside with their peers. In a small group setting, the students have opportunities to discuss their ideas of solutions to the problem at hand, providing explanations and clarifications, thus enhancing their understanding of problem-solving ( Yackel et al., 1991 ; Webb and Mastergeorge, 2003 ).

In this study, in accordance with previous research on mathematical problem-solving ( Lesh and Zawojewski, 2007 ; Degrande et al., 2016 ; Stohlmann and Albarracín, 2016 ), the CL approach was combined with training in problem-solving principles Pólya (1948) and educational materials, providing support in instruction in underlying mathematical models. The intention of the study was to provide evidence for the effectiveness of the CL approach above instruction in problem-solving, as problem-solving materials were accessible to teachers of both the intervention and control groups. However, due to implementation challenges, not all teachers in the intervention and control groups reported using educational materials and training as expected. Thus, it is not possible to draw conclusions of the effectiveness of the CL approach alone. However, in everyday classroom instruction it may be difficult to separate the content of instruction from the activities that are used to mediate this content ( Doerr and Tripp, 1999 ; Gravemeijer, 1999 ).

Furthermore, for successful instruction in mathematical problem-solving, scaffolding for content needs to be combined with scaffolding for dialogue ( Kazak et al., 2015 ). From a dialogical perspective ( Wegerif, 2011 ), students may need scaffolding in new ways of thinking, involving questioning their understandings and providing arguments for their solutions, in order to create dialogic spaces in which different solutions are voiced and negotiated. In this study, small group instruction through CL approach aimed to support discussions in small groups, but the study relies solely on quantitative measures of students’ mathematical performance. Video-recordings of students’ discussions may have yielded important insights into the dialogic relationships that arose in group discussions.

Despite the positive findings of the CL approach on students’ problem-solving, it is important to note that the intervention did not have an effect on students’ problem-solving pertaining to models of multiplication/division and proportionality. Although CL is assumed to be a promising instructional approach, the number of studies on its effect on students’ mathematical achievement is still limited ( Capar and Tarim, 2015 ). Thus, further research is needed on how CL intervention can be designed to promote students’ problem-solving in other areas of mathematics.

The results of this study show that the effect of the CL intervention on students’ problem-solving was associated with students’ initial scores of social acceptance and friendships. Thus, it is possible to assume that students who were popular among their classmates and had friends at the start of the intervention also made greater gains in mathematical problem-solving as a result of the CL intervention. This finding is in line with Deacon and Edwards’ study of the importance of friendships for students’ motivation to learn mathematics in small groups ( Deacon and Edwards, 2012 ). However, the effect of the CL intervention was not associated with change in students’ social acceptance and friendship scores. These results indicate that students who were nominated by a greater number of students and who received a greater number of friends did not benefit to a great extent from the CL intervention. With regard to previously reported inequalities in cooperation in heterogeneous groups ( Cohen, 1994 ; Mulryan, 1992 ; Langer Osuna, 2016 ) and the importance of peer behaviours for problem-solving ( Hwang and Hu, 2013 ), teachers should consider creating inclusive norms and supportive peer relationships when using the CL approach. The demands of solving complex problems may create negative emotions and uncertainty ( Hannula, 2015 ; Jordan and McDaniel, 2014 ), and peer support may be essential in such situations.

## Limitations

The conclusions from the study must be interpreted with caution, due to a number of limitations. First, due to the regulation of protection of individuals ( SFS 2009 ), the researchers could not get information on type of SEN for individual students, which limited the possibilities of the study for investigating the effects of the CL approach for these students. Second, not all teachers in the intervention group implemented the CL approach embedded in problem-solving activities and not all teachers in the control group reported using educational materials on problem-solving. The insufficient levels of implementation pose a significant challenge to the internal validity of the study. Third, the additional investigation to explore the equivalence in difficulty between pre- and post-test, including 169 students, revealed weak to moderate correlation in students’ performance scores, which may indicate challenges to the internal validity of the study.

