Maths Problem Solving Tip


I teach high school math; I sell a product to a market that doesn’t want it,

but is forced by law to buy it!

Maths teacher and campaigner for US maths curriculum reform, Dan Meyer recently gave the above TEDx presentation , “Math class needs a makeover” where he talks about students “aversion to maths problem solving”

I’ve previously written about the importance of mental maths skills; being able to recall arithmetic facts with ease is an important life skill, but of equal, if not greater importance is the art of maths problem solving; taking a real life problem and turning it into a maths problem which can then either be solved, or at least an approximate answer worked out.

Mr Maths Insider is great at throwing out questions to our kids such as, “How can we work out how many atoms there are in the Universe”, questions where the process of working out the answer is more important than the answer itself, and where the relevance of maths can be more easily seen.

Dan Meyer has lots of great stripped down maths problems on his website, they are great but are mainly designed for maths teachers to use in class.

Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept
Creative Commons License photo credit: lumaxart

For a quick way of practicing solving maths problems at home, try giving this dose of problem solving medicine:

  • Grab any maths book or maths website which has maths problem solving questions.
  • Sit down for 5, 10 or 15mins, set a timer, and looking at some questions, work out:
  1. what the question is asking and
  2. what maths is needed to solve it.
  • Don’t work out the answer.
  • Move on to the next question.

Here we’re trying to separate the problem solving aspect from the arithmetic aspect which allows your child to focus on the art of problem solving.

Repeat daily or weekly as time allows.

Tell me your ideas to help your child improve their maths problem solving skills!

Caroline Mukisa
About The Author: Caroline Mukisa is the founder of Maths Insider. A Cambridge University educated math teacher, she's been involved in math education for over 20 years as a teacher, tutor, Kumon instructor, Thinkster Math instructor and math ed blogger. She is the author of the insanely helpful ebook "The Ultimate Kumon Review" and insanely useful website "31 Days to Faster Times Tables" You can follow her math tips on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @mathsinsider

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

3 thoughts on “Maths Problem Solving Tip

  1. I used to tutor early-elementary children, and these are two strategies I found helpful for multi-digit addition and subtraction:

    Use pennies to represent the ones column and dimes to represent the tens. When carrying or borrowing, exchange a dime for ten pennies. This helps to make the action more obvious and less like a magic trick. After some practice, add dollar coins and work with 3-digit numbers; seeing that the same concepts still apply gives kids a real sense of power.

    Practice adding LOTS of numbers in a tall column using “the buddy system”: Every 1-digit number has a 1-digit number that is its “buddy” to add up to 10. Thus, you can approach the tall addition problem by looking down the ones column for buddy pairs, marking them out, and counting the pairs with your other hand, then writing the number of pairs in the tens column; if you reach 10 pairs, write a 1 in the hundreds column. After marking out all the pairs, you have just a few numbers to sum. Then do the tens column the same way.

    • Thanks ‘Becca, I really like your ideas!
      It’s interesting that I use the buddy system myself when adding lots of numbers in a column, that’s the beauty of maths, there are often many ways to work out a question.

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