Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Problem Solving Doesn't Have to Mean "Word Problems"!

So if you are like most teachers who have ever taught math, you know that "problem solving" is critical.  When you study the Common Core, you realize that thinking skills and problem solving are at the forefront of it.  If the CCSS are a little new for you, I challenge you to reframe your thinking a little bit . . . instead of looking to see "WHAT do I have to teach in math?", instead look to see "HOW should I be teaching math?

In my opinion, one of the best features of the Common Core State Standards is the "Standards for Mathematical Practice".  These 8 standards talk explicitly about the "how" we need to be attacking math instruction.  These standards help us think about what we need to do to help students become independent problem solvers.  I don't know about you, but when I went to school "problem solving equaled word problems".  You too?

After all my zillions (21 plus) years in the classroom, I began to redefine my definition of problem solving.  I began to think of it more in the context of the Standards for Mathematical Practice--the "skills" and behaviors students need to tackle ANY problem they encounter.  Don't get me wrong . . . I love word problems.  In fact, my stores are FULL of different problems of different types.  What I like to make sure students realize is that problem solving simply means diving into a math situation to make sense of it.  Whether this be studying a pattern . . . explaining your thinking . . . solving a word problem . . . sorting items into categories . . . or any number of math "situations"--all of them help students deepen their understanding of math--but they have to be willing to TRY!

In my math classroom, we talk about "perseverance" ALL the time.  My goal is always for students to be willing to dig in and get started . . . to work to make sense of problems and to have a "tool box" of strategies to try.  So, before you begin planning for the next school year, I challenge you think consider not only what math CONCEPTS will you be teaching--but HOW will you help your student dig in, push their thinking, and develop the tools needed to take on any problem they encounter?

I have a few things you might be interested in--and, perhaps, have seen before.  The first two are freebies that might help you as you do your planning . . . I know some teachers put my questioning prompts right on a clipboard so they keep them handy.  Sometimes I think we need to train OURSELVES as much as we need to "train" our students!  (Admit it--sometimes you are too quick to jump in and solve things for the students, right?  We don't like to see them frustrated--but believe me--letting them struggle can be the BEST thing for them!)

This final resource is a paid resource . . . but if you haven't used math journals in the past or want a new "twist" on them, this resource showcases 4 of my favorite math journal "prompts" that I do to try to get students taking risks with math.  Check it out if you are interested!  In it, I introduce 4 different ways that you can shake up your math journals!

I hope everyone has a fun and safe Fourth of July holiday!  It's hard to believe we are moving into July already.  Thanks for stopping by!


  1. Great post, Meg! I think all too often we all get stuck in that "problem solving = word problems" rut. I know I have definitely fallen victim in the past. I completely agree about letting your kiddos struggle a little bit. There is a fine balance you have to strike with this, and until you try it, you won't know what that balance is. Thanks for your inspiring words and awesome products! You just motivated me to sit down and work on some new activities today!

    Mathematically yours,
    Jamei aka MissMathDork!

    1. Thanks, Jamie...I know you are as passionate about math and problem solving as I am!


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