## Implications

The results of the study have some implications for practice. Based on the results of the significant effect of the CL intervention on students’ problem-solving, the CL approach appears to be a promising instructional approach in promoting students’ problem-solving. However, as the results of the CL approach were not significant for all subtests of problem-solving, and due to insufficient levels of implementation, it is not possible to conclude on the importance of the CL intervention for students’ problem-solving. Furthermore, it appears to be important to create opportunities for peer contacts and friendships when the CL approach is used in mathematical problem-solving activities.

## Data Availability Statement

The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.

## Ethics Statement

The studies involving human participants were reviewed and approved by the Uppsala Ethical Regional Committee, Dnr. 2017/372. Written informed consent to participate in this study was provided by the participants’ legal guardian/next of kin.

## Author Contributions

NiK was responsible for the project, and participated in data collection and data analyses. NaK and WK were responsible for intervention with special focus on the educational materials and tests in mathematical problem-solving. PE participated in the planning of the study and the data analyses, including coordinating analyses of students’ tests. MK participated in the designing and planning the study as well as data collection and data analyses.

The project was funded by the Swedish Research Council under Grant 2016-04,679.

## Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

## Publisher’s Note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

## Acknowledgments

We would like to express our gratitude to teachers who participated in the project.

## Supplementary Material

The Supplementary Material for this article can be found online at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/feduc.2021.710296/full#supplementary-material

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Keywords: cooperative learning, mathematical problem-solving, intervention, heterogeneous classrooms, hierarchical linear regression analysis

Citation: Klang N, Karlsson N, Kilborn W, Eriksson P and Karlberg M (2021) Mathematical Problem-Solving Through Cooperative Learning—The Importance of Peer Acceptance and Friendships. Front. Educ. 6:710296. doi: 10.3389/feduc.2021.710296

Received: 15 May 2021; Accepted: 09 August 2021; Published: 24 August 2021.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2021 Klang, Karlsson, Kilborn, Eriksson and Karlberg. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Nina Klang, [email protected]

## Initial Thoughts

Perspectives & resources, what is high-quality mathematics instruction and why is it important.

- Page 1: The Importance of High-Quality Mathematics Instruction
- Page 2: A Standards-Based Mathematics Curriculum
- Page 3: Evidence-Based Mathematics Practices

## What evidence-based mathematics practices can teachers employ?

- Page 4: Explicit, Systematic Instruction
- Page 5: Visual Representations

## Page 6: Schema Instruction

- Page 7: Metacognitive Strategies
- Page 8: Effective Classroom Practices
- Page 9: References & Additional Resources
- Page 10: Credits

## How does this practice align?

High-leverage practices.

- HLP14 : Teach cognitive and metacognitive strategies to support learning and independence

## CCSSM: Standards for Mathematical Practice

- MP7 : Look for and make use of structure.

Another effective strategy for helping students improve their mathematics performance is related to solving word problems. More specifically, it involves teaching students how to identify word problem types based on a given problem’s underlying structure, or schema . Before learning about this strategy, however, it is helpful to understand why many students struggle with word problems in the first place.

## Difficulty with Word Problems

Most students, especially those with mathematics difficulties and disabilities, have trouble solving word problems. This is in large part because word problems require students to:

- Read and understand the text, including mathematics vocabulary
- Be able to identify and separate relevant information from irrelevant information
- Represent the problem correctly
- Choose an appropriate strategy for solving the problem
- Perform the computational procedures
- Check the answer to ensure that it makes sense (Adapted from Stevens and Powell, 2016; Jitendra, et al., 2015; Jitendra et al., 2013)

Students who experience difficulty with any of the steps listed above, such as students who struggle with mathematics, will likely arrive at an incorrect answer.

