Can we teach our students how to problem solve?

Thursday 27th May 2021

In answer to this question, we decided that we can help students to develop their skills and build up their confidence in tackling unfamiliar questions. On Wednesday 17 March 2021, we ran Problem Solving for C Grade Students (Part 1) that looked at how to support our ‘average’ A level students with problem solving.

We started the session by setting a problem which used maths which wasn't too difficult but was in an unfamiliar context. We looked at possible ways to reach a solution and discussed how to help our students to get there. We also discussed what a problem is.

We looked at different strategies, namely:

  • Using technology
  • How much time to spend on problem solving
  • When to include problem solving
  • Experiencing different types of problems
  • Extending knowledge to new contexts
  • Scaffolding our problem solving

We also considered two approaches to problem solving:

  1. General Questioning

    We talked about building up a ‘toolkit’ of skills and general questioning to lead our students to progress. The three general questions that we thought were useful were 'What exactly are you doing?', 'Why are you doing it?', and 'How does it help you?' We then extended these to particular questions to help even further.

  2. The Grid Process Map

    We also suggested using a ‘Grid Process Map’ with students to help them to organise their thinking with headings of 'The Problem', 'Subject Knowledge', 'Working' and 'Toolkit'.

The event was attended by a number of schools from the East Midlands region and beyond, who all participated in activities on Desmos and were given ideas and aims to take back to their departments.

We're running Problem Solving for Grade C Students (Part 2) on Wednesday 9 June 2021 at 4:30pm. All are welcome, even if you didn't attend the first session, as we'll recap what was discussed at the beginning of the event.

In the second session, we'll look at modelling questions and at some general tips to help students to tackle exam paper questions. We'll also explore the use of exam questions as a resource, where we can either add scaffolding to an unstructured question to make it more accessible when trying to build confidence or remove scaffolding from older-style questions to give more relevant practice questions.

By Ann-Marie Newton and Caroline Wilson

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