Problem Solving and Math Talk
Reflect on the value of problem solving and consider what makes a rich and engaging question. Discuss how important it is for students to explore and use communication in consolidating mathematical understanding through ‘math talk’.
Problem solving questions, specifically in math, provide opportunities for students to practice their learned skills in applicable and relevant situations. They challenge the students to reflect on what they have learned theoretically and apply this knowledge in practical, thought-provoking applications. It is very important that we teach students to embrace problem solving, treating it like a puzzle to be solved rather than a brick wall preventing us from achieving success. When we adequately prepare students with the tools that they need during problem solving, they come to learn that they are able to problem solve and they can achieve success. This, in turn, develops a positive disposition towards problem solving for our students.
The Guide to Effective Instruction: Grades K to 6 – Volume 2 – Problem Solving and Communication teaches us that rich and engaging problem solving questions not only teach students through problem solving (practicing conceptual understanding), but they also teach student about problem solving by learning applicable learning skills (Guide to Effective Instruction, pg. 6). By teaching student through and about problem solving, we are able to see if the student has grasped the concept while also exploring the strategy they used throughout the process. When we are able to see both aspects, we then know that we have created a rich mathematical question. It is also important that we ensure the questions are relevant to the students by using real-world situations that are linked to their specific interests.
Conversations around problem solving help to teach students to be cognitive about their own strategies, while also being able to learn from their peers and adopt new and perhaps more efficient strategies. As Marion Small says in the video Open Questions and Contexts, “[Different strategies] enrich the conversation; it does not detract from it.” Math talks and bansho consolidation presentations are great ways to verbally explore these strategies in a whole-class setting. Other ways to communicate their thinking could be in a math journal, in which the student explains the strategies they used throughout the day’s lesson, or by creating a video/voice recording of their verbal explanations (for those students less inclined to share with the class).