## Research Shows

- Students with mathematical difficulties and disabilities struggle more than their peers when solving word problems. (Stevens & Powell, 2016; Jitendra et al., 2015; Fuchs et al., 2010)
- Schema instruction—explicit instruction in identifying word problem types, representing them correctly, and using an effective method for solving them—has been found to be effective among students with mathematical difficulties and disabilities. (Jitendra et al., 2016; Jitendra et al., 2015; Jitendra et al., 2009; Montague & Dietz, 2009; Fuchs et al., 2010)
- Teaching students how to solve word problems by identifying word problem types is more effective than teaching them only to identify key words (e.g., “altogether,” “difference”). (Jitendra, Griffin, Deatline-Buchman, & Sczesniak, 2007)

## Word Problem Structures

To help students become more proficient at solving word problems, teachers can help students recognize the problem schema, which refers to the underlying structure of the problem or the problem type (e.g., adding or combining two or more sets, finding the difference between two sets). This, in turn, leads to an associated strategy for solving that problem type. There are two main types of schemas: additive and multiplicative. Below, we will introduce you to additive schemas before moving on to descriptions and examples of multiplicative schemas.

## Additive Schemas

Additive schemas can be used for addition and subtraction problems. These schemas are effective for students in early elementary school through middle school. Below are a few examples of additive schemas used to solve word problems: total, difference, and change.

## Description

- Involves adding or combining two or more distinct sets (each set representing a part) that are put together to form a total.
- Also known as part-part-whole or combine .
- Students might solve for any unknown in the equation.
- Can be used with a variety of types of numbers (e.g., whole, fractions, decimals).

Sam has 2 cookies. Ali has 3 cookies. How many cookies do they have altogether?

There are 6 students in the classroom and some more students in the hallway. There are 20 students in all. How many students are in the hallway?

- Involves comparing and finding the difference between two sets.
- Also known as compare .

The small dog has 3 spots. The large dog has 7 spots. How many more spots does the large dog have than the small dog?

Cy has 3 more pencils than Brody. Cy has 7 pencils. How many pencils does Brody have?

Ava has 9 fewer points than Giovani. Ava has 2 points. How many points does Giovani have?

- Involves finding the increase or decrease in the quantity of the same set (i.e., there is one set and something happens to that set).
- Can involve multiple changes to the same set.
- Change schemas differ from total and difference schemas in that they involve a change in the set over time.
- Students might solve for any number in the equation.

Carly has 3 ribbons. Shay gives her 2 ribbons. How many ribbons does Carly have now?

Carly has 3 ribbons. She gave Shay 1 ribbon. How many ribbons does Carly have now?

Misha has 9 suckers. Kaheen gave her some more suckers. Now she has 12 suckers. How many did Kaheen give her?

Misha has some suckers. Kaheen gave her 4 suckers. Now Misha has 11 suckers. How many suckers did Misha have to begin with?

(Adapted from Stevens & Powell, 2016; Morales, Shute & Pellegrino, 1985)

## For Your Information

Even when they apply the same schema to solve a word problem, students will likely approach its solution in a variety of ways. An example of this can be found below.

Problem: Emma had nine dollars. Then she earned some more money doing her chores. Now Emma has $12. How much money did she earn?

Two students, A and B, set up the problem using the change schema.

However, Student A solves the problem by subtracting 12 – 9. Student B solves the problem by counting on from 9. Although one student adds and the other subtracts, both students arrive at the correct solution. This example illustrates that the operation is secondary to the structure of the word problem.

## Multiplicative Schemas

Multiplicative schemas can be used to solve multiplication and division problems. There are three main types of multiplicative schemas: equal, comparison, and ratio/proportion.

Equal Groups

- Involves multiplying or dividing groups where there is an equal number in each group.
- Students often encounter these types of word problems on standardized tests during 3rd and 4th grades and on into middle school.

Tara has 6 bags of oranges. There are 4 oranges in each bag. How many oranges does Tara have?

Matthew has 20 comic books. His bookshelf has 5 shelves. He wants to put an equal number of comic books on each shelf. How many comic books will he put on each shelf?

