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Problem solving: The what and the why

What is problem solving and why use it as an approach?

Genuine problems are often open-ended and require creative and critical thinking to solve. For inquisitive young minds, this makes problem solving a dynamic, engaging and exciting process that can often benefit from being tackled collaboratively. The skills developed are highly transferrable and the benefits to a child can be very broad.

What make a good problem?

Getting students to think outside of a set of algorithms they have to follow is the key. Unlike some exercises that can be set, problems may have more than one possible ‘correct’ solution and will often present a gap or challenge that students’ current knowledge will not immediately bridge. The students are guided to find their own ways forward and take responsibility for that. Done well, it can be playful and feel like a game – like finding the clues to solve a mystery.

Is it just for maths?

Problem solving can be refined through mathematics but the skills and approaches are not limited to one subject area. Problem solving skills can underpin an approach to the whole curriculum as well as help prepare a child for the learning approaches they will encounter at Secondary school and beyond.

Is it just word problems by another name?

Word problems are a subset of the maths curriculum and allow students to practice interpreting a variety of problem situations but problems can come from anywhere and interesting problems can be sought or encountered anywhere.

Does it always have to be a real world example?

Not exclusively. Some problems may be modelled to make them accessible and engagement also builds from the satisfaction found in completing each step and moving forward. Larger real world problems may involve being able to solve a wide range of smaller problems first. As children develop their skills and their problem solving ‘toolkit’, the scope of the problems can grow.

What are the some of the challenges when introducing problem solving?

It can be difficult for a student if they feel they are missing some key knowledge in a problem solving situation. Developing the student’s mindset and disposition to move forward even when things are uncertain can be a challenge.

Looking for more?

Problem solving: 8 practical tips to make it work in your classroom

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At Folens, we believe that educators sharing insights and experiences with each other is crucial to improving education for all. Teachers’ Corner is edited by teachers, with teachers and for teachers.

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