3 Step Process to Strengthen Problem Solving in the Elementary Classroom

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Problem solving seems to be an issue time and time again every year in my classroom.  When the math practice standards came out, I thought that they paired nicely with problem solving. These standards are deep thinking math habits that students can try to develop for all areas of math, but I noticed specifically how they were helping my students problem solve. I developed a way to introduce these standards in the beginning of the year as a way to start up my math workshop. There are 3 components to how I do this.  It takes 20-25 minutes per day of my math workshop for this process for my third graders. That means I can introduce all of the math practice standards in about a week and a half.

1.  Students solve a problem and model their strategy for the other students:

The photo above is a screenshot of my SMARTBoard today from the Guide to Introducing Math Practice Standards.  We’ve been introducing the math practice standards each day during math by working out a problem that is related to the standard.  I am a firm believer that students can become better problem solvers by seeing each other’s strategies and by describing their thinking. Every day when we work out a problem I choose two people to go up to my chalkboard, and one person to go up to the SMARTBoard. They write their strategy out for others to show how they solved it.  While students show their strategy, and explain their thinking to their classmates…I start to see the lightbulb go on for those students that day who did not understand the problem.

2.  Allow the students in the “audience” to interact with the students who are modeling:

I allow the students who did not get to go up to the board to ask questions and give compliments using the math practice standards in their language.

Today was an awesome example of that happening! After they explained their thinking the students complimented the people at the board for not giving up, noticed how the young man underlined the question to the problem, asked how they knew to multiply instead of divide…it was just beautiful. The math dialogue flying around the room was amazing.  It gives confidence to the students in the spotlight, and clarifies the problem for the people at their desks.

3. Close the lesson by asking the students to rate themselves on their problem solving for the day:

As an example, I closed the lesson today by asking the students to rate themselves using Marzano’s Levels of Understanding. We hung up the math practice standard poster with a student’s sample paper.  We talked about how we can continue to use that standard every day, and as if on cue one student shouted “especially the part about not giving up!”  If anyone had a less than 3 rating, we talked about what we could try next time.

Seeing how far the students come from the first week of school to the end of the year is very motivating for us all!



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