- Involves multiplying a set a given number of times.
- Students often encounter these types of word problems on standardized tests during 4th and 5th grades and into middle school.

Tara has 6 bags of oranges. Mai has 6 pieces of candy. Kyla has 2 times as many pieces of candy. How many pieces of candy does Kyla have?

Pedro has 7 video games. Bronwynn has 21 video games. How many times as many video games does Bronwynn have than Pedro?

Ratios/Proportions

- Involves finding the relationship between two numbers.
- Students often encounter these types of word problems on standardized tests during upper elementary through middle school.

Example: On Saturday, Naoki worked in the hot sun for 10 hours, helping to clean up and revitalize a neighborhood park. To prevent dehydration, she took a 5-minute water break every hour. What proportion of time did Naoki spend working compared to taking breaks?

Note: To solve this problem, the student first converted hours to minutes so that he could work with the same unit.

Note: The student determines that the ratio for working to taking breaks is 12 minutes of work to 1 minute on break.

Source: Jitendra, Star, Dupuis, & Rodriguez, 2013

## Combined Schemas

As students advance in school, they will encounter new kinds of mathematical problems with new underlying structures, or schema. They will also encounter multi-step mathematics problems. The example below illustrates a percent change problem which involves the combination of two schemas: a multiplicative and an additive .

Note: After the student solves for the missing value in the equation above, he enters it along with the provided information in the equation below to solve the problem.

Example: Mark is interested in buying a car. The car costs $3,200. He will receive a 10% discount if he buys the car this weekend. How much will he pay for the car?

Solution equation (to determine the amount of change):

After the student solves for the “change,” which is $320, he will then create another solution equation to find the “new total.”

Solution equation (to determine the “new total”):

The student determines that with the 10% discount Mark will pay $2,880.

Sarah Powell, who has conducted extensive research on schema instruction, discusses the underlying focus of this strategy (time: 2:40).

Sarah Powell, PhD Assistant Professor, Special Education University of Texas at Austin

View Transcript

Transcript: Sarah Powell, PhD

The thing with schemas is that you cannot define word problems by their operation. So you cannot describe a word problem as being a subtraction problem or being a division problem. Instead, you have to describe the word problem at a deeper level and that is describing the word problem by its schema. And sometimes I like to use the word structure . It’s really important to use schemas or structures so that students have consistency with problem solving. If we teach the structure of combined problems in 1st grade and 2nd grade, students continue to see that schema in 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade. Now the numbers may get greater. So instead of adding three plus nine, they might be adding 133 plus 239. But the structure is the same. And so one of the things that we are trying to do with our math standards that guide most instruction in the United States is to provide consistency in math learning across grade levels, and the schemas really help do that, so you see that combined structure again and again.

Now in middle school grades, you see it in a slightly different way. It might be part of a multi-step problem, but it’s still there, so that every year we don’t have to reteach problem solving. We just help students say, “Oh, now we’re looking at a total schema but with fractions. Now here’s a total schema but with decimals.” And so there’s a lot of consistency that’s provided with the schemas. And right now problem solving is really taught grade-by-grade. So how do I solve 2nd-grade word problems, or how do I solve 5th-grade word problems? And that’s not a good way of thinking about it. It’s better if we focus on the schema and think about this grade-level continuum of problem solving. And they would just make problem solving so much easier for students and also easier for teachers, because then they’re not going back to square one every year and starting about how do I teach problem solving in 5th grade?

I would argue that problem solving is the most important thing you have to teach, because when we look at high-stakes assessments—and that’s where students show their mathematics competency—for word problems, students have to take the numbers and manipulate the numbers. It’s very difficult. Problem solving should be the primary focus of the mathematics curriculum, and instead of teaching problem solving as supplementary to math instruction, problem solving should really be taught as the way that we learn mathematics. And we need to get students to be thinkers of mathematics, not just doers of mathematics.

