One of my favorite ways to amp up problem solving is to throw something into the mix that they can touch. This makes the project or problem so much more interesting to students in one instant. We are working on the Design a Dream Bedroom project, so I picked up some free samples from the hardware store:
Of course you can be sneaky about introducing the materials. Before I even went over the problem during math, I spent the morning organizing the materials on a common table when they were arriving for the day. I got about a million questions, and hands were reaching out to touch the carpet and flooring samples before I could even get them in the bucket.
That is all I needed to do to get them interested in the problem. After I read through the introduction with them during math problem solving time, the students literally leaped out of their carpet spots to run up and grab the problem from me.
That is what we want problem solving to be like…exciting, engaging, rigorous and motivating! Putting things in their hands to make it real world has worked every time.