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problem solving

How Problem Solving Changed my Math Teaching

What can you honestly say has changed your teaching? I don’t say that lightly. Honestly, I will claim just 2 things have changed my teaching career– character education and problem solving.

problem solving

Problem Solving Definition

Let’s form a common definition. My training and research comes from a book called Children’s Mathematics: Cognitively Guided Instruction. This training opened my eyes to my problem solving definition. So here it is,

Problem solving is a time where students are given the freedom to explore and grapple through a complex problem drawing on their innate abilities to solve problems independently.

Mona’s problem solving definition

Problem solving to me isn’t just an approach that works in math, it helped me develop lessons that allowed me to plan lessons where students could drive the thinking in every subject.

Problem Solving Process

The problem solving process in my classroom is by far the best part of the day – in my opinion and my students. In fact, on the days we don’t do problem solving I hear groans and moans. It’s actually quite beautiful to see their love for math.

On a typical day of problem solving most of our learning happens in a circle. Read about why I love circles here. We use circles to send the message that every single one of us is vital to the problem solving process. You see, this isn’t a routine just for each child to push themselves, but it is a way for us to work together to collectively gain understanding. This process is just as much about our community working together to develop an understanding as it is for the individual.

problem solving

launching the task

We start in a circle with launching the task. I make strategic moves to help students envision the math problem as a story. We don’t zoom into key words, instead we work toward a total comprehension of what the problem is asking.

grapple time

Next we move onto independent “grapple” time. This time allows students to get up close with the task and challenge themselves to persevere for only 8 minutes. I have found this is the perfect amount of time for most tasks and for most grade levels. During this very quick amount of time I observe. I look for how students are solving, really trying to get inside their thinking. I don’t use this time to one-on-one teach or coach students.
By giving students this time to grapple we show them that they have the ability to do hard things.

share and discourse

Then, we come to the carpet for select 2-3 students to share. I select these students based on what I see students’ current level of solving. The goal is that students will learn from their peers and be nudged along the trajectory toward more advanced models and strategies. 

Steps to problem solving

My problem solving routine is a total of 25-28 minutes. We do this every day within our math block.
And yes, I also teach fluency and my curriculum addressing all math standards. Here is the time break down for each step.

Launch Task (5 minutes) 

Grapple Time (8 minutes) 

2-3 students share (5-10 minutes) 

Student led discourse driving toward deep understanding of students’ shares. (5- 10 minutes) 

As I’ve said before this is the best part of our day and worth every single minute.

If you would like even more details on how I do this, grab my eBook titled
5 Steps to a Student Centered Math Classroom: Empower Students to Love & Understand Math

Problem Solving Examples

Check out this video in my actual real life classroom. Please know this is not perfect example, but it’s a good idea of how you can empower students to have ideas and think in math without directly teaching math strategies.

problem solving

Another example of what this looks and feels like in my classroom is located here. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback in the comments below.

Problem Solving Techniques

These teacher moves are something I will be perfecting for the rest of my life. Isn’t that exciting? I have found a teaching practice that not only helps students learn, but also helps me learn!
Leading a discussion, listening, and questioning are the key skills I’m working to be a better facilitator. 

problem solving

There is a long list of skills we can teach our students. For example; how to start solving a problem, how to get over a road block in solving, how to analyze a solution of others, and so on. That’s all for another time!
Hint… look for a teacher training designed just for you/with you this summer!

Ready to Implement?

Are you ready to give this a try in your classroom? Or maybe you just want to see how all the pieces fit together? Grab the lesson plan below where I will walk you through each part of how I go about teaching my favorite math routine!

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Hi, I'm Mona!

I help 1st – 5th grade teachers like you develop a classroom that lays the foundation for engaging and rigorous student led math instruction.

Learn more about me and how I can help you here. 

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5 Steps to a Student Centered Math Class!

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