## Teaching Word Problem Structures

As when teaching any strategy, teachers should use explicit, systematic instruction when introducing schema instruction , sometimes referred to as schema-based instruction (SBI) . Although the same process is used to teach any schema, for illustrative purposes, the steps for how to teach the combine schema are outlined in the box below.

(Adapted from Stevens & Powell, 2016)

Teachers should make sure that students have mastered one schema (e.g., combine ) before introducing a different problem type (e.g., compare ). This reduces the possibility of students confusing one schema type with another during the learning process.

## Chapter 9: Facilitating Complex Thinking

Problem-solving.

Somewhat less open-ended than creative thinking is problem solving , the analysis and solution of tasks or situations that are complex or ambiguous and that pose difficulties or obstacles of some kind (Mayer & Wittrock, 2006). Problem solving is needed, for example, when a physician analyzes a chest X-ray: a photograph of the chest is far from clear and requires skill, experience, and resourcefulness to decide which foggy-looking blobs to ignore, and which to interpret as real physical structures (and therefore real medical concerns). Problem solving is also needed when a grocery store manager has to decide how to improve the sales of a product: should she put it on sale at a lower price, or increase publicity for it, or both? Will these actions actually increase sales enough to pay for their costs?

## Example 1: Problem Solving in the Classroom

Problem solving happens in classrooms when teachers present tasks or challenges that are deliberately complex and for which finding a solution is not straightforward or obvious. The responses of students to such problems, as well as the strategies for assisting them, show the key features of problem solving. Consider this example, and students’ responses to it. We have numbered and named the paragraphs to make it easier to comment about them individually:

## Scene #1: A problem to be solved

A teacher gave these instructions: “Can you connect all of the dots below using only four straight lines?” She drew the following display on the chalkboard:

The problem itself and the procedure for solving it seemed very clear: simply experiment with different arrangements of four lines. But two volunteers tried doing it at the board, but were unsuccessful. Several others worked at it at their seats, but also without success.

## Scene #2: Coaxing students to re-frame the problem

When no one seemed to be getting it, the teacher asked, “Think about how you’ve set up the problem in your mind—about what you believe the problem is about. For instance, have you made any assumptions about how long the lines ought to be? Don’t stay stuck on one approach if it’s not working!”

## Scene #3: Alicia abandons a fixed response

After the teacher said this, Alicia indeed continued to think about how she saw the problem. “The lines need to be no longer than the distance across the square,” she said to herself. So she tried several more solutions, but none of them worked either.

The teacher walked by Alicia’s desk and saw what Alicia was doing. She repeated her earlier comment: “Have you assumed anything about how long the lines ought to be?”

Alicia stared at the teacher blankly, but then smiled and said, “Hmm! You didn’t actually say that the lines could be no longer than the matrix! Why not make them longer?” So she experimented again using oversized lines and soon discovered a solution:

## Scene #4: Willem’s and Rachel’s alternative strategies

Meanwhile, Willem worked on the problem. As it happened, Willem loved puzzles of all kinds, and had ample experience with them. He had not, however, seen this particular problem. “It must be a trick,” he said to himself, because he knew from experience that problems posed in this way often were not what they first appeared to be. He mused to himself: “Think outside the box, they always tell you. . .” And that was just the hint he needed: he drew lines outside the box by making them longer than the matrix and soon came up with this solution:

When Rachel went to work, she took one look at the problem and knew the answer immediately: she had seen this problem before, though she could not remember where. She had also seen other drawing-related puzzles, and knew that their solution always depended on making the lines longer, shorter, or differently angled than first expected. After staring at the dots briefly, she drew a solution faster than Alicia or even Willem. Her solution looked exactly like Willem’s.

This story illustrates two common features of problem solving: the effect of degree of structure or constraint on problem solving, and the effect of mental obstacles to solving problems. The next sections discuss each of these features, and then looks at common techniques for solving problems.

