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Problem Solving: More than Meets the Eye

by Anne-Evan Williams, LGL Director of Educational Development

Math teachers have long struggled to find methods to help students focus not just on getting the right answers, but on how to solve problems.  In fact, problem-solving skills are becoming more and more of a hot topic in math instruction.  So how exactly do you teach a child to think through the elements of solving any given problem?

The answer is that there is no one right way.  That's both the joy and the curse of problem solving.  But one thing is true now more than ever:  Bloom's Taxonomy can provide some insight into how students are approaching problem solving.  Bloom's Taxonomy asserts that there are different ways of learning--primarily cognitive, affective, and psychomotor.  And in math education, more and more emphasis is being placed on those psychomotor methods. 

Manipulatives have long been a go-to resource for the elementary math teacher, but more and more frequently, secondary teachers are using hands-on approaches to math education as well.  Now there seems to be evidence that even gesturing can help students become more aware of their own math thinking.  In a recent blog, Lockergnome featured research from the University of Chicago indicating that even when students were getting incorrect answers, those who were gesturing were "four times as manually express correct new ways to solve problems."

With the focus now on the process of problem solving and the application of math skills to "real world scenarios," it seems only logical for teachers to employ every strategy available to help students think through what feels like a daunting task.  Since we know students learn in different ways, including through motor skills, it seems appropriate to teach a wide variety of problem-solving approaches.  And if "thinking with their hands" is a method that helps some students, I say we do it, with a flourish!

Tags: problem solving, math problems, gesturing, problem solving strategies

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