Friday, January 26, 2018

We Can TACKLE Tough Problems: A Math Problem Solving Approach

If you have been teaching awhile I'm sure you have noticed how our math standards have changed over the years. Expectations are high and the rigor of the problems our third graders are asked to solve has increased with each passing year.   In our classroom, we say "Two brains are better than one" and so we are "tackling" these problems as a team. 

We have created a "Game Plan" to help us.  It hangs in our room and states the problem solving strategies that help us achieve our goal of winning the game or solving the problem.

Students have this game plan glued into their math journals and we review it before our "problem solving partners" time. 

To make it a bit more fun, I am using this football Easter Egg basket that I got on clearance after Easter last year.  Inside it, I put football eggs with some tough problems for us to tackle in each one.  I have modeled these after those I know they will face on upcoming end of the year tests. 

I have my kids participate in "Problem Solving Partners" time about three times a week. 
We pull out a football and crack it open to reveal the problem we will be tackling with our team (class).

I have multiple copies of each of the problems already cut and pass out one to each child. Students glue it into their math journals and read it by themselves first.  This allows everyone some quiet think time to process the problem before they attempt to solve it with a partner. 

Then they meet with their Problem Solving Partner.  This changes weekly. I have a math station board that we use to post who their partner will be. 

They meet with their partner to reread, discuss and work through the game plan to solve the problem. 
This is my favorite time.  I LOVE listening to how different groups are solving it in different ways.  It is also a great time to do some informal assessing. I will walk around and sit and listen and jot notes down onto a recording sheet. I have a page with all students' names on it.  I try to visit each child once a week to ask them questions and hear how they are processing through the problem. 
If they finish before I ring the bell, they are encouraged to come up with alternative ways to solve or represent their answer.  This is when I really see them stretch their brains. It is a great time for those strong students who are ready to extend their thinking and great for those struggling who need to listen to how others think through math. 
After all partners had a chance to tackle the problem, we come together as a class team. 
This is our math talk time.  We pick some partners to come up to share their solution. 
We place their journal under our document camera and they explain their math thinking. 

This problem solving approach has really worked for my class.  Just solving one problem at a time allows students to dig deep.  Solving with a partner, helps students feel more comfortable and gives them lots of opportunities to verbalize their math thinking. My kids become little math coaches...I love listening to them teach one another. 

I've created this set with poster printables and a set of 30 problems.  You can check it out in my TPT store if interested. 

Math Problem Solving Test Prep: We Can Tackle Tough Problems

What are your thoughts on the increased rigor of our math standards? Do you have a strategy for dealing with it? 
I would love to me at or comment below!


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