## The effect of constraints: well-structured versus ill-structured problems

Problems vary in how much information they provide for solving a problem, as well as in how many rules or procedures are needed for a solution. A well-structured problem provides much of the information needed and can in principle be solved using relatively few clearly understood rules. Classic examples are the word problems often taught in math lessons or classes: everything you need to know is contained within the stated problem and the solution procedures are relatively clear and precise. An ill-structured problem has the converse qualities: the information is not necessarily within the problem, solution procedures are potentially quite numerous, and a multiple solutions are likely (Voss, 2006). Extreme examples are problems like “How can the world achieve lasting peace?” or “How can teachers insure that students learn?”

By these definitions, the nine-dot problem is relatively well-structured—though not completely. Most of the information needed for a solution is provided in Scene #1: there are nine dots shown and instructions given to draw four lines. But not all necessary information was given: students needed to consider lines that were longer than implied in the original statement of the problem. Students had to “think outside the box,” as Willem said—in this case, literally.

When a problem is well-structured, so are its solution procedures likely to be as well. A well-defined procedure for solving a particular kind of problem is often called an algorithm ; examples are the procedures for multiplying or dividing two numbers or the instructions for using a computer (Leiserson, et al., 2001). Algorithms are only effective when a problem is very well-structured and there is no question about whether the algorithm is an appropriate choice for the problem. In that situation it pretty much guarantees a correct solution. They do not work well, however, with ill-structured problems, where they are ambiguities and questions about how to proceed or even about precisely what the problem is about. In those cases it is more effective to use heuristics , which are general strategies—“rules of thumb,” so to speak—that do not always work, but often do, or that provide at least partial solutions. When beginning research for a term paper, for example, a useful heuristic is to scan the library catalogue for titles that look relevant. There is no guarantee that this strategy will yield the books most needed for the paper, but the strategy works enough of the time to make it worth trying.

In the nine-dot problem, most students began in Scene #1 with a simple algorithm that can be stated like this: “Draw one line, then draw another, and another, and another.” Unfortunately this simple procedure did not produce a solution, so they had to find other strategies for a solution. Three alternatives are described in Scenes #3 (for Alicia) and 4 (for Willem and Rachel). Of these, Willem’s response resembled a heuristic the most: he knew from experience that a good general strategy that often worked for such problems was to suspect a deception or trick in how the problem was originally stated. So he set out to question what the teacher had meant by the word line , and came up with an acceptable solution as a result.

## Common obstacles to solving problems

The example also illustrates two common problems that sometimes happen during problem solving. One of these is functional fixedness : a tendency to regard the functions of objects and ideas as fixed (German & Barrett, 2005). Over time, we get so used to one particular purpose for an object that we overlook other uses. We may think of a dictionary, for example, as necessarily something to verify spellings and definitions, but it also can function as a gift, a doorstop, or a footstool. For students working on the nine-dot matrix described in the last section, the notion of “drawing” a line was also initially fixed; they assumed it to be connecting dots but not extending lines beyond the dots. Functional fixedness sometimes is also called response set , the tendency for a person to frame or think about each problem in a series in the same way as the previous problem, even when doing so is not appropriate to later problems. In the example of the nine-dot matrix described above, students often tried one solution after another, but each solution was constrained by a set response not to extend any line beyond the matrix.

Functional fixedness and the response set are obstacles in problem representation , the way that a person understands and organizes information provided in a problem. If information is misunderstood or used inappropriately, then mistakes are likely—if indeed the problem can be solved at all. With the nine-dot matrix problem, for example, construing the instruction to draw four lines as meaning “draw four lines entirely within the matrix” means that the problem simply could not be solved. For another, consider this problem: “The number of water lilies on a lake doubles each day. Each water lily covers exactly one square foot. If it takes 100 days for the lilies to cover the lake exactly, how many days does it take for the lilies to cover exactly half of the lake?” If you think that the size of the lilies affects the solution to this problem, you have not represented the problem correctly. Information about lily size is not relevant to the solution, and only serves to distract from the truly crucial information, the fact that the lilies double their coverage each day. (The answer, incidentally, is that the lake is half covered in 99 days; can you think why?)

