How to master the skill of problem solving

Many people, even in adulthood, find the unravelling of problems in order to find solutions very difficult if not impossible. So how can we teach children how to solve problems?

The point about problems is that solving them is generally a logical process.  But more often than not emotional responses get in the way, and children and adults are tempted to deliver a solution that feels right rather than one that they have worked out logically.

Moving children away from emotion to logic is not helped by contemporary attitudes in our society in which logic is somehow seen as cold and calculating, and this is then equated to being a “bad thing”.

But there is no reason why this should be so or why problem-solving should be seen as difficult. It is invariably nothing more than a simple five part process which involves…

  1. Reading the problem
  2. Identifying the most relevant information on offer
  3. Selecting appropriate strategies
  4. Solving the problem
  5. Checking the reasonableness of the strategies.

Training children in this approach is what Maths Problems and Investigations is all about.

Maths Problems and Investigations is a three-book series of photocopiable problem-solving activities (for 5-7, 7-9 and 9-11 year olds) in which the activities gradually increase in difficulty as the children progress.

From the start activities engage pupils in problem-solving across a wide range of mathematical operations, and each page provides differentiated activities at three levels, making it easy to use them in mixed ability classes.

What’s more, each page has a focus, ranging from sports, shopping and jobs to cooking, travel and building – providing real-life problems for children to solve.

The strategies which are taught in the books, through the examples, help the children find the solutions they need.  In particular there is an emphasis on estimation – so that if the solution differs from the initial estimate, the answer might need to be checked or an alternative strategy employed.

Written strategies are also included within problems involving large numbers and those that require two or three steps in order to reach a solution.

The use of a calculator is also part of the process.  Competent use of a calculator demonstrates mathematical competence and forms a legitimate problem-solving strategy.

A number of free sample teaching resources are available on our website.

The books are available to download as e-books so you can start lesson planning straightaway.

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1 Comment

Filed under Key Stage, Key Stage 1, Key Stage 2, Mathematics, Teaching Ideas

One response to “How to master the skill of problem solving

  1. Pingback: Designers don’t solve problems. | SoshiTech

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