Students should also be able to apply the skills and understandings that they are developing by solving problems. Problem solving requires students to think about the context of the problem, choose a strategy to solve the problem, compute the answer and explain their reasoning. Simple word problems contained within our textbooks are important elements to practice with students, but problem solving encompasses much more than this. Solving a problem takes times and requires a plan and a rationale.
Students should be given opportunities to solve problems starting as early as kindergarten. Students in the primary grades can justify their solutions in simple ways. Starting early lays the foundation for later years when students are asked to use formal mathematical proofs. Problem solving opportunities should be balanced between real world and abstract situations.
Since solving problems takes time, find ways to challenge student thinking through Problems of the Week or Problems of the Month. Problems of the Week (PoWs) are great classroom problems that challenge students third grade and up. To learn more about PoWs, visit the following website: bedtimemath.org. Problems of the Month (POMs) are also fantastic ways to challenge students and can be used with students as early as kindergarten. While a teacher can use POMs alone or within just their grade level, the POM is designed to be used school-wide to promote mathematical discussions across grade levels throughout the month.
Another way to promote problem solving is to explicitly teach the problem solving process and the problem solving strategies. This is laid out within our current curriculum. The problem solving lessons are critical to developing students' reasoning skills and should be taught to students in ALL grade levels. Again, be sure to incorporate effective questions during your class discussions around problem solving. And use the practice performance assessment tasks with students to assist them in learning the process and the different problem solving strategies that they can use.