## Strategies to assist problem solving

Just as there are cognitive obstacles to problem solving, there are also general strategies that help the process be successful, regardless of the specific content of a problem (Thagard, 2005). One helpful strategy is problem analysis —identifying the parts of the problem and working on each part separately. Analysis is especially useful when a problem is ill-structured. Consider this problem, for example: “Devise a plan to improve bicycle transportation in the city.” Solving this problem is easier if you identify its parts or component subproblems, such as (1) installing bicycle lanes on busy streets, (2) educating cyclists and motorists to ride safely, (3) fixing potholes on streets used by cyclists, and (4) revising traffic laws that interfere with cycling. Each separate subproblem is more manageable than the original, general problem. The solution of each subproblem contributes the solution of the whole, though of course is not equivalent to a whole solution.

Another helpful strategy is working backward from a final solution to the originally stated problem. This approach is especially helpful when a problem is well-structured but also has elements that are distracting or misleading when approached in a forward, normal direction. The water lily problem described above is a good example: starting with the day when all the lake is covered (Day 100), ask what day would it therefore be half covered (by the terms of the problem, it would have to be the day before, or Day 99). Working backward in this case encourages reframing the extra information in the problem (i. e. the size of each water lily) as merely distracting, not as crucial to a solution.

A third helpful strategy is analogical thinking —using knowledge or experiences with similar features or structures to help solve the problem at hand (Bassok, 2003). In devising a plan to improve bicycling in the city, for example, an analogy of cars with bicycles is helpful in thinking of solutions: improving conditions for both vehicles requires many of the same measures (improving the roadways, educating drivers). Even solving simpler, more basic problems is helped by considering analogies. A first grade student can partially decode unfamiliar printed words by analogy to words he or she has learned already. If the child cannot yet read the word screen , for example, he can note that part of this word looks similar to words he may already know, such as seen or green , and from this observation derive a clue about how to read the word screen . Teachers can assist this process, as you might expect, by suggesting reasonable, helpful analogies for students to consider.

Bassok, J. (2003). Analogical transfer in problem solving. In Davidson, J. & Sternberg, R. (Eds.). The psychology of problem solving. New York: Cambridge University Press.

German, T. & Barrett, H. (2005). Functional fixedness in a technologically sparse culture. Psychological Science, 16 (1), 1–5.

Leiserson, C., Rivest, R., Cormen, T., & Stein, C. (2001). Introduction to algorithms. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Luchins, A. & Luchins, E. (1994). The water-jar experiment and Einstellung effects. Gestalt Theory: An International Interdisciplinary Journal, 16 (2), 101–121.

Mayer, R. & Wittrock, M. (2006). Problem-solving transfer. In D. Berliner & R. Calfee (Eds.), Handbook of Educational Psychology, pp. 47–62. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Thagard, R. (2005). Mind: Introduction to Cognitive Science, 2nd edition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Voss, J. (2006). Toulmin’s model and the solving of ill-structured problems. Argumentation, 19 (3), 321–329.

- Educational Psychology. Authored by : Kelvin Seifert and Rosemary Sutton. Located at : https://open.umn.edu/opentextbooks/BookDetail.aspx?bookId=153 . License : CC BY: Attribution

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Elementary students practice problem-solving and self-questioning techniques to improve reading and social and emotional learning skills. By Maurice J. Elias January 23, 2019 ©iStock/Kobackpacko In a school district in New Jersey, beginning in kindergarten each child is seen as a future problem solver with creative ideas that can help the world.

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.

Step 1: Understanding the problem. We are given in the problem that there are 25 chickens and cows. All together there are 76 feet. Chickens have 2 feet and cows have 4 feet. We are trying to determine how many cows and how many chickens Mr. Jones has on his farm.

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?

Print Version Tips and Techniques Expert vs. Novice Problem Solvers Tips and Techniques 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 ...

Applied Mathematics Mathematics for Elementary Teachers (Manes) 1: Problem Solving 1.1: Introduction to Problem Solving

Students frequently complain that mathematics is too difficult for them, because it is too abstract and unapproachable. Explaining mathematical reasoning and problem solving by using a variety of methods, such as words, numbers, symbols, charts, graphs, tables, diagrams, and concrete models can help students understand the problem better by ...

Team Work Counts. After going through the process with the class, we decided to split the students into small groups of 3 and 4 to solve a math problem together. The groups were expected to use the same process that we used to solve the problem. It took a while but check out one of the final products below.

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.

Part of solving a problem is understanding what is being asked, and knowing what a solution should look like. Problems often involve false starts, making mistakes, and lots of scratch paper! In an exercise, you are often practicing a skill. You may have seen a teacher demonstrate a technique, or you may have read a worked example in the book.

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.

| November 30, 2020 We've made teaching problem-solving skills for kids a whole lot easier! Keep reading and comment below with any other tips you have for your classroom! Problem-Solving Skills for Kids: The Real Deal Picture this: You've carefully created an assignment for your class. The step-by-step instructions are crystal clear.

Kids Encyclopedia Facts Problem solving is a mental activity related to intelligence and thinking. It consists of finding solutions to problems. A problem is a situation that needs to be changed. It suggests that the solution is not totally obvious, for then it would not be a problem. A great deal of human life is spent solving problems.

The definition of critical thinking has changed somewhat over the past decade. Chance (1986) says critical thinking is "the ability to analyze facts, generate and organize ideas, defend opinions, make comparisons, draw inferences, evaluate arguments and solve problems." Tama (1989) calls it "a way of reasoning that demands adequate ...

Singer et al. ( 2013) provides a broad view about problem posing that links problem posing experiences to general mathematics education; to the development of abilities, attitudes and creativity; and also to its interrelation with problem solving, and studies on when and how problem-solving sessions should take place.

Problem-Solving Skills (PSS) are used to discover and resolve technical issues with digital devices and settings (Vuorikari et al., 2016). Professionals with PSS can deal with problems effectively ...

Last update: 24/02/23 11:22 Just like creativity, problem solving is a key skill required across all sectors and at all levels. However, while the word 'creativity' can seem to refer to a very broad range of meanings, the term 'problem solving' can, in contrast, seem overly narrow.

November 3, 2023 | 6 min read Sophie Bartlett Solving word problems in elementary school is an essential part of the math curriculum. Here are over 30 math word problems to practice with children, plus expert guidance on how to solve them. This blog is part of our series of blogs designed for teachers, schools, and parents supporting home learning.

Problem-solving has aspecial importance in the study of mathematics (Wilson, Fernandez and Hadaway, 2011). The main goal in teaching mathematical problem-solving is for the students to develop a generic ability in solving real-life problems and to apply mathematics in real life situations. It can

Mathematical problem-solving constitutes an important area of mathematics instruction, and there is a need for research on instructional approaches supporting student learning in this area. This study aims to contribute to previous research by studying the effects of an instructional approach of cooperative learning on students' mathematical problem-solving in heterogeneous classrooms in ...

Step1: Teach students to identify different problem types (e.g., combine) and practice translating the information into a diagram or equation. Start with one problem type or schema (e.g., combine). Start with stories that contain all the information (i.e., no unknown quantities).

Problem-solving. Somewhat less open-ended than creative thinking is problem solving, the analysis and solution of tasks or situations that are complex or ambiguous and that pose difficulties or obstacles of some kind (Mayer & Wittrock, 2006). Problem solving is needed, for example, when a physician analyzes a chest X-ray: a photograph of the ...

Finding a suitable solution for issues can be accomplished by following the basic four-step problem-solving process and methodology outlined below. Step. Characteristics. 1. Define the problem. Differentiate fact from opinion. Specify underlying causes. Consult each faction involved for information. State the